Perpetua

Dec. 12th, 2015 09:55 pm
ricardienne: (christine)
[personal profile] ricardienne
Tired and sick and I STILL haven't finished my paper. Or any of the other things. Yesterday was the department research-presentation day, at which I learned that one of the archaeologists whom I definitely thought was named Miranda is actually named Marenne. My office-mate gave a talk in Dutch about his new theories about the development of the Homeric dialect, which I mostly followed, and the anglo-american Byzantinist whose Christmas Party I am currently not at do to feeling unwell gave a pretty good talk as well. The other talk in Dutch was on the Diary of Perpetua, which is part of an early Latin martyrdom account that claims to be the transcription of the account written by the martyr Perpetua herself of her last days in prison and the visions she had there. So, if it should be authentic, it would be pretty much the only extended (~ 5 pages) ancient-ish prose written by a woman. Of course, many people don't think it's authentic, and this talk, which was given by a male professor, presented some "textual arguments" for why it probably wasn't written by Perpetua, but was written by a man based on her oral testimony.

The incredibly frustrating thing is that there are very good arguments for doubting authenticity -- like the fact that documents are *hardly ever* authentic in ancient texts, and that there are a billion contemporary parallels for the "no really this is definitely 100% exactly what was actually written by this actual person authentically" rhetoric introducing obviously fictional documents.

But the arguments he presented -- like most of the arguments that are presented when people argue that things attributed to ancient women weren't written by ancient women -- were terrible: "Would a woman, even an elite educated woman, have been capable of writing such an extended text?" (On average, perhaps not, but (a) we aren't talking about the average but about a very specific case, (b) we know _about_ women who wrote in antiquity prose, and (c) we have literary prose written by educated women in other times and places that were not, on the whole, less misogynist and less restrictive of women's education than antiquity.) "There isn't anything especially feminine in the style." (Compared to, you know, the massive body of prose written by women in antiquity we can use as a control....oh wait. We have no way of knowing what formal prose written by an elite woman would have looked like since we don't have any. And, frankly, it's not that likely that formal Latin (or Greek) written by a woman would look that different from that written by men, although we know that there were differences in speech. Unfortunately, we have no evidence of "women's" literature, written specifically by women in their own idiom and for their own needs in ancient Rome. [Sappho is a possible exception, but Sappho isn't really ~different~ from, say, Alcaeus (a contemporary male poet from Lesbos) in ways that can easily be attributed to the fact that Sappho was a woman writing for women and Alcaeus was a man writing for me. And Sappho brings up other issues, of course. Which is why I find I have to stay away from tumblr!classics!Sappho circles, which makes me sad...)

Anyway, a lot of us -- the women, anyway -- ranted about it during the break. It's just so stupid: there's always this rhetoric of "you know, all the ~feminists~ desperately want this to be authentic but that's an emotive reaction, not based on facts." But that, incidentally, isn't a good argument for inauthenticity either, and, combined with the stupidity of the arguments that were used, it makes me annoyed -- because I *don't* really think that Perpetua is an authentic diary (bearing in mind that I don't know much about this text), but I hate to be in that company.

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