Degree Date

5-2017

Degree

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Greek, Latin, and Classical Studies

Abstract

In ancient Greece and early Christian Rome, the standard female transition into adulthood was marked by marriage, sex, and childbirth. When this transition was disrupted, the transitional girl’s status within society became insecure. This dissertation argues that the case of the dead Greek virgin parthenos, depicted in various ways as a bride of Hades, and the life-long Christian virgin, the sponsa Christi, are particular examples of disrupted female transition. It argues that both Greek and Christian virgins and their families made use of societal traditions, in the form of the otherworldly bridegroom, in an effort to handle the problem of a girl’s denied or problematized status transition within the social structures of the community. The image of the otherworldly bridegroom counteracts the tension of unfulfilled transition by providing girls who were unable or potentially unable to attain the status of adult female by traditional means with a socially acceptable category in which to reside. Part One is comprised of Chapters One and Two, which examine instances of suicide among Greek and Christian virgins, respectively. Chapter One deals specifically with a short treatise within the Hippocratic corpus known as the Peri Partheniōn, which describes an illness, predominantly affecting premenarchal girls approaching the appropriate age for marriage, whose symptoms include an erotically charged desire for death. Chapter Two deals with instances of suicide among ascetic Christian women to preserve their chastity for Christ, their heavenly Bridegroom. In both, I argue that these virgins use suicide as a strategy to neutralize the threat to their social status by ensuring this status as a bride in death. Part Two explores how the images of the bride of Hades and the bride of Christ could be embraced by the virgin’s parents. Chapter Three looks at funerary epigrams that explicitly state that the deceased girl has been snatched away by Hades for marriage in order to see how parents used the trope of the bride of Hades as consolation and compensation for a lost marriageable daughter. Chapter Four examines how Ambrose, the bishop of Milan, used the bride of Christ image as a way to convince parents that dedicated virginity did not result in the loss of a marriageable daughter but in a status and marriage connection parallel to, if more elevated than, traditional marriage.

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