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The Female Patience Figure as Speaker

  • Robin Waugh
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)

Abstract

A text that has long been acknowledged as a questioner and destabilizer of male-traditional attitudes concerning gender and the political structures of the Roman Empire is the Passio Sanctarum Perpetuae et Felicitatis (Passion of Saints Perpetua and Felicitas). This text is probably from the late second century.1 Critics have mostly focused on the apparently autobiographical account of a young North African noblewoman in the passio, Perpetua, who experiences trials and visions just before her martyrdom. If the account is genuine, these events are related in her own words—an attribution that the narrator insists upon: haec ordinem totum martyrii sui iam hinc ipsa narrauit sicut conscriptum manu sua et suo sensu reliquit (108) [Now from this point on the entire account of her ordeal is her own, according to her own ideas and in the way that she herself wrote it down (109)]. With the prison-diary section possibly representing an extremely rare example of feminine self-expression from this period, Perpetua’s passion has attracted much critical attention.2

Keywords

Gender Change Male Authority Semiotic Stage Masculine Attribute Wrestling Match 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.
    See Judith Perkins, The Suffering Self: Pain and Narrative Representation in the Early Christian Era (London: Routledge, 1995), p. 104. For the manuscripts and editions of this passio, seeCrossRefGoogle Scholar
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  4. 2.
    See Brent D. Shaw, “The Passion of Perpetua,” Past and Present 139 (1993): 45. The passio has been relatively neglected by specialists in literary analysis. A notable exception isCrossRefGoogle Scholar
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  7. 3.
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    Kristeva, Desire in Language, p. 139. See Virginia Burrus, Saving Shame: Martyrs, Saints, and Other Abject Subjects (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008), p. 28.Google Scholar
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    This idea of domestic space also connects Perpetua with Jewish traditions. See Daniel Boyarin, Dying for God: Martyrdom and the Making of Christianity and Judaism (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1999), p. 81.Google Scholar
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    Ronsse, “Rhetoric of Martyrs,” p. 320. See Margaret R. Miles, Carnal Knowing: Female Nakedness and Religious Meaning in the Christian West (Boston: Beacon Press, 1989), p. 59. Within the Judeo-Christian tradition, a vase or waterpot calls to mind besides John 4:6–30 associations with Rebecca (Genesis 24:10–20). SeeGoogle Scholar
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    See Eva C. Keals, “Attic Vase-Painting and the Home Textile Industry,” in Ancient Greek Art and Iconography, ed. Warren G. Moone (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1983), pp. 209, 210–14, and figs. 14.1–6. In ancient Greek art a woman carrying a water jar is subject to “male erotic fantasies,” “voyeurism,” and “rape.” See pp. 212, 210, 214. For the vase in the passio, see Miles, Carnal Knowing, p. 59. For an early medieval artwork depicting a woman at a well, seeGoogle Scholar
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    See Robert Rousselle, “The Dreams of Vibia Perpetua: Analysis of a Female Christian Martyr,” The Journal of Psychohistory 14 (1987): 193–206, for a very convincing psychological reading that has received much acknowledgment, but little engagement.Google Scholar
  23. 25.
    See Alvyn Pettersen, “Perpetua—Prisoner of Conscience,” Vigiliae Christianae 41 (1987): 144. “Caseo” certainly means “cheese,” not “milk.” The image makes heaven Eucharistic, but the substance that Perpetua consumes comes from a ewe, a female source, rather than from Christ’s male body.Google Scholar
  24. 28.
    Clement of Alexandria, Le Pédagogue, ed. Henri-Irénée Marrou, 3 vols. (Paris: Éditions du Cerf, 1960–83) 1:6.42.3, 43.3–4, 46.1. I found this reference in de Nie, “‘Consciousness Fecund through God,’” pp. 113–14, and see Caroline Walker Bynum, Jesus as Mother: Studies in the Spirituality of the High Middle Ages (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982), pp. 132–35; andGoogle Scholar
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    The image is common. See LA, 168, 203–04, 794, and Thomas J. Heffernan, Sacred Biography: Saints and Their Biographers in the Middle Ages (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988), p. 288.Google Scholar
  27. 34.
    De Nie, “‘Consciousness Fecund through God,’” p. 119, and see n. 82. For a summary of the various interpretations of Perpetua’s first dream, see Patricia M. Davis, “The Weaning of Perpetua: Female Embodiment and Spiritual Growth Metaphor in the Dream of an Early Christian Martyr,” Dreaming 15 (2005): 263–64.Google Scholar
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  29. 42.
    Cf. Maud Burnett McInerney, Eloquent Virgins: From Thecla to Joan of Arc (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003), p. 21; andGoogle Scholar
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  31. 47.
    See Wayne A. Meeks, “The Image of the Androgyne: Some Uses of a Symbol in Earliest Christianity,” History of Religions 13 (1974): 165–208. McInerney notes that masculus could be an adjective rather than a noun, so Perpetua might become “masculine” rather than “a man” at this juncture. The treatment of her by the attendants, in my view, suggests instead an actual change of sex. See Eloquent Virgins, p. 26.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. 51.
    See Castelli, “‘I Will Make Mary Male,’” p. 37. Critics are perhaps wary of calling a text “feminist” when it cannot be described as such. See p. 46. Feminism, in its twentieth-century and twenty-first-century manifestations, is a body of attitudes that late antique people could not possibly have held or even considered. At best a kind of “locational feminism” may be detected in previous eras. See Susan Stanford Friedman, Mappings: Feminism and the Cultural Geographies of Encounter (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1998), pp. 3–13, 102–03.Google Scholar
  33. 58.
    Mary R. Lefkowitz, “The Motivations for St. Perpetua’s Martyrdom,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 44 (1976): 421. See also Miles, Carnal Knowing, p. 59, who notes that her dreams tend to be of men—lots of men. She never dreams of a woman, save herself. Examples of benign, supportive men would be the old shepherd, Dinocrates, the trainer, and Perpetua’s seconds at the wrestling match.Google Scholar
  34. 66.
    See John Anson, “The Female Transvestite in Early Monasticism: The Origin and Development of a Motif,” Viator 5 (1974): 1–32; andCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Mathew Kuefler, The Manly Eunuch: Masculinity, Gender Ambiguity, and Christian Ideology in Late Antiquity (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001), pp. 241–42.Google Scholar
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    Kuefler, The Manly Eunuch, pp. 147. See also pp. 243–44, and Virginia Burrus, “Begotten, Not Made”: Conceiving Manhood in Late Antiquity (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2000), pp. 138–40.Google Scholar
  37. 73.
    For masquerades and sexual differences see Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (New York: Routledge, 1990), pp. 47–48, 50, 137–39.Google Scholar
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    AA Burrus, “Reading Agnes: The Rhetoric of Gender in Ambrose and Prudentius,” Journal of Early Christian Studies 3 (1995): 33. See also pp. 25, 42–43.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. 86.
    Virginia Burrus, “‘Equipped for Victory’: Ambrose and the Gendering of Orthodoxy,” Journal of Early Christian Studies 4 (1996): 472.Google Scholar
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    Bruno Krusch, ed., Ionae Vitae Sanctorum Columbani, Vedastis, Iohannis (Hanover: Impensis Bibliopolii Hahniani, 1905), 1–294;Google Scholar
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© Robin Waugh 2012

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  • Robin Waugh

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