libellus non tam diserte quam fideliter scriptus? Unreliable Narration in the Historia Augusta

  • Dennis Pausch


The primary question in considering the so-called Historia Augusta (late 4th/early 5th century) usually is the reliability of its account of the historical events of the second and third centuries AD. Thus the numerous contradictions and obviously fictional elements in this text have traditionally been understood as a sign of the author's incompetence or lack of skill. By contrast, the present paper aims at presenting these elements as part of a deliberate strategy that employs inter alia devices of 'unreliable narration', in order to produce a frisson of uncertainty in the reader and to demand a more active and discerning kind of reading. Pointing out the parallels to forms of narrative uncertainty in the ancient novel, especially in Heliodorus’ Aithiopika, it is finally possible to draw some conclusions about a common audience of both genres in late antiquity.

Dr. Dennis Pausch is ‘Akademischer Rat auf Zeit’ at the ‘Institut für Altertumswissenschaften’ of the ‘Justus-Liebig-Universität Gießen’. Recent research: ‘Livy and His Reader’ – a study on textual strategies in ab urbe condita and their impact on the communication of historical knowledge.

Relevant publications:

Pausch, D. 2004. Biographie und Bildungskultur. Personendarstellungen bei Plinius dem Jüngeren, Gellius und Sueton, Berlin: de Gruyter 2004.

Pausch, D. 2007. ‘Der Philosoph auf dem Kaiserthron, der Leser auf dem Holzweg? – Marc Aurel in der Historia Augusta’, Millennium-Jahrbuch 4, 107-155.

Pausch, D. 2008. ‘Der aitiologische Romulus. Historisches Interesse und literarische Form in Livius’ Darstellung der Königszeit’, Hermes 136, 38-60.