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Auerbach Lecture | 09.01.2023 | 18 Uhr

Douglas Whalin (History, Washington, DC): Realistic miraculous landscapes in hagiographies from Late Antique Syria


For decades, scholars of Late Antique and Medieval social history have mined hagiographies as unique – albeit highly problematic – source material, drawing out historical details whist generally sidestepping descriptions of miracles and magic. Hagiographical sources present a confounding mixture of mundane and miraculous details blended into narratives which were meant to be, at least in some sense, realistic. Were mundane (non-miraculous) details necessarily facts? What rules governed the scope of the miraculous? To explore these questions, this paper analyses passages describing landscape and the environment in Christian hagiographical texts from Late Antique Roman Syria and neighbouring provinces, including the fifth-century Greek Miracles of St Thekla and the sixth-century Syriac Life of Symeon Stylites the Elder. The paper will argue that no clear division between fact and fiction emerges from these texts, but rather a representation of the world as conceived in a collective popular imagination.

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