Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Saints' Lives and the Rhetoric of Gender. Male and Female in Merovingian Hagiography

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Saints' Lives and the Rhetoric of Gender. Male and Female in Merovingian Hagiography

Article excerpt

Saints' Lives and the Rhetoric of Gender Male and Female in Merovingian Hagiography. By John Kitchen (New York: Oxford University Press. 1998. Pp. xv, 255.$49.95.)

Modern scholarship has usually classified Gregory of Tours as an influential historian of the early Franks and Fortunatus as a poet noted for the fluency of his versification. Yet both were also distinguished authors of saints' Lives. John Kitchen's study is an important contribution to the ongoing revival of their reputations as hagiographers. In particular, Kitchen examines current debates over the existence of a distinctive notion of female sanctity during the early medieval period. In his book lie adopts two approaches. One is to compare an author's Lives of male saints with his Life of a female saint. In his book entitled Life of the Fathers Gregor), included twenty Lives. One discussed Monegund, who had abandoned her husband to take up residence at the church of St. Martin in Tours. In this Life Gregory did not deviate from the formulas he employed in his other Lives except in the preface, in which lie explicitly noted Monegund's -inferior sex" and associated it. with male characteristics of holiness: "Monegund is consistently presented... neither as a man nor as a woman. She is . . . the same sexless figure we find throughout this collection" (p. 113). Fortunatus likewise composed one Life of a woman. This hero was the famous Radegund, who had been married to a Frankish king before founding a convent at Poitiers. Although in his other Lives Fortunatus had depicted the asceticism of male saints as controlled and restrained, in his Life of Radegund he highlighted her self-inflicted suffering and stressed the importance of selfmortification. In his discussions Kitchen is acutely sensitive to differences in attitudes, or perhaps rhetorical strategies, between Gregory and Fortunatus, He also consistently challenges some of the lazy generalizations of modern scholars about the appearance of a new, specifically female voice or outlook: "women who attained sanctity regarded themselves positively as male" (p. …

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