Friday, 1 May 2015

Jennifer Collins-Elliott: The Making and Unmaking of Virgins: Rape and Chastity in the Latin West of the Fourth and Fifth Centuries CE

This paper will focus on the ways in which four Latin authors of the fourth- and fifth-centuries CE--Ambrose, Jerome, Augustine, and Pope Leo I--discussed the rape, and the threat of rape, of Christian virgins. Through these authors I will explore: first, how the treatment of rape can help us to locate chastity in or on the body; second, what components were necessary for a woman to be considered virginal; and third, what trends, if any, can be seen emerging in the West from Ambrose to Leo I on the subject of what constituted a virgin. Because rape creates dissonance between physical reality and desire or will, the investigation of raped bodies can lay bare the anatomy of virginity. This paper, then, is a venture into the dissonance in order to isolate the components that make up a virgin and how they fit and work together in selected writings from Ambrose, Jerome, Augustine, and Leo I. I will suggest that though these authors configure virginity in different ways, their conclusions, when taken together, evidence the increasing centrality and importance of the physical body when determining virginal status. This is of particular importance during the fourth- and fifth-centuries, as this period witnessed the ascendancy of virginity over Christian marriage as the favored spiritual status in the West.

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