The Passio Perpetuae et Felicitatis preserves the final days of five North African catechumens, their prison experiences, their trials, and multiple visions through which they interpret their imminent death. In this essay I examine three literary tropes within the Passio, patriarchy, sight/gaze, and declamation, and I place them within the context of Roman competitive rhetoric. The narrator of the Passio, I contend, employs these motifs to open an agonistic dialogue between the martyrs and their opponents (fathers, governors, animals, mobs) and, at the same time, to open a comparative dialogue between early Christian martyrs and heroes from the Roman Republic/Empire. Perpetua and her fellow martyrs exert forceful control over their accusers in word, action, and appearance. They stare down, elicit shame and embarrassment, and control events up to the very moment of their deaths. Early Christian communities constructed narratives with such dominant characters as part of wider competitive programs throughout the empire, targeting both non-initiates and rival Christian communities.


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pp. 363-388
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