The Female Patience Figure as Frozen Speaker

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


Much evidence for the gendering of patience literature appears in late classical and early medieval discussions of patience that employ personification and allegory: widely used rhetorical techniques in these periods. Very quickly and almost unvaryingly these discussions present patience as a female figure,1 and the monumental qualities of even the earliest of these personifications demonstrate that writers conceived the personification process, at least partially, as a marking out of space—as might be expected when this process casts abstract concepts into the forms of statue-like representations. But marking out spaces would be an unusual activity for late antique or early medieval women. Consequently, as patience literature develops and mimicry of patience figures changes into duplication, many female figures of patience start to occupy and define spaces that early medieval writers identify more and more specifically as “appropriate” ones for women.


British Library Patience Literature Bible Story Patience Figure Suspended Animation 
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.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Later, male figures become more common, for example, the male personification of Patience in William Langland’s Piers Plowman: An Edition of the C-Text, ed. Derek Pearsall (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978). See Passus 15, lines 33–34.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    The complexity is surprising because critics have often treated Tertullian as strongly antifeminist. See Maud Burnett McInerney, Eloquent Virgins: From Thecla to Joan of Arc (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003), p. 17.Google Scholar
  3. 6.
    See Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, Volume 2: The Use of Pleasure, trans. Robert Hurley (New York: Vintage, 1990), pp. 46–47.Google Scholar
  4. 8.
    Tertullian can be quite egalitarian in general, and certainly praises women martyrs as much as men, with little in the way of distinction between their personal qualities. See Daniel L. Hoffman, The Status of Women and Gnosticism in Irenaeus and Tertullian (Lewiston: Edwin Mellen Press, 1995), pp. 169–70. For critical works concerning Tertullian’s rhetorical skill, see Erin Ronsse, “Rhetoric of Martyrs: Listening to Saints Perpetua and Felicitas,” Journal of Early Christian Studies 14 (2006): n. 15.Google Scholar
  5. 9.
    Tertullian, De Cultu Feminam, ed. A. Kroymann, Opera 1:341–70. See McInerney, Eloquent Virgins, pp. 17–20; and Brad Windon, “The Seduction of Weak Men: Tertullian’s Rhetorical Construction of Gender and Ancient Christian ‘Heresy,’” in Mapping Gender in Ancient Religious Discourses, ed. Todd Penner and Caroline Vander Stichele (Leiden: Brill, 2007), pp. 459, 469.Google Scholar
  6. 12.
    A. N. Doane, ed., Genesis A: A New Edition (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1978), pp. 36–37. I use the edition in The Junius Manuscript, ed. George Philip Krapp (New York, Columbia University Press, 1931), pp. 3–87. For a review of criticism concerning this poem, see Paul G. Remley, Old English Biblical Verse: Studies in Genesis, Exodus, and Daniel (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1996), pp. 18–19, 97.Google Scholar
  7. 14.
    See Malcolm R. Godden, “The Trouble with Sodom: Literary Responses to Biblical Sexuality,” Bulletin of the John Rylands Library 77 (1995): 118, 119.Google Scholar
  8. 15.
    See M. Nussbaum, The Therapy of Desire: Theory and Practice in Hellenistic Ethics (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1994), pp. 359–401.Google Scholar
  9. 17.
    Julia Kristeva, “Women’s Time,” in The Kristeva Reader, ed. Toril Moi (New York: Columbia University Press, 1986), pp. 187–213.Google Scholar
  10. 18.
    Geoffrey W. Bromley, ed., The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, 4 vols. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986), 3:172;Google Scholar
  11. J. D. Douglas and Merrill C. Tenney, eds., The New International Dictionary of the Bible: Pictorial Edition (Basingstoke: Marshall Pickering, 1987), p. 602. SeeGoogle Scholar
  12. Martin Harries, Forgetting Lot’s Wife: On Destructive Spectatorship (New York: Fordham University Press, 2007), p. 28, fig. 3; p. 7, n. 5.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. 22.
    C. R. Dodwell and Peter Clemoes, eds., The Old English Illustrated Hexateuch: British Museum Cotton Claudius B. IV EEMF 18 (Copenhagen: Rosenkilde and Bagger, 1974), p. 56; andGoogle Scholar
  14. Benjamin C. Withers, The Illustrated Old English Hexateuch, Cotton Claudius B. iv: The Frontier of Seeing and Reading in Anglo-Saxon England (Toronto: British Museum and University of Toronto Press, 2007), pp. 18, 21.Google Scholar
  15. 23.
    See C. R. Dodwell, Anglo-Saxon Gestures and the Roman Stage (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2000), p. 134, and plates XLIX a and b.Google Scholar
  16. 28.
    See Allen J. Frantzen, “The Disclosure of Sodomy in Cleanness,” PMLA 111 (1996): 459–60, where he describes the landscape of the destroyed cities as anal. See also his Before the Closet: Same-Sex Love from “Beowulfto “i>Angels in America” (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998), pp. 184–226.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. 30.
    Martin Harries, “Forgetting Lot’s Wife: Artaud, Spectatorship, and Catastrophe,” Yale Journal of Criticism 11 (1998): 227. Bede also stresses the sounds of destruction that reach her. SeeCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Charles W. Jones, ed., Bedae Venerabilis Opera, In Principium Genesis. CCSL 118a (Turnhout: Brepols, 1967), 19. 26, p. 227.Google Scholar
  19. 31.
    Harries, Forgetting Lot’s Wife, p. 28. See also pp. 106–07, and Jacques Lacan, Écrits: A Selection, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: Norton, 1977), p. 43.Google Scholar
  20. 32.
    See Jean Baudrillard, “Simulacra and Simulations,” in Modern Criticism and Theory: A Reader, ed. David Lodge with Nigel Wood (Harlow: Longman, 2000), p. 405. An anonymous third-century (?) Latin poem describes her as ipsa et imago sibi [herself an image of herself]. Incertu de Sodoma, ed. Rudolf Peiper, Cypriani Galli Poetae Heptatevchos. CSEL 23, Part 3 (Vienna: F. Tempsky, 1881), pp. 212–20, line 120. The poem has been attributed to Tertullian and Cyprian. Its authorship remains unknown.Google Scholar
  21. 33.
    S. J. Crawford supplied parentheses that clearly demark the phrase as an addition to the Vulgate text. They are not in the manuscript. See AA Crawford, ed., The Old English Version of the Heptateuch, Ælfric’s Treatise on the Old and New Testament and His Preface to Genesis (London: Oxford University Press, 1922), p. 134;Google Scholar
  22. Frederick M. Biggs, “Biblical Glosses in Ælfric’s Translation of Genesis,” Notes and Queries 38 (1991): 291, Heptateuch, p. 43; andCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Rebecca Anne Barnhouse, “Shaping the Hexateuch Text for an Anglo-Saxon Audience,” in The Old English Hexateuch: Aspects and Approaches, ed. Rebecca Anne Barnhouse and Benjamin C. Withers (Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, 2000), pp. 97–98.Google Scholar
  24. 35.
    For “sense for sense” translation as opposed to “word for word” (the idea came originally from Cicero, and was further popularized by Jerome and King Alfred), see Robert Stanton, The Culture of Translation in Anglo-Saxon England (Cambridge, UK: Brewer, 2002), pp. 75, 82, 110–11.Google Scholar
  25. 39.
    The translation is from Dolores Warwick Frese, “Sexing Political Tropes of Conquest: ‘The Wife’s Lament’ and La?amon’s Brut,” in Sex and Sexuality in Anglo-Saxon England: Essays in Memory of Daniel Gillmore Calder, ed. Carol Braun Pasternack and Lisa M. C. Weston (Tempe: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 2004), p. 211, n. 22.Google Scholar
  26. 49.
    Henry Bettenson, ed. and trans., The Early Christian Fathers: A Selection from the Writings of the Fathers from St. Clement of Rome to St. Athanasias (London: Oxford University Press, 1963), p. 122.Google Scholar
  27. 50.
    Niobe’s story is an analogue to Lot’s wife’s in that the former is transformed into a physical object, the rock of Sipylos, which one may still visit. According to tradition, the rock still weeps. See Robert Graves, The Greek Myths, 2 vols. (New York: George Braziller, 1955), 1:259. The Adventures of Leucippe and Clitophon also connects the immovability of its heroine with Niobe (Achilles Tatius 3.15.167). In Aesop’s Fables, truth is “a woman standing all alone” out in the desert, having left “the town ,” which is full of liars. SeeGoogle Scholar
  28. B. E. Perry, ed., Aesopica, vol. 1 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1952), Number 355. For the translation, see Fables of Aesop, trans. S. A. Handford (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1964), Number 160, p. 164.Google Scholar
  29. 52.
    Julia Kristeva, Tales of Love, trans. Leon S. Roudiez (New York: Columbia University Press, 1987), pp. 376, 375.Google Scholar
  30. 54.
    For connections between landscape, body, and the surface of a manuscript page, see Withers, The Illustrated Old English Hexateuch, p. 264; and Patricia Cox Miller, “The Blazing Body: Ascetic Desire in Jerome’s Letter to Eustochium,” Journal of Early Christian Studies 1 (1993): 27–30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. 60.
    Incerti de Sodoma, lines 125–26. The menstruation confirms that she is alive and remains premenopausal. Hence, Eve’s punishment for disobedience is extended until the end of time for Lot’s wife, who thus connects with Genesis’s theme of fertility in language. This portrayal of Lot’s wife as still menstruating in her transformed state appears much more rarely during the Middle Ages as compared to other traditions concerning her. Her blood recalls the blood of the martyrs, often associated with relics and cults. See Peggy McCracken, The Curse of Eve, the Wound of the Hero: Blood, Gender, and Medieval Literature (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003), pp. 2–8, 22–37.Google Scholar
  32. 61.
    Menstrual blood connects with the early medieval idea of learning through breast milk. See Susan Signe Morrison, Women Pilgrims in Late Medieval England: Private Piety as Public Performance (London: Routledge, 2000), p. 32;Google Scholar
  33. Joyce E. Salisbury, Perpetua’s Passion: The Death and Memory of a Young Roman Woman (New York: Routledge, 1997), p. 142; andGoogle Scholar
  34. Julia Kristeva, Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection, trans. Leon S. Roudiez (New York: Columbia University Press, 1982), p. 71.Google Scholar
  35. 62.
    Many ancient monuments present the human figure as larger or smaller than life. See Max Wegener, Greek Masterworks of Art, trans. Charlotte La Rue (New York: George Braziller, 1961), plates 2, 3, 6, 7, 12, 58, 63, 64, 108–11. Most medieval depictions of Lot’s wife in artworks suggest that she is life-sized.Google Scholar
  36. 65.
    See Peter Brown, Society and the Holy in Late Antiquity (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982), pp. 103–65; Graves, Greek Myths, 1:11. For what cities represent to Anglo-Saxons, seeGoogle Scholar
  37. Nicholas Howe, “Rome: Capital of Anglo-Saxon England,” Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 34 (2004): 147–72.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. 68.
    See Bernard F. Huppé, Doctrine and Poetry: Augustine’s Influence on Old English Poetry (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1959), pp. 203–04; Bede, In Lucae Evangelium expositio, p. 319; Godden, “The Trouble with Sodom,” p. 99. On the other hand, were one to treat the tribes that descend from Lot’s daughters as the products of evil deeds, under the taint of incest, one would have to acknowledge that Lot’s wife, by being turned into a salt-stone, “never becomes part of the incestuous community after the destruction of the cities” and thus might also be considered a figure of “salvation” (Harries, Forgetting Lot’s Wife, p. 32).Google Scholar
  39. 78.
    Graves, Greek Myths, 2:316. Not to mention the stone figure in Andreas that speaks explicitly (line 713). For emblems of Patience, see Gerald J. Schiffhorst, ed., The Triumph of Patience: Medieval and Renaissance Studies (Orlando: University Presses of Florida, 1978), frontispiece, and pp. 16–19, and 116.Google Scholar
  40. 81.
    Joseph Bosworth, ed., An Anglo-Saxon Dictionary (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1882), with a Supplement by T. North cote Toller (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1921), Enlarged Addenda and Corrigenda to the Supplement by Alastair Campbell (Oxford: Clarendon Press), 1972, s. v. “Sið”.Google Scholar
  41. 89.
    See Bosworth and Toller, eds., An Anglo-Saxon Dictionary, s. v. “Wic”; Richard L. Venezky and Antonette DiPaolo Healey, eds., A Microfiche Concordance to Old English (Toronto: Dictionary of Old English Project, University of Toronto, 1980), s. v. “Wic.” Both the abode of the Grendel family and the dragon’s barrow are described as examples of wic, so the term is not unambiguously positive. See Beowulf, lines 1612a, 3083a. I gratefully acknowledge Richard Firth Green who drew my attention to the use of this term in the Genesis A passage.Google Scholar
  42. 91.
    Anita R. Riedinger, “The Englishing of Arcestrate: Woman in Apollonius of Tyre,” in New Readings on Women in Old English Literature, ed. Helen Damico, Alexandra Hennesey Olsen, and Marijane Osborn (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990), p. 301.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Robin Waugh 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Robin Waugh

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations