Click here to get the answers to the most commonly asked RBL questions.

Review of Biblical Literature Blog

The Philosophical Life: Biography and the Crafting of Intellectual Identity in Late Antiquity
Urbano, Arthur P.

Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 2013 pp. xvii + 353. $49.95

Series Information
Patristic Monograph Series, 21


Ancient biographies were more than accounts of the deeds of past heroes and guides for moral living. They were also arenas for debating pressing philosophical questions and establishing intellectual credentials, as Arthur P. Urbano argues in this study of biographies composed in Late Antiquity. With its origins in the competing philosophical schools of Hellenistic Greece, the genre of the "philosophical life" provided verbal portraits of paradigmatic figures - usually rulers and philosophers - that epitomized diverse approaches to knowledge, piety, and the virtuous life. An eruption of biographical literature in Late Antiquity attests to a similar, but more intense, struggle to influence the future directions of religion, education, politics, and morality in the Roman Empire as leaders of Neoplatonism and Christianity engaged one another through historical figures. In a close analysis of the texts and the circumstances surrounding their composition, he argues that the production of biographies was a standard competitive practice among Greek educated intellectuals. Christian thinkers who wrote biographies, for the most part bishops, simultaneously drew upon the literary and philosophical education they shared with their rivals and challenged it. Proposing alternate histories and new paradigms of philosophy, including ascetics and women, they came to terms with the past and aimed to shape a new Christian future. Urbano traces the transformation of the late Roman empire through the lens of biographies which debated such issues as proper worship, access to God, politics, ethnicity, gender, and philosophic pedigree. He covers the writings of several Christian and Neoplatonist authors between the 3rd and 5th centuries to demonstrate how biographical literature played a significant role in the transformation of Rome into a Christian empire.

Subjects: Bible, Greco-Roman Literature, Early Christian Literature, Literature, Methods, Historical Approaches, Literary Approaches

Login to Read the Review(s)

You must be a member of SBL to read the review(s). In May 2019, SBL improved security of its main site with a new login procedure that requires an email address and a password, instead of an SBL member number. RBLís login procedure is now synched to SBLís. Please use your email address and SBL password to log in to RBL. Your use of this site indicates your acceptance of RBLís Terms of Use.

Email Address
SBL Password
 Forgot Your Password
 Join SBL or Renew Membership

Review by Edmund P. Cueva
Published 7/26/2015
Citation: Edmund P. Cueva, review of Arthur P. Urbano, The Philosophical Life: Biography and the Crafting of Intellectual Identity in Late Antiquity, Review of Biblical Literature [] (2015).

Adobe Acrobat Reader
All RBL reviews are published in PDF format. To view these reviews, you must have downloaded and installed the FREE version of Adobe Acrobat Reader. If you do not have the Reader or you have an older version of the Reader, you can download the most recent version now.


Privacy PolicyTerms of UseContact Us