Time and Exemplarity

Anne Eriksen


The idea of history as magistra vitae – a collection of good and bad examples – was a central topos of historical writing in the West from antiquity till the late eighteenth century. The idea has served a number of different ends, motivating advanced political theory as well as functioning as a mere saying. The article investigates two books of historical examples, written for pedagogical purposes addressing young boys, both explicitly produced with this aim in mind: Johannes Schefferus’ Memorabilium Sueticae gentis exemplorum liber singularis (1671) and Ove Malling’s Store og gode Handlinger af Danske, Norske og Holstenere (1777). They differ considerably from modern history books in not being structured chronologically but according to the virtues the histories are meant to illustrate. The article compares the books’ structure, tables of content, choice of virtues and introductory texts. The aim is to explore the tension between exemplarity and temporality in the two collections.

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.13128/JEMS-2279-7149-20394

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