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The rhetorics of eugeneia, slavery and chastity in the ancient Greek novel and early-Christian narrative

  • Prof. dr. Koen de Temmerman
Thursday 4 February 2016
Cleveringaplaats 1
2311 BD Leiden

Beyond novelistic heroism.

The rhetorics of eugeneia, slavery and chastity in the ancient Greek novel and early-Christian narrative

This paper explores the persistence in early-Christian narrative of one of the main strands of the complex concept of heroism in the ancient Greek novels: the interconnected, thematic clustering of rhetorical ability, eugeneia and chastity. As is well known, the ancient Greek novels constitute a particularly interesting testing ground for questions dealing with loss, change and reversal of (high) social status on the one hand, and those dealing with threatened chastity on the other. The starting point of this paper is that novel hero(in)es, when seeing their original free social status and/or chastity threatened, display a continuous concern with subtracting themselves from dominance and establishing control over their new masters or aggressors – a point that I have argued at length elsewhere (De Temmerman 2014).

In this paper, I explore how this strand of heroic, novelistic characterization persists in and resonates with a number of early-Christian narratives, ranging from Apocryphal Acts of the Apostles (2nd-3rd cent.), Martyr Acts and so-called hagiographical romances such as Ps.-Nilus’ Narrationes (on whose novelistic qualities, see Caner 2010: 48, 77-8, 80 and Morgan 2015). I show that apostles (e.g. Paul & Thecla), martyrs (e.g. Perpetua, Caecilia, etc.) and monks (e.g. Ps.-Nilus’ narrator) in these narratives exert specific forms of rhetorical power similar to those in the novels and that, just as in the novels, the semantic fields of eugeneia, slavery and chastity converge and interconnect to constitute a prominent testing ground of such powers (on slavery solely, see Laurence 2001). I argue that this invests them with novelistic heroism (on martyrs as heroes generally, see van Henten 1995) and, what is more, that the hero(in)es’ rhetorics of both chastity and eugeneia/slavery are being reconfigured, redesigned and creatively reworked by the Christian narratives in function of their specific ideological purposes.

I conclude that rhetorical ability, specifically informing the interconnected, semantic fields of chastity and eugeneia/slavery, was consolidated as an important part of the concept of heroism in the broad pool of both pagan and Christian novelistic narrative of the first few centuries of the common era and from there found its way into later hagiography.

Bio prof. dr. Koen De Temmerman, Ghent University

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