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Crossed Texts, Crossed Sex:

Intertextuality and Gender in Early Christian Legends of Holy Women Disguised as Men


Early Christian legends of monastic women disguised as men have recently been the object of psychological, literary, sociohistorical, anthropological, and theological study. In this article, I will raise new questions about these legends from the perspective of the poststructuralist theory of intertextuality. What are the cultural “texts” that these legends “play upon”? What does this intertextuality tell us about how such legends participated in late antique cultural discourse on gender and the female body? Here, I examine five cultural “texts” reworked in the legends: 1) the lives of earlier transvestite saints like St. Thecla; 2) the Life of St. Antony; 3) late antique discourse about eunuchs; 4) the story of Joseph and Potiphar’s wife from Genesis; and 5) the textual deconstruction and reconstitution of the female body in early Christian literature. These “intertexts,” along with key christomimetic elements in the legends, suggest how binary conceptions of gender identity were ultimately destabilized in the figure of the transvestite saint.


This is an essay about the peculiar ways in which women’s identity and piety were portrayed in late antique hagiographical texts. In early Chris- tian saints’ lives, women are alternatively castigated as fallen daughters of Eve and lauded as heroic models for pious imitation. On the one hand, they are depicted by male writers as sources of temptation and objects of lust; on the other hand, a select number of them are celebrated as some- how having transcended the limitations of their sex. In light of these conflicting images, how did the authors of saints’ lives seek to shape

Journal of Early Christian Studies 10:1, 1–36 © 2002 The Johns Hopkins University Press



ancient perceptions of women? How did they, in effect, help constructwomens gender for early Christian readers? 1 I will begin with a slight indiscretionby eavesdropping on a conversa- tion between a father and his daughter:

He therefore began to speak to her and said, Child, what I am to do with you? You are a female, and I desire to enter a monastery. How then can you remain with me? For it is through the members of your sex that the devil wages war on the servants of God.

To which his daughter responded, Not so, my lord, for I shall not enter the monastery as you say, but I shall rst cut off the hair of my head, and clothe myself like a man, and then enter the monastery with you.2

Coming away from this conversation, one might wonder what exactly is going on here. Who are these people? When and where does this dialogue take place? At rst, this seems like it could be a peculiar variation on the modern-day themes of parent-child conict and teenage rebellion: Child, what am I to do with you?After all, what is a father to do with a daughter who wont let him go off to become a monk in peace, but wants to cut off her hair, dress in mens clothes, and join a monastery with him? In fact, this conversation is an ancient one. It comes from the spiritual biography of a female saint from the early Byzantine erathe Life of St. Mary/Marinos. 3 This (ctionalized) interchange between Mary and her

1. Recent studies in the areas of gender and the human body have struggled with

the issue of how the discursive representation or cultural constructionof gender identity relates to the emotional and experiential reality of inhabiting a body(Dominic Montserrat, Introduction,Changing Bodies, Changing Meanings: Studies

on the Human Body in Antiquity, ed. D. Montserrat [London: Routledge, 1998], 4; cf. Gilbert Herdt, Preface,Third Sex, Third Gender: Beyond Sexual Dimorphism in Culture and History [New York: Zone Books, 1996], esp. 1719). This is an issue

with which postmodern sociologists and anthropologists continue to wrestle, and one that I do not presume to resolve here. In this article, I use the terms genderand bodyspecically to refer to the ways in which cultural discourses helped shape ancient perceptions of what it meant to be male,or female,or (alternatively) someone whose gender identity was not so easily classied according to the traditional bipolar model. In the study of Christianity in late antiquity, it is certainly important to recognize how these different gender identities were embodiedin terms of biological and genital experience, but my concern here is primarily on a social and textual level: namely, how did the gendered discourses of early Christian texts reshape and challenge previously held social assumptions?

2. Life of St. Mary/Marinos 3; tr. N. Constas, in Holy Women of Byzantium, ed.

Alice-Mary Talbot (Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks, 1996), 7.

3. For the critical edition of the Greek text, see M. Richard, La vie ancienne de

Sainte Marie surnommée Marinos,in Corona Gratiarum: Miscellanea patristica,



father occurs near the beginning of her Life, right after the death of her mother. It does not take long before the father is persuaded by his daughters appeal: he himself cuts her hair, dresses her in mens clothing, and changes her name to Marinos. Then the two enroll in a mens monastery together. Mary/Marinos advances to sainthood, but not before she has to endure a series of hardships: a false accusation of rape and paternity by a local innkeepers daughter, her expulsion from the monastery as a result of that charge, and nally the necessity of raising the abandoned orphan while homeless and exposed to the elements. Throughout these difculties, she never reveals her identity in order to prove her innocence. After three years, her endurance of suffering earns her (and her adopted son) re- admission to the monastery, but it is not until after her death that her true identity is revealed and her fellow monks recognize the depth of her sanctity. The story of Mary (a.k.a. Marinos) in many ways typies the ambiva- lent attitude of the early church toward women. At the beginning of the story, Marys own father condemns her sex as an instrument of the devilthe primary means by which the devil wages war on the servants of God.And yet, by the end of her Life, the author counsels his readers (both male and female) to emulate Marys patient endurance of suffering, so that on the day of judgment we may nd mercy from our Lord Jesus Christ.4 This same ambivalence toward women also is reected in the manu- script tradition of the Life of St. Mary/Marinos. Only three Greek manu- scripts of the Life survive, all in the monastic libraries of Mount Athos in northeastern Greece. Located on a small peninsula that juts out into the Aegean Sea, Mount Athos has been regarded as the center of Greek monasticism since at least the tenth century. Today, it is home to twenty monastic houses. The monasteries at Mount Athos are especially known for their rigidly exclusive policy toward women. No women are allowed to set foot upon the peninsulait is reserved for men only. This policy of exclusion extends even to female members of animal species. It would seem ironic then that the Life of St. Mary/Marinos—the story of a woman who disguises herself as a monk in order to enter a male monasteryshould have been preserved and copied at monasteries that forbid the

historica et liturgica Eligio Dekkers O.S.B. XII Lustra complenti oblata, I (Brugge:

Sint Pietersabdej, 1975), 8394. For a complete English translation of the Greek text, see Holy Women of Byzantium, 712. 4. Life of St. Mary/Marinos 4 and 21; Richard, Vie ancienne de Sainte Marie,88, 99.



presence of women. Why would the Greek monks at Mount Athos have had an interest in this story? In such a setting, why would Mary, a crossdressingfemale saint, have been lauded as an exemplary model for the male monastic life? For a largely patriarchal (and often misogy- nist) church, the image of the transvestite female saint was certainly full of contradictions: a compelling sign of the hostility and yet at the same time lurid fascination with which early Christian men viewed their female counterparts. The Life of St. Mary/Marinos is not the only legend of a transvestite female saint that survives from early Christianity. In fact, during the late fth, sixth, and seventh centuries, church writers produced a whole series of monastic legends about women disguised as men: at least eleven vitae of transvestite female saints were published during this period. Within this group of texts may be included the vitae of Saints Anastasia (Anastasios), Apolinaria (Dorotheos), Athanasia (wife of Andronikos), Eugenia (Eugenios), Euphrosyne (Smaragdus), Hilaria (Hilarion), Mary (Marinos), Matrona (Babylas), Pelagia (Pelagius), Susannah (John), and Theodora (Theodoros). 5 These Lives each exhibit subtle variations on the same theme. Some of the heroines (Apolinaria, Eugenia, Euphrosyne, Hilaria) take on male dress in order to escape their parentsinexible expectations of marriage and to travel incognito to monastic areas. Others leave already existing marriages, sometimes with their husbandsconsent (Athanasia), and some- times against their husbandswishes (Matrona, Theodora). Still others, like the prostitute Pelagia, disguise themselves as men in order to mark their conversion to Christianity and the monastic life, and their break from a sinful past. In all cases, the act of crossdressing enables the women to enter the monastic life unhindered by binding familial or social prejudices. As in the case of Mary, who endured a false accusation of rape and paternity, most of these transvestite saintslegends also involve a com- plicationthat disrupts the monastic life of the heroine and poses the threat of discovery. In the Life of Hilaria, after the heroine (disguised as

5. E. Patlagean (Lhistoire de la femme déguisée en moine et l’évolution de la sainteté féminine à Byzance,Studi Medievali, ser. 3, 17 [1976]: 600602) lists and catalogues twelve vitae of female transvestite saints: Anastasia Patricia, Anna/ Euphemianos, Apolinaria/Dorotheos, Athanasia (wife of Andronikos), Eugenia/ Eugenios, Euphrosyne/Smaragdus, Hilaria/Hilarion, Mary (1)/Marinos, Mary (2), Matrona/Babylas, Pelagia/Pelagios, Theodora/Theodoros. However, two of these legends clearly date later than the seventh century (Anna/Euphemianos, ninth; Mary [2], eleventh or twelfth). To Patlageans list may be added the vita of St. Susannah/ John, also from the sixth or seventh century.



the monk Hilarion) is called upon to heal her demon-possessed sister, she

is questioned about her unusual displays of affectionshown toward

her sister. In the Life of Apolinaria, the same scenario is complicated by the demon-inspired illusion of pregnancy in the sister, for which Apolinaria

(disguised as the monk Dorotheos) is initially blamed. Other disguised

saints, like Eugenia, Susannah, and Theodora, resist the sexual advances

of female visitors, only to be accused by the women of initiating the

encounter and brought to court to defend themselves against the charges.

In the Life of Theodora, the female accuser becomes pregnant by another

man and accuses Theodora (Theodoros) of actually fathering the child, a

scenario reminiscent of the Life of St. Mary/Marinos. In some cases, such accusations result in the public revelation of the saints sexual identity. In other cases (like that of Mary), the saints identity remains secret until after her death. Regardless of when the identity of the heroine is revealed, this discovery invariably causes pious wonderment on the part of the observers, and ultimately leads the hagiographer to celebrate and publi- cize the womans secret sanctity. This corpus of transvestite saintslives has attracted renewed interest among scholars in the last few decades. These scholars have raised a variety of questions regarding these hagiographical texts: What was the social setting for the production of this literature? How does one account for the literary and thematic crosscurrents within the corpus? How does this body of literature relate to early Christian theology? And nally, what do these legends tell us about ancient understandings of gender and

of womens religiosity?



In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the few scholars who

studied these legends of transvestite saints tended to dismiss them as merely romantic, edifying stories with little historical valueessentially the pulp ction of late antiquity. 6 These conclusions reected Victorian assumptions about what constituted seriousliterature and what did not. For historians of that time period, the miraculous elements of saintslives disqualied them for serious consideration as historical sources to be studied in their own right. Instead, the hagiographical stories would only

6. H. Delehaye, Les legends hagiographiques (Bruxelles: Société des Bollandistes, 1927), 177, 192.



be studied as derivative developments on earlier classical and mythologi- cal themes. For example, one scholar in the late nineteenth century saw a similarity between the names of the Christian transvestite saints and the nicknamesgiven to the goddess Aphrodite. Because of this, he argued that these saintslives were, in fact, Christian developments on the legend of the bisexual, bearded Aphrodite (renamed Aphroditos), who was wor- shiped on the island of Cyprus. 7 Another scholar suggested that these transvestite saintslives derived from a different sourcethe ancient Greek novel entitled Ephesiaca. 8 In that novel, the heroine (named Thelxinoe) disguises herself as a man in order to avoid an unwanted marriage and to elope with her true lover. Others have since argued more broadly for the inuence of Greek novels on the theme of female crossdressing in early Christian hagiography. 9 However, despite the value of identifying classi- cal antecedents for the legends of transvestite saints, these early attempts were limited in that they ultimately devalued the signicance of this image in early Christianity. The last forty years have seen renewed interest in this corpus of hagiographical legends. Several articles have been published, approach- ing this literature from various methodological perspectives: psychologi- cal, literary, sociohistorical, anthropological, and theological. What has unied these new studies has been a concerted effort to understand the signicance of these legends within the context of early Christian thought and practice. One of the rst scholars to revisit the question of the early Christian transvestite saint was Marie Delcourt in her book Hermaphrodite: Myths and Rites of the Bisexual Figure in Classical Antiquity (1961). In the appendix to that book (Female Saints in Masculine Clothing), Delcourt approaches the issue of the transvestite saint from the perspective of Freudian psychology. 10 Specically, what does the psychology of the hero- ine tell us about the setting of these stories in early Christianity? Delcourt argues that the heroines act of taking on male dress signies a thorough

7. H. Usener, Legenden der heiligen Pelagia (Bonn: Adolph Marcus, 1879).

8. L. Radermacher, Hippolytos und Thekla: Studien zur Geschichte von Legende

und Kultus, Kaiserliche Akademie der Wissenschaften in Wien, Philosophisch- historische Klasse, Sitzungsberichte 182.3 (Vienna: Alfred Hölder, 1916).

9. Rosa Söder, Die Apokryphen Apostelgeschichten und die romanhafte Literatur

der Antike (Stuttgart: S. Kohlhammer, 1932; repr. Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1969), 12728; Gillian Clark, Women in Late Antiquity (Oxford:

Oxford University Press, 1993), 31. 10. M. Delcourt, Hermaphrodite: Myths and Rites of the Bisexual Figure in Classical Antiquity (London: Studio Books, 1961), 84102.



break with her feminine past.In the stories this breaktypically manifests itself in two ways: the rejection of family and authority struc- tures, and the renunciation of the sexual life. The heroines masculine disguise is seen as an outward symbol of these social and familial ten- sions. How did this symbol relate to its early Christian context? For Delcourt, the psycheof the transvestite saint should not be located in earlier Greek mythology; instead, it was rooted in the psychology of early Christian asceticism, which in its most rigorous form preached total renunciation of material possessions and all sexual life.In this context, she identies the female act of crossdressing as psychologically equivalent to the male act of self-castration. 11 John Anson was the next to take up the question of the transvestite saint in his article, The Female Transvestite in Early Monasticism: The Origins and Development of a Motif(1974). In that article, he analyzes the literary structure of these legends and argues that they were products of a monastic culture written by monks for monks.12 Anson rejects the possibility that the legends (at least potentially) reected the psychology of actual early Christian women, and instead treats the stories as just that, stories. For Anson, the psychological signicance of the legends is not primarily to be found in the characterization of the heroine, but in the literary structure and the social setting of their composition. In his article, Anson identies a grouping of six to eight transvestite legends that share a common geographical and social setting in Egypt (specically the famous monastic settlement at Scetis, or the Wadi Natrun) and a common plot structure. Because of this, he suggests that the works may, in fact, have been a literary cyclethat was mass-produced by a school of Egyptian scribes at a time when the desert of Scetis had become the acknowledged center of the monastic movement.13 Anson analyzes a group of these legends according to their basic three-part plot structure:

1) ight from the world, 2) disguise and seclusion, and 3) discovery and recognition. By showing how each of the legends offers variations on that basic schema, Anson tries to describe an evolution of this hagiographical genrewithin its monastic setting. In the end, he reads the legends as evidence for early Christian monastic psychology, especially for the pal- pable tensions between, on the one hand, monastic hostility toward women

11. Delcourt, Hermaphrodite, 96, 99101.

12. J. Anson, The Female Transvestite in Early Monasticism: The Origin and

Development of a Motif,Viator 5 (1974): 5.

13. Anson, Female Transvestite in Early Monasticism,1213; cf. E. Amélineau,

Histoire des deux lles de lempéreur Zenon,Proceedings of the Society of Biblical Archaeology 4.10 (1888): 181206.



as the source of their sexual desire, and on the other, the monkssup- pressed longing for female presence. The transvestite female saint is un- derstood as the literary product of this tensionthe product of the monksdesire to raise up heroic examples of womens piety to atone for female guilt, as well as to atone for the guilt of the monks themselves. 14 With the publication of Evelyne Patlageans article, Lhistoire de la femme déguisée en moine et l’évolution de la sainteté féminine à Byzance(1976), the study of this hagiographical corpus took a new turnaway from psychological readings, and toward a social-historical description of how these legends reected Christian thought and practice in late antiq- uity. Cataloguing and dating relevant sources and manuscripts, Patlagean tries to sketch the textual and historical development of this literature. According to her analysis, the earliest versions of these legends (Mary, Pelagia) date to the fth century, while the full series of legends in Greek was composed and collected in the sixth and early seventh centuries. This group of works also began to be translated into other languagesinto Coptic and Syriac during the sixth century, and into Latin after the seventh century. The production of these Lives waned in the eighth cen- tury, but in the ninth, tenth, and eleventh centuries there was a revival of the genre: manuscript evidence from this period attests an increase in the copying of earlier legends as well as the production of new Lives of monastic women disguised as men. 15 Patlagean, too, identies a three-part structure to the legends (ascetic retreat, transvestitism, revelation of sexual identity), but analyzes these features according to the anthropologist Lévi-Straussstructuralist analy- sis of myth. 16 In particular, she tries to describe how the formal elements of the stories would have functioned within the social context of early Byzantine culture. For example, she argues that the central motif of transvestitism would have challenged late antique social models of male authority and female subjection. The image of the transvestite saint was

14. Anson, Female Transvestite in Early Monasticism,1330.

15. Patlagean, Histoire de la femme déguisée en moine,600604.

16. For an example of Claude Lévi-Straussuse of structuralist theory in linguistics

and anthropology, see his book, Structural Anthropology (Garden City: Doubleday, 1967), ch. 2. Patlageans article on transvestite saintslives was an extension of her previous work in the structuralist study of early Byzantine hagiography in her article

Ancienne hagiographie Byzantine et histoire sociale,Annales 23 (1968): 10626. For an English translation of this article, see Ancient Byzantine Hagiography and Social History,in Saints and Their Cults: Studies in Religious Sociology, Folklore and History, ed. Stephen Wilson, tr. J. Hodgkin (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), 10121.



an image of female independence and autonomy: the act of taking on male disguise allowed the women to travel and to live as monks without being detected or observed. (Indeed, they often passed for male eunuchs, whose presence within late antique society and within Byzantine monasti- cism is well documented.) For Patlagean, the stories themselves present a model of transgressive sanctitythat challenges male authority in mar- riage. As such, she locates these stories of holy women disguised as men within the social and intellectual context of early Christian monasticism. The attitude toward women in this literature reects the monastic fear that the female sex represented a fundamental obstacle to salvation. By portraying heroines who became maleboth in dress and in physical appearance, the monks were proposing a model of female sanctity in which the femalewas negated (at least in part). While men could theoretically ee the presence of women by entering the desert at an early age, women for their part were called in this literature to ee their own nature through ascetic practice. 17 Patlageans study of the transvestite saint legends was signicant not just for her documentation of the sources and their historical develop- ment, but also for the way that she began to apply sociological and anthropological theory in her analysis of the legends. More recent studies that propose alternative social or anthropological readings of early Chris- tian transvestitism are in many ways indebted to her work. One example is a recent article by Nicholas Constas (1996) where the author also employs anthropological language to describe the basic plot of the trans- vestite legends as a ritual of initiation and transformation, a mysterious rite of passage marked by three characteristics: separation, liminality, and reaggregation.18 For Constas, transvestite disguise is the focal point of this ritual structureit symbolizes the liminalor marginalized status of the female monk as she moves from an old set of social values to a newly dened role within a monastic setting. By producing this ritual of trans- formation, early Christian monastic culture was dening itself as it tried to resolve its own inconsistencies and ambivalence regarding the spiritual status of women.

17. Patlagean, Histoire de la femme déguisée en moine,61016.

18. Nicholas Constas, Life of St. Mary/Marinos,in Holy Women of Byzantium,

45. For his analysis of the legends as rites of passage,Constas depends on the anthropological work of A. Van Gennep, The Rites of Passage, tr. M. B. Vizedom and G. L. Caffee (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1960). For an application of these concepts to the study of Christian pilgrimage, see Victor and Edith Turner, Image and Pilgrimage in Christian Culture: Anthropological Perspectives (New York: Columbia University Press, 1978).



In the past decade, other methods besides anthropological theory have been applied to the study of transvestite saintslives. In particular, some scholars have begun to reconsider the image of the transvestite saint in the context of early Christian theology and ancient discourse on the female body. In her article Women in Early Byzantine Hagiography(1990), Susan Ashbrook Harvey argues that the transvestite saint functioned as a theological symbol of reversalin late antiquity. In the stories, the sanctication and redemption of the heroines take place in two stages:

rst in their role as men(that is, in the guise of men), and only later truly as women (the heroines are always granted sainthood as women). The womens bodies are symbols of purity and perdition,and as such, they not only signify the human condition, but also reenact the drama of humanitys salvation. Viewed as fallen daughters of Eve, women could display this grace more than men because they deserved it less.Thus, for Harvey, the transvestite female saint ultimately embodies the theological paradox of redemption. 19 Two other recent studies have focused even more closely on how these transvestite saintslives t within the patterns of ancient discourse on the female body. In her article “‘I Will Make Mary Male’” (1991), Elizabeth Castelli argues that the acts of dressing in mens clothing and cutting ones hair short functioned in this literature as bodily signiers”—signs of how early Christian society was reevaluating (and destabilizing) tradi- tional gender differences in the context of a theology that called for personal and corporate transformation. 20 Finally, Terry Wilfong (1998) examines transvestite saintslives in the context of Coptic Christian con- ceptions of the female body. In the Coptic legend of Saint Hilaria, the heroines identity is hidden from observers not only because she wore male monastic garb, but also because her body underwent radical, de- feminizing physical changes as the result of her life in the desert:

For her breasts, too, were not as those of all (other) women: above all, she was shrunken with ascetic practices and even her menstrual period had stopped because of the deprivation. 21

19. Susan Ashbrook Harvey, Women in Early Byzantine Hagiography: Reversing

the Story,in That Gentle Strength: Historical Perspectives on Women in Christian-

ity, ed. L. Coon, K. Haldane, and E. Sommer (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1990) 3659, esp. 4551.

20. Elizabeth Castelli, “‘I Will Make Mary Male: Pieties of the Body and Gender

Transformation of Christian Women in Late Antiquity,in Body Guards: The Cultural Politics of Gender Ambiguity, ed. J. Epstein and K. Straub (New York:

Routledge, 1991), 2949, esp. 4447.

21. Life of Hilaria, ed. J. Drescher, in Three Coptic Legends (Cairo: Imprimerie de

l Institut fran ç ais d arch é ologie orientale, 1947), 6. The translation here is by T.



For Wilfong, such descriptions were part of a larger cultural and hagio- graphical discourse on the female body. In that discourse, the female bodyoften a source of worry and concern to male authorswas in various ways deconstructed, obscured, disjointed, and fragmented. 22 As I have shown, the study of early Christian transvestite saintslives has moved considerably in the past century from the relatively naïve search for historical sourcesto the more critical application of social, anthropological, theological, and (some) discourse theory. In this article, I want to take the study of these texts a step further. While my interest will still be on understanding this literature in the context of ancient discourse

on gender and the female body, I will be asking new questions of the texts from the perspective of poststructuralist theory and the study of intertextuality. But rst, I need to dene these terms.



In the past few decades, scholars who study early Christian texts have

increasingly turned to the elds of literary criticism and discourse analysis for alternative ways of reading history. Yet, during this time period, the discipline of literary studies itself has undergone radical changes, as rela- tively recent theories have been challenged and replaced by newer critical

methods. Such is the case with poststructuralism, a body of recent theory that has challenged conclusions drawn by earlier structuralist theorists. The theory of structuralism itself arose during the early part of the twentieth century as a critique of prevailing liberal humanist views about the nature of language and meaning. Previously in the study of literature, it had been assumed that both language and meaning were direct prod-

ucts of an authors mind. Structuralist theorists like Saussure in the eld

of comparative linguistics and Lévi-Strauss in the eld of anthropology

challenged this assumption. 23 They argued that the source of meaning in

Wilfong, Reading the Disjointed Body in Coptic: From Physical Modication to Textual Fragmentation,in Changing Bodies, Changing Meanings, 127. 22. Wilfong, Reading the Disjointed Body in Coptic,11636, esp. 12730. For other examples of the textual fragmentation of the female body in Christian literature, see C. W. Bynum, Fragmentation and Redemption: Essays on Gender and the Human Body in Medieval Religion (New York: Zone Books; Cambridge: MIT Press, 1991), 1126, 181238. 23. Ferdinand de Saussure, Third Course of Lectures on General Linguistics (19101911) (Oxford: Pergamon Press, 1993); Claude Lévi-Strauss, Structural An- thropology.



language and texts was not the author; instead, they proposed that mean- ing be understood as the product of preexisting, universal structures within language itself. Lévi-Strauss dened this shift in focus as one away from conscious linguistic phenomena(e.g., the intent of the author) to their unconscious infrastructure”—that is, the systemand general lawsthat govern speech and language. 24 Thus, structuralists typically seek to analyze all narratives as variations on universal narrative pat- terns. 25 While literary structuralism reached its heyday in the 1960s, it was not until the 1970s and early 1980s that a number of scholars began to apply structuralist theory to the study of the New Testament and other early Christian literature. 26 Indeed, it was in the midst of this upsurge in structuralist criticism of early Christian texts that Evelyne Patlagean wrote her 1976 article on the history of early Christian women disguised as men (see above). However, during the 1960s and 1970s, other philosophers and literary theorists had already begun challenging certain assumptions of structur- alism. This critical challenge heralded the rise of poststructuralism”—a term that describes an assortment of theories unied by their common critique of structuralisms universalizing tendencies. While structuralists have insisted that all language has at its core a basic, universal structure that generates meaning, poststructuralists argue that this core, this basic structure, is illusoryit is only a false traceor façade, the result of languages attempts to hide its own contradictions and incompleteness. 27 Take for example, the binary structures that exist in languagelight/ dark, good/evil, black/white, etc. For the poststructuralist, each element in these pairs can only be understood in terms of the other. One can only understand lightif one already knows what darkis. However, by the same token, one can only understand darkthrough a prior acquain- tance with the concept of light.In this way, these binary structures of language (identied by structuralists as the building blocks of meaning) are exposed as circular and ultimately self-contradictory. Thus, for some poststructuralist theorists, like Jacques Derrida, language can ultimately be said to deconstructitself. A text is not simply a nished corpus of

24. Lévi-Strauss, Structural Anthropology, ch. 2.

25. Mary Klages, Structuralism/Poststructuralism,available at http://www (17 September 1997).

26. On the application of structuralism to biblical studies, see The Postmodern

Bible: The Bible and Culture Collective, ed. G. Aichele, F. Burnett, E. Castelli, et al.

(New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995), ch. 2, esp. 8283.



but a differential network, a fabric of traces referring endlessly

to something other than itself.28 This notion of texts as contingent and interdependent gave rise to the poststructuralist theory of intertextuality. At its most basic level, inter- textuality can simply refer to how authors quote or allude to earlier sources in writing their own texts. However, as it was coined by the French philosopher Julia Kristeva and later developed by the literary theorist Roland Barthes, the poststructuralist concept of intertextualityalso embraces a larger philosophy of how language works. 29 This philoso- phy specically critiques the structuralist claim that individual texts are discrete, closed-off entities,30 and instead argues that any particular text can only be read within the context of prior texts and larger cultural discourses that give it meaning. As one theorist put it: [E]ach text be- comes itself in relation to other texts, no text is self-contained.31 Texts, by their very nature, play upon other texts. Ever fond of word play, poststructuralist theorists have mined the etymology of the word text”—“a tissue, something woven”—for a meta- phor to describe the phenomenon of intertextuality. Thus, the text has been compared to a piece of fabric woven together by many different strands. It is the interpreters job not so much to unravel those strands, but to examine the texture of that fabric, the interlacing of codes, formulae, and signiers.32 Ultimately, by tracing the texture of this fab- ric, the interpreter can begin to see how a text has reworked prior texts and thereby participated in an ongoing cultural discourse. 33 Poststructuralist (or postmodern) literary theory is often bewildering to the uninitiated. Its radical questioning of objectivity in the search for meaning poses enormous challenges to traditional conceptions of theol- ogy and history. Theologians and biblical scholars have only relatively


28. Derrida, Living On: Border Lines,tr. J. Holbert, in Deconstruction and

Criticism, ed. Harold Bloom, et al. (New York: Seabury Press, 1979), 8384; cf. Derrida, Of Grammatology, tr. G. C. Spivak (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University

Press, 1976), ch. 2.

29. For a history of this term and its theoretical application, see Graham Allens

recent publication Intertextuality (London: Routledge, 2000).

30. David Chandler, Semiotics for Beginners, available at http://www.argyroneta

.com/s4b/sem09.html, last revised 19 April 1999.

31. Mark Taylor, Deconstruction: Whats the Difference?Soundings 66 (1983):


32. Roland Barthes, Theory of the Text,in Untying the Text: A Post-

Structuralist Reader, ed. Robert Young (Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1981), 39. 33. Jonathan Culler, Presupposition and Intertextuality,in The Pursuit of Signs:

Semiotics, Literature, Deconstruction (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1981), 1013.



recently begun to apply poststructuralist insights to their own disciplines; 34 historians of early Christianity have noticeably dragged their feet, lagging behind their colleagues. How can this body of theory be applied fruitfully in the study of early Christian texts? In this article, I propose to make a foray into this area, as I reevaluate early Christian transvestite legends from the perspective of intertextuality and poststructuralist discourse analysis. In particular, I want to argue that the typical structure of these trans- vestite saint legendsascetic retreat, transvestitism, revelation of sexual identityis more variable (less consistent) than structuralist interpreters like Patlagean and Anson have suggested. Especially given the signicant variations observed from legend to legend, this structure should not be considered a fundamental or universal feature of the texts, but rather the result of interpretersattempts to impose upon the texts a structural unity where one does not necessarily exist. Thus, instead of viewing the legends primarily in terms of these structural elements, I want to shift the focus to how the texts themselvestheir plots and their characterizations of the heroinesare in fact composites of intertextual references. In this sense, the structural elements of ascetic retreat, transvestitism, and revelation of sexual identity may be included in a larger set of cultural signs, allusions, and echoes that shift, change, and replay from one legend to the next. What are the textsthat these legends play upon? And nally, what does this intertextual play tell us about how this group of legends partici- pated in late antique cultural discourse on gender and the female body? These two questions will guide my steps through the rest of this essay.


In reading the legends of female saints disguised as men in intertextual terms, I want to argue that the characterization of these saints is not cohesive, not coherent, and, ultimately, not unied. That is, the character- ization of these women does not stand on its own, but rather is composed of bits and pieces of prior cultural texts, images, and discourses. One might compare the characterization of the transvestite saint to an image seen through a kaleidoscopeas we turnthe text, different fragments of cultural data merge, are diffracted, recombine, and separate once

34. The best introduction to the use of poststructuralism in biblical study is Stephen D. Moores Literary Criticism and the Gospels: The Theoretical Challenge (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989).



again. The transvestite female saint was (quite literally) the embodiment of various oblique cultural discoursesan intertextually constructed body. Thus, for the late antique reader, intertextual allusionsthe fragments of various cultural discourseswould have offered clues for understanding the enigmatic gure of the female transvestite saint. What were the primary cultural discourses at work in the gure of the holy woman disguised as a man? How did the transvestite saint legends rework and re-present earlier texts in the characterization of their hero- ines? Here, I will identify ve cultural texts(or groups of texts) reworked in the legends—five key intertextual elements that impinge upon the characterization of the female saint: 1) the lives of earlier trans- vestite saints in the church, especially St. Thecla; 2) the lives of famous early Christian holy men like St. Antony; 3) late antique cultural dis- course about eunuchs, including the story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts; 4) the story of Joseph and Potiphars wife from Genesis, and other later variations on the theme of the spurned female temptress; and nally, 5) early Christian discourse on the female body, in particular, its textual fragmentation and intertextual reconstitution in the context of wo/mens community. I do not mean to present these ve elements as a new structural basis for understanding the legendsthey are far too variable to fulll such a function. In fact, no single legend in the corpus contains all ve elements. Instead, I want to portray the characterization of the transvestite female saint within the larger corpus as a ragged patchwork of these intertextual elements. The saints body is effectively clothed in this patchwork, a patchwork of texts and images that present her in sexually ambiguous or male termsthe female saint who is not female, and yet still is.

Transvestitism as Intertextual Sign:

Re-presenting St. Thecla and Her Sisters

The act of transvestitismtaking off womens clothing and putting on mensis the unmistakable signor image that links this group of hagiographical narratives, and as such, it often prompts the most ques- tions from the modern critical reader. What is the narrative function of this act for the heroine? What would it have signied for an ancient community of readers? For those looking for satisfying answers to these questions, the texts themselves are not very forthcoming. In many of these Lives the heroines change of dress is virtually left unexplained. The Life of Susannah is a typical example. In that legend, after Susannah is bap- tized a Christian, she begins to resist her parentsplan for her to marry. In order to escape their expectations, she suddenly leaves her home by night,



releases her servants, gives her money to the poor, cuts her hair short, and dresses herself in mens clothes. The last two actions are narrated with no special commentary or explanation. 35 As a result, within the text, the act of transvestitism has no explicit signication other than a straightfor- ward, pragmatic oneto facilitate the heroines desire to escape the no- tice of her family and (eventually) enter a male monastery without being recognized. The absence of interpretation offered within the Life of Susannah and other legends of female saints disguised as men would have prompted the ancient reader to look elsewhere for the signicance of this act. This absence of interpretation may even suggest that the hagiographers actu- ally presumed that their ancient readers were already acquainted with other texts”—other discoursesthat would have helped make sense of the transvestite motif within these saintslives. If so, what were these other textsand how would the act of transvestitism have been read intertextually? One of the legends, the Life of Eugenia, provides us with an answer to this question. In that account, Eugenias act of disguising herself as a man is modeled after St. Thecla, the most popular female saint in the early church after the Virgin Mary. St. Thecla is also recognized as the rst transvestite saint in early Christianity. The second-century Acts of Paul and Thecla, 36 the basis of Theclas legend, portrays her as a disciple of the apostle Paul in Asia Minor. Persecuted by her family and society for leaving her ancé in order to follow Paul, Thecla survives two martyr trials, the rst by re and the second by beasts in the arena. During the second martyr trial, she baptizes herself; and then, after her release, she dresses herself like a man and begins to travel and teach the gospel she had learned from Paul. The Life of Eugenia and the other transvestite saint legends written three or four centuries after the Acts of Paul and Thecla were hagiographical attempts to reappropriate Theclas story in a new context. However, unlike in the other legends, where the connection with Thecla remains implicit, this reappropriationin the Life of Eugenia is explicit and purposeful. 37 In the story, Eugenia, the wealthy daughter of a Roman

35. Life of Susannah 34, AASS, September 4: 154.

36. For the most comprehensive critical edition of the Acts of Paul and Thecla, see

Acta Apostolorum Apocrypha, ed. Richard A. Lipsius and M. Bonnet (Leipzig:

Hermann Mendelssohn, 1891), 23572.

37. Portions of the following analysis of the Life of Eugenia have been adapted

from chapter four of my book, The Cult of Saint Thecla (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), and a previous article, Pilgrimage and the Cult of Saint Thecla,in



governor assigned to Alexandria, actually obtains a copy of the Acts of Paul and Thecla (the book of the story of the discipleship of Thecla the holy virgin, and of Paul the Apostle). 38 One day, while traveling in a litter outside Alexandria, she studies passages from this book of Thecla.39 Eugenias reading has an immediate effect on her: imitating Theclas example, she cuts her hair and dresses herself like a man. (In the Acts of Paul and Thecla, even before her change of dress, Thecla had offered to cut her hair short as a sign of her commitment to Pauls ministry.) This intertextual connection with Thecla is reinforced later after Eugenia has abandoned the litter and secretly joined a monastery. Eugenias ab- sence causes an uproar in her family, and the author describes their reaction by borrowing a turn of phrase from the Acts of Paul and Thecla:

For her parents were mourning for their daughter; and her brothers for their sister; and her servants for their mistress.40 In the Acts, it is Theclas family (her mother, ancé, and maidservants) who mourn a similar loss. 41 These allusions to the Acts of Paul and Thecla provide the reader with an intertextual context for understanding Eugenias own actions. Just as in the case of Thecla, Eugenias change of appearance facilitates her break from her family and pursuit of an ascetic vocation.

Pilgrimage in Late Antique Egypt, ed. David Frankfurter (Leiden: Brill, 1998), 303


38. Life of Eugenia 2; tr. Agnes Smith Lewis, Select Narratives of Holy Women,

Studia Sinaitica 10 (London: C. J. Clay; New York: Macmillan, 1900), 2 (fol. 22a); see also the Armenian version edited by F. C. Conybeare, The Apology and Acts of Apollonius and Other Monuments of Early Christianity (London: Swan Sonnenschein; New York: Macmillan, 1894), 158. The mention of Acts of Paul and Thecla appears only in the Syriac and Armenian versions; the Latin substitutes the teaching of that most blessed Apostle Paul(eius beatissimi Pauli apostoli doctrina; PL 59:607B). In fact, the Latin omits any and all references to the female saint. In this context, the textual tradition seems to support the hypothesis that the Syriac and Armenian versions offer an earlier reading. Given the apocryphal reputation of the Acts of Paul and Thecla in the Latin church, it is more likely that Thecla would have been deleted from the original text, rather than added to it at a later time.

39. Life of Eugenia 3; tr. Lewis, Select Narratives of Holy Women, 3 (fol. 22b); cf.

Conybeare, Apology and Acts, 158. In the Latin version, Eugenia travels out to the suburbs of Alexandria for the express purpose of mingling with the Christians (PL


40. Life of Eugenia 8; tr. Lewis, Select Narratives of Holy Women, 12 (fol. 31b); cf.

Conybeare, Apology and Acts, 168. The Latin and Greek editors retain this reading:

lugebant universi confusi: parentes liam, sororem fratres, servi dominam (PL

73:610D611A); §pebo«nto pikr«w, ofl pat°rew thn yugat°ra, ofl édelfoi thn gnhs¤an, ofl doËloi thn d°spoinan (PG 116:624B); cf. Acts of Paul and Thecla 10.

41. Acts of Paul and Thecla 10: And they wept bitterly, Thamyris missing his

betrothed, Theocleia her child, the maidservants their mistress(kai ofl men ¶klaion dein«w, Yãmuriw men gunaikow éstox«n, Yeokle¤a de t°knou, afl de paid¤skai kur¤aw).



The Acts of Paul and Thecla was not the only basis for this intertextual bond between Eugenia and Thecla. The author of the Life also had access to other nonliterary textsconnected with the cult of St. Thecla in late antiquitya reservoir of visual artifacts that could also be utilized for intertextual ends. Later in the Life, Eugenia is forced to go to court in order to defend herself against a false accusation of sexual assault. This accusation was brought against her by a woman whom Eugenia had earlier healed of disease. Brought to the court in chains, Eugenia decides that she must confess her identitythat she must reveal her biological genderin order to protect the reputation of the Egyptian monks. First,

she explains, I became a man for a short time, being emulous and imitating my teacher Thecla: she who despised and rejected the desires of this world, and became worthy of the good things of heaven by means of her chastity and her life.42 Then, as visible proof of her sex, Eugenia rips open her garment to reveal her breasts to the crowd. 43 In the story, this act exonerates Eugenia from the womans false accusa- tion. However, given her explicit self-identication with Thecla, Eugenias act would also have had other associations for readersespecially Egyp- tian readersin late antiquity. According to the text, she rent the gar-

ment which she wore from the top as far as her girdle

and the chaste

breasts which were upon the bosom of a pure virgin were seen44 (my italics). Here, the Life of Eugenia presents a visual tableau that conforms

remarkably to the iconography of pilgrim asks associated with Theclas cult in Egypt. 45 On these asks Thecla appears stripped naked to the waist, with the curves of her breasts revealed. Her hands are tied behind her back and she is anked by two bulls, a bear, and a lion. The scene represents a conation of martyr scenes from the life of Thecla, incorpo-

42. Life of Eugenia 15; tr. Lewis, Select Narratives of Holy Women, 20 (fol. 39a);

cf. Conybeare, Apology and Acts, 17677.

43. A similar scene appears in the Acts of Apolinaria where Apolinaria (disguised

as a monk named Dorotheos) reveals her breasts to her parents in order to prove to

them that she is their daughter, and to defend herself against a false charge of paternity (Acts of Apolinaria, f. 218 v.; ed. Drescher, Three Coptic Legends, 159).

44. Life of Eugenia 15; tr. Lewis, Select Narratives of Holy Women, 21 (fol. 39b);

cf. Conybeare, Apology and Acts, 177; PL 59:614D.

45. The date and provenance of these asks and the Life of Eugenia are almost

identical. The asks were produced in the vicinity of Alexandria during the late fth

and sixth centuries (Zsolt Kiss, Les ampoules de Saint Ménas découvertes à Kôm el- Dikka (19611981) [Varsovie: PWN-Éditions scientiques de Pologne, 1989], 1418). The Life of Eugenia also seems to have been originally written in or around Alexandria during the sixth century (Anson, Female Transvestite in Early Monasti- cism,12).



rating images most notably from Theclas second martyr trial in the arena. 46 In the Life of Eugenia, the verbal imagery describing Eugenias own trial at court evokes this scene. It is as if the image of Thecla stamped in clay has actually imprinted itself on the bodily posture of Eugenia. Here we see how the writer of the Life has used not only the Acts of Paul and Thecla as a subtext, but also the discourses and practicesthe art and artifactsassociated with her pilgrimage cult. While Eugenias disguise as a male monk is to be read in terms of Theclas transvestitism in the Acts, the undoing of that disguise is to be read in terms of Theclas cultic iconography (an iconography that itself was an intertextual reading of Theclas martyr trials in the Acts). In this way, the undoing of Eugenias transvestite disguise is synony- mous with the narrative undoing(or deconstruction) of the Acts of Paul and Thecla through multiple layers of intertextual rereading. In the Acts, Thecla survives martyr trials and then dresses as a man (thereby undoingher status as a woman) in order to travel as an itinerant apostle. In the Life of Eugenia, this plot movement is reversed. Having traveled to the outskirts of Alexandria, Eugenia disguises herself as a man and enters a male monastery; later, she is forced to reveal her identity (thereby reestablishing her identity as a woman, i.e. undoingwhat was earlier undone) in a trial before the Roman governor. The image of Eugenias revealed and exonerated body functions as an icon to St. Thecla; yet, at the same time, in this image the texts and discourses of Theclas cult have been subvertedsubtly undonethrough a process of inter- textual revision. Despite their importance, the literature and art associated with St. Thecla were not the only subtexts for the early Christian legends of monastic women disguised as men, nor was the act of transvestitism the only locus for such intertextual play. In these legends, other stereotypical elements in the characterization of the heroines also betray traces of intertextuality.

The Call to Be a Holy Man: Overhearing Scripture with St. Antony

In the Coptic Life of Hilaria, 47 the heroine is raised in Constantinople as the daughter of the emperor Zeno; and yet, despite the comfort of her

46. Acts of Paul and Thecla 28, 33, 35.

47. The Coptic Life of Hilaria has been edited and translated by James Drescher, in

Three Coptic Legends, 113, 6982.



upbringing, she yearns for a life of monastic renunciation. Her sense of monastic calling is reinforced by a visit to church, where, having asked God to let me hear from the scripture-lessons readings suited to my aim,she hears a series of scriptural readings disparaging the trappings of worldly wealth. 48 Because her royal status effectively bars her from pursu- ing this calling, she disguises herself as a knight and ees by boat to Alexandria. There, entering the church of St. Mark, she again asks the Lord to direct her through the words of Scripture. And again, she hears a series of readings advocating the renunciation of family and riches for the sake of the gospel. Immediately after this, she resolves to travel to Scetis (the ancient Wadi Natrun) and join one of the monastic settlements in that region. There she quickly earns renown for her ascetic endurance and self-renunciation. The calling to the monastic life that Hilaria experiences would have been familiar to literate Christians in late antiquity, especially in the Egyptian context. Her overhearing of Scripture passages that seem to speak directly to her situation evokes the famous monastic calling of St. Antony, narrated in Athanasiusspiritual biography, the Life of Antony. After the death of his parents, Antony nds himself walking to church reecting on how the Apostles left everything and followed the Savior(Matt 19.27). Arriving at church, he hears another verse from Matthew 19 being readthe words Jesus says to the rich man who asked him how he might obtain eternal life: If you would be perfect, go, sell all of your possessions, and give them to the poor; and come, follow me, and you will have treasure in heaven(19.21). In response to these words, Antony gives his land away, sells most of his possessions, and distributes the money to the poor. However, it is only when he returns to the church again, and hears another passage from Matthew (Do not be anxious for the morrow[6.34]) that he makes a total break from his former life: he gives the rest of his possessions away to the poor, places his sister in a nunnery, and enters the desert to pursue the monastic life. 49 This account of Antonys monastic calling serves as the subtext for Hilarias own call. 50 Like Antony, she visits the church on two occasions,

48. Life of Hilaria; tr. Drescher, Three Coptic Legends, 23, 7071.

49. Athanasius, Life of Antony 23; PG 26:84145.

50. The use of Antonys call as a model for spiritual conversion and monastic

commitment is found elsewhere in early Christian literature, most notably in Book 8 of Augustines Confessions. There, Augustine recalls how, in a state of spiritual turmoil, he was compelled to open his Bible and read the rst chapter he encountered there, in much the same way that Antony, accidentally coming in whilst the gospel



and each time hears passages of Scripture read that conrm her desire for monastic renunciation. Hilarias very act of overhearingScripture ac- centuates the intertextual character of the narrative at this point: it is interesting that, while Antony hears only one verse each time he visits the church, Hilaria receives a surplus of biblical teachingsix passages on each occasion. The connection between Hilaria and Antony is also subtly reinforced by the nal verse she hears during her visit to the church of St. Mark in Alexandria. The verse is from Matthew 19.29Jesussummary of his teaching to the rich man: Ye who have left house and wife and child, in the generation to come ye shall receive them manifold and ye shall inherit life everlasting.For a late antique reader well-versed in Scripture, this verse would have sent him or her on an intertextual path- way that would have led, rst to the larger context of Matthew 19 and then inevitably to the famous citation of that context in the Life of Antony. Through such an intertextual reading, Hilaria was presented as a new Antony, a new holy wo/man of the desert. In effect, by portraying the Hilaria as heir to the monastic calling of St. Antony, the Life of Hilaria subtly presents the transvestite saint in male gendered terms. In late antiquity, while female saints were often privi- leged as models for women, male heroes and saints were frequently invoked as models for men. In the Life of Antony itself, Athanasius remarks that, for monks, the life of Antony is a worthy model for the ascetic life.51 Thus, in retracing the footsteps of her intertextual model Antony, Hilaria is understood to be actualizing a distinctively male piety.

A Third Gender? Becoming Eunuchs for the Sake of the Kingdom of Heaven

I have already highlighted the ambiguity of the transvestite saintsgender status. This ambiguity is nowhere more evident than in their association with eunuchs in the legends. In late antiquity, eunuchs occupied a unique social positionone that was culturally constructed as a third gender.52 Their status as a third genderwas established not only on the basis of their physiological differentiation from men and women and their exclusion

received the admonition as if what was read were addressed to

him(Augustine, Confessions 8.29; tr. J. G. Pilkington, NPNF, 1st ser., 1:127). 51. Athanasius, Life of Antony, Prologue; PG 26:837. See also the Life of Antony, chapter 7, where Antony himself identies the prophet Elijah as his own ascetic role model, a mirror in which to study his own life(PG 26:853). 52. Kathryn M. Ringrose, Living in the Shadows: Eunuchs and Gender in Byzantium,in Third Sex, Third Gender, 85109, esp. 94ff.

was being read



from procreative functions, but also on the basis of acculturated behav- iors, mannerisms, and social roles. Eunuchs were often identied because of their distinctive dress and their stereotyped speech patterns and body language. They also performed particular social functions, especially ones that involved mediation across social boundaries. In this way, eunuchs were really liminal gures in ancient society. This perception of eunuchs extended to the early church as well. Both Clement of Alexandria and Gregory of Nazianzus classify them as a third category apart from men and women. In the words of Gregory, eunuchs are of dubious sex.53 Given the ancient perception of eunuchs as liminal gures, it is signi- cant that, in their legends, transvestite female saints are often mistaken for eunuchs during their life as monks. After many years as a desert solitary, the transvestite holy woman Apolinaria is invited to join Abba Macariusmonastic community in Scetis because she is thought to be a eunuch. 54 In the Life of St. Mary/Marinos (the story with which I intro- duced this article), Mary is mistaken for a eunuch because she was beardless and of delicate voice.55 In the Life of Hilaria, Hilarias fellow monks likewise assume that she is a eunuch because she has no beard. 56 Finally, the former prostitute Pelagia, after she is converted to Christian- ity by the bishop Nonnus, dresses herself in Nonnusspare clothes and ees to Palestine to become a monastic hermit; there the church commu- nity in Jerusalem comes to know her as Pelagius the eunuch. 57 In other legends, the heroines intentionally cultivate the impression that they are eunuchs. For example, the transvestite saint Euphrosyne schemes to enter a male monastery outside Alexandria disguised as a

53. Clement of Alexandria, Stromata 3.15 (ed. Otto Stählin and Ludwig Früchtel,

in Stromata 14 [Berlin: Akademie, 1985], 9799); Gregory of Nazianzus, In Praise of Athanasius (PG 35:1106). For other similar early Christian attitudes toward eunuchs, see Ringrose, Living in the Shadows,89.

54. Life of Apolinaria, f. 216 v.217 r.; ed. Drescher, Three Coptic Legends , 157.

55. Life of St. Mary/Marinos 5; ed. Richard, Vie ancienne de Sainte Marie

surnommée Marinos,88, line 37; tr. Constas, Holy Women of Byzantium, 8.

56. Life of Hilaria; ed. Drescher, Three Coptic Legends, 6, 75. This scenario

corresponds to ancient social realities. A lack of facial hair and other secondary male sexual traits (body hair, fully developed masculine musculature, deep vocal range) was

characteristic of eunuchs who were castrated before puberty (Ringrose, Living in the Shadows,91). Many such eunuchs were dedicated to monasteries as young boys.

57. Life of Pelagia 1213; tr. Benedicta Ward, Harlots of the Desert: A Study of

Repentance in Early Monastic Sources (London: Mowbray, 1987), 73. Ward makes her translation from the Latin text (PL 73:66372). The Syriac text of the Life of Pelagia has been translated by Sebastian P. Brock and Susan Ashbrook Harvey, Holy

Women of the Syrian Orient, updated edition (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998), 4062.



eunuch from the palace.58 In the Life of Matrona, Matrona cuts her hair and actually dresses herself as a eunuchbefore she enrolls in a male monastery. 59 Later, her assumed identity as a eunuch holds her in good stead when one of her fellow monks asks her why both of her ears were pierced. In response, she explains that, in her former life as a eunuch, she used to be in the employ of a woman who would adorn her so that many of those who saw me said that I was a girl.60 Pierced ears were, in fact, a common form of self-adornment for eunuchs. 61 In any case, Matronas cover story worked and her true identity as a woman was kept secret (at least for the time being). This association of the female transvestite saint with eunuchs comes to a very different expression in the Life of Eugenia. In that work, Eugenia leaves her home accompanied by two eunuchs, and after cutting her hair and dressing as a man, she presents herself at a local monastery as one of their brothers. 62 The implication for the reader is that Eugenia, too, is to be viewed as a eunuchas one whose piety is no longer female(nor, for that matter, fully male). This representation of Eugenia as a eunuch is reinforced by intertextual elements in the story. As I discussed earlier, Eugenias reading of the Acts of Paul and Thecla while being transported in her litter prompted her call to the monastic life. In the text, Eugenias act of reading is set offbracketedby an inclusio that emphasizes the presence of the eunuchs who were accompanying her on her journey.

Now there went with her many eunuchs and servants for her honour.

Now as the litter in which she was sitting with the pomp of noble women was going along, Eugenia was reading within it the book of Thecla, and was meditating on a passage in it.

And she said to the two eunuchs who were with


58. Life of Euphrosyne 9; AASS, February 2:538 (Latin text). For an English

translation made from a Syriac manuscript of the Life of Euphrosyne, see Lewis, Select Narratives of Holy Women, 4659. During the Byzantine era, eunuchs were regularly employed as advisors and condantes in the imperial court: Shaun Tougher, Byzantine Eunuchs: An Overview, with Special Reference to their Creation and Origin,in Women, Men and Eunuchs (London: Routledge, 1997), 16884, esp.


59. Life of Matrona 4; AASS, November 3:792; tr. Featherstone, Holy Women of

Byzantium, 22.

60. Life of Matrona 5; AASS, November 3:79293; tr. Featherstone, Holy Women

of Byzantium, 2324.

61. Ringrose, Living in the Shadows,95.

62. Life of Eugenia, f. 30a; tr. Lewis, Select Narratives of Holy Women, 11.

63. Life of Eugenia, f. 22b; tr. Lewis, Select Narratives of Holy Women, 3 (my




The picture of Eugenia riding in her litter and reading a sacred text, along with the narratives emphasis on the presence of eunuchs, would have called to mind for an early Christian reader the biblical story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8.2640. In that story, the Ethiopian eunuch sits in his chariot reading the book of Isaiah, when the apostle Philip approaches and explains the meaning of the scripture to him. After being instructed in the faith by Philip, the Ethiopian eunuch gets down from his chariot and is baptized by Philip. In the Life of Eugenia, Eugenia is placed intertextually in the role of the Ethiopian eunuch. Like the Ethiopian eunuch, Eugenias act of reading

initiates a series of events that lead to her conversion to Christianity. After dressing herself like a man (and thereby taking on the appearance of a eunuch), she ends up meeting the bishop Helenus, who instructs her in the faith and eventually baptizes her and her companions. Helenus, a surro- gate for the apostle Philip, is featured in another episode that conrms Acts 8 as a key intertext for Eugenias spiritual biography. When Eugenia rst encounters Helenus, she is told a story about his recent encounter with a magician named Iraus, who approached the people of the Chris- tians with the wicked artice of his magic.64 The apostle Philip has a similar encounter in Acts 8.925 with a magician named Simon who amazed [the people] with his magic.Signicantly, this story of Simon the magician immediately precedes that of the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts. As intertexts for the Life of Eugenia, these stories from Acts subtly reinforce Eugenias characterization as one who has attained the status of eunuch for the kingdom of heaven. Eugenia, in her path toward conver- sion and a life of monastic renunciation, dramatizes the biblical model of eunuchhood,and, in the process, enables herself to overcome the limi- tations of her sex. Eugenia later tries to describe this process in terms of a (temporary) shift in gender from female to male: And being a woman by nature, in order that I might gain everlasting life, I became a man for a

.65 Ultimately, however, the intertextual representation of


Eugenia as a eunuch undermines such bipolar (male-female) descriptions of gender categories, highlighting the ambiguity of Eugenias status as a transvestite saint.

64. Life of Eugenia, f. 26a; tr. Lewis, Select Narratives of Holy Women, 6. 65. Life of Eugenia, f. 39a; tr. Lewis, Select Narratives of Holy Women, 20.



The Androgynous Hero: Inverting the Story of Joseph and Potiphars Wife

Another prominent intertextual feature in several of the transvestite saint legends involves the false accusation of sexual impropriety, a theme in- spired by the story of Joseph and Potiphars wife from Genesis 39. 66 In the biblical story, Joseph spurns the sexual advances of his masters wife only to have her accuse him of trying to seduce her. His master, Potiphar, then has Joseph thrown into prison on the basis of this false charge. The legends of Eugenia, Susannah, and Theodora all feature a similar sce- nario, with the subtle twist that the female transvestite saints are cast in the role of Joseph. In the Life of Eugenia, the wife of a prominent senator asks Eugenia (who is in the guise of a monk named Eugenius) to heal her from the effects of a lingering fever. Eugenia complies, and then returns quickly to her monastery. However, the woman (Melania), attracted by Eugenias appearance, calls her back on several occasions and tries to convince her to abandon her commitment to sexual chastity and enjoy the good things of this world.Later, Melania visits Eugenia at the monastery, hoping to embrace her secretly.When Eugenia spurns her advances, Melania ies into a rage and goes to the Alexandrian governor with the charge that the monk Eugenia had tried to seduce her with shameful and vile wordsand then tried to rape her. 67 It is this charge that eventually leads Eugenia to reveal herself and her identity before the Alexandrian court. The Life of Susannah, perhaps derived from Eugenias legend, records an almost identical encounter with a female temptress. 68 In the Life of Theodora, 69 one can observe a very different variation on the Joseph and Potiphars wife motif. At the beginning of the story, Theodora, a married woman living in Alexandria, is misled and seduced by a rich man living in Alexandria. As a result of her sin, Theodora grieves the loss of her soul. Wracked with guilt, she cuts off her hair, dresses like a man, and ees to a monastery eighteen miles west of Alex- andria. There she lives a life of piety for many years. One day, returning to the monastery after an errand to the city, she meets a woman on the road who approaches her and tries to seduce her. While Theodora rejects

66. Anson, Female Transvestite in Early Monasticism,17ff.

67. Life of Eugenia, f. 34a37b; tr. Lewis, Select Narratives of Holy Women, 15


68. Life of Susannah; AASS, September 4:15160, esp. 155ff.; Anson, Female

Transvestite in Early Monasticism,2526.

69. Life of Theodora; PG 115:66589.



her advances, shortly thereafter the woman becomes pregnant and takes the opportunity to accuse Theodora of fathering the child. However, in contrast to the legends of Eugenia and Susannah, Theodora does not respond by revealing her identity, nor does she try to defend herself against the accusation in any other way. The child is left with her and she is cast out of the monastery. For seven years, she raises the child in the wild before her fellow monks, satised by her penance, nally welcome her back into the community. Theodoras innocence is only ascertained after her death, when her identity as a woman is discovered. Theodoras story closely resembles that of Mary/Marinos. In the Life of St. Mary/Marinos, the transvestite saint is accused of impregnating a local innkeepers daughterthe only difference is that this accusation is not prompted by an act of sexual rejection. The innkeepers daughter is simply portrayed as a wayward young woman who, having been de- oweredby a soldier, pins the blame for her pregnancy on the monk Marinos. The rest of Mary/Marinoslegend follows according to form. Refusing to defend herself against the false accusation, Mary is thrown out of her monastery and left to raise the child on her own. Readmitted to the monastery after three years, she keeps her true identity (and her innocence) secret until her death. 70 Similar false accusations of sexual impropriety and/or paternity appear in other transvestite saint legends as well, instances where the Joseph and Potiphars wife motif has been adopted in abbreviated or modied form. In the Life of Apolinaria, the heroine (disguised as the monk Dorotheos) heals her sister of demon-possession; however, when the sister returns home the devil makes it appear as if she is pregnant and causes her to accuse Apolinaria of fathering the child. 71 A similar episode in the Life of Hilaria (without the simulated pregnancy) has Hilaria under suspicion for unseemly sexual behavior toward her sister. 72 In the Egyptian legend of St. Margaret, when a nun becomes pregnant, Margaret is accused and is put out of her monastery. She is only exonerated on her deathbed, when she writes a letter to the abbot revealing her identity. 73

70. Life of St. Mary/Marinos; Richard, Vie ancienne de Sainte Marie surnommée

Marinos,8394; tr. Constas, Holy Women of Byzantium, 712. For other examples of false charges of paternity in hagiographical literature, see Paul Canart, Le nouveau-né qui dénonce son père. Les avatars dun conte populaire dans la littérature hagiographique,AB 84 (1966): 30933.

71. Life of Apolinaria, f. 218 r.; ed. Drescher, Three Coptic Legends, 15859.

72. Life of Hilaria; ed. Drescher, Three Coptic Legends, 79ff.

73. Life of Margaret; AASS, July 4:287; Anson, Female Transvestite in Early

Monasticism,11. The date of Margarets legend is uncertain.



What do these variations on the story of Joseph and Potiphars wife tell us about the intertextual construction of gender in these legends? At rst glance, the identication of the female transvestite saint with Joseph would simply seem to be yet another way to emphasize the saints assimi- lation of male virtues: by resisting the seduction of the female temptress, the female monk was understood to be vanquishing her own female weakness. However, a study of late antique traditions about Joseph sug- gests that his reputation was more complex than this: as a result, the intertextual characterization of the transvestite saint as Joseph has more ambiguous consequences for the reading of gender in the legends. Joseph was the subject of much commentary in early Christian, Jewish, and Islamic tradition, and some of this commentary focuses on his an- drogynous reputation. The biblical narrative (Gen 39.6) and subsequent commentaries on that narrative emphasize Josephs physical beauty, a beauty that seems to cross gender lines. The Hebrew term used to de- scribe Josephs beauty (yafeh / yafah) is, in fact, applied to women more often than to men (see, for example, Song of Songs 4.1). 74 Jewish Midrashic writers and early Muslim commentators compare Josephs beauty to that of his mother Rachel. 75 Indeed, Josephs fair appearance is often described in feminine terms: in several sources, he even is said to have adapted an affected gait, coifed his hair, and applied make-up to enhance the natural beauty of his eyes. 76 The androgynous characterization of Joseph extends to ancient legends about his sexual attractiveness not only to women but to men as well. The church father Jerome claims that Potiphar himself was sexually attracted to Joseph; 77 a similar tradition is preserved in the Babylonian Talmud. 78 This tradition of same-sex attraction connected

74. Shalom Goldman, The Wiles of Women/The Wiles of Men: Joseph and Potiphars Wife in Ancient New Eastern, Jewish, and Islamic Folklore (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1995), 7990.

75. Genesis Rabbah 86:6; tr. H. Freedman and M. Simon, Midrash Rabbah, 3rd ed.

(London: Soncino Press, 1983), 2:805. Among the Muslim writers who suggest that Joseph inherited his beauty from his mother Rachel are al-Tabari, Tarikh al-rusul wal-muluk (The History of al-Tabari), SUNY Series in Near Eastern Studies (Albany:

State University of New York Press, 1987), 2:148, and al-Thalabi, Qisas al-Anbiya(Arais al-majalis) (Cairo: Shirkat al-Shamarli, 1994), 10911.

76. Genesis Rabbah 84.7; tr. H. Freedman and M. Simon, Midrash Rabbah, 2:774;

cf. Louis Ginzberg, The Legends of the Jews (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication

Society of America, 190938/193766), 2:44 and 5:338 n. 106; and S. Goldman, Wiles of Women, 82.

77. Jerome, On Genesis 37.36 (CCL 72:45).

78. Babylonian Talmud, Sotah 13b: And Potiphar, an ofcer of Pharaohs bought

him, Rab said: He bought him for himself; but Gabriel came and castrated him, and then Gabriel came and mutilated him [pera`], for originally his name is written



with Joseph provides a fascinating intertextual context for reading the transvestite saint legends, where the story of Joseph and Potiphars wife is effectively inverted and reenacted as the attempted seduction of one woman (disguised as a man) by another. For a late antique or Byzantine reader (especially in Egypt where the Joseph cult was most active), these tradi- tions of androgyny and same-sex attraction would undoubtedly have resonated in the intertextual portrayal of the female transvestite saint as Joseph.

Bodies and Communities: Textual Fragmentation and Intertextual Re-collection

In the transvestite saint legends that I have been discussing, the body of the transvestite saint is contested spacethe locus of competing intertextual discourses that vie for the readers notice. The result of these competing discourses is, in effect, the intertextual fragmentation and defeminization of the saints body: she is alternately cast as a female manin the image of St. Thecla, a holy man of the desert who follows the call of St. Antony, a holy eunuch like that of the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts, and a chaste, androgynous hero modeled after Joseph. The intertextual fragmentation and defeminization of the transvestite saint is frequently mirrored in the actual physical deterioration of the saints body through ascetic practice. While the womans body is ob- scuredelidedby the act of transvestitism, it is often physically decon- structed through the rigors of asceticism. Thus, one reads in the Life of Hilaria that her breasts became shrunken with ascetic practicesand her menstrual ow dried up. 79 Apolinarias body turns hard and rough like the hide of a tortoise: the narrator describes her body as having melted awaythrough self-renunciation. 80 Recounting a visit to Pelagias cell, her hagiographer recalls that her face had become emaciated by fasting

Potiphar, but afterwards Potiphera(tr. I. Epstein, The Babylonian Talmud; Seder Nashim [London: Soncino Press, 1935], 3:6970; for other sources that preserve this tradition of Potiphars desire for Joseph, see Ginzberg, Legends of the Jews, 2:43 and 5:33738 n. 101). A number of early Jewish commentaries interpret Potiphars title of saris as indicating that he was a eunuch, and therefore of elastic sexual proclivities (Goldman, Wiles of Women, 8485). The writers of Jubilees and The Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs also identify Potiphar with Potiphera, named in Gen 41.45 as the parent of Asenath, Josephs future wife (Jubilees 40.10 and The Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs, Joseph 18.3; ed. and tr. R. H. Charles, The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1913], 2:71, 352). 79. Life of Hilaria; ed. Drescher, Three Coptic Legends, 6, 75. 80. Life of Apolinaria, f. 216 v.; ed. Drescher, Three Coptic Legends, 157.



and her eyes had sunk inwards like a great pit.81 In these descriptions, one observes what Terry Wilfong has termed the textual fragmentationof the female body in late antique hagiography. 82 The physical transformation that the saintsbodies undergo in the legends (along with the intertextual strategy of linking these female saints with male or gender-ambiguous prototypes) contributes to the disjointed, defeminized image of the transvestite saint. At the same time, however, the legends themselves never quite allow their readers to forget that the transvestite saint is still a woman by nature. This is exemplied in the Life of Susannah, where the saints body is mutilated through torture, but then

is miraculously restored. That legend, set in the era of the martyrs, de-

scribes how Susannah, after living a heroically faithful life in the guise of

a male monk, is persecuted on account of her faith by a pagan prefect

named Alexander, who subjects her to a series of lurid tortures, including having her breasts slashed off and thrown to the birds. 83 While this act clearly plays into the larger narrative strategy of defeminizing the saint, the act is immediately undonewhen an angel recovers Susannahs breasts and restores them to her body. In this case, the fragmented body of the saint is reassembled and the saint herself is reinscribed as female.This process of reinscribing the female identity of the transvestite saint could also take place on an intertextual level: the Life of Matrona is a prime example.

As in the other transvestite saint legends, various intertextual elements

in the Life of Matrona represent the heroine in male or gender-ambiguous

terms. After Matrona ees her abusive husband, disguises herself as a eunuch named Babylas, and enrolls in a male monastery in Constantinople, she is said to have been completely transformed into a man,and is

81. Life of Pelagia 14; tr. Ward, Harlots of the Desert, 74. For a recent treatment

of this passage that emphasizes its reworking of biblical subtexts, see Lynda L. Coon, Sacred Fictions: Holy Women and Hagiography in Late Antiquity (Philadelphia:

University of Pennsylvania Press, 1997), 8283.

82. Wilfong, Reading the Disjointed Body in Coptic,11636.

83. Life of Susannah 13; AASS, September 4:158. This episode in the Life of

Susannah closely resembles the Coptic Martyrdom of SS. Paese and Thecla, where Theclaan Egyptian namesake of the more famous Greek Theclasuffers similar tortures (having her breasts cut off, having burning oil poured down her throat:

Martyrdom of SS. Paese and Thecla 75 R i.20ff.; ed. E. A. E. Reymond and J. W. B. Barns, Four Martyrdoms from the Pierpont Morgan Coptic Codices [Oxford:

Clarendon Press, 1973], 64ff.). The similarities between the two accounts may suggest an intertextual connection between the Life of Susannah and the Martyrdom. The Martyrdom of SS. Paese and Thecla itself is intertextually dependent on the Acts of Paul and Thecla (Davis, Cult of Saint Thecla, 17790).



compared to exemplary holy men like her adopted namesake St. Babylas of Nikomedeia, and the Maccabean martyr Eleazar. 84 The deconstruction of Matronas female identity continues in a later episode that suggests intertextual connections with the Acts of Paul and Thecla. When Matronas abusive husband interrogates one of her friends about her whereabouts, the friend answers: Who this woman is of whom you speak, I know not (ÉEg≈, t¤w §stin ≤ gunØ ¥nper l°geiw, oÈk o‰da).85 These words echo the apostle Pauls response when questioned about Thecla in the Acts: I do not know the woman of whom you speak (OÈk o‰da t‹n guna›ka ∂n l°geiw).86 In each case, while the response is intended to dissimulate, it also alludes to the fact that, within the context of the narrative, the heroines identity as a woman has been (at least temporarily) erased from memory. Cast as a holy manlike St. Babylas and Eleazar, identied with the transvestite St. Thecla, and rhetorically denied her status as a woman,Matronas character is intertextually fragmented; her gendered identity is dislocated, displaced. And yet, throughout the Life of Matrona, this defeminizing agenda is offset by a competing intertextual agenda in which Matrona is increas- ingly dened within the context of womens community. Early in the narrative, two female friends named Eugenia and Susannah support Matronas monastic aspirations. Eugenia brings Matrona to the male monastery headed by the monk Bassianos and enrolls her there disguised as a eunuch. 87 Susannah provides Matrona safe haven from her abusive husband, and later takes custody of Matronas infant son so that Matrona can freely pursue her monastic calling. 88 Within the context of Matronas legend, the names of these two friendsEugenia and Susannahrecall the traditions of the two famous transves- tite saints who bore the same names. 89 In this way, the Life intertextually

84. Life of Matrona 4; AASS, November 3:792; tr. Featherstone, Holy Women of

Byzantium, 2223.

85. Life of Matrona 10; AASS, November 3:795; tr. Featherstone, Holy Women of

Byzantium, 29.

86. Acts of Paul and Thecla 26; Lipsius and Bonnet, Acta Apostolorum Apocrypha,


87. Life of Matrona 4; AASS, November 3:792; tr. Featherstone, Holy Women of

Byzantium, 22.

88. Life of Matrona 3; AASS, November 3:79192; tr. Featherstone, Holy Women

of Byzantium, 21. 89. Eva Catafygiotu Topping, St. Matrona and Her Friends: Sisterhood in Byzantium,in KAYHGHTRIA: Essays Presented to Joan Hussey, ed. J. Chrysostomides (Camberley: Porphyrogenitus, 1988), 215 n. 28; C. Mango, Life of St. Matrona of Perge,in Holy Women of Byzantium, 2021 nn. 29 and 32.



links Matrona with other legends of holy women disguised as men. This theme is reinforced later when Matrona travels to Syria and resides at the monastery of the blessed Hilara”—probably an oblique reference to the Syrian tradition connected with the transvestite saint Hilaria. 90 Through these allusions, Matronas piety is framed by the intertextual presence of a larger communityof female transvestite saints. This emphasis on womens community in the Life of Matrona is later expressed as an eschatological hope in Matronas vision of a heavenly mansion and garden where she converses with a group of women, mar- velous in their attire and appearance.91 This vision alludes not only to New Testament teachings comparing heaven to a house with many rooms(John 14.2), but also to MethodiusSymposium (ca. 300 c.e.), an ascetic work in which the author details his own vision of a heavenly banquet held in honor of a choir of female virgins with St. Thecla at their head. 92 This eschatological vision of womens community is nally real- ized for Matrona in the foundation of her monastery in Constantinople, where she served as head of a group of nuns who dressed in male monas- tic garb. According to the author of the Life, it was this community that initially preserved Matronas memory and recorded the events of her life. 93 On more than one level, both intertextually and extratextually, the fragments of Matronas identity were re-collected within the context of a womens community (albeit a crossdressing one). Thus, at the same time that it calls her female status into question, the Life reinscribes Matrona as a female saint.


The creative tension in the transvestite saint legends between manlypiety and female sexual identity is consistently fostered on an intertextual

90. Life of Matrona 11; AASS, November 3:796; tr. Featherstone, Holy Women of

Byzantium, 3031. The Syriac version of Hilarias life has been edited by A. J. Wensinck, The Legend of Hilaria, vol. 2 of Legends of Eastern Saints (Leiden: Brill,

1913), 989.

91. Life of Matrona 49; AASS, November 3:811; tr. Featherstone, Holy Women of

Byzantium, 6162.

92. For a critical edition of MethodiusSymposium, see the text edited by Herbert

Musurillo, SC 95.

93. The author of the Life reports that it was a nun named Eulogia from Matronas

monastery who originally recorded the details of Matronas life (Life of Matrona 50; AASS, November 3:812; tr. Featherstone, Holy Women of Byzantium, 62).



level by the interplay of competing cultural discourses about genderdiscourses that operate simultaneously, but function at cross purposes. 94 Thus, in the case of Matrona, the transvestite saint can be compared to the household woman in Jesusparable who hid three measures of meal till the whole was leavened(Luke 13.21), and yet later in the same work can be said to function in the public male role of overseeror bishop(§p¤skopow) for her community of female monks. 95 While these two dis- courses cross,they do not cancel each other out. As a result, the bipolar view of human genderwhile tacitly endorsedis ultimately destabilized. Perhaps nowhere is this ironic subversion of gender categories more evident than in a scene from the Life of St. Mary/Marinos (the story with which I began). When the superior of the monastery comes to Mary/ Marinos with the accusation that s/he deowered the innkeepers daugh- ter, we are told that Marinos fell upon his face, saying, Forgive me, father, for I have sinned as a man.’” 96 Mary/Marinos would seem to be falsely confessing a sin s/he did not commit, but the reader is left to detangle a snarl of logic hidden behind this apparent lie. If Mary/Marinos did not sin, did s/he not sinas a man, or as a womanor both? For the transvestite saint, which gender identity (male or female) is the real lie? Or do both options somehow fall short of the truth? The cryptic charac- ter of Mary/Marinos’ “double-voicedconfession illustrates again how the transvestite saint legends destabilize conventional (bipolar) gender categories. 97 The destabilization of gender categories in the text is further high- lighted by contemporary readings and misreadings of a later scene in the Life of St. Mary/Marinos where the monks discover the saints female identity and are said to shriekin surprise. 98 The English translators of the vita originally suggested that the Greek (§yroÆyhsan) ought to be

94. My emphasis on intertextuality in the legends prioritizes synchronic readings

over diachronic ones: indeed, as one theorist has put it, the phenomenon of intertextuality introduces a new way of reading that destroys the linearity of the text(Laurent Jenny, The Strategy of Forms,in French Literary Theory Today: A Reader , ed. T. Todorov [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982], 44).

95. Life of Matrona 6 and 51; AASS, November 3:79394, 812; tr. Featherstone,

Holy Women of Byzantium, 26, 63.

96. Life of St. Mary/Marinos 11; Richard, Vie ancienne de Sainte Marie

surnommée Marinos,90, lines 8990; tr. Constas, Holy Women of Byzantium, 9.

97. The concepts of double-voiceddiscourse and polyphonyoriginated in the

work of the Russian literary theorist M. M. Bakhtin. For a cogent analysis of Bakhtins thought and its implications for theories of intertextuality, see Graham Allen, Intertextuality, 1430, 15973.

98. Life of St. Mary/Marinos 18; Richard, Vie ancienne de Sainte Marie



translated, they shrieked like women,a reading that would have high- lighted the double-voicedgender reversal implicit in the scene. How- ever, the editors of the volume rejected this translation: they told the translators it was redundant since only women shriek anyway[!]99 The translators (and we) are left to ask, Who is represented as maleand who is represented as femalein this scene?Does the revelation of the Marys identity as a woman somehow reshape the monks into a sympa- thetic, female chorus (who cry out in a single voice, Lord, have mercy!)? Or, by way of contrast, is this depiction of the monks’ “femalereaction subtly meant to reinscribe Marys true malepiety after all? Is the textual revelation of Marys female identity itself nally textually decon- structed? At the end of the narrative, the reader seems to be left in a whirl of unanswered questions, caught in a tangled web of ancient (and mod- ern) assumptions about gender identity. This modern tale of misreading nally raises the question of how the transvestite saint legends would have been read in late antiquity. What function would stories like that of Mary/Marinos have had for early Christian readers? Sebastian Brock and Susan Ashbrook Harvey have argued that all early Christian hagiography was ultimately grounded in the life and death of Christ and was motivated by an ethic of imitation. 100 Were ancient readers called to seek out the example of Christ in the lives of transvestite saints? The Life of St. Mary/Marinos, at least, gives us hints of such a christo- mimetic function. At the very end of her Life, the hagiographer calls the reader to emulate the blessed Maryand thereby to “find mercy from our Lord Jesus Christ.101 At rst glance, this christological reference would simply seem to be formulaic, but in fact it would have called the readers attention back to the scene at the beginning of the narrative when Mary was trying to persuade her father not to abandon her in his desire to enter a monastery. In the midst of admonishing him, she appeals specically to Christs example, Do you not know what the Lord says? That the good shepherd giveth his life for his sheep? [John 10.11].102 These are the only two explicit references to Christ in the entire vita; however, given

99. I am indebted to one of the external readers for JECS for this anecdote, which

illustrates the deconstructive perils of modern publishing (per litt., May 2, 2001).

100. Brock and Harvey, Holy Women of the Syrian Orient, 14; cf. Harvey,

Women in Early Byzantine Hagiography,17.

101. Life of St. Mary/Marinos 21; Richard, Vie ancienne de Sainte Marie

surnommée Marinos,94, lines 17478; tr. Constas, Holy Women of Byzantium,


102. Life of St. Mary/Marinos 2; Richard, Vie ancienne de Sainte Marie



their placement at the beginning and end of the Life, they function as a rhetorical inclusio that focuses the readers attention on how the actions of Mary/Marinos reenact Christs Passion. In the narrative, Mary quotes the teaching about the good shepherd as an exhortation to her father, but it functions intertextually as a christological paradigm for Marys own life and sufferings: like Christ, she takes on the crimes of another; and like Christ, her identity is fully revealed only after her death (on the third day). 103 These themes are common to many of the transvestite saint legends, where other intertextual elements (especially the allusions to the lives of Antony and Joseph) reinforce this christological undercurrentthe Life of Antony itself was one of the rst works to present the monastic life as an expression of imitatio Christi, and Joseph was viewed by vari- ous Christian writers as a type of Christ and his Passion. 104 How then does this christomimeticism function in relation to the vari- ous gender discourses in the Lives? In antiquity, the discourse of imitation had a political functionnamely, the valorization of samenessand the repression of differencewithin communities. 105 Is the gospel of Christ (writ large) to be viewed then as an intertextual trump carda kind of meta-narrative into which all other narratives are subsumed? Does the call to imitate Christ homogenize the various gender discourses in the lives? To the contrary, I would suggest that the intertextual presentation of Christ as a mimetic model actually contributes to the destabilization of bipolar gender categories in the representation of the transvestite saint. At the same time that the ethic of imitation tries to inculcate sameness,it takes as its presupposition the prior existence of difference. 106 In this case,

103. Life of St. Mary/Marinos 18; Richard, Vie ancienne de Sainte Marie

surnommée Marinos,92, line 136; tr. Constas, Holy Women of Byzantium, 11. Again, I must thank the external reader for JECS for suggesting that I explore the

intertextual dimensions of christology in the legends.

104. J. Quasten, Patrology, (Utrecht: Spectrum, 1950), 3:43; Robert C. Gregg,

Introduction,in Athanasius: The Life of Antony and the Letter to Marcellinus

(New York: Paulist Press, 1980), 45. For an interpretation of the Life of Antony as a mythic story of the Incarnate Word, see David Brakke, Athanasius and Asceticism (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998), 216ff. In early Christianity, Joseph was referred to widely as a type of Christ: see, for example, Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho 91; Cyprian, Epistle 54 and Treatises 9 and 12; John Chrysostom, Homily 84 on Matthew 26:5154 and Homily 16 on Acts 7:67; Athanasius, Festal Letter 10.4 (338 c.e.); Jerome, Letter 48.45 and Letter 145 (on the imitation of Joseph as a way of taking up Christs cross).

105. Elizabeth A. Castelli, Imitating Paul: A Discourse of Power (Louisville:

Westminster/John Knox Press, 1991), 124. 106. Ibid., 126.



the attempt to present Christs life and death as a (unied) paradigm cannot fully suppress the divergent discourses about Christs identity in late antiquity. Such discourses are evident not only in the christological debates about his divine and human nature, but also in representations of Christs body. Among different early Christian communities, Christ was viewed as an androgynous or gender-ambiguous gure: he was variously identied as the incarnation of the female, divine Wisdom, 107 pictured in eschatological visions as a woman, 108 and depicted in early Christian art in the form of Orpheus, the androgynous gure of Greek myth. 109 Vir- ginia Burrus has also recently called attention to the sexually ambiguous representation of Christ in two fth- and sixth-century mosaics in Thessa- lonica and Ravenna, where the gure of Christ in each case manifests a manhood that has already incorporated the feminine.110 In the legends of monastic women disguised as men, the intertextual play on the Passion of Christ is particularly embodied in the transvestite gesture itself. Here, the act of changing garments evokes another christo- logical intertext, the Pauline baptismal formula of Galatians 3.2728:

As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for you all one in Christ Jesus(NRSV). When read in light of this intertext, the female saints crossdressing

107. Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, In Memory of Her (New York: Crossroad,

1983), 23040.

108. Epiphanius (Panarion 49.1) describes a vision experienced by the Montanist

prophetess Quintilla, in which Christ appeared to her in female form; for a discussion of this vision, see Christine Trevett, Montanism: Gender, Authority and the New Prophecy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 16770.

109. On the depiction of Orpheus as a type for Christ in early Christian art, see

Henri Leclercq, Orphée,in Dictionnaire darchéologie chrétienne et de liturgie 12.2

(Paris: Librairie Letouzey et Ané, 1936), 273555. One of the more famous examples is a fourth-century wall painting in the Catacomb of Domitilla (the cubiculum of Orpheus): Umberto Maria Fasola B., Die Domitilla-Katacombe und die Basilika der Märtyrer Nereus und Achilleus, 3rd ed., Römische und italienische Katakomben 1 (Vatican City: Ponticia Commissione di Archeologia Sacra, 1989), 6364. The typological connection between Orpheus and Christ was made by both pagan and Christian authors in late antiquity: see, for example, Origen, Against Celsus 7.53 (where the Greek philosopher Celsus draws a parallel between Orpheus and Christ as two divinely inspired men who both died a violent death) and Eusebius, Life of Constantine 4.14 (where Orpheusability to charm ferocious beasts with his lyre is

compared with how the divine Word used human nature as an instrumentto soothe and heal the passions of the human soul). Finally, for a discussion of Orpheus as an androgynous gure, see Delcourt, Hermaphrodite, 6772.

110. Virginia Burrus, Begotten, Not Made: Conceiving Manhood in Late

Antiquity (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2000), 19092.



would seem to function as a metaphor for her being one in Christ Jesus.However, at the same time that Galatians 3.28 envisions a uni- cation of oppositesin Christ, 111 its language ultimately subverts that vision and suggests a complete overturning of the traditional binary con- ception of gender identity. At the same time that Pauls language deconstructs the division of humanity into male (on the one hand) and female (on the other),it also deconstructs the unication of those oppo- sites: there is no longer male and female (conceived as a unit). The Pauline intertext itself turns out to be double-voiced.Thus, the gure of the transvestite saint does not simply undo human sexual division and reinscribe the primal, bisexual prototype of Genesis 1.27 (he created them male and female), 112 rather, as the intertextual embodiment of no longer male and female,the gure of the transvestite saint actually destabilizes binary gender categories by undermining even the fundamen- tal opposition of sexual division/nondivision itself. In the place of this binary opposition, the reader is left with an eclectic array of competing intertextual discourses that bob and weave through- out the texts, a multiplicity of mimetic models for conceptualizing and embodying gender in late antiquity. Thus, my poststructuralist reading of early Christian transvestite saint legends ultimately reasserts the polyphony of gender discourses in the textsa fugal chorus of competing voices that echo in the ear of the reader. 113 In the person of the transvestite saint, cultural discourses collide and coalesce; fragments of previous textsare re-collected and recongured. As I have suggested, contemporary theories of intertextuality provide a form-tted model for analyzing the enigmatic result.

Stephen J. Davis is Professor of New Testament and Early Church History at the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo

111. As argued by Wayne Meeks, The Image of the Androgyne: Some Uses of a

Symbol in Earliest Christianity,History of Religions 13.3 (1974): esp. 16566.

112. Ibid., 185ff.

113. Describing the interplay of discourses within a text, Roland Barthes also

adopts a musical metaphor: The plural of the Text depends

called the stereographic plurality of its weave of signiers(ImageMusicText, tr. Stephen Heath [London: Fontana, 1977], 159).

on what might be