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Encyclopedia > Biographical
Sir Thomas Malory wrote the most famous fictional biography of the Middle Ages with Le Morte d'Arthur about the life of King Arthur.

Biography (from the Greek words bios = life and graphein = write) is a genre of literature and other forms of media like film, based on the written accounts of individual lives. While a biography may focus on a subject of fiction or non-fiction, the term is usually in reference to non-fiction. As opposed to a profile or curriculum vitae, a biography develops complex insight and highlights different textures of personality including intimate details of experiences. A biography is more than a list of facts like birth, education, work, relationships and death. It also delves into the emotions of experiencing such events.


Early Forms

The first known biographies were written by scribes commissioned by the various rulers of antiquity: ancient Assyria, ancient Egypt, ancient Mesopotamia, among others. Such biographies tended to be chiseled into stone or clay tablets, a method called cuneiform. These biographies only detailed accomplishments. The Jewish holy scripture is an anthology of some of the earliest biographies in existence, detailing the lives of chiefs, kings, tribes, patriarchs and prophets.

Classical Forms

Ancient Greece developed biographies that tended not to be objective. Rather, these biographies were defenses of controversial people of the era they were living. The best known of the classical biographies include Memorabilia by Xenophon, Parallel Lives by Plutarch and Lives of Caesars by Suetonius. During the reign of the Roman Empire, the Gospels attributed to John, Luke, Mark and Matthew in the New Testament of the Bible were biographies about Jesus.

Dark and Middle Ages

The Middle Ages (AD 400 to 1450) began with the Dark Ages, a period of mass loss of information and knowledge. During this time, the only repositories of knowledge and records of early history was the Roman Catholic Church. Hermits, monks and priests used this historic period to write the first modern biographies. Their subjects were usually restricted to church fathers, martyrs, popes and saints. Their works were meant to be inspirational to people, vehicles for conversion to Christianity.

By the late Middle Ages, biographies became less church_oriented as biographies of kings, knights and tyrants began to appear. The most famous of these such biographies was Le Morte d'Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory. The book was an account of the life of the fabled King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. After Malory's work, the Renaissance period conceived biographies of lesser people of society like artists and poets.

Modern Forms

In 1640, Izaak Walton published Life of Donne, a biography about the poet John Donne. The book was the first to take on the complex style of biographical writing used today. In 1683, the first English language biography appeared in history with the publication of a biography of Plutarch by John Dryden. Interestingly enough, Dryden's work delved in great detail about Plutarch's popularization of the word biography.

An influential and widely read biography of the 18th century was Boswell's Life of Johnson (first edition, 1791). Filled with seemingly verbatim accounts of the writer and lexicographer Samuel Johnson's conversations as well as many of his letters, it presented its subject to the reader with an intimacy and detail rarely seen before that time or since.

By the late 20th century, biographies were more focused on the lives of celebrities and politicians. These works typically drew on correspondence, diaries, first-hand interviews, journals, and other sources directly related to the subject. As the development of word processors and personal computers made it easier for authors to assemble vast manuscripts, biographies of a thousand pages or more became commonplace. In reaction, some publishers began putting out much shorter—and less expensive—"brief lives" of famous people...

Multi_Media Forms

With the technological advancements created in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, multi_media forms of biography became much more popular than literary forms. Visual and film images were able to elaborate new dimensions of personality that written forms could not. The popularity of these forms of biography culminated in the creation of such cable and satellite television networks as: A&E, Biography Channel, History Channel and History Channel International.

See Also

  Results from FactBites:
NationMaster - Encyclopedia: Biographer (435 words)
Biographers are authors who write an account of another person's life, while autobiographers are authors who write their own biography.
After many unsuccessful years as a writer, he achieved literary fame as a biographer with his Lee,...
I believe that in America where he is free that in time he will cease to be so clannish, and not carry to such extremes his natural advantages." This was a much more sophisticated view of ethnic groups and Jews in particular than that held by Ford, who was an extreme antisemite.
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The aim of The Biographers’ Club is to provide a forum for biographers to network with fellow biographers and relevant contacts and to meet and discuss various issues connected with the craft of biography.
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Clare Mulley, an aspiring biographer, working on the life of an extraordinary early twentieth century social campaigner, spiritualist and sometimes spy, in between the more everyday activities of her own life as a student and mother, pays tribute to our September speaker.
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