The Saint as an Astute Heroine

Rhetoric and Characterization in the Passio Caeciliae

in Mnemosyne
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This article provides a detailed analysis of character construction in the fifth century passio Caeciliae (Bibliotheca Hagiographica Latina 1495 – 1495a – 1496). Our analysis sets out to challenge the general assumption that character construction in the late antique passions can correctly be described in terms of stereotypes. The passio Caeciliae appeals to and inverts reader expectations based upon traditional patterns in erotic narrative. We also argue that it individuates the different characters (Caecilia and her fellow martyrs) by documenting one specific area of their representation, namely rhetorical ability. In this thematic area, Caecilia is set apart from her husband Valerianus: unlike him, she displays elaborate rhetorical aptitude which allows her to obtain the dominant position in the marriage and to achieve her aims. But the art of rhetoric is also a skill that can be learned as is shown by the character of Valerianus whose rhetorical approach changes in the course of the passion. Our analysis suggests that this passion from a literary point of view constitutes a more interesting text than is generally assumed.

The Saint as an Astute Heroine

Rhetoric and Characterization in the Passio Caeciliae

in Mnemosyne



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Cf. Connolly 199424-25.


Connolly 199460-78.


Lanéry 2009note 32 (Augustine) and note 46 (Augustine and Tertullian) and Caponi 2005 28. Lanéry and Caponi do not list exactly the same parallels. For Victor Vitensis’ Historia persecutionis Africanae provinciae we refer to note 3.


Eder Jannidis Schneider 20107who identify this as a widespread definition of literary characters.


See among others Gill 2006xiv; Halliwell 1990 33; and Pelling 1990 253.


Stelladoro 200566: “. . . diventa impresa ardua cercare di distinguere un martire da un altro”. Moretti (2006 23) talks about a “caratterizzazione manichea dei personaggi”. The assessment of the literary value of the pre-Nicene passions is generally more positive. Delehaye’s comparison between both groups is telling in this respect: “Il y a entre les actes historiques écrits sous la dictée des événements et les récits de martyre qui leur ont succédé la différence que nous mettons entre l’œuvre d’un maître et un produit industriel.” (Delehaye 21966 171).


See Tissot 1981116-118 for a nuanced discussion of encratite elements in the Apocryphal Acts of Andrew and Thomas (where marriages are disrupted) and sexual asceticism in the Acts of Peter of John and of Paul and Thecla.


Cf. Souter 1949s.v. argumentosus.


Cf. Blaise 1954-1967 Tombeur 2005s.v. argumentosus; Blaise 1975 s.v. argumentosus and Du Cange et al. 1883-1887 s.v. argumentosus.


See for example Connolly 200788 on rhetoric as a skill “that bleeds into the realm of manipulation and cunning”. The long discussion about the moral acceptability of rhetorical manipulation reaches back at least to the Sophists and Plato.


For this symbolism cf. Paoli 2006721-722.


Cf. the Aesopian fable in Chambry 1927146.

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