Sought Out for Luxury, Castrated for Lust: Mistress-Slave Sex in Tertullian’s Ad Uxorem 2.8.4

in Vigiliae Christianae
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Abstract

While speaking to the women of his church about marriage, widowhood, and remarriage Tertullian of Carthage marshals a negative example of prosperous gentile women taking their own freedmen or slaves as their sexual partners. Common opinion is that this example was chiefly metaphorical, warning against mixed marriages between Christian women and non-Christian men. This article shows that Tertullian’s example of mistress-slave sex was a rhetorical trope also deployed in other early Christian writings that participated in a Roman literary discourse on household management (oikonomia). As such Tertullian’s example of mistress-slave sex was more than metaphorical. It sought to establish a marriage economy that regulated Christian women’s bodies for their economic resources. The example further reveals Tertullian’s economic interests in Christian marriage, tensions over gender roles and class, and a fear that some Christian women might also enter relationships with their own freedmen or slaves.

Sought Out for Luxury, Castrated for Lust: Mistress-Slave Sex in Tertullian’s Ad Uxorem 2.8.4

in Vigiliae Christianae

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