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St. Perpetua. Why Sex and Gender Matter . Life and Background. Young woman (22 years old) New mother Well born Arrested, tried and imprisoned. Her Execution. She was probably killed on March 7 th in 203 Part of the birthday entertainment for Emperor Septimius Severus’s son

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St. Perpetua

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St perpetua

St. Perpetua

Why Sex and Gender Matter


Life and background

Life and Background

  • Young woman (22 years old)

  • New mother

  • Well born

  • Arrested, tried and imprisoned


Her execution

Her Execution

  • She was probably killed on March 7th in 203

  • Part of the birthday entertainment for Emperor Septimius Severus’s son

  • He was 14 at the time


What was perpetua s crime

What was Perpetua’s Crime?

  • Charged with civil disobedience

  • Condemned to fight wild beasts in the Roman amphitheater at Carthage


Roman carthage

Roman Carthage


The text

The Text

  • Prison diary

  • Simple language

  • Modern scholars accept that this is a first person narrative done by Perpetua


The structure of the text

The Structure of the Text

  • Perpetua writes of her arrest, trial, and visions while in prison

  • Someone else (author unknown) adds a introduction, an eyewitness report of her death, and a vision of another martyr named Saturus


Passion of saints perpetua and felicitas

Passion of Saints Perpetua and Felicitas


Gender identity status i

Gender, Identity & Status I

  • Shift from home (women’s realm) and family to public martyr

  • Perpetua is referred to as “domina” yet is her status as a wife relevant?


Gender identity and status ii

Gender, Identity and Status II

  • Perpetua’s transformation into a man coincides with:

  • The end of her lactation

  • Her movement into the arena (world of men)


What is remarkable about this text

What is remarkable about this text?

  • She becomes the legal advocate for herself

  • She intercedes on behalf of others

  • At this time, women were denied the right to represent others in legal affairs


Where did roman authority normally come from at this time

Where did Roman authority normally come from at this time?

  • The gods

  • The magistrates

  • The paterfamilias


Vision 1

Vision #1

  • Vision of martydom (4)

  • “Domina soror, you are now in such honor that you may ask whether there will be a martyrdom or a stay of execution?” (4.1)


Vision 2

Vision #2

  • Vision of Dinocrates, her brother, who died of skin cancer (7-8)

  • Her brother is disfigured and unable to drink water

  • She sees him healed and able to drink from a golden cup after she prays for him


Vision 3

Vision #3

  • Vision of gladiatorial victory (10)

  • Enters the arena

  • Becomes a man

  • Wins the fight


What is the purpose of these visions

What is the purpose of these visions?

  • In between the scenes where Perpetua challenges familial and legal authority

  • Visions show her acting independently

  • Interceding on behalf of others


Perpetua s conviction

Perpetua’s Conviction

  • Her refusal to submit to her father is considered a disgrace (3.1)

  • “Father, do you see that thing lying there – let’s call it a vase, a little pitcher, or some such other thing?”

  • Perpetua asks, “It cannot be called by any other name, can it?”

  • “So, I can not say I am other than what I am, a Christian.”


Perpetua and her father

Perpetua and Her Father

  • Claims her identity

  • Uses term “urseolus” or “little pitcher”

  • Funeral urn, but also symbolizes her female body and her mortality

  • Reversal of gender roles (6.2-6)


Perpetua in court

Perpetua in Court

  • Her father appears before her with his infant son in his arms

  • You would expect this scene to be reversed

  • Weeping wife and children can evoke pity from judges


Perpetua and the prison warden

Perpetua and the Prison Warden

  • Uses humor and legal language to assert her authority

  • Prison warden is shamed into treating Perpetua better

  • She tells him they need to be fattened up if they are to be the entertainment for the crowd


Roman women and legal authority i

Roman Women and Legal Authority I

  • How does one gain honor in Roman society?

  • A man of authority fulfills his duties with decorum

  • Chooses his own destiny


Roman women legal power ii

Roman Women & Legal Power II

  • The crowd lowers their eyes to Perpetua when she enters the amphitheater

  • Her procession into the amphitheater is given a triumphal quality

  • She controls the circumstances of her death


Roman women legal power iii

Roman Women & Legal Power III

  • “We came into this of our own free will so that our liberty would not be taken away

  • We have legally contracted to forfeit our lives rather than perform any such pagan rites”

  • Injustice acknowledged justice”


Perpetua s authority part i

Perpetua’s Authority, Part I

  • Perpetua and the other martyrs refuse to wear pagan costumes into the amphitheater

  • Spectators are alternately astonished and horrified


Perpetua s authority part ii

Perpetua’s authority, Part II

  • “We may think of status as static, but but honor was, in ancient Rome, forever open to contest, enmeshed in a chain of challenge and response. It had to be tested; it required an agony and a spectacle”

  • Carlin Barton, The Gladiator and the Monster


Perpetua s authority part iii

Perpetua’s Authority, Part III

  • Terrible death is better than being a slave under fairly decent conditions

  • Choses death in a public and conspicuous way


Rejection of traditional roles

Rejection of Traditional Roles

  • Rejected birth father

  • Rejected husband

  • Madonna/Child Theme is reversed


Conclusion part i

Conclusion, Part I

  • Dependence on male relatives

  • Dependence on church authority

  • Replaced by Perpetua’s confidence in her own abilities


Conclusion part ii

Conclusion, Part II

  • In the end, Perpetua behaves in the arena (the public sphere) as is expected for an upper class woman of that time


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