Gender & History
from the historical author even if the text was indeed written by Perpetua herself.
Itis Perpetua the narrator who will serve as the object of our attention in the presentarticle. This said, our attention to how her concerns and circumstances are evoked inthe text will aim to address historical questions – what light close attention to thesecircumstances and concerns can shed on Roman social relations – rather than strictlyliterary concerns.Nonetheless, there is a literary problem that must be addressed, at least briefly.The narratives of Perpetua and Saturus are transmitted in the medieval manuscriptswithin a ‘frame story’ penned by an ancient editor who explains their relationship toone another and offers what purports to be a description of their deaths, meaning thatthere are at least three, and possibly four, discrete voices at work in the narrative.
It is important for our argument to recognise that the ancient editor who composedthe connecting narrative often interposed his or her reading, and was not necessarilywriting at the same time.Again, this is a problem we have no need to resolve. But we will see below thatthe uncertain relationship between the prison diaries and the work of the ancient editoris potentially of importance, because the ancient editor occasionally gives evidenceof discomfort with some elements of the narratives of Perpetua and Saturus.
Thereis reason to think that Perpetua was a more disturbing and subversive figure than theancient editor was happy to admit.It has long been a scholarly convention to imagine that Perpetua of Carthagebelonged to a prominent citizen family. The interpretative tradition on this point goesback to the ancient editor, who refers to her as
honeste nata, liberaliter instructa,matronaliter nupta
– ‘well-born, well-educated, and honourably married’.
But as weshall see below, a number of points in Perpetua’s own text undermine the editor’sassignment to her of the high-born status characteristic of ancient heroines. We mustconsider the possibility that the Perpetua of the prison memoir – whether heroine orhistoricalwoman–wasnoneofthethingsclaimedbytheancienteditor.Thishypothesisof a Perpetua drawn from the humbler classes will have remarkable consequences forour reading of her memoir as a document of the process of social control in the Romanprovinces.
Prisoners of conscience in Roman Carthage: religion, class and the socialmeaning of resistance to authority
Whether they were Christian or not, individuals and families depended on a network of friends and family to vouch for them if they came into contact with the authorities.Public authority in the Roman Empire was articulated through social relationships andpersonal loyalties, and these relationships and loyalties could be mobilised in both atop-down and a bottom-up direction. Whether living in cities or smaller communities,Roman families had to be wary in case some activity or characteristic singled them outas suspect in the eyes of the local big men. Equally, other neighbours and associatesmight pass on gossip about those who were seen not to have shown enough enthusiasmfor the governmentand its policies.
Sometimes this atmosphere of intimidationwouldbe the result of simple personal dislike, while in other cases there was real concernabout subversive religious or political views.
2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.