From marriage comes virgin flesh : a comparison between classical male and Christian male perceptions of female sexuality with the advent of Christianity in the Roman Empire in the first four centuries AD.
From the first to the fourth century AD, male perceptions of female sexuality underwent a radical change with the advent of Christianity. This thesis is an investigation into classical male and Christian male perceptions of female sexuality, to determine the manner and extent to which this change in perceptions took place. The investigation will be two-fold, studying both the laws that established these perceptions, as well as representations of female sexuality within specific, subjective male-authored texts. A study of the marriage legislation of Augustus and a male writer of the early Empire, Apuleius, shows an underlying pattern of thought, or paradigm, of female sexuality among classical males. Female sexuality was perceived as existing for the sole purpose of procreation, and males in positions of authority thought that it needed to be under male control in order to ensure acceptable sexual behaviour. They believed this would be best achieved by situating it under the authority of the family. With the advent of Christianity, however, a new competing paradigm on female sexuality emerged, which challenged the perceptions of men of the classical era. The church fathers spurned the classical view of female sexuality by instead advocating lifelong celibacy. They too, believed female sexuality had to be controlled, but they placed it under the authority of the church, and outside the family. Since the basis of the classical and Christian patterns of thought differed so markedly, especially when the Christian paradigm was first being formulated in the second century, it was inevitable that they would come into " conflict. Advocates of the classical paradigm tried to suppress Christianity by persecuting its supporters. Some Christian women became victims of this conflict. This thesis will also include an example of this conflict - the martyrdom of the female Christian Perpetua, who left a record of her persecution in the form of a diary. The conversion of the Emperor Constantine to Christianity in the fourth century brought about the end of the conflict ana a victory for the Christian paradigm. The church fathers suggest that the shift from classical to Christian was total and complete. However, closer examination of Constantine's legislation and the work of the influential church father Jerome shows that while this shift was complete in theory, it did not extend very far into social and legal practice. Although the Christian ideals of the church fathers were a major component of thenew paradigm, it also came to be composed of classical notions - now motivated by Christian thought - that were held by Constantine and the upper classes. It was these classical notions that shaped the social reality of life in the fourth century AD. The nature and extent of the paradigm shift was therefore radical and far-reaching in theory, but not in practice.
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