An autobiography, sometimes informally called an autobio, is a self-written account of one's own life.
It is a form of biography.
Leonor López de Córdoba (1362–1420) wrote what is supposed to be the first autobiography in Spanish. The English Civil War (1642–1651) provoked a number of examples of this genre, including works by Sir Edmund Ludlow and Sir John Reresby. French examples from the same period include the memoirs of Cardinal de Retz (1614–1679) and the Duc de Saint-Simon.
The Jewish historian Flavius Josephus introduces his autobiography ( Josephi Vita, c. 99) with self-praise, which is followed by a justification of his actions as a Jewish rebel commander of Galilee.Steve Mason, Flavius Josephus: Translation and Commentary. Life of Josephus : translation and commentary, Volume 9
The Paganism Rhetoric Libanius (c. 314–394) framed his life memoir ( Oration I begun in 374) as one of his Public speaking, not of a public kind, but of a literary kind that could not be aloud in privacy.
Augustine (354–430) applied the title Confessions to his autobiographical work, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau used the same title in the 18th century, initiating the chain of confessional and sometimes racy and highly self-critical, autobiographies of the Romanticism era and beyond. Augustine's was arguably the first Western autobiography ever written, and became an influential model for Christian writers throughout the Middle Ages. It tells of the Hedonism lifestyle Augustine lived for a time within his youth, associating with young men who boasted of their sexual exploits; his following and leaving of the anti-sex and anti-marriage Manichaeism in attempts to seek sexual morality; and his subsequent return to Christianity due to his embracement of Skepticism and the New Academy movement (developing the view that sex is good, and that virginity is better, comparing the former to silver and the latter to gold; Augustine's views subsequently strongly influenced Western theologyFiorenza and Galvin (1991), p. 317). Confessions will always rank among the great masterpieces of western literature.
In the spirit of Augustine's Confessions is the 12th-century Historia Calamitatum of Peter Abelard, outstanding as an autobiographical document of its period.
One of the first great autobiographies of the Renaissance is that of the sculptor and goldsmith Benvenuto Cellini (1500–1571), written between 1556 and 1558, and entitled by him simply Vita (Italian language: Life). He declares at the start: "No matter what sort he is, everyone who has to his credit what are or really seem great achievements, if he cares for truth and goodness, ought to write the story of his own life in his own hand; but no one should venture on such a splendid undertaking before he is over forty."Benvenuto Cellini, tr. George Bull, The Autobiography, London 1966 p. 15. These criteria for autobiography generally persisted until recent times, and most serious autobiographies of the next three hundred years conformed to them.
Another autobiography of the period is De vita propria, by the Italian mathematician, physician and astrologer Gerolamo Cardano (1574).
One of the first autobiographies written in an Indian language was Ardhakathānaka, written by Banarasidas, who was a Shrimal Jain businessman and poet of Mughal India. The poetic autobiography Ardhakathānaka (The Half Story), was composed in Braj Bhasa, an early dialect of Hindi linked with the region around Mathura.In his autobiography, he describes his transition from an unruly youth, to a religious realization by the time the work was composed.
The earliest known autobiography written in English is the Book of Margery Kempe, written in 1438.
Possibly the first publicly available autobiography written in English was Captain John Smith's autobiography published in 1630 The True Travels, Adventures and Observations of Captain John Smith into Europe, Aisa, Africa and America from Anno Domini 1593 to 1629 which was regarded by many as not much more than a collection of tall tales told by someone of doubtful veracity. This changed with the publication of Philip Barbour's definitive biography in 1964 which, amongst other things, established independent factual bases for many of Smith's "tall tales", many of which could not have been known by Smith at the time of writing unless he was actually present at the events recounted.Barbour, Philip L. (1964). The Three Worlds of Captain John Smith, Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston.
Other notable English autobiographies of the 17th century include those of Lord Herbert of Cherbury (1643, published 1764) and John Bunyan ( Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, 1666).
Jarena Lee (1783–1864) was the first African American woman to have a published biography in the United States.
With the rise of education, cheap newspapers and cheap printing, modern concepts of fame and celebrity began to develop, and the beneficiaries of this were not slow to cash in on this by producing autobiographies. It became the expectation—rather than the exception—that those in the public eye should write about themselves—not only writers such as Charles Dickens (who also incorporated autobiographical elements in his novels) and Anthony Trollope, but also politicians (e.g. Henry Brooks Adams), philosophers (e.g. John Stuart Mill), churchmen such as Cardinal Newman, and entertainers such as P. T. Barnum. Increasingly, in accordance with romantic taste, these accounts also began to deal, amongst other topics, with aspects of childhood and upbringing—far removed from the principles of "Cellinian" autobiography.
Autobiography has become an increasingly popular and widely accessible form. A Fortunate Life by Albert Facey (1979) has become an Australian literary classic.about-australia.com.au, 2010 With the critical and commercial success in the United States of such memoirs as Angela’s Ashes and The Color of Water, more and more people have been encouraged to try their hand at this genre. Maggie Nelson's book The Argonauts is one of the recent autobiographies. Maggie Nelson calls it "autotheory"—a combination of autobiography and critical theory.
A genre where the "claim for truth" overlaps with fictional elements though the work still purports to be autobiographical is autofiction.