Saturday, November 27, 2021

Clothing Makes The Man? Tertullian, De Pallio IV.8-9

 TRIGGER WARNING: homophobia, misogyny

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 preserves evidence of the increasing flexibility in Roman attire and shifts in social norms that were occurring during the time period.

Enimvero iamdudum censoriae intentionis episcynio disperso, quantum denotatui passivitas offert? Libertinos in equestribus, subverbustos in liberalibus, dediticios in ingenuis, rupices in urbanis, scurras in forensibus, paganos in militaribus: vespillo, leno, lanista tecum vestiuntur.

[9] Converte et ad feminas. Habes spectare, quod Caecina Seuerus graviter senatui impressit, matronas sine stola in publico. Denique, Lentuli auguris consultis, quae ita sese exauctorasset, pro stupro erat poena; quoniam quidem indices custodesque dignitatis habitus, ut lenocinii factitandi impedimenta, sedulo quaedam desuefecerant. At nunc in semetipsas lenocinando, quo planius adeantur, et stolam et supparum et crepidulum et caliendrum, ipsas quoque iam lecticas et sellas, quis in publico quoque domestice ac secrete habebantur, eieravere. Sed alius extinguit sua lumina, alius non sua accendit. Aspice lupas, popularium libidinum nundinas, ipsas quoque frictrices, et si praestat oculos abducere ab eiusmodi propudiis occisae in publico castitatis, aspice tamen vel sublimis, iam matronas videbis.

--Tertullian, De Pallio, IV.8-9

Now that the eyebrow-arching, pearl-clutching of the Censor has lost its clout, how much social order can exist in this time of liberal behaviors*?  Freedmen are dressed as the middle class, slaves are dressed as freedmen, foreigners are dressed as native-born citizens, country bumpkins are dressed as city folk, the unemployed are dressed as businessmen, civilians dressed as soldiers! Undertakers, pimps, gladiator trainers are dressed just! Like! You!

(9) Look at women! You have in mind what Caecina Severus imposed upon the senate: there are women in public without their stola**! This is what augur Lentulus imposed upon women as a punishment for vice; since the stola is a proof and a protection of a woman’s reputation, it got in the way of a working woman’s ability to ply her trade, and so it quickly fell out of use.

And now women have gotten rid of all the things that kept them out of the public eye: their stola, their linen garments, their sun hats, their weaves, even their litters and their rickshaws!

But while some tarnish their own dignity, others tarnish the dignity of others. Look at prostitutes, the public displays of indecency, the lesbians***, and even if you turn your eyes away from decency being slaughtered by such shameful behavior, from a bird’s eye view, they look like housewives!


*passivitas, ‘passivity / allowance of looser gender roles and social constructs’

**The stola is a garment of class status and dignity

***Tertullian uses a slur here that will not be translated.



Name:  Quintus Septimius Florens Tertullianus

Date:  2nd century CE

Works:  Apologia

De Pallio





 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. 



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