Saturday, 11 April 2015

Courtney Friesen: 'Playing the Man': Clement of Alexandria on Tragic Women and Christian Martyrs

For Clement, martyrdom represents the highest state of Christian virtue in which one fully repudiates sensuality for the sake of love for God. He maintains that women, and not merely men, could reach this spiritual apex. As support, he furnishes exempla drawn from Greek tragedy, in which women willingly accepted death (even suicide) to uphold their freedom. Such women, Clement asserts, 'play the man' (andreizomenē, Strom. 4.48). With this moralizing application of tragedy, it shall be argued in this study, Clement intriguingly anticipates the thesis of Nicole Loraux's Tragic Ways of Killing a Woman (org. 1985) that suicide on stage blurs the distinction between masculine and feminine by moving the agency of women beyond its conventional limitations and passivity into the realm of male kleos. This paper will survey several tragic heroines discussed by Clement in connection to martyrdom, with particular attention to how his literary appropriations converge or diverge with other ancient readers. For example, in Pseudo-Lucian's Demosthenis Encomium, the willing death of Polyxena in Euripides' Hecuba functions as a model for the orator's courageous suicide. If 'even a maiden' performed such an act, then a fortiori so would a man of intellectual refinement. Clement quotes the same Euripidean lines but with different emphasis: whereas others (e.g., Philo) were interested in Polyxena as evidence that true virtue secures genuine freedom even in external slavery, Clement emphasizes her chastity--even in death she fell 'decently' so as to maintain the sanctity of her body.

No comments:

Post a Comment