7 December 2023, 6.00pm UTC (in person & online)
Nora Goldschmidt, “Before Biofiction”
Biofiction is typically seen as a postmodern phenomenon, associated with twentieth-century developments in the biographical novel and a product of what Alain Buisine called ‘our modernity’. More recently, in an effort to paint what Michael Lackey calls a ‘larger and more complex picture’ of the field by tracing biofiction’s origins to an earlier point in time, scholars of biofiction have located its roots in the nineteenth and earlier twentieth centuries.
This paper takes a longer view. It argues that biofiction is detectable right from the beginnings of the very traditions of history-writing and life-writing which formed the basis of the genres of ‘biography’ and ‘history’ against which modern biofiction has come to define itself. Biofictional modes can be detected across the spectrum of auto/biographical writing in Greek and Roman antiquity, resisting modern demarcations between biography, fiction and history, which, as Tim Whitmarsh puts it, do ‘violence to the fictional conventions of the ancient world’.
The issues come to the fore with particular clarity in the Lives of ancient poets. Poets are real historical figures. But even ancient biographers (including Suetonius, who along with Plutarch came to be adopted as ‘the father of modern biography’) had virtually no evidence about poet’s lives other than the works which they had left behind. When it comes the Lives of Greek and Roman poets, life-writing was necessarily fictional, and based on the fictional worlds created by poets themselves. Long before the term ‘biography’ was invented, ancient writers of Lives — or bioi as they were known in Greek — were active authors of biofiction.
Attendance is free but booking is required. Booking has closed. Watch the video of the seminar:
Nora Goldschmidt is a professor of Classics at Durham University. Her publications include Afterlives of the Roman Poets: Biofiction and the Reception of Latin Poetry (Cambridge, 2019), Tombs of the Ancient Poets (edited with Barbara Graziosi; Oxford, 2018), and Shaggy Crowns: Ennius Annales and Virgil’s Aeneid (Oxford, 2013). Her latest monograph, Fragmentary Modernism, will be published with Oxford University Press in December.