In the difficult yet rewarding book Burrus offers “countererotic” readings of fourth- and fifth-century CE hagiographies in which she challenges understandings that take ascetic lives of saints as sublimating sexual desire; rather, Burrus reads these texts as the site of an “exuberant eroticism” that constantly relocates and displaces erotic desire. After an introductory chapter, Burrus first focuses on Jerome’s “queer” Lives of Paul, Malchus, and Hilarion. A second chapter treats the eroticized lives of three women: Jerome’s friend Paula, Gregory of Nyssa’s sister Macrina, and Augustine’s mother, Monica. A third chapter focuses on several treatments of Martin of Tours in the writings of Sulpicius Severus, emphasizing homoerotic and sadomasochistic themes. A fourth and final chapter offers readings of three “holy harlots”—Mary from the Syrian Life of Abraham, Pelagia of Antioch, and Mary of Egypt. The suggestive, intertextual readings are simultaneously informal—including sometimes jarring parenthetical intrusions and brief autobiographical reflections—and reflect careful engagement with a range of discourses— including theories of sex and gender, postcolonial and feminist theories, and the works of M. Foucault, G. Bataille, D. Halperin, G. Hampham, L. Barsani, and J. Baudrillard. Ideally suited for graduate students and specialists already familiar with her theoretical conversation partners and debates about the history of sexuality, this rich book pays back the effort required in reading it.
Document Object Identifier (DOI)
Dupertuis, R. R. (2006). [Review of the book The sex lives of saints: An erotics of ancient hagiography, by V. Burrus]. Religious Studies Review, 32, 49. doi: 10.1111/j.1748-0922.2006.00036_2.x
Religious Studies Review