The Weaning of Perpetua: Female Embodiment and Spiritual Growth Metaphor in the Dream of an Early Christian Martyr


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Abstract

The early Christian martyr Perpetua was a nursing mother who weaned her child while she was in prison awaiting execution. Scholars consider her dreams both authentic and historically significant. Perpetua prophesied her martyrdom on awakening from a dream that ended with an anomalous image of a shepherd providing her cheese from a sheep that he was milking. It is proposed that the transposition of solid food where milk was expected reflects both Perpetua's embodied experience and the child-weaning metaphor in Christian scriptures. Perpetua's contemporaries Hippolytus of Rome, Bishop and Martyr and Clement of Alexandria referred to cheese as the solid food of milk, and Origen linked solid food to martyrdom. Thus, Perpetua prophesied her martyrdom because she was given not milk but cheese, that is, solid food.

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