Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Sacrificial Undertones in the Martyrdom of Polycarp
by Swanson, J. A., M.A., The University of Arizona, 2020, 83; 28023863
Abstract (Summary)

This thesis examines the use of sacrificial language in the Martyrdom of Polycarp (Mart. Pol.). At several points in the text, the author of Mart. Pol. uses language that demonstrates that he interprets Polycarp’s martyrdom as a sacrifice. To support my argument, I analyze descriptions of self-sacrifices in Hellenistic Jewish, Greek, and Roman texts to show their impact on the writing of Mart. Pol. and to help interpret Mart. Pol.’s use of sacrificial language.

In Chapter 1, I review secondary literature written about sacrifice and martyrdom. I start by examining various authors who have provided anthropological theories surrounding the origins and purpose of sacrifice in society. I then turn to scholarly literature regarding martyrdom, which likewise has sought to determine its origins and central purpose. I end this chapter by discussing how sacrifice and martyrdom, as theories, can be synthesized, contending that sacrifice and martyrdom should be considered narrative constructs used to apply religious interpretations to a death.

In Chapter 2, I examine Mart. Pol. in comparison to Hellenistic Jewish sacrificial texts. I analyze language in Mart. Pol. that bears similarity to descriptions of Levitical sacrifices in the Septuagint and Hellenistic Jewish writers, such as Philo of Alexandria. I then show that the author of Mart. Pol. interprets the effects of Polycarp’s martyrdom in a manner that is reminiscent of the Maccabean martyrs in 2 Maccabees and 4 Maccabees.

Chapter 3 examines Mart. Pol. in comparison to Greek and Roman descriptions of self-sacrifice. I focus particularly on Euripides’ tragedies Alcestis, Heraclidae, Iphigenia at Aulis, Hecuba, and the Phoenissae, Livy’s depiction of the devotio ritual, and Statius’ description of the Menoeceus’ death in Thebaid. I conclude this thesis with a review of my argument as well as areas to consider for future research.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Friesen, Courtney
Commitee: White, Cynthia, Waddell, Philip
School: The University of Arizona
Department: Classics
School Location: United States -- Arizona
Source: MAI 82/1(E), Masters Abstracts International
Subjects: Ancient history, Classical Studies, Religious history
Keywords: Early Christianity, Greek and Roman Literature, Martyrdom, Polycarp of Smyrna, Sacrifice
Publication Number: 28023863
ISBN: 9798662418608
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