Perpetua's Passion: The Death and Memory of a Young Roman Woman

Joyce Salisbury, Author Routledge $35 (240p) ISBN 978-0-415-91837-4
Vibia Perpetua is remembered to this day as a saint and martyr of the early Christian church, who was ""condemned to the beasts"" in the amphitheater at Carthage in North Africa in 203 A.D. Drawing largely from Perpetua's well-preserved prison journal and an eyewitness account of her execution, University of Wisconsin professor of medieval history Salisbury (Church Fathers; Independent Virgins) reanimates this ancient history. How could a 22-year-old, well-educated, ""respectably married"" mother walk confidently into the arena to face a violent death? In a refreshing contrast with countless insipid hagiographies, Salisbury's well-annotated look at Perpetua's martyrdom is clear, thorough, insightful and less a portrait of the person than of the socio-politico-religious context in which she lived and died. The last chapter discusses how this martyrdom changed--or failed to change--the Carthaginian church and the Roman Empire itself. Of particular interest is the development of commentaries and apologetics around the text in later centuries; once Christians were no longer persecuted, theologians like Augustine did their own violence to the martyrs' legacies as they adapted the anti-imperial heroes to a pro-imperial church. Salisbury's sharp analysis strips away generations of patriarchal revisionism to let the young Roman matron speak for herself. What emerges from this thoroughly engrossing study is a sense of how radically different the early Christian experience was, and how that changed over time. Illustrated. (Dec.)
Reviewed on: 11/17/1997
Release date: 10/01/1997
Genre: Nonfiction
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