The First-Ever Western Autobiography

   Autobiographies – A Source Of Inspiration

Autobiographies have always played an essential role in inspiring the masses. A person’s experiences, when jotted down in ink, can mold somebody else’s life. If not, then at least we get to understand the unsaid feelings of the individual, in his own words.

From The Story Of My Experiments With Truth to Wings Of Fire, The Test Of My Life to Playing It My Way, The Diary Of A Young Girl to Mein Kampf, the list is countably infinite. Love them or hate them, you cannot ignore them!

In my hunt for the first-ever autobiography, I stumbled upon this…

The First Western Autobiography

The Confessions of St. Augustine, or simply, Confessions, is considered to be the first-ever Western autobiography ever written. Consisting of 13 books, St. Augustine of Hippo wrote this between AD 397 and 398. The language was Latin.

St. Augustine tries to emphasize the importance of God in one’s life. He reflects on his personal experiences as a sinner in his early days and how he turned towards salvation. Though Augustine was just in his 40s when he wrote this book, Confessions gives us ample reason to be seen as the first-ever Western autobiography.

Summary

Here is a summary of its contents:

  • Augustine wrote that a child is violent if left to his own devices. He mentions how he behaved like a 16-year-old. He and his friends stole pears from his neighbor’s garden although he had many pears of his own.

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  • In his early 20s, Augustine had a relationship with a woman. She gave birth to his son, even though they were not married.
  • Soon after, a friend of his died. Augustine was really depressed by this. Eventually, he concluded that his friend’s death affected him only because of his lack of love for God.
  • Augustine regretted that he had led a sinful life. He regretted believing in astrology.
  • He met St. Ambrose who converted him to Christianity. The Saint also ignited Augustine’s love for Catholicism.
  • Augustine, when shown the Neoplatonist view of God, wrote, “It is one thing to see, from a wooded mountaintop, the land of peace, and not to find the way to it…it is quite another thing to keep to the way which leads there.”
  • In the following books, Augustine continues to write about the significance of prayer and the means to reach God.

The first nine books are autobiographical and the rest commentary. The work symbolizes aspects of the Trinity and the Trinitarian belief.

The first printed edition of Confessions was issued in Strasbourg “not later than 1470”. Professor Henry Chadwick claimed that Confessions will “always rank among the great masterpieces of western literature.”

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