Saturday, 11 April 2015

Alexander Perkins: Grave Politics: Gregory Nazianzen's Oration for Gorgonia and Gender Dynamics in Fourth-Century Cappadocia

The tragic deaths of their sisters impelled both Gregory of Nyssa and Gregory Nazianzen to write moving encomia for the departed women. While Nyssa’s biography of Macrina has received a great amount of attention, scholars have not fully realized the potential in studying Nazianzen’ eulogy for Gorgonia. This is particularly troubling because this oration offers a compelling source for the study of gender dynamics in fourth-century Cappadocia. In this paper, I perform a close reading of Nazianzen’ speech in order to tease out some of the social aspects of Cappadocian gender politics. An investigation Gregory’s language reveals a great amount of continuity with pre-Christian gender expectations. A comparison with similar encomia for women from earlier periods reveals that Gorgonia’s virtues, as Gregory describes them, fit neatly with what would be expected of an elite woman centuries prior. Nazianzen emphasizes Gorgonia’s matronly qualities and goes to great lengths to excuse behaviors that might appear unseemly for a married woman. If this eulogy can, as Virginia Burrus (2006) suggests, be considered the first female hagiography, then the sanctification of Gorgonia solidified the social expectations among the elite rather than troubling them.

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