Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

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

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

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

Article excerpt

Perpetua's Passion: The Death and Memory of a Young Roman Woman. By Joyce E. Salisbury. (New York: Routledge. 1997. Pp. ix, 228. $19.95 paperback.)

The martyrdom of Perpetua and Felicitas (not "Felicity, please!) has been the subject of many scholarly editions and analyses. So why bring out a new book on this very old subject? The answer lies perhaps in the author's method of approaching historical problems through such disciplines as sociology and psychology. The result is a brief but compact treatment of all those historical, religious, and communal experiences which may have molded Perpetua's character and prepared her for voluntary, sacrificial death.

The book is very well organized around the central event of the trial and execution. We learn both what led to this event and what flowed from it. The first three chapters discuss Rome, Carthage, and the Christian community in Carthage. Chapter one deals with Roman customs of family and home, the role of the emperor as head of the extended family, and the general religious situation in the second and third centuries after Christ. Perpetua was a Roman, but also a Carthaginian: she was born and raised in Carthage and must have absorbed much of the city's spiritual heritage. The city's history, life, culture, and especially its inlamous practice of human sacrifice are briefly introduced. We then learn how Christianity arrived in this city, its outstanding characteristics and its congregational life there. The actual story of Perpetua is told in Chapters four and five, entitled "Prison" and "The Arena." Her arrest, trial, and experiences in prison are vividly described; dreams which she herself put down in writing and then interpreted to her fellow prisoners are related and analyzed. These pages are perhaps the most original of the whole book and could alone make it worthwhile and rewarding reading. …

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