Perpetua's Passion studies the third-century martyrdom of a young woman and places it in the intellectual and social context of her age. Conflicting ideas of religion, family and gender are explored as Salisbury follows Perpetua from her youth in a wealthy Roman household to her imprisonment and death in the arena.
In her study of the life and death of Perpetua, a third-century Christian martyr, Salisbury (history and humanities, Univ. of Wisconsin, Green Bay) examines the cultlike mentality that drove a 22-year-old woman with an infant son to turn away from her family and accept with enthusiasm a horrific death for her faith. Salisbury describes the social, political, and religious climate in Carthage that made Christianity so appealing to its disillusioned youth. In addition, pagan Rome's emphasis on magic and omens combined with the North African tradition of noble suicide to create a social dynamic in which public death in the arena would be viewed as not only acceptable but also desirable. Utilizing Perpetua's prison diary as well as an eyewitness account of her final hours, Salisbury analyzes the martyr's "passion," her recorded dreams and visions, in relation to these existing forces. The impact of her death on those who witnessed the event as well as those who heard about it became apparent in the veneration bestowed on Perpetua by her contemporaries and in the efforts of patriarchal church leaders like Augustine, who tried to minimize her strength and leadership qualities. This remarkably objective, insightful piece of scholarship is highly recommended for all public and academic libraries.Rose Cichy, Osterhout Free Lib., Wilkes-Barre Pa.