Emotions in Perpetua

In Perpetua’s Passio Sanctarum Perpetuae et Felicitatis, Perpetua is emotionally rescued from stifling darkness and terror by the warmth and familiarity of her infant son.

In Section 3A, Perpetua is yet to experience the isolation and squalor of prison. Thus, she is infused with righteous vigor in her religion. This is evident in her confident declaration to her father, Sīc et ego aliud mē dīcere nōn possum nisi quod sum, Christiāna (Thus and I am not able to call myself another thing except what I am, a Christian). Even though the punishment is certain death, Perpetua decisively pushes forward. However, after the resulting fight with her father, in which he attempts to rip her eyes out, the toll of her decision becomes more evident.

After her violent argument with her father over the importance of her faith, Perpetua, without her child, descends into a pit of terror and darkness despite the guiding presence of the Holy Spirit. In Section 3B, she writes: Post paucōs diēs recipimur in carcerem; et expāvī, quia numquam experta eram tālēs tenebrās (After a few days we are taken back into jail; and I was terrified, because never had I experienced such darkness). The darkness she refers to is not only the literal lack of light and squalor of Roman prisons but also the metaphorical darkness in her mind. Thus, alongside the burden of her impending execution, her emotional turmoil causes terror to grow within her spirit.

In Section 3C, Perpetua is able to identify the cause of her worry and anxiety – isolation from her child. As the section opens, Perpetua writes: Novissimē macerābar sollicitūdine infantis ibi (Most recently, I was there being weakened by anxiety for my infant). Although she is helped and tended to by two benedictī diaconī (blessed deacons), she remains separated from her child. The deacons temporarily ease her suffering, but she is unable to address its root cause.

Perpetua is at last reunited with her child in Section 3D, yielding immediate results. Although Perpetua originally justifies her sadness at separation as pity for those who have to take care of her son, her true joy at reunification quickly reveals itself. Perpetua writes: et statim convaluī et relevāta sum ā labōre et sollicitūdine infantis, et factus est mihi carcer subitō praetōrium (And suddenly I grew strong and I have been lifted up from labor and worry for my child, and the jail has suddenly been made a palace). Thus, reunification immediately wipes away the anxiety, terror, and desperation that plagued her since her capture.

As Perpetua’s emotions evolved during her imprisonment, from anger and resentment to anxiety, worry, and terror, their deterioration was evident. However, as illustrated in Section 3D, reunification with her infant child, an image of light, purity, and innocence, immediately illuminated the prison around her, turning her jail into a palace: her terror into joy.

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