The Martyrdom of Perpetua

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Mara
March 8, 2013
Ancient History
The Martyrdom Of Perpetua

In the year 203, there were many Christians tried, arrested, and found guilty by the governor of Carthage. Among them was a young woman named Vivia Perpetua who was nursing a young child at the time. (Perspectives from the Past 188.) Through her diary entries, one can see Romans view of women in their society. It also shows how Perpetua is a significant example of a changing view of women in the new Christian society by showing how she was not confined by how she was supposed to act as a woman and took a traditionally masculine role in several situations. Though she excelled in what was expected of her as a woman, she did not exclude the idea of gender roles. She still conformed to a strict masculine and feminine separation where masculinity was associated with strength and conviction and femininity was associated with weakness and passivity. She did not value her femininity as strength; rather she shed it and deliberately masculinized herself to be strong. Though Perpetua was a strong woman, her narrative still upheld the idea that the only way to be heroic is to be like a man, and this is shown several times throughout the text. The first example of this presentation as well as Perpetua’s transcendence of gender roles was the complete lack of presence or influence from her husband. He was not even named in the text, and there was no indication of his existence other than a statement that Perpetua was “honorably married” (Perspectives from the Past 188).  On the whereabouts of the husband, a theory that I had was that he may have been dead or that Perpetua took the path of many women after her, who, in the process of becoming Christians, separated themselves of her prior familial relationships, including husbands and children, so that they might become virginal and dedicate themselves to God. Whatever the truth, it’s clear Perpetua’s husband was not important to her story. She went about her business as if she was unattached and has no duties as a wife. She was completely independent. The lack of a husband’s presence also means that the reader never saw Perpetua in a sexual situation or saw any indication Perpetua could love someone other than God. Whether or not this was a purposeful decision Perpetua made-as I believe it to be-it is true that she did essentially act as a virgin dissociated of men within her narrative. When Perpetua rejected the roles of wife, lover and mother, she was essentially rejecting her womanhood as it was defined by her third century religious beliefs.  Perpetua’s rejection of her motherhood was an essential turning point in her journey that allowed her to truly be a martyr. Her baby and her lactating breasts were proof of previous sexual orientation and strong symbols of her femininity. She was nurturing and caretaking in the way a woman was expected to and devoting herself to a being other than God. But Perpetua separated herself entirely from her child in order to become a true martyr, therefore opting out of both sexuality and femininity. In fact, both her child and her own body reflected this.  Perpetua stated, “As God willed, the baby no longer desired my breasts, nor did they ache and become inflamed, so that I might not be tormented by worry for my child or by the pain in my breasts” (Perspectives from the Past 190). The baby entirely detached himself from his mother as if he had been erased from her very past, and her own biology erased all evidence of motherhood and previous sexual liaisons. The leaving of her family, renunciation of her husband, and eventual giving up of her baby, together with a miraculous drying up of the milk in her breasts, that is, a sort of symbolic restoration of virginity. It is clear that Perpetua did not yield to her father as a daughter is expected to and failed to even recognize his authority at all. In fact, the roles of father and daughter were completely reversed Perpetua’s role in...
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