While Constantine worked diligently to unite the Roman Empire under the banner of Christianity in the early fourth century after the Edict of Milan and Council of Nicaea, it was the Edict of Thessalonica in 380 under Theodosius I that made Christianity the Roman state religion. During this time of conversion and great change within the empire, as well as earlier in the fourth century, new adherents to the religion were unsure about what it meant to be a Christian as well as how one should act in order to present themselves as a true believer. Many were still very familiar with their ancestral and polytheistic traditions, but were unsure of the character of this new, singular God. They had questions concerning their identity within this new framework. Was everything different now that they had accepted Christianity? Were their actions supposed to be entirely different than what their ancestors had taught them? To address the issue of Christian identity during this period, Prudentius, a Spanish Christian, composed many works in the late fourth and early fifth centuries, including his Peristephanon Liber, a compilation of fourteen Christian martyr texts. In these texts, Prudentius used gendered language to show the superiority of the Christian martyrs. The Christians were depicted as having self-control, active, and having a willingness to die while the pagan persecutors and judges were seen as being filled with wrath, unjust, and unable to properly govern. By using gendered language that was familiar to the new converts of the Roman Empire with respect to sexuality and masculinity, Prudentius sought to help create a masculine Christian identity that was both recognizable and superior to the masculinity of the previous regime. In order to prove this, an analysis on gender in the ancient world and its scholarship will be summarized. I will then describe the two martyr texts that portray women as the protagonist: Eulalia and Agnes. By analyzing the gendered language of these texts, I hope to show how Prudentius used gender, something that the Romans already understood, to invert traditional gender roles and present the Christians as the more masculine and the pagans as more feminine. By bending gender, Prudentius sought to teach these new Christians that being a Christian made a person not only masculine, but also a superior masculine figure than if they still believed in paganism. By focusing on the language of these texts and using secondary sources, I show that Prudentius, like previous Christian authors, used gendered language and female protagonists in order to show these new Christians what it meant to be a true believer, thus attempting to create a superior Christian identity in a newly Christianized society.



College and Department

Humanities; Comparative Arts and Letters



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Prudentius, Peristephanon Liber, Eulalia, Agnes, gender, gender-bending, martyr, hagiography