Playing The

According to many Roman sources, to be a victim of corporal punishment was to be humiliated, degraded, and, in a sense, "feminized," since elite male bodies were inviolate.77 Corporal punishment was considered to be so dishonorable, so devastating to one's status and gender, that a large fine was preferred to even a slight beating. The Roman jurist Macer explained, "one single stroke of the rods is more serious than condemnation to a fine."78 In theory at least, corporal punishment was reserved for people of debased status whose bodies were already vulnerable to the beatings (and penetrations) of masters, that is, slaves and poor freedmen.79 The worst punishments—damnatio ad bestias, immolation, and crucifixion, all of which involved prolonged, agonizing public exposure and death—were reserved for people of low status found guilty of heinous crimes, especially crimes against the maiestas of Rome.80 Public, degrading executions were designed to be humiliating, offering an example for the consumption and approval of the broadest possible audience. Thus, a brigand, slave, or murderer was shamed in the city square or in the arena so that spectators could enjoy the opportunity to reaffirm the public order and be reminded of the price of infamy.81

I have already indicated the close intertwining of discourses involving status and gender during this period. Ideally, elites ought not to be displayed for public view in the amphitheater, the city square, or anywhere else; elites view others.82 To be viewed publicly was to lose one's claim to status and "masculinity," an ideology reflected in the stereotype of the bad ruler. For example, Suetonius reported with shock that Emperor Nero went to Achaia for the express purpose of the public display of his own person. He sang in public at a musical competition, participated in wrestling matches, and drove chariots in the races. Nero was so determined to show off for an audience, Suetonius claimed, that he forbid anyone to leave the theater when he was singing, including pregnant women who were forced to give birth during an extraordinarily long performance (Suet. Ner. 23). Suetonius linked Nero's (supposedly appalling) enthusiasm for the violation of his imperial status in the amphitheater to his sexual appetites: according to Suetonius, Nero also arranged for noble women to behave as harlots, seduced Roman matrons and debauched a vestal virgin, castrated a freeborn boy for the sake of his sexual enjoyment, had intercourse with his own mother, and cried out like a deflowered virgin while being penetrated by his freedman Dorypho-rus (Suet. Ner. 27-29). In other words, from Suetonius' perspective, Nero's "femininity," his "slavishness" to his appetites, and his failure as an emperor were demonstrated by his need for public adulation, his excessive sexual desire, and by the pleasure he gained through submission to the phallus of his freedman. Contrast this portrayal of Nero with Marcus Aurelius' depiction of his "father," Antoninus Pius. Antoninus Pius taught Marcus by example to suppress all passion for boys, to refuse to pander to the desires of the mob, to organize measured performances in the arena (he certainly did not perform in the arena himself), and to think nothing of the beauty of his slaves (M. Aur. Med. 1.16). To be publicly viewed was to be degraded; to be ripped apart by beasts or to otherwise "perform" for the benefit of an audience was humiliating and feminizing, at least to some degree.83

By the second century, therefore, Christians had been feminized and debased in at least two ways: they had been accused of out-of-control sexual behavior—an allegedly "feminine" or "slavish" trait—and some had been publicly executed. Christian authors were aware of this problem and, as Castelli has demonstrated, they sought to reclaim both masculine gender and elite status for themselves by emphasizing the "manliness" of the martyrs. Thus, legendary accounts of martyrdom made frequent reference to the "nobility" and "manliness" of the victim, be he an old honorable man or a "weak" young slave woman. For example, in the Martyrdom of Polycarp the narrator tells us that a voice from heaven exhorted the aged bishop to "be strong" and "play the man."84 The narrator takes care to make Polycarp's elite status explicit: during his ordeal, he was forced to untie his own sandals, a task he had never had to perform before since his slaves usually provided this service (Martyrdom of Polycarp, 13). Blandina, another martyr, is described by her hagiographer as a "blessed noble athlete" who exhausted her persecutors with her endurance in face of tor ture.85 The martyr Blandina, though a slave, is described as "putting on Christ," inspiring her brothers, and winning "the crown of immortality" (Martyrs of Lyons, 17, 42). In her diary, the martyr Perpetua, a daughter of a family of decurial rank and the mother of a healthy young son, envisions herself as a male wrestler, capable of defeating a huge Egyptian rival.86 In other words, she "became a man," at least in a dream. Still, the editor of her story is careful to note that she behaved like a proper matron throughout her gruesome death, noting that she pulled up her tunic when it was ripped (Martyrdom ofPerpetua and Felicitas, 20).

Justin Martyr also describes the Christians as "athletes" who prefer the hard life of virtue to the deceptive beauty of vice; their athletic manliness, he declared, leads them to be both unafraid and undeterred by death (2 Apol. 11—12). Like the authors of the martyr legends, Justin is keen to point out that Christians behaved in a noble and manly fashion at all times, regardless of their sex or status.87 Describing manliness and nobility in these terms, Justin and other second-century Christian authors portray themselves as "elite" and "manly" despite—because of?—the (obvious) femininity and lowliness that had been attributed to them by others. They also turn the tables on their accusers, feminizing them by means of sexual-ized invective and, further, by the accusation that they singled out Christians for punishment not because they had reasonably pursued justice but because they had given into an irrational, violent anger.

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