Individual projects in AncNar - Aldo Tagliabue

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The research project "Experience and Teleology in Ancient Narrative" (AncNar) is funded by a Starting Grant awarded by the European Research Council (ERC) (FP7) 01.02.2013-31.01.2018 under grant agreement n°312321


The project of Aldo Tagliabue focuses on texts of the Imperial Era (1st - 3rd centuries CE) and aims to show different ways in which the engagement with the divine changes the form of narrative.

Since the beginning of ancient literature, gods are a constant presence in narrative – as proven by Athena’s appearance in book 1 of the Iliad - and ancient narrators do not seem to have qualms about introducing them in their story.

On further examination, however, Aelius Aristides’ Sacred Tales suggest that telling about the gods’ intervention might alter the form of narrative. In this text, as in book 2 Asclepius becomes the protagonist of the narrative, the day-by-day account of Aristides’ diseases is substituted by a chaotic list of Asclepius’ interventions. Moreover, this possibility of a divine transformation of textual form is suggested by the nature of narrative itself. In the Genettian basic definition, “one would define narrative without difficulty as the representation of […] a sequence of events.” Gods, being eternal, are not subjected to this temporal pattern: as a result, whoever narrates their actions might find it problematic to compromise between the sequential structure of his own language and the freedom of the divine from such constraint. Furthermore, the engagement with the divine may have important consequences for the presentation of human facts in narrative, as the divine level tends to impose a teleological motivation on them which might contrast with a merely human and cause-and-effect kind of explanation. Some narrators, thus, can decide to introduce two kinds of motivations in their story, usually through the filter of characters.

In my project the literature of the Imperial Era will show that this divine transformation of narrative indeed takes place. The choice of this period has two main reasons. Firstly, it offers the intriguing possibility of exploring how the divine is constructed in Pagan, Jewish and Christian narratives, and the undertaking of a comparison between them. Secondly, the Imperial Era witnesses an increase in Greek personal religion and a turn towards a more spiritual experience of the gods. Both features stress the importance of the divine in the literature of this period.

The text corpus will include works of different provenance, genre and language, starting with Aelius Aristides’ The Sacred Tales (2nd century CE) and Apuleius’ Metamorphoses (2nd century CE), chosen as representatives of Pagan narratives. Josephus’ historiographical work (1st century CE), with its frequent references to the Old Testament, will be used to show a Jewish voice on the matter, while Early Christian literature will be represented by The Shepherd of Hermas (2nd century CE) and by Perpetua’s Passions (3rd century CE) in combination with other martyrdom stories.

Through a close narratological analysis of these works, this study will address three main questions:

  1. How can we define the concept of god (or of gods) in narratives? Is the divine portrayed as an external force influencing the narrative or are gods identified with characters?
  2. Does the engagement with the divine presence disrupt and transform the shape of narrative?
  3. What changes can be identified in both the concept of god and its transformation of narrative when comparing Pagan, Jewish and Christian texts?

In this analysis, different aspects of narrative form will be explored: narrator, narrative time (the way in which the narrated facts are ordered), motivation of action through a close study of focalization, characterization, use of description and epiphany, and metaleptic apostrophes to external audiences.

Overall, I expect that the differences between Pagan, Jewish and Christian texts will turn out to be less significant than usually thought, and that all the texts in the corpus are constructed in such a way as to elicit a direct response to the divine from the readers.

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Letzte Änderung: 14.03.2018
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