Modes of Self-Writing from Antiquity to the Later Middle Ages

Gur Zak*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

4 Scopus citations


This article examines the history of medieval Latin practices of self-writing by exploring them on their own terms. People wrote about themselves in various ways and for various reasons that do not conform to modern assumptions about the nature of the self and the act of writing about it. The development of the self-writing genre is outlined up through and including Petrarch as a tradition of literary practices that themselves constituted the founding conditions of personal interiority. Three dominant and influential modes of self-writing developed in the centuries between Ovid and Petrarch: self-examination, self-portrait, and confessional narrative. The classification carries with it a taxonomy of authors' aims in writing as they emerge from the texts, and the dominant thematic and formal characteristics. A close analysis of central works in each mode is presented through the works of Ovid, Seneca, Peter Abelard, and Petrarch. The tensions and internal contradictions that dominate the works are explored. These tensions reveal the tenuous lines that at times separate these modes. Such indeterminacies do not nullify the value of analyzing these different modes and their evolution over time, if only due to the fact that ancient and medieval authors were strongly aware of these modes and consciously applied them for their purposes.

Original languageAmerican English
Title of host publicationThe Oxford Handbook of Medieval Latin Literature
PublisherOxford University Press
ISBN (Electronic)9780199968688
ISBN (Print)9780195394016
StatePublished - 18 Sep 2012

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© Oxford University Press, 2013. All rights reserved.


  • Medieval latin practices
  • Nature of self
  • Personal interiority
  • Petrarch
  • Self-writing


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