Saturday, 2 May 2015

Christa Gray: Whose story? Approaching sources and narrators in Jerome's Lives of desert saints

There is currently an emerging interest among scholars in applying sophisticated literary methods to hagiographical writings in order to gain a deeper understanding of the texts and their cultural role. Among these approaches is the use of narratology. I propose to investigate the narrator of Jerome's three Lives, the Vitae Pauli, Malchi, and Hilarionis, through an analysis of the narrator's attitudes and emotions, both those expressed in the narrator's own voice and those implicit in the narrative structures of the texts. I shall also consider the sources from which the narrator claims to have the information recounted in the text, and outlines the ways in which those sources may have been adapted.
In the course of such an analysis it becomes clear that the narrating voices are far from stable and reliable, and that they vary dramatically across the three Lives. Whereas large parts of the Vitae Pauli and Malchi are focalised through the linear experience of a prominent protagonist, Antony and Malchus respectively, the Vita Hilarionis comes closest to a biography in the Plutarchan tradition. The narrator wants to give a full and objective picture of the subject's life. The structure varies between chronological progression and episodic anecdotes which are probably sourced in the main from Hilarion's disciples. This complexity makes it harder to draw a-priori conclusions about the narrator; but here a comparison with the other two Lives allows readers to contextualise individual phrases and statements with regard to their ideological and affective connotations.

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