Augustine
The Confessions
This work, written at the close of the fourth century, is often
considered as the first notable autobiography in Western literature.  
But the lasting appeal of this book is due less to its precedence than
to its depth and honesty.  Tales of eventful lives had fascinated
audiences long before the dawn of written literature.  The oral
tradition had previously celebrated the exploits of heroes, telling of
their successes and triumphs.  But Augustine's work is a true
confession, a baring of the soul, and as such it probes into
psychological realms typically untouched by ancient literature.  Yes,
there is a triumphal ending, but the author himself is the vanquished
party, his worldly self sacrificed in order to cultivate his spiritual
being.  Along the way, the reader gains insight into philosophical and
theological currents of the time, as Augustine falls under the spells of
Aristotle and Manichaeism before his conversion to Catholicism at age
thirty-two.  Augustine also develops his ideas on many concepts,
such as time and memory, or tackles metaphysical problems relating
to the Trinity and divinity.  But this work is cherished less for its
ideas than for its intimate portrait of a thinking, feeling man living in a
time of upheaval.   As such it sets the standard for later memoirs,
achieving an influence matched perhaps only by
Rousseau's equally
candid Confessions.