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"Accept this twofold consolation, you faint-hearted creatures": St. Augustine and contemporary definitions of rape
Jennifer J. Thompson
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University
Studies in Media & Information Literacy Education
Volume 4, Issue 3 (August 2004)
© University of Toronto Press
Article number: 50


ABSTRACT

Contemporary discourse about rape - from media coverage to second-wave feminist theory - owes both its concepts and its rhetoric to a crucial shift in the definition of rape. In 410 C.E., Augustine of Hippo set out to redefine rape from a pagan concept of stuprum or sexual misconduct to a chastity-based and specifically Christian notion. Augustine's definition of rape as sex against a woman's will persists to this day, with serious consequences; his mix of forensic and epedeictic rhetoric, too, continues to set a damaging precedent followed unknowingly by feminists and media outlets alike. Augustine's concept of will is inseparable from the Christian idea of chastity, and his definition of rape holds up an ideal of chastity at the very moment that it asserts that our fallen state and the nature of our genitals renders any pure will to chastity impossible. As a result, rather than focus on the guilt of perpetrators, Augustine obsessively probes the consciences of victims, suggesting that they deserve and indeed solicit their own abuse.



Recently the media have rediscovered a phrase-he said, she said-that both captures and confirms a stalemate that seems unique to cases of sexual abuse. Undeniably, public discussion of rape has become stale. This is the case in part because forensic rhetoric, with its cartoonish polarities and courtroom drama, has long colored definitions of rape and policy discussions. Rape enters public discussion primarily through trials, and the dialectical nature of legal argument seems to demand that, failing facts, spectators side according to race, sex, identity, personal, and public history. Discussions of rape in the media and elsewhere frequently demand an exhaustive probe of the raped woman's conscience and strive for a simple binary response: he did it or she's lying; she's entirely innocent or bizarrely depraved. [1]

These battles often employ the language, logic, and techniques of a trial, and tend to center around high-profile criminal cases-the most recent example being Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant's trial on charges of sexual assault. The judge, by ruling that the victim's sexual and medical history may be relevant to the case, has opened the way for innumerable media stories probing the alleged victim's conscience and past. Our obsessive national attention to such trials suggests that we believe that their outcome allows us to discern, not just the facts of one case, but appropriate, natural, true relations between women and men. [2]

In fact, the very definition of rape as sex against a woman's will creates an epistemological dilemma that haunts us to this day. In the early modern period, medical and legal discourse held that female orgasm was necessary for pregnancy; as a result, judges assumed that some, if not all, women enjoyed rape secretly. Though medical opinion has changed, women are still presumed to lie about rape, to enjoy it, and to desire it. In the case of Bryant's accuser, it seems that the defense will likely argue that she is hysterical and untrustworthy since she has received psychiatric care; that her flirtation with Bryant made sex inevitable and was tantamount to consent; and finally that since DNA testing indicates that she had sex with another man within 24 hours of the assault, she is unchaste, and therefore unrapable. As we shall see, though the ostensible reasons for doubting women have changed, the structural problem posed by the definition of rape has not. [3]

Feminist discussion, too, has become polarized and stylized, partly because, despite the well-known formula that calls rape "a crime of violence," feminists have not fundamentally changed the definition of rape. Wide cultural consensus exists that rape is best understood as sex against a woman's will. This definition may seem obvious and natural, but it is, in fact, bound to a very specific historical development: early Christianity's intellectual reaction against pagan Rome. Our contemporary definition of rape as sex against a woman's will depends upon Christian concepts, and our tendency to frame public discourse about rape with the trope of the trial, too, finds its roots in the early Christian church-specifically, in the theology of St. Augustine. Understanding the history of the concept of rape and the rhetoric surrounding it give us a framework for interpretation of contemporary trials and their attendant media coverage. [4]

Augustine (b. 354 C.E.) served as Bishop of Hippo during a period of tremendous strife and died during the Vandals' sack of Hippo in 430 C.E. The influence of Confessions and City of God, his two best-known works, is inestimable. The former served as a model for autobiographies well into the 19th century, and the latter is one of the earliest and most widely read attempts to systematize Christian thought in opposition to pagan beliefs. Both Catholic and Protestant churches look to his theology, and concepts that he developed and articulated have become so common as to be invisible. [5]

One of these concepts is the specifically Christian interpretation of chastity. In the early pages of City of God, St. Augustine analyzes the story of the rape of Lucretia and redefines pagan chastity to fit with Christian ideals by shifting it from an external, honor-based quality to an internal, guilt-based one. He argues, in essence, that we should define rape not as theft of a woman's physical purity, but as forced sex that violates a woman's will to Christian chastity. Though his intentions are humane-he is arguing that the Christian nuns raped during the Gothic sack of Rome (410 C.E.) retained their chastity-the consequences of this shift are grave. Most importantly, it creates an epistemological difficulty that haunts us to this day. Since Augustine's time, we have defined rape as the violation of an invisible, intangible, and purely internal will. Augustine believes that rape is a crime, not because it employs violence or destroys the victim's integrity, but rather because the victim may enjoy it and therefore stain the purity of her will. This interiority stands in direct contrast with Romans like the poet Ovid (43 B.C.E. - 17 C.E.), who celebrated Lucretia's fortitude in his Heroides, and the historian Livy (59 B.C.E. - 17 C.E.), who, as we shall see, emphasized honor, social and familial relations, and the role of history when considering Lucretia's fate. [6]

The results of Augustine's definition and rhetoric are profound. To begin with, no physical evidence can conclusively establish that a woman was raped, since her will is the only standard. Rather than prohibit speculation by urging us to accept the victim's word, this epistemological difficulty encourages speculation about the victim's chastity and motives. Ironically, the will, which begins as intangible and unknowable, must become empirical, and physical evidence becomes key to interpreting the victim's mental and spiritual state; what's more, in our attempts to understand rape, we shift focus-and thus responsibility-from the rapist to the victim. In fact, for St. Augustine, the victim's lack of willful control over her genitals renders rape intrinsically shameful, and this shame becomes a charge against her. For Augustine we are all sluts, men and women alike, and we are thus deserving of punishment. [7]

Augustine's rhetoric, too, has its consequences. He frames his discussion as a trial, and thereby invites readers to identify with a fictive judge and jury rather than with victim. He also maps out the boundaries of future discussion by defining the terms of debate (will and consent, mind and body); dictating the logic (binary opposition); and, through precedent, determining the species of rhetoric to be employed (a characteristic mixture of forensic and epideictic). When Augustine creates a raped woman as a space to be opened up and explored, he, God, and the reader all become explorers seeking to plumb the woman's depths. One consequence is clear: along with the concept of the will and this forensic focus, we have inherited from Augustine a profoundly Christian belief that the victim holds locked within her breast the "truth" of any given sex act. In turn, this belief creates an imperative to analyze her motives and interrogate the state of her will. [8]

My argument will progress through four stages. Augustine defines chastity by showing us what it is not: a pagan, honor-based concept such as we see in Livy. Therefore a quick discussion of Livy's account of the rape of Lucretia will help us to see how innovative Augustine's treatment was. Next, I will sketch out Augustine's concepts of rape and Christian chastity, and discuss the consolation he offers to Christian rape victims. I will argue that Augustine's discussion of the case of Lucretia leads him to depict raped women as guilty spaces to be explored and interrogated. In addition, though he argues that raped Christian women remain chaste, in a much later section of City of God on original sin, Augustine defines the nature of the genitals, and, it seems to me, takes back the consolation he has offered Christian women. For Augustine, the genitals are inherently shameful; they are precisely the nullification of will. In his system, therefore, it is almost nonsense to speak of rape. I will conclude by suggesting a tentative solution to this discursive deadlock. [9]



Virtus/Virtue

In Livy's Early History of Rome, at the Roman siege of Ardea talk among bored noblemen turns to women. Each man claims to have the most virtuous wife, and "the rivalry got hotter and hotter" (trans. 1971). Collatinus boasts extravagantly of the beauty and chastity of his wife, Lucretia. To settle the quarrel, the soldiers ride back to Rome to check up on their wives. Even the royal wives are caught feasting and drinking wine, but Lucretia is virtuously spinning and mourning Collatinus' absence. During the dinner that follows, Lucretia's chaste beauty strikes Sextus Tarquinius, son of the tyrant Lucius Tarquinius; he resolves to have her. A few days later, he returns to Collatinus' house alone, and Lucretia welcomes him as a friend of her husband. After they retire, he breaks into her bedchamber, sword in hand, and demands sex. She refuses. He threatens to kill her and a slave, strip them, entangle the bodies, and tell Collatinus that he found them so. Rather than disgrace Collatinus, Lucretia gives in; Tarquin "enjoy[s] her" and leaves (Livy, trans. 1971). [10]

The following day, Lucretia summons her father and husband, who bring along Valerius and Lucius Junius Brutus. She tells her story, and ends with the following speech: "In your bed, Collatinus, is the impress of another man. My body only has been violated. My heart is innocent, and death will be my witness. Give me your solemn vow that the adulterer shall be punished-he is Sextus Tarquinius. He it is who last night came as my enemy disguised as my guest, and took his pleasure of me. That pleasure will be my death-and his, too, if you are men.... As for me I am innocent of fault, but I will take my punishment. Never shall Lucretia provide a precedent for unchaste women to escape what they deserve" (Livy, trans. 1971). She then stabs herself with a concealed dagger. As her father and husband bewail her death, Brutus pulls the bloody dagger from Lucretia's still-warm body, declaring, "None more chaste … until a tyrant wronged her. … I will pursue Lucius Tarquinius Superbus, his wicked wife, and all his children, and never again will I allow them or any other man to be King in Rome" (Livy, trans. 1971). He then causes Lucretia's bloody corpse to be paraded through the streets of Rome and harangues the citizens until they rise up, drive the Tarquins from Rome, and establish the Roman republic. [11]

Though Lucretia was to become one of the few pagan women praised for chastity in the Christian tradition, Livy's version is not, I think, primarily intended to furnish a pattern of saintly chastity. Christian commentators have emphasized Lucretia's reluctance to "provide a precedent for unchaste women." However, I believe that Livy's Lucretia is less an outraged innocent than she is a political tool. Lucretia's suicide is, for Livy, a story within a story; his broader goal is to spin the history of the fall of the Tarquins and the rise of the Roman republic. For Livy, every incident, no matter how trivial or terrible, points toward the Roman republic and the glories of the Augustan age. For instance, he prefaces the fall of the Tarquins by remarking: "In ancient Greece more than one royal house was guilty of crime which was to become the stuff of tragedy: now Rome was to follow the same path-but not in vain; for that very guilt was to hasten the coming of liberty and the hatred of kings, and to ensure that the throne it won should never again be occupied" (Livy, trans. 1971). With a peculiar moral and narrative thrift, Livy here asserts that crime, tragedy, and suffering are never in vain. If we apply this logic to the tale of Lucretia, it becomes clear that we are to admire her, not just for her chastity, but for her indispensable contribution to history. [12]

Considered in this light, Lucretia's act begins to seem less the result of psychological anguish or guilt-outraged "virtue" in the Christian sense-and more a daring political gamble, "virtue" in the Roman sense of manly self-sacrifice. (The English word "virtue" derives from the Latin "virtus," which, according to the New College Latin and English Dictionary, means: "manliness, virility … valor … worth … moral excellence, goodness … purity" (1966).) To understand more fully why Lucretia's motives are political and not psychological, it is helpful to review Roman concepts of rape, assault, and adultery. As we consider these concepts, we must bear in mind that Roman courts, customs, and legislative processes were easily as complicated as our own, and that Augustus was apparently in the process of revising crucial statutes on sexual assault as Livy was writing Book I of his History (Moses, 1993). [13]

Evidence suggests that both archaic and Augustan Romans lacked a concept of rape equivalent to our own. Romans most likely would have regarded the "rape" of Lucretia as extenuated adultery (Donaldson, 1982; Moses, 1993). The Roman notions of raptus and stuprum covered bride theft and fornication, respectively; though forced sex, according to Pomeroy (1995), "could be prosecuted-under the legal headings of criminal wrong (iniuria) or violence (vis)-by the man under whose authority the wronged woman fell," there was no separate legal category for sex against a woman's will. Where we see "rape," the Romans would have seen either assault (iniuria) or per vim stuprum-fornication achieved by force. In itself, stuprum signified neither rape nor assault; instead, it might best be understood as any sex which somehow shames one or both partners. In The Latin Sexual Vocabulary, Adams (1982) writes: "Stuprum originally meant 'disgrace' in general … . But it came to be specialized of a sexual disgrace, i.e. an illicit sexual act, whether an adulterous liaison or a forcible violation (as distinct from an act committed with a prostitute). The act might be homosexual ... or heterosexual. The word is not necessarily used of a violation perpetrated against the will of the victim." [14]

This much seems certain: in archaic and early republican Rome, per vim stuprum was wrong, not because it injured the raped woman, but because it sullied her family's honor. Victims of per vim stuprum were routinely punished along with their rapists (Pomeroy, 1995). Her consent or lack of it was immaterial, and until Augustan reform, only her death could expunge the stain (Donaldson, 1982; Moses, 1993). According to Tannahill, during the Augustan age stuprum also shifted from a family tragedy to a public crime. If an adulterous woman's husband refused to punish her, he faced prosecution along with her (1992). A woman involved in stuprum-even per vim stuprum-was "mysteriously and irrevocably tainted," and "a woman's family was thought to be tainted by her adultery, in particular her husband and any children she might bear" (Donaldson, 1982). Thus, although the death of a male adulterer might be just, the death of an adulteress was socially necessary. And it could be achieved easily enough-female children remained under the absolute authority of their fathers until marriage, when control passed to their husbands; male children remained under the father's authority until his death. Patriarchs could and did kill both sons and daughters for behavior that brought dishonor onto the family, including stuprum (Veyne, 1987). As we shall see, this view of rape-what Romans thought of as illicit sex-changed dramatically under Christianity, partly as a result of St. Augustine's theology. [15]

At first, given the law, Lucretia's confession seems foolhardy. However, when she carries out the severest possible sentence despite her innocence, she exposes Tarquin and robs him of any possible defense. If Lucretia had used her lack of consent to try to avoid punishment, Tarquin could always deny that they'd had sex, or claim that she agreed-which, in Roman terms, she did. After all, athough she initially resisted, she gave in when confronted with the possibility of even greater dishonor. Her decision to submit to stuprum and commit suicide is a politically canny one: alive and sullied by adultery, Lucretia is at Tarquin's mercy; purified through death, she brands Tarquin a criminal, and thereby passes a harsh sentence upon him. In addition, Lucretia's decision to embrace her punishment forces those who survive her to take revenge specifically by overthrowing Tarquinius Superbus. [16]

Both archaic and Augustan law called for severe punishment of participants in criminal fornication. Though the law did not require that male adulterers die, evidence suggests that public opinion supported strict measures. Even if Lucretia had been willing, Tarquin would have faced certain banishment, possibly even execution (Pomeroy, 1995). Though the law tended to punish women more severely for sexual misconduct, if the unwilling Lucretia must die for having illicit sex, then her family would likely have felt that her partner in adultery should be put to death, too. [17]

Tarquin was no common citizen, either: he was the son of the tyrant, and his crimes reflected upon the monarchy. Lucretia's death provides Brutus with vivid, material evidence of the Tarquins' "arrogant and tyrannical behavior" (Livy, trans. 1971). Certainly, Greek commentators through Aristotle attributed civil unrest to hubristic sexual offenses; that is, to illicit sex that somehow shamed or dishonored the participants (Cohen, 1991). Not just in Athens but in any hierarchical, honor-based culture, tyrants may abuse their power, using sex to "affirm [their] superiority by disgracing or humiliating another person" (Cohen, 1991). Practically speaking, it would have been a tricky business to punish a king's son for a capital crime unless the ruler, like Brutus himself, valued the state highly enough to allow it to execute his sons. A classical tyrant might well have held that the state's interests were identical to his own. Since Lucretia's family is honor-bound to seek restitution or revenge, revolution against the sexually corrupt tyranny may well have been their only recourse. [18]

In Livy, then, Lucretia's suicide is not to be understood as a despairing act resulting from a sense of guilt. Rather, it is an injunction placed on her family to seek revenge and revolt. To put it as baldly as possible, Livy's teleological scheme requires that Lucretia be raped and die. Livy's story traces the fate of what was, for him, the greatest and purest of states, the culture richest "in good citizens and noble deeds." It supplies "fine things to take as models, [and] base things, rotten through and through, to avoid" (Livy, trans. 1971). It is, in short, a fine example of the sort of teleological history that gestures forward by looking back, and that sees the present both as the glorious fulfillment of the past, and as a diminished, degenerate and luxurious heir to that same past. Lucretia's suicide points to Tarquin's crime, providing the only all-but-indisputable evidence of her unwillingness. Seen in Roman terms, it is a political stratagem, not a gesture of remorse or self-blame. It is not inherently virtuous to commit suicide after rape any more than it is inherently manly to thrust one's hand into a roaring sacrificial fire, or to watch unmoved as the state executes one's children. Lucretia, Mucius Scaevola, and Lucius Junius Brutus earn Livy's admiration because they commit horrifying, futile, or desperate deeds for Rome, and thus for the reign of Augustus. [19]

Guilty/Not Guilty

Augustine's rhetorical aims are almost precisely opposed to Livy's. The book's full title, Concerning the City of God against the Pagans, suggests Augustine's most important goal: exposing pagan evil and expounding Christian values. Where Livy seeks to build a seamless account of Rome's noble and quasi-mythological heritage, Augustine seeks to bring to light the logical contradictions, cruelty, and impiousness of pagan Rome. Augustine devotes the first quarter of his work, of which Lucretia's story forms a part, to "refut[ing] the objections of the wicked, who prefer their own god to the founder of that Holy City" by attacking "those who imagine that the gods are to be worshipped for the sake of the good things in life …" (Augustine, trans. 1984). [20]

In light of these goals, we must consider why Augustine discusses rape in general and the rape of Lucretia in particular. Unlike St. Ambrose, St. Jerome, Tertullian, and other early Christian fathers, who wrote that a woman should die rather than submit to rape (for several examples see Beyle, 1653/1984), Augustine holds that a raped woman can remain mentally chaste; he therefore rejects the Roman concepts of honor, virtue, and name that motivate Lucretia's suicide. In other words, Augustine sets himself the task of deriving a widely accepted value-chastity-from radical new premises by turning chastity from an external social condition into an inward, spiritual one. [21]

Recent events had made it particularly urgent for Christians to decide what constituted chastity: in 410 C.E., Christian nuns had been mass-raped during the Gothic sack of Rome. It was of paramount importance to reintegrate the victims into the Christian community, and Augustine's text can be seen as an effort to do so (Donaldson, 1982). Also, though precept and experience must have taught Christians to expect little from this world, sackers and besieged alike must have doubted the power of a god who seemed to have so little regard for the earthly happiness of his followers. One important way of consoling raped Christian women would have been to prove that their rape was providential. [22]

Augustine's four argumentative goals-attacking Roman honor, virtue and name; championing Christian chastity; proving the innocence of victims; and restoring faith-are hardly simple. Augustine tells the story of Lucretia with startling economy, however, writing: "We are defending the chastity not only of the minds but even of the bodies of ravished Christian women. Will our opponents dare to contradict us? They certainly heap praise for modesty upon Lucretia.... When King Tarquin's son lustfully gained possession of her body and had ravished her with violence, she revealed the villain's crime to her husband Collatinus and her kinsman Brutus, and constrained them to take revenge. Then she destroyed herself, unable to endure the horror of the foul indignity" (trans. 1984). [23]

Perhaps the most striking aspect of this passage is its lack of social and political context. Augustine's audience probably would have been familiar at least with Ovid and Livy's versions of the story. Even so, it can hardly be accidental that Augustine leaves out Brutus' oath and the republican revolution that follows. From Augustine's perspective, it makes no sense to consider Lucretia's rape in its social and political frame, since, for a Christian, legal constraints and cultural norms cannot excuse sin. The framing of the tale is crucial: stripped of its political significance, the story loses the focus one finds in Livy. Augustine recontextualizes Lucretia's actions, transforming Livy's history and Ovid's sensuality into a characteristically Christian account of a failed personal struggle for faith and against despair. [24]

In order to understand further how political and private interact in Augustine's version, it may be useful to review a bit of Aristotle's rhetorical taxonomy. Augustine's argument contains some but not all of the elements of a court proceeding-it is, in fact, a blend of two out of the three types of rhetoric among which Aristotle distinguishes: deliberative, forensic, and epideictic (Aristotle, trans. 1991). The crucial factor which, for Aristotle, divides one species of rhetoric from another, is the telos or end of a speech: forensic speakers argue that a past action is just or unjust, while epideictic speakers attempt to persuade spectators to accept a particular definition of honor or shame in the present. A speech may contain elements from all three species of rhetoric, but the speaker's telos will determine which sort of rhetoric prevails. The most basic goal of forensic rhetoric is to apply the laws, while epideictic rhetoric either upholds existing moral standards or interrogates them with an eye to establishing new ones. The qualities of deliberative rhetoric need not concern us here, since it deals with future, concrete political and social policy rather than justice and value. [25]

Augustine's treatment of Lucretia blends forensic and epideictic rhetoric: he frequently speaks of Lucretia as if she were a defendant in a court of law. At the same time, he labors to build a new, Christian foundation for the old value of chastity. That is, he uses forensic techniques to achieve epideictic ends. Augustine's prosecution sets a precedent for two modern practices: prosecuting rape victims in and out of court, and redefining rape to suit the details of a particular case. Immediately after summarizing the story, Augustine begins his opening argument: "What are we to say of her? Is she to be judged adulterous or chaste? … Someone put the truth well in a declamation on this subject: 'A paradox! there were two persons involved, and only one committed adultery.' Finely and truly said. The speaker observed in the union of two bodies the disgusting lechery of the one, the chaste intention of the other, and he saw in that act not the conjunction of their bodies but the diversity of their minds. … But how is it that she who did not commit adultery received the heavier punishment? For the adulterer was driven from his country, with his father; his victim suffered the supreme penalty. If there is no unchastity when a woman is ravished against her will, then there is no justice in the punishment of the chaste" (trans. 1984). [26]

Augustine begins by placing Lucretia mute upon the stand, thereby constituting his audience as a jury and himself as judge and prosecutor. When he rejects the Roman moral universe, he also rejects the possibility of seeing Lucretia's actions as a political gambit. Instead, by referring to inner chastity rather than revolution and ritual pollution, he insists that we apply a radically different moral frame and reach a simple binary judgment indebted to forensics: guilty/not guilty, adulterous/chaste. [27]

It is possible to see Augustine's trial as the second retrial: in the original proceeding, Lucretia's husband and father forgive her (see Moses, 1993; Tannahill, 1992 for the suggestion that the gathering of Lucretia's male protectors may actually be a trial for adultery). In the second, she passes a sentence upon herself, one which Augustine labels unjust. He writes: "I appeal to Roman laws and Roman judges. To execute a criminal without trial was, according to you, a punishable offense. If anyone was charged in your courts with having put to death a woman not merely uncondemned but chaste and innocent, and this charge had been proved, would you not have chastised the culprit with appropriate severity? That is what Lucretia did. That highly extolled Lucretia also did away with the innocent, chaste, outraged Lucretia" (trans. 1984). [28]

In Augustine's eyes, Lucretia lynches herself, passing judgment where God should have jurisdiction. Oddly enough, charges of adultery follow from this founding charge. "Give your sentence," Augustine urges Roman judges, and through them, the reader: "Or if you cannot do this, because the culprit is not present to receive the punishment, why do you extol with such praises the killer of the chaste and innocent? You certainly have no means of defending her before the judges of the underworld, such as are described in the verses of your poets" (trans. 1984). [29]

It is difficult to know what punishment, short of death, would fit this form of murder; in fact, Augustine is not really interested in archaic or Augustan Roman laws, and he's not really appealing to pagan judges. Instead, he devotes himself to holding Lucretia to Christian standards that he believes are universal. He begins to hint at a specifically Christian interiority when he writes: "But perhaps … in killing herself it was no innocent which she killed, but one conscious of guilt. For suppose (a thing which only she herself could know) that, although the young man attacked her violently, she was so enticed by her own desire that she consented to the act and that when she came to punish herself she was so grieved that she thought death was the only expiation" (trans. 1984). [30]

In Roman terms, Lucretia's guilt is purely external and objective; it lies, not in will or desire, but in the raw fact of having had adulterous sex. This alone is enough to contaminate Lucretia's purity and Collatian bloodlines. However, Augustine imputes to Lucretia an internal, subjective, and uniquely Christian guilt. While it's possible that a Roman matron could have felt such guilt-we can't say it's impossible, at any rate-the very idea of a deviant and sinning desire leading to consent owes more to Christianity than to any Roman notion of love, sex, or rape. Where Rome is concerned, Ovid's portrayal of Greek rape myths seems to suggest that, outside of a legal context, Augustan Romans saw sex and love as a sort of ravishment from without (by the will of the gods, or by the beauty of the beloved), and rape as love burning out of control (trans. 1995). Even when he portrays rapists as wicked, however, Ovid does not suggest that their behavior is the sinful product of a deviant will. In fact, both lover and beloved in Ovid have no will in St. Augustine's sense. [31]

Augustine's prosecution continues with a famous (and false) dilemma: "However, if such was the case … then she did not kill an innocent. … But then her defense is faced with a dilemma. If her homicide is extenuated, her adultery is established; if she is cleared of adultery, the murder is abundantly proved. There is no possible way out: if she is adulterous, why is she praised? If chaste, why was she put to death?" (trans. 1984). For Livy, suicide proves rape; it expunges the sin of adultery and testifies to Lucretia's virtus. Augustine interprets Lucretia's death quite differently-he considers it "self-murder," and suggests that it points to a guilty conscience, and thus to some degree of complicity. He attributes to Lucretia not just interiority, but divided interiority-a self within which desire, will, consent, resistance, and guilt battle for expression. Augustine judges not her actions, but her motivations. [32]

Augustine's closing argument provides the most conclusive evidence yet that his argument is ultimately epideictic, and that value-not justice-motivates his reasoning; he claims that Lucretia's motives are impure, that she values the appearance of chastity over its actuality, writing: "[Lucretia's] killing of herself because … she had suffered an adulterer's embraces, was due to the weakness of shame, not to the high value she set upon chastity. … [A]s a Roman woman, excessively eager for honor, she was afraid that she should be thought, if she lived, to have willingly endured what, when she lived, she had violently suffered. Since she could not display her pure conscience to the world she thought she must exhibit her punishment before men's eyes as a proof of her state of mind. She blushed at the thought of being regarded as an accomplice in the act…" (trans. 1984). [33]

In Augustine's terms a blush, like suicide, is a tactic through which the raped woman attempts to exhibit her innocence to the very audience that ought to matter least. Rather than delicacy, a blush indicates a failure to acknowledge the supremacy of God's judgment-it points, not to the horror of a chaste will forced, but to the sin of pride. The honor-based chastity of pagan Rome demands a form of exhibitionism which Christians must replace, Augustine argues, with a chastity that comes from within. He writes: "Such [suicide] has not been the behavior of Christian women. They did not take vengeance on themselves for another's crime. They would not add crime to crime by committing murder on themselves. … They have the glory of chastity within them, the testimony of their conscience. They have this in the sight of God, and they ask for nothing more… . For they will not deviate from the authority of God's law by taking unlawful steps to avoid the suspicions of men" (trans. 1984). [34]

This is true chastity: an inner attribute which, by its very nature, cannot be exhibited for earthly judgment. In the passage above, Augustine deftly shifts the site of judgment from a court of men to a heavenly court, where women's consciences "testify" to God that they have obeyed His law, both by remaining chaste, and by refusing to "deviate from the authority of God's law … to avoid the suspicions of men." Ironically, after inviting his reader to judge Lucretia, Augustine helps Christian women to preserve the appearance of innocence by insisting that they will ultimately appear before another, higher court. [35]

This trope of the trial lingers as Augustine moves into a more thorough discussion of Christian chastity; therefore we will need to consider why a trial seems to Augustine to be the most appropriate tool for discovering the truth of rape, and why Lucretia is placed on trial rather than Tarquin. In order to find Christian women innocent, Augustine must find the Roman matron guilty. He uses the trope of a trial because the idea of "self-murder" makes suicide not only morally wrong, but illegal. Also, the trope of a trial implies judgment, which frees Augustine from his reticence about reading the hearts and minds of raped women. As we will see, Augustine's prosecutorial strategy is no kinder to Christian women than it is to Lucretia. His attack is both necessary and brutal: necessary because as a believer he must drive at eternal, Christian truth, cost what it may, and brutal because at the very moment that he creates Christian women as creatures capable of exercising will, he also portrays them as culpable, rapeable spaces and creates doubt about their veracity and motives. I do not mean to suggest that Augustine is simplistically or deliberately cruel. Rather, I believe that Augustine confers important benefits at a high cost. Christian women gain the right to live on with honor after a rape, but they also gain both a will and the necessity of incessant self-examination and self-doubt. To understand these trade-offs, we must extend our discussion of Augustine to a much later portion of City of God. [36]


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