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Posted by: michellegtokh | October 27, 2010 | 2 Comments |

The apologia is “a written defense or justification of the opinions or conduct of a writer, speaker, etc.,” according to the Oxford English Dictionary. In writing, it often takes the form of the writer justifying their stance on a particular subject. The definition of the word “apologia”  is largely due to J. H. Newman’s work,  Apologia pro Vita Sua.

The apologia is mostly an archaic form of writing and it is no longer really used in modern writing. The significance of the form apologia is that it is one of the forms of the autobiography, since it provides a first-hand confession or self-justification of particular author’s thoughts.

The apologia was used by classical writers and Ovid was one famous figure who incorporated it into his writing. Ovid’s Apologia is contained in his book Tristia. Ovid’s Tristia contains 578 verses, was contained in 5 books and written in the elegaic couplet. The book overall discusses gloomy ideas and themes and converses about Ovid’s exile and his grieving wife and family. The interesting thing about how Ovid structured this is that it is divided into 2 parts. The first parts, about lines 1-206, are structured as a plea, and the rest of the book, lines 207-578, are an “elaborate defense.” The last book, Book5,  is entitled “Ovid’s Apology for the Work.”  

An excerpt of the first lines of Ovid’s Tristia Book 1 and the last lines of Book 5 are below:

‘’Book TI.I:1-68 The Poet to His Book: Its Nature 

Little book, go without me – I don’t begrudge it – to the city.

Ah, alas, that your master’s not allowed to go!

Go, but without ornament, as is fitting for an exile’s:

sad one, wear the clothing of these times.”


Book TI.XI:1-44 Ovid’s Apology for the Work

Every letter you’ve read in this entire volume,

was composed in the troubled days of my journey.

Either the Adriatic saw me scribbling these words

in the midst of the waves, shivering in icy December”

Other writers who incorporated the form apologia into their work was Augustine. In his autobiographical book Confessions, which was published at around 397 and 398 A.D. was divided into 13 books, Augustine’s discusses his journey as he becomes more and more religious. In his book, he provides an account of his former religious beliefs and a justification of his new religious beliefs and why he believes in them.

Another very important author who is primarily responsible for the term “apologia” as a whole was John Hemry Newman. In his autobiography, Apologia Pro Vita Sua, which was first published in 1864, he wanted his apology to “give the ‘true key’ to his life in order to “show what I am, that it may be seen what I am not” (Newman 11-12). Just like Augustine, he wanted to give a personal account of his own experiences.

Other forms of apologia include the poetic form. This poetic form of the apologia is a more modern form of the apologia, rather than the prose counterpart. One poem I found that was composed as an apologia in poetic form was Gaylord Brewer’s “Apologia to Anne Sexton. “ The apologia in poetic form condenses the apology into a few lines and presents the poet stance on a particular subject.


Apologia to Anne Sexton — By: Gaylord Brewer

So I tried to be delightful to Anne Sexton, and a lover of life (which I’m not), and I drew her this diagram of the story of Cinderella . .. ?Kurt Vonnegut

Not an unusual morning tableau for our cabin

 in the woods: I am perched on a closed commode

with a mug of organic shade-grown coffee,

 a good steaming cup, looking down on my wife

 in the bath with hers. She is filling me in

 on her night at the theatre, grading dinner

 at my favorite restaurant. And here is the thing:

 she has placed your book on the tub’s

 edge, so to speak to me without distraction.

When I glance at you, intentionally grainy

as if sizing me through a screen, your face

 is a watery mess: gash on the cheek, long tear

 in one eye, drip precisely from mouth’s edge,

tourniquet at the forehead. I am trying to follow

the politics of the play but am disturbed

 by your pretty, upside-down, clear-eyed sadness.

Wounds of water, not blood, but I have to

 do something so swipe at them, smear the cover

of this volume of dwarfs, wolves, ovens,

worsen your suffering. Then, dunce though I am,

I do what I should have done: lift the book,

 turn it, and dry your face on the wool of my leg.

Another form of the poetic apologia is Floyd Dell’s poem entitled “Apologia”


APOLOGIA By: Floyd Dell

I think I have no soul,

Having instead two hands, sensitive and curious,

And ten subtle and inquisitive fingers

 Which reach out continually into the world,

Touching and handling all things.

The fascination of objects!

The marvellous shapes!

Contours of faces and of dispositions,

Hearts that are tender or rough to the touch,

 The smooth soft fabrics in which lives go clothed

 Hope and pity and passion:

All these as I touch them delight and enchant me,

And I think I could go on touching them forever.

 But the impulse comes into the nerves of my fingers,

 Into the muscles of my hands,

To give back this beauty in some shape

Confessional of joy.

And so I make these toys.


The Classical Journal”: The Classical Association of the Middle West and South. Vol. 32, No. 2 (Nov., 1936), pp. 92-10 <http://www.jstor.org/stable/3290830>

“Oxford English Dictionary”  <http://dictionary.oed.com/cgi/entry/50010381?single=1&query_type=word&queryword=apologia&first=1&max_to_show=10 >

“Ovid: Tristia”. Translated by A. S. Kline, 2003. <http://www.poetryintranslation.com/PITBR/Latin/OvidTristiaBkOne.htm>

ELH, The Rhetoric of Newman’s Apologia. Vol. 29, No. 2 (Jun., 1962), pp. 224-238, The Johns Hopkins University Press <http://www.jstor.org/stable/2871856>

Peterson, Linda. “Newman’s Apologia pro vita sua and the Traditions of the English Spiritual Autobiography” PMLA, Vol. 100, No. 3 Modern Language Association, (pp. 300-314), May 1985. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/462084>

Dell , Floyd. “Apologia” Poetry, Poetry Foundation,  Vol. 6, No. 2 (page 67), May, 1915.http://www.jstor.org/stable/20570378

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