Saturday, November 13, 2021

Clothes Make the (Wo)Man: Tertullian on Achilles' Year at Skyros, De Pallio IV.2

 TRIGGER WARNING: The Christian author Tertullian's de Pallio is a fascinating document that advocates shifting the local dress code from the toga to the pallium. It discusses everything from sequential hermaphroditism of animals to shifts in gender roles and social mores across numerous cultures. It is important to note that although this work is marked with the author's personal biases (including homophobia, transphobia, and misogyny), Tertullian's attack on famous examples of gender fluidity is meant to challenge the hero-worship of historical and mythical heroes that were generally well regarded prior to the influence of Christianity on Roman thought. 


Naturam itaque concussit Larissaeus heros in uirginiem mutando, ille ferarum medullis educatus (unde et nominis concilium, quandoquidem, labiis uacuerat ab uberum gustu), ille apud rupicem et siluicolam et monstrum eruditorem scrupea schola eruditus. Feras, si in puero, matris sollicitudinem patiens; certe iam histriculus, certe iam uirum alicui clanculo functus adhuc sustinet stolam fundere, comam struere, cutem fingere, speculum consulere, collum demulcere, aurem quoque foratu effeminatus, quod illi apud Sigeum strongyla seruat.

Plane postea miles est, necessitas enim reddidit sexum. De proelio sonuerat, nec arma longe. Ipsum, inquit, ferrum uirum attrahit. Ceterum, si post incentiuum quoque puellam persuerasset, potuit et nubere. Ecce itaque mutatio. Monstrum equidem geminum, de uiro femina, mox de femina uir, quando neque ueritas negari debuisset neque fallacia confiteri. Vterque habitus mutandi malus, alter aduersus naturam, alter contra salutem.

--Tertullian, de Pallio IV.2

Achilles, the hero from Larissa, shook Nature to the core by turning into a maiden. This guy, brought up by the marrow of beasts (where he gets his name, since he wasn’t breastfed)! This guy, raised by a shaggy, forest-dwelling monster Chiron and schooled in a stony cave—now a girl!

You could understand this phase if it happened if he was a little boy, when he was henpecked by an anxious mother. But he was already a grownup! He had already secretly proved his manhood*; and yet despite this, he put on a dress, dolled up his hair, put on makeup, primped himself in a mirror, exfoliated his neck, pierced his ears—his sculpture in Sigeum still documents even this!

But later on, he’s clearly a soldier! Necessity restores his gender. The battle cry echoes; he had weapons at hand. The blade itself brought out the hero in him, or so the story goes. If Odysseus’ trick** hadn’t worked, he might even have gotten married to a man [nubere]! Just look at this transformation! He’s twice a monster—going from man to woman, then back from woman to man, a feat neither provable nor disprovable. Both change of dress [habitus mutandi] were bad; one went against his nature, the other went against his safety.


* i.e., he had already had a romantic partner to Deidamia and become the parent of Neoptolemus

** According to the story, Odysseus lures Achilles out of hiding by pretending to be a merchant selling womanly wares to Deidamia’s handmaidens. Among these goods is a single sword; while the other handmaidens are distracted by the trinkets, Achilles gravitates towards the sword. Suddenly, a battle cry is heard, and Achilles takes up the sword and pulls off his dress, ready to fight. Once he is recognized as Achilles, Odysseus invites him to join the fight at Troy.




Name:  Quintus Septimius Florens Tertullianus

Date:  2nd century CE

Works:  Apologia

De Pallio



Region 1: Peninsular Italy; Region 2: Western Europe; Region 3: Western Coast of Africa; Region 4: Egypt and Eastern Mediterranean; Region 5: Greece and the Balkans



 Tertullian was an early Christian theologian who lived in Carthage [modern Tunisia] during the 2nd century CE. He was one of the most prolific authors of his age; more than thirty of his treatises are extant. These works shaped the core beliefs of the early Christian church. Although some of his beliefs were later deemed heretical, he was nevertheless granted sainthood for his profound impact on Christianity.  


Early Roman Lit: through 2nd c BCE: Republican Rome: through 1st c. BCE; Golden Age: 70 BCE to 18 CE; Silver Age: 18 CE to 150 CE; Age of Conflict: 150 CE - 410 CE; Byzantine and Late Latin: after 410 CE


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