Rhetoric of martyrs : transmission and reception history of the "Passion of Saints Perpetua and Felicitas".




Ronsse, Erin Ann

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This work represents an interdisciplinary consideration of the ongoing significance of an early Christian martyr narrative from Roman North Africa, the Passion of Saints Perpetua and Felicitas, which remains extant only in medieval hagiographic manuscripts. By emphasizing the genre and material basis for interpreting this historical work of religious literature, I work to elucidate the several catechetical, liturgical, devotional, and academic contexts in which Perpetua, Felicitas, and their companions initially achieved prominence and have maintained a measure of influence. Though other scholars have tended to focus immediately on the person of Perpetua, I discuss the text holistically as highlighting Christian visionary and rhetorical successes. This reading respects the Passion's original narrative functions while challenging ideas about the relationship between classical education and Christian prayer practices. My own methodological approach also combines critical, experiential knowledge with thorough codicological, artifactual, and original language research to encourage an informed discourse with the past. To test and develop ideas, I particularly examine the Passion's reception history in medieval England. Important justifications for this geographic focus include the fact that the bulk of extant manuscripts relating to what is now regarded as the Passio Sanctarum Perpetuae et Felicitatis, a single Latin text, are from medieval England and not all English manuscript sources are yet recognized in existing critical editions. In addition to Anglo-Latin legendaries, the narrative was recalled in the Old English Martyrology and Peter of Cornwall's Liber reuelationum (now Lambeth Palace MS 51). Recognizing the liturgical history of textual transmission nuances and, simultaneously, enlarges an understanding of the nature of this martyr narrative. Also, that there are no known long versions of the work in Middle English is meaningful given the relative popularity of other courtly lives of women saints, and I discuss how and why the appeal of the hagiographic account changes. By explaining-for the first time medieval English responses to the Africans Perpetua and Felicitas, I also recognize the dynamic cultural interactions shaping literary canons: in historical contexts, it is the educational model of Perpetua and Felicitas that has kept their memories alive and versions of their martyrdom in circulation.



Saint Perpetua, Saint Felicity