Abstract

Abstract:

The custom of calling an ascetic—particularly a virgin woman—a "garden enclosed" is well attested in early Christian literature. When analyzing the sources that employ the expression, scholars regularly remark on the meaning evoked from Song of Songs, the biblical intertext whence the phrase derives. In this study, I consider other meanings that would have been elicited by the expression, specifically those associated with material garden spaces. Focusing exclusively on Gregory of Nyssa's On Virginity, in which Gregory positions the virgin at the enclosure of the παράδεισος, the garden paradise, I suggest that Gregory capitalized on common views about the supernatural flourishing and everlasting bounty of gardens in order to amplify his notion of virginity, as well as his notion of the Christian garden paradise, as a limit or boundary to corruption and death. I further argue that Gregory stationed the Christian virgin in this location as a replacement of the conventional garden guardian, Priapus. This juxtaposition pit asexuality against hypersexuality and highlighted virginity's role in admitting outsiders into the utopic space over against Priapus's role of restricting access. Finally, I demonstrate how Gregory's allusions to gardens played on readers' existing desires and aversions, adding emotional appeal to his argument.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-3184
Print ISSN
1067-6341
Pages
pp. 99-131
Launched on MUSE
2019-03-28
Open Access
No
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