9 – 11 Jul 2007

Perpetua's Passions

Pluridisciplinary Approaches to the Passio Perpetuae et Felicitatis

Carthage, AD 203. A group of three men and two women is condemned to death because of their Christianity; the martyrs are thrown to wild beasts in the city’s amphitheater and finally killed with the sword. These events are narrated by the Passio Sanctarum Perpetuae et Felicitatis (The Passion of Saints Perpetua and Felicitas), a text which belongs to the body of early martyrological literature known as the acta martyrum. Although fairly brief, this text poses a surprising number of complex questions, and the aim of this conference is to address as many of these as possible.

Three different ‘voices’ speak in the text. First comes the somewhat mysterious preface composed by an anonymous redactor. This is followed by Perpetua’s own diary, in which she describes her last days in prison and writes of four visions that she sees. The redactor’s voice then briefly returns, only to introduce the words of Perpetua’s comrade Saturus, who gives a report of his own visions. Finally the redactor brings the text to a close with a narration of the execution of the martyrs.

The Passio is not only one of the most impressive texts surviving from early Christianity but, because it includes what purports to be the personal diary of a woman, unique in the history of ancient literature. One way the text can be read is thus as a psychological map made of images and symbols. A remarkable combination of echoes of the archaic and hints at modernity, Perpetua is a woman who fights but who must become a man in order to be victorious.

At the ICI Berlin on Tuesday, July 10:
15:00-19:30 Talks in German and English
19:30 ‘Per auditum’ – Performance

Further talks at the Humboldt-Universität

Performance: Toni Bernhart, Godehard Giese, Luigi Rensinghoff, Tomas Sinclair Spencer, Daniela Zähl


ICI Berlin
(Click for further documentation)


Julia Weitbrecht
Jan Willem van Henten
Sigrid Weigel
Katharina Waldner
Toni Bernhart
Godehard Giese
Luigi Rensinghoff
Tomas Sinclair Spencer
Daniela Zähl
Part of a conference of the SFB 644 ‘Transformationen der Antike’, organized by Marco Formisano (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin) and Prof. Dr. Jan Bremmer (Rijksuniversiteit Groningen), supported by the Fritz Thyssen Stiftung

In English

First published on:
Rights: © ICI Berlin
Cite as: Perpetua’s Passions: Pluridisciplinary Approaches to the Passio Perpetuae et Felicitatis, conference, ICI Berlin, 9–11 July 2007 <>