The term biography is borrowed from the ancient Greek words ‘bios’ (life) and ‘graphein’ (write). In fact, the first written biographies that are accessible to us today come from the ancient Greece from the 5th to the 4th to the day. centuries before our era.
At that time Greek writers were already writing biographies of famous personalities, e.g. over commanders, kings or poets. Some authors described not only one, but numerous biographies of different personalities and produced the historiography of an entire epoch based on their central rulers.
In contrast to an autobiography, a biography deals only with the lives of other people. It is structured chronologically in many cases, events of pregnancy/birth of the protagonist are described and interpreted continuously until his death.
This is not merely about the connection of events, but about establishing connections between individual life with the respective historical context, with other persons or events.
A biography transcends the life of the individual, because it also goes into account of the things and events that have influenced the main character from outside and without whom their lives cannot be comprehensively understood.
In addition, biographical research has developed references to different forms and concepts of biography, which an experienced biographical author must of course be known. In any case, one biography is a living memory to the life of one person. In each biography, the described person recovers – depending on the perspective with different strengths and weaknesses, rough edges, successes and failures.
A good biography tries to do justice to the individual person with his life sympathetically. Above all, she wants to appreciate the life of another person and make his actions and experiences of the readership convincingly understandable.
A well-written biography can stimulate thinking about one’s own or strange life. It does not serve a shallow voyeurism, but wants to generate understanding or critical demand.
What is an autobiography?
The term autobiography is borrowed from the ancient Greek words ‘aut’s’ (self, own) Ã bÃoos Ã (life) and Ã gráphein (write). An autobiography is therefore nothing more than a self-description of one’s own life. This means that the author of his biography must necessarily describe most of the events and actions from the retrospective and rely on his memories.
Of course, these are not presented objectively, but reflect his present view of events. As a result, historical events that influence one’s own biography or represent the framework for one’s own life are also described from a necessarily subjective point of view. However, this is not a shortcoming, but supplements the scientific historiography with essential facts of a history “from below” and records significant experiences of contemporary witnesses.
Autobiographies were only used in Europe from about the 15th. century. With this epoch began interest in the individual, in the individual human beings and his view, which was no longer to be determined by rulers and the Church. But the famous autobiographical sketch of the church father Augustine (354-430 n. CE) already more than 1500 years old. His confessions, a critical introspection of his life, are a magnificent autobiographical representation that cleverly combines philosophical-theological thoughts with changeable life events in antiquity.
Modern autobiographies are not only the privilege of individuals of public interest or renowned politicians, artists or researchers. Quite a few people – often after their active professional lives – want to hold their past and the associated experiences for themselves, family and circle of friends. This brings not only the self-design of her own life alive, but also a piece of contemporary history.
Modern authentications are either written independently by the protagonists or they use the collaboration with a co-author who, due to his literary education and professional experience, helps to create the outline and linguistic design of the autobiography. Until a few years ago, such authors were not named as a ghostwriter, today the name of the respective co-author has become established. Private autobiographers are also written in individual cases with the help of such co-authors; however, the actual author (Latin. Ã…auctorÃ3) is and remains the person who wants to describe their lives for themselves and posterity.
Procedure of a biography
In most cases, the life of a historical or living person is represented on the basis of a so-called timeline. The events in this person’s life are presented chronologically from pregnancy/birth, possibly expanded by information about the history of the family before this event, until death. If it is an autobiography, the author cannot represent his death himself, but at least tell narratively if he wants to.
Therefore, it is recommended to order the individual central events according to classical aspects: birth, toddler age, if necessary. Kindergarten, primary school, secondary school, training, career entry, parallel to friendships, relationships, partnerships, marriage, own family foundation and birth and education of children, professional career and successes, company start-up, moving, travel, separations/loss, illnesses, deaths, birth of grandchildren, etc. Another way to shape the course of a biography can take place after larger phases of life: family of origin, education, own family formation, children’s exodus, retirement, etc.
Alternatively, the course of a biography is also possible after certain biographically drastic events (disease, accident, death of a close-up person or birth, love, marriage, rescue, etc.), who have revealed themselves after this as significant nodes of life or turning.
The individual events can be developed differently: Important events should be described in more detail, less important ones should only be addressed briefly. The desire to have children and the efforts to have their own child can be widely developed, for example, if it is an important phase in life. But also a morning on which the termination of the employer was in the mailbox was a drastic biographical event and can be appreciated accordingly. Relationships with individuals who were very formative can also represent the common thread of a biography.
The decisive factor for the convincing effect of a biography is the consequence with which a certain train of thought, a special event series or individual personal connections of a life is followed. This puts the course of a biography under a certain topic, which has a recognition value in the reader and gives the narrated life a concise direction.