Crossed Texts, Crossed Sex:
Intertextuality and Gender in Early Christian Legends of Holy Women Disguised as Men
Stephen J. Davis

Abstract. Early Christian legends of monastic women disguised as men have recently been the object of psychological, literary, sociohistorical, anthropological, and theological study. In this article, I will raise new questions about these legends from the perspective of the poststructuralist theory of intertextuality. What are the cultural "texts" that these legends "play upon"? What does this intertextuality tell us about how such legends participated in late antique cultural discourse on gender and the female body? Here, I examine five cultural "texts" reworked in the legends: 1) the lives of earlier transvestite saints like St. Thecla; 2) the Life of St. Antony; 3) late antique discourse about eunuchs; 4) the story of Joseph and Potiphar's wife from Genesis; and 5) the textual deconstruction and reconstitution of the female body in early Christian literature. These "intertexts," along with key christomimetic elements in the legends, suggest how binary conceptions of gender identity were ultimately destabilized in the figure of the transvestite saint.


This is an essay about the peculiar ways in which women's identity and piety were portrayed in late antique hagiographical texts. In early Christian saints' lives, women are alternatively castigated as fallen daughters of Eve and lauded as heroic models for pious imitation. On the one hand, they are depicted by male writers as sources of temptation and objects of lust; on the other hand, a select number of them are celebrated as somehow having transcended the limitations of their sex. In light of these conflicting images, how did the authors of saints' lives seek to shape [End Page 1] ancient perceptions of women? How did they, in effect, help "construct" women's gender for early Christian readers? 1

I will begin with a slight indiscretion--by eavesdropping on a conversation between a father and his daughter:

He therefore began to speak to her and said, "Child, what I am to do with you? You are a female, and I desire to enter a monastery. How then can you remain with me? For it is through the members of your sex that the devil wages war on the servants of God."

To which his daughter responded, "Not so, my lord, for I shall not enter the monastery as you say, but I shall first cut off the hair of my head, and clothe myself like a man, and then enter the monastery with you." 2
Coming away from this conversation, one might wonder what exactly is going on here. Who are these people? When and where does this dialogue take place? At first, this seems like it could be a peculiar variation on the modern-day themes of parent-child conflict and teenage rebellion: "Child, what am I to do with you?" After all, what is a father to do with a daughter who won't let him go off to become a monk in peace, but wants to cut off her hair, dress in men's clothes, and join a monastery with him?
In fact, this conversation is an ancient one. It comes from the spiritual biography of a female saint from the early Byzantine era--the Life of St. Mary/Marinos. 3 This (fictionalized) interchange between Mary and her [End Page 2] father occurs near the beginning of her Life, right after the death of her mother. It does not take long before the father is persuaded by his daughter's appeal: he himself cuts her hair, dresses her in men's clothing, and changes her name to Marinos. Then the two enroll in a men's monastery together. Mary/Marinos advances to sainthood, but not before she has to endure a series of hardships: a false accusation of rape and paternity by a local innkeeper's daughter, her expulsion from the monastery as a result of that charge, and finally the necessity of raising the abandoned orphan while homeless and exposed to the elements. Throughout these difficulties, she never reveals her identity in order to prove her innocence. After three years, her endurance of suffering earns her (and her adopted son) readmission to the monastery, but it is not until after her death that her true identity is revealed and her fellow monks recognize the depth of her sanctity.

The story of Mary (a.k.a. Marinos) in many ways typifies the ambivalent attitude of the early church toward women. At the beginning of the story, Mary's own father condemns her sex as an instrument of the devil--the primary means by which "the devil wages war on the servants of God." And yet, by the end of her Life, the author counsels his readers (both male and female) to emulate Mary's patient endurance of suffering, "so that on the day of judgment we may find mercy from our Lord Jesus Christ." 4
This same ambivalence toward women also is reflected in the manuscript tradition of the Life of St. Mary/Marinos. Only three Greek manuscripts of the Life survive, all in the monastic libraries of Mount Athos in northeastern Greece. Located on a small peninsula that juts out into the Aegean Sea, Mount Athos has been regarded as the center of Greek monasticism since at least the tenth century. Today, it is home to twenty monastic houses. The monasteries at Mount Athos are especially known for their rigidly exclusive policy toward women. No women are allowed to set foot upon the peninsula--it is reserved for men only. This policy of exclusion extends even to female members of animal species. It would seem ironic then that the Life of St. Mary/Marinos-- the story of a woman who disguises herself as a monk in order to enter a male monastery--should have been preserved and copied at monasteries that forbid the [End Page 3] presence of women. Why would the Greek monks at Mount Athos have had an interest in this story? In such a setting, why would Mary, a "crossdressing" female saint, have been lauded as an exemplary model for the male monastic life? For a largely patriarchal (and often misogynist) church, the image of the transvestite female saint was certainly full of contradictions: a compelling sign of the hostility and yet at the same time lurid fascination with which early Christian men viewed their female counterparts.

The Life of St. Mary/Marinos is not the only legend of a transvestite female saint that survives from early Christianity. In fact, during the late fifth, sixth, and seventh centuries, church writers produced a whole series of monastic legends about women disguised as men: at least eleven vitae of transvestite female saints were published during this period. Within this group of texts may be included the vitae of Saints Anastasia (Anastasios), Apolinaria (Dorotheos), Athanasia (wife of Andronikos), Eugenia (Eugenios), Euphrosyne (Smaragdus), Hilaria (Hilarion), Mary (Marinos), Matrona (Babylas), Pelagia (Pelagius), Susannah (John), and Theodora (Theodoros). 5

These Lives each exhibit subtle variations on the same theme. Some of the heroines (Apolinaria, Eugenia, Euphrosyne, Hilaria) take on male dress in order to escape their parents' inflexible expectations of marriage and to travel incognito to monastic areas. Others leave already existing marriages, sometimes with their husbands' consent (Athanasia), and sometimes against their husbands' wishes (Matrona, Theodora). Still others, like the prostitute Pelagia, disguise themselves as men in order to mark their conversion to Christianity and the monastic life, and their break from a sinful past. In all cases, the act of crossdressing enables the women to enter the monastic life unhindered by binding familial or social prejudices.

As in the case of Mary, who endured a false accusation of rape and paternity, most of these transvestite saints' legends also involve a "complication" that disrupts the monastic life of the heroine and poses the threat of discovery. In the Life of Hilaria, after the heroine (disguised as [End Page 4] the monk Hilarion) is called upon to heal her demon-possessed sister, she is questioned about her unusual "displays of affection" shown toward her sister. In the Life of Apolinaria, the same scenario is complicated by the demon-inspired illusion of pregnancy in the sister, for which Apolinaria (disguised as the monk Dorotheos) is initially blamed. Other disguised saints, like Eugenia, Susannah, and Theodora, resist the sexual advances of female visitors, only to be accused by the women of initiating the encounter and brought to court to defend themselves against the charges. In the Life of Theodora, the female accuser becomes pregnant by another man and accuses Theodora (Theodoros) of actually fathering the child, a scenario reminiscent of the Life of St. Mary/Marinos. In some cases, such accusations result in the public revelation of the saint's sexual identity. In other cases (like that of Mary), the saint's identity remains secret until after her death. Regardless of when the identity of the heroine is revealed, this discovery invariably causes pious wonderment on the part of the observers, and ultimately leads the hagiographer to celebrate and publicize the woman's secret sanctity.

This corpus of transvestite saints' lives has attracted renewed interest among scholars in the last few decades. These scholars have raised a variety of questions regarding these hagiographical texts: What was the social setting for the production of this literature? How does one account for the literary and thematic crosscurrents within the corpus? How does this body of literature relate to early Christian theology? And finally, what do these legends tell us about ancient understandings of gender and of women's religiosity?

A Brief History of Scholarship: Approaches and Methods

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the few scholars who studied these legends of transvestite saints tended to dismiss them as merely romantic, edifying stories with little historical value--essentially the pulp fiction of late antiquity. 6 These conclusions reflected Victorian assumptions about what constituted "serious" literature and what did not. For historians of that time period, the miraculous elements of saints' lives disqualified them for serious consideration as historical sources to be studied in their own right. Instead, the hagiographical stories would only [End Page 5] be studied as derivative developments on earlier classical and mythological themes. For example, one scholar in the late nineteenth century saw a similarity between the names of the Christian transvestite saints and the "nicknames" given to the goddess Aphrodite. Because of this, he argued that these saints' lives were, in fact, Christian developments on the legend of the bisexual, bearded Aphrodite (renamed Aphroditos), who was worshiped on the island of Cyprus. 7 Another scholar suggested that these transvestite saints' lives derived from a different source--the ancient Greek novel entitled Ephesiaca. 8 In that novel, the heroine (named Thelxinoe) disguises herself as a man in order to avoid an unwanted marriage and to elope with her true lover. Others have since argued more broadly for the influence of Greek novels on the theme of female crossdressing in early Christian hagiography. 9 However, despite the value of identifying classical antecedents for the legends of transvestite saints, these early attempts were limited in that they ultimately devalued the significance of this image in early Christianity.
The last forty years have seen renewed interest in this corpus of hagiographical legends. Several articles have been published, approaching this literature from various methodological perspectives: psychological, literary, sociohistorical, anthropological, and theological. What has unified these new studies has been a concerted effort to understand the significance of these legends within the context of early Christian thought and practice.

One of the first scholars to revisit the question of the early Christian transvestite saint was Marie Delcourt in her book Hermaphrodite: Myths and Rites of the Bisexual Figure in Classical Antiquity (1961). In the appendix to that book ("Female Saints in Masculine Clothing"), Delcourt approaches the issue of the transvestite saint from the perspective of Freudian psychology. 10 Specifically, what does the psychology of the heroine tell us about the setting of these stories in early Christianity? Delcourt argues that the heroine's act of taking on male dress signifies a thorough [End Page 6] break with her "feminine past." In the stories this "break" typically manifests itself in two ways: the rejection of family and authority structures, and the renunciation of the sexual life. The heroine's masculine disguise is seen as an outward symbol of these social and familial tensions. How did this symbol relate to its early Christian context? For Delcourt, the "psyche" of the transvestite saint should not be located in earlier Greek mythology; instead, it was rooted in the psychology of early Christian asceticism, which in its most rigorous form "preached total renunciation of material possessions and all sexual life." In this context, she identifies the female act of crossdressing as psychologically equivalent to the male act of self-castration. 11

John Anson was the next to take up the question of the transvestite saint in his article, "The Female Transvestite in Early Monasticism: The Origins and Development of a Motif" (1974). In that article, he analyzes the literary structure of these legends and argues that they were "products of a monastic culture written by monks for monks." 12 Anson rejects the possibility that the legends (at least potentially) reflected the psychology of actual early Christian women, and instead treats the stories as just that, stories. For Anson, the psychological significance of the legends is not primarily to be found in the characterization of the heroine, but in the literary structure and the social setting of their composition.
In his article, Anson identifies a grouping of six to eight transvestite legends that share a common geographical and social setting in Egypt (specifically the famous monastic settlement at Scetis, or the Wadi Natrun) and a common plot structure. Because of this, he suggests that the works may, in fact, have been a "literary cycle" that was "mass-produced by a school of Egyptian scribes at a time when the desert of Scetis had become the acknowledged center of the monastic movement." 13 Anson analyzes a group of these legends according to their basic three-part plot structure: 1) flight from the world, 2) disguise and seclusion, and 3) discovery and recognition. By showing how each of the legends offers variations on that basic schema, Anson tries to describe an evolution of this hagiographical "genre" within its monastic setting. In the end, he reads the legends as evidence for early Christian monastic psychology, especially for the palpable tensions between, on the one hand, monastic hostility toward women [End Page 7] as the source of their sexual desire, and on the other, the monks' suppressed longing for female presence. The transvestite female saint is understood as the literary product of this tension--the product of the monks' desire to raise up heroic examples of women's piety to atone for female guilt, as well as to atone for the guilt of the monks themselves. 14

With the publication of Evelyne Patlagean's article, "L'histoire de la femme deguisee en moine et l'evolution de la saintete feminine a Byzance" (1976), the study of this hagiographical corpus took a new turn--away from psychological readings, and toward a social-historical description of how these legends reflected Christian thought and practice in late antiquity. Cataloguing and dating relevant sources and manuscripts, Patlagean tries to sketch the textual and historical development of this literature. According to her analysis, the earliest versions of these legends (Mary, Pelagia) date to the fifth century, while the full series of legends in Greek was composed and collected in the sixth and early seventh centuries. This group of works also began to be translated into other languages--into Coptic and Syriac during the sixth century, and into Latin after the seventh century. The production of these Lives waned in the eighth century, but in the ninth, tenth, and eleventh centuries there was a revival of the genre: manuscript evidence from this period attests an increase in the copying of earlier legends as well as the production of new Lives of monastic women disguised as men. 15

Patlagean, too, identifies a three-part structure to the legends (ascetic retreat, transvestitism, revelation of sexual identity), but analyzes these features according to the anthropologist Levi-Strauss' structuralist analysis of myth. 16 In particular, she tries to describe how the formal elements of the stories would have functioned within the social context of early Byzantine culture. For example, she argues that the central motif of transvestitism would have challenged late antique social models of male authority and female subjection. The image of the transvestite saint was [End Page 8] an image of female independence and autonomy: the act of taking on male disguise allowed the women to travel and to live as monks without being detected or observed. (Indeed, they often passed for male eunuchs, whose presence within late antique society and within Byzantine monasticism is well documented.) For Patlagean, the stories themselves present a model of "transgressive sanctity" that challenges male authority in marriage. As such, she locates these stories of holy women disguised as men within the social and intellectual context of early Christian monasticism. The attitude toward women in this literature reflects the monastic fear that the female sex represented a fundamental obstacle to salvation. By portraying heroines who "became male" both in dress and in physical appearance, the monks were proposing a model of female sanctity in which "the female" was negated (at least in part). While men could theoretically flee the presence of women by entering the desert at an early age, women for their part were called in this literature to flee their own nature through ascetic practice. 17

Patlagean's study of the transvestite saint legends was significant not just for her documentation of the sources and their historical development, but also for the way that she began to apply sociological and anthropological theory in her analysis of the legends. More recent studies that propose alternative social or anthropological readings of early Christian transvestitism are in many ways indebted to her work. One example is a recent article by Nicholas Constas (1996) where the author also employs anthropological language to describe the basic plot of the transvestite legends as a ritual of initiation and transformation, "a mysterious rite of passage marked by three characteristics: separation, liminality, and reaggregation." 18 For Constas, transvestite disguise is the focal point of this ritual structure--it symbolizes the "liminal" or marginalized status of the female monk as she moves from an old set of social values to a newly defined role within a monastic setting. By producing this ritual of transformation, early Christian monastic culture was defining itself as it tried to resolve its own inconsistencies and ambivalence regarding the spiritual status of women. [End Page 9]

In the past decade, other methods besides anthropological theory have been applied to the study of transvestite saints' lives. In particular, some scholars have begun to reconsider the image of the transvestite saint in the context of early Christian theology and ancient discourse on the female body. In her article "Women in Early Byzantine Hagiography" (1990), Susan Ashbrook Harvey argues that the transvestite saint functioned as a theological symbol of "reversal" in late antiquity. In the stories, the sanctification and redemption of the heroines take place in two stages: first in their role as "men" (that is, in the guise of men), and only later truly as women (the heroines are always granted sainthood as women). The women's bodies are "symbols of purity and perdition," and as such, they not only signify the human condition, but also reenact the drama of humanity's salvation. Viewed as fallen daughters of Eve, "women could display this grace more than men because they deserved it less." Thus, for Harvey, the transvestite female saint ultimately embodies the theological paradox of redemption. 19

Two other recent studies have focused even more closely on how these transvestite saints' lives fit within the patterns of ancient discourse on the female body. In her article "'I Will Make Mary Male'" (1991), Elizabeth Castelli argues that the acts of dressing in men's clothing and cutting one's hair short functioned in this literature as "bodily signifiers"--signs of how early Christian society was reevaluating (and destabilizing) traditional gender differences in the context of a theology that called for personal and corporate transformation. 20 Finally, Terry Wilfong (1998) examines transvestite saints' lives in the context of Coptic Christian conceptions of the female body. In the Coptic legend of Saint Hilaria, the heroine's identity is hidden from observers not only because she wore male monastic garb, but also because her body underwent radical, de-feminizing physical changes as the result of her life in the desert:

For her breasts, too, were not as those of all (other) women: above all, she was shrunken with ascetic practices and even her menstrual period had stopped because of the deprivation. 21 [End Page 10]

For Wilfong, such descriptions were part of a larger cultural and hagiographical discourse on the female body. In that discourse, the female body--often a source of worry and concern to male authors--was in various ways deconstructed, obscured, disjointed, and fragmented. 22

As I have shown, the study of early Christian transvestite saints' lives has moved considerably in the past century from the relatively naive search for historical "sources" to the more critical application of social, anthropological, theological, and (some) discourse theory. In this article, I want to take the study of these texts a step further. While my interest will still be on understanding this literature in the context of ancient discourse on gender and the female body, I will be asking new questions of the texts from the perspective of poststructuralist theory and the study of intertextuality. But first, I need to define these terms.

A Poststructuralist Approach: The Theory of Intertextuality

In the past few decades, scholars who study early Christian texts have increasingly turned to the fields of literary criticism and discourse analysis for alternative ways of reading history. Yet, during this time period, the discipline of literary studies itself has undergone radical changes, as relatively recent theories have been challenged and replaced by newer critical methods. Such is the case with poststructuralism, a body of recent theory that has challenged conclusions drawn by earlier structuralist theorists.

The theory of structuralism itself arose during the early part of the twentieth century as a critique of prevailing liberal humanist views about the nature of language and meaning. Previously in the study of literature, it had been assumed that both language and meaning were direct products of an author's mind. Structuralist theorists like Saussure in the field of comparative linguistics and Levi-Strauss in the field of anthropology challenged this assumption. 23 They argued that the source of meaning in [End Page 11] language and texts was not the author; instead, they proposed that meaning be understood as the product of preexisting, universal structures within language itself. Levi-Strauss defined this shift in focus as one away from "conscious linguistic phenomena" (e.g., the intent of the author) to "their unconsciousinfrastructure"--that is, the "system" and "general laws" that govern speech and language. 24 Thus, structuralists typically seek to analyze all narratives as variations on universal narrative patterns. 25 While literary structuralism reached its heyday in the 1960s, it was not until the 1970s and early 1980s that a number of scholars began to apply structuralist theory to the study of the New Testament and other early Christian literature. 26 Indeed, it was in the midst of this upsurge in structuralist criticism of early Christian texts that Evelyne Patlagean wrote her 1976 article on the history of early Christian women disguised as men (see above).

However, during the 1960s and 1970s, other philosophers and literary theorists had already begun challenging certain assumptions of structuralism. This critical challenge heralded the rise of "poststructuralism"--a term that describes an assortment of theories unified by their common critique of structuralism's universalizing tendencies. While structuralists have insisted that all language has at its core a basic, universal structure that generates meaning, poststructuralists argue that this core, this basic structure, is illusory--it is only a false "trace" or facade, the result of language's attempts to hide its own contradictions and incompleteness. 27 Take for example, the binary structures that exist in language--light/dark, good/evil, black/white, etc. For the poststructuralist, each element in these pairs can only be understood in terms of the other. One can only understand "light" if one already knows what "dark" is. However, by the same token, one can only understand "dark" through a prior acquaintance with the concept of "light." In this way, these binary structures of language (identified by structuralists as the building blocks of meaning) are exposed as circular and ultimately self-contradictory. Thus, for some poststructuralist theorists, like Jacques Derrida, language can ultimately be said to "deconstruct" itself. A text is not simply "a finished corpus of [End Page 12] writing . . . but a differential network, a fabric of traces referring endlessly to something other than itself." 28

This notion of texts as contingent and interdependent gave rise to the poststructuralist theory of intertextuality. At its most basic level, intertextuality can simply refer to how authors quote or allude to earlier sources in writing their own texts. However, as it was coined by the French philosopher Julia Kristeva and later developed by the literary theorist Roland Barthes, the poststructuralist concept of "intertextuality" also embraces a larger philosophy of how language works. 29 This philosophy specifically critiques the structuralist claim that individual texts are "discrete, closed-off entities," 30 and instead argues that any particular text can only be read within the context of prior texts and larger cultural discourses that give it meaning. As one theorist put it: "[E]ach text becomes itself in relation to other texts, no text is self-contained." 31 Texts, by their very nature, play upon other texts.

Ever fond of word play, poststructuralist theorists have mined the etymology of the word "text"--"a tissue, something woven"--for a metaphor to describe the phenomenon of intertextuality. Thus, the text has been compared to a piece of fabric woven together by many different strands. It is the interpreter's job not so much to unravel those strands, but to examine the texture of that fabric, "the interlacing of codes, formulae, and signifiers." 32 Ultimately, by tracing the texture of this fabric, the interpreter can begin to see how a text has reworked prior texts and thereby participated in an ongoing cultural discourse. 33
Poststructuralist (or postmodern) literary theory is often bewildering to the uninitiated. Its radical questioning of objectivity in the search for meaning poses enormous challenges to traditional conceptions of theology and history. Theologians and biblical scholars have only relatively [End Page 13] recently begun to apply poststructuralist insights to their own disciplines; 34 historians of early Christianity have noticeably dragged their feet, lagging behind their colleagues. How can this body of theory be applied fruitfully in the study of early Christian texts? In this article, I propose to make a foray into this area, as I reevaluate early Christian transvestite legends from the perspective of intertextuality and poststructuralist discourse analysis.

In particular, I want to argue that the typical structure of these transvestite saint legends--ascetic retreat, transvestitism, revelation of sexual identity--is more variable (less consistent) than structuralist interpreters like Patlagean and Anson have suggested. Especially given the significant variations observed from legend to legend, this structure should not be considered a fundamental or universal feature of the texts, but rather the result of interpreters' attempts to impose upon the texts a structural unity where one does not necessarily exist. Thus, instead of viewing the legends primarily in terms of these structural elements, I want to shift the focus to how the texts themselves--their plots and their characterizations of the heroines--are in fact composites of intertextual references. In this sense, the structural elements of ascetic retreat, transvestitism, and revelation of sexual identity may be included in a larger set of cultural signs, allusions, and echoes that shift, change, and replay from one legend to the next. What are the "texts" that these legends "play upon"? And finally, what does this intertextual play tell us about how this group of legends participated in late antique cultural discourse on gender and the female body? These two questions will guide my steps through the rest of this essay.

Intertextuality in Early Christian Legends of Holy Women Disguised as Men

In reading the legends of female saints disguised as men in intertextual terms, I want to argue that the characterization of these saints is not cohesive, not coherent, and, ultimately, not unified. That is, the characterization of these women does not stand on its own, but rather is composed of bits and pieces of prior cultural texts, images, and discourses. One might compare the characterization of the transvestite saint to an image seen through a kaleidoscope--as we "turn" the text, different fragments of cultural data merge, are diffracted, recombine, and separate once [End Page 14] again. The transvestite female saint was (quite literally) the embodiment of various oblique cultural discourses--an intertextually constructed body. Thus, for the late antique reader, intertextual allusions--the fragments of various cultural discourses--would have offered clues for understanding the enigmatic figure of the female transvestite saint.

What were the primary cultural discourses at work in the figure of the holy woman disguised as a man? How did the transvestite saint legends rework and re-present earlier texts in the characterization of their heroines? Here, I will identify five cultural "texts" (or groups of "texts") reworked in the legends--five key intertextual elements that impinge upon the characterization of the female saint: 1) the lives of earlier transvestite saints in the church, especially St. Thecla; 2) the lives of famous early Christian holy men like St. Antony; 3) late antique cultural discourse about eunuchs, including the story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts; 4) the story of Joseph and Potiphar's wife from Genesis, and other later variations on the theme of the spurned female temptress; and finally, 5) early Christian discourse on the female body, in particular, its textual fragmentation and intertextual reconstitution in the context of wo/men's community. I do not mean to present these five elements as a new structural basis for understanding the legends--they are far too variable to fulfill such a function. In fact, no single legend in the corpus contains all five elements. Instead, I want to portray the characterization of the transvestite female saint within the larger corpus as a ragged patchwork of these intertextual elements. The saint's body is effectively clothed in this patchwork, a patchwork of texts and images that present her in sexually ambiguous or male terms--the female saint who is not female, and yet still is.

Transvestitism as Intertextual Sign:
Re-presenting St. Thecla and Her Sisters

The act of transvestitism--taking off women's clothing and putting on men's--is the unmistakable "sign" or image that links this group of hagiographical narratives, and as such, it often prompts the most questions from the modern critical reader. What is the narrative function of this act for the heroine? What would it have signified for an ancient community of readers? For those looking for satisfying answers to these questions, the texts themselves are not very forthcoming. In many of these Lives the heroine's change of dress is virtually left unexplained. The Life of Susannah is a typical example. In that legend, after Susannah is baptized a Christian, she begins to resist her parents' plan for her to marry. In order to escape their expectations, she suddenly leaves her home by night, [End Page 15] releases her servants, gives her money to the poor, cuts her hair short, and dresses herself in men's clothes. The last two actions are narrated with no special commentary or explanation. 35 As a result, within the text, the act of transvestitism has no explicit signification other than a straightforward, pragmatic one--to facilitate the heroine's desire to escape the notice of her family and (eventually) enter a male monastery without being recognized.

The absence of interpretation offered within the Life of Susannah and other legends of female saints disguised as men would have prompted the ancient reader to look elsewhere for the significance of this act. This absence of interpretation may even suggest that the hagiographers actually presumed that their ancient readers were already acquainted with other "texts"--other discourses--that would have helped make sense of the transvestite motif within these saints' lives. If so, what were these other "texts" and how would the act of transvestitism have been read intertextually?

One of the legends, the Life of Eugenia, provides us with an answer to this question. In that account, Eugenia's act of disguising herself as a man is modeled after St. Thecla, the most popular female saint in the early church after the Virgin Mary. St. Thecla is also recognized as the first transvestite saint in early Christianity. The second-century Acts of Paul and Thecla, 36 the basis of Thecla's legend, portrays her as a disciple of the apostle Paul in Asia Minor. Persecuted by her family and society for leaving her fiance in order to follow Paul, Thecla survives two martyr trials, the first by fire and the second by beasts in the arena. During the second martyr trial, she baptizes herself; and then, after her release, she dresses herself like a man and begins to travel and teach the gospel she had learned from Paul.
The Life of Eugenia and the other transvestite saint legends written three or four centuries after the Acts of Paul and Thecla were hagiographical attempts to reappropriate Thecla's story in a new context. However, unlike in the other legends, where the connection with Thecla remains implicit, this "reappropriation" in the Life of Eugenia is explicit and purposeful. 37 In the story, Eugenia, the wealthy daughter of a Roman [End Page 16] governor assigned to Alexandria, actually obtains a copy of the Acts of Paul and Thecla ("the book of the story of the discipleship of Thecla the holy virgin, and of Paul the Apostle"). 38 One day, while traveling in a litter outside Alexandria, she studies passages from this "book of Thecla." 39 Eugenia's reading has an immediate effect on her: imitating Thecla's example, she cuts her hair and dresses herself like a man. (In the Acts of Paul and Thecla, even before her change of dress, Thecla had offered to cut her hair short as a sign of her commitment to Paul's ministry.)
This intertextual connection with Thecla is reinforced later after Eugenia has abandoned the litter and secretly joined a monastery. Eugenia's absence causes an uproar in her family, and the author describes their reaction by borrowing a turn of phrase from the Acts of Paul and Thecla: "For her parents were mourning for their daughter; and her brothers for their sister; and her servants for their mistress." 40 In the Acts, it is Thecla's family (her mother, fiance, and maidservants) who mourn a similar loss. 41 These allusions to the Acts of Paul and Thecla provide the reader with an intertextual context for understanding Eugenia's own actions. Just as in the case of Thecla, Eugenia's change of appearance facilitates her break from her family and pursuit of an ascetic vocation. [End Page 17]
The Acts of Paul and Thecla was not the only basis for this intertextual bond between Eugenia and Thecla. The author of the Life also had access to other nonliterary "texts" connected with the cult of St. Thecla in late antiquity--a reservoir of visual artifacts that could also be utilized for intertextual ends. Later in the Life, Eugenia is forced to go to court in order to defend herself against a false accusation of sexual assault. This accusation was brought against her by a woman whom Eugenia had earlier healed of disease. Brought to the court in chains, Eugenia decides that she must confess her identity--that she must reveal her biological gender--in order to protect the reputation of the Egyptian monks. First, she explains, "I became a man for a short time, being emulous and imitating my teacher Thecla: she who despised and rejected the desires of this world, and became worthy of the good things of heaven by means of her chastity and her life." 42 Then, as visible proof of her sex, Eugenia rips open her garment to reveal her breasts to the crowd. 43

In the story, this act exonerates Eugenia from the woman's false accusation. However, given her explicit self-identification with Thecla, Eugenia's act would also have had other associations for readers--especially Egyptian readers--in late antiquity. According to the text, she "rent the garment which she wore from the top as far as her girdle . . . and the chaste breasts which were upon the bosom of a pure virgin were seen" 44 (my italics). Here, the Life of Eugenia presents a visual tableau that conforms remarkably to the iconography of pilgrim flasks associated with Thecla's cult in Egypt. 45 On these flasks Thecla appears stripped naked to the waist, with the curves of her breasts revealed. Her hands are tied behind her back and she is flanked by two bulls, a bear, and a lion. The scene represents a conflation of martyr scenes from the life of Thecla, incorporating [End Page 18] images most notably from Thecla's second martyr trial in the arena. 46

In the Life of Eugenia, the verbal imagery describing Eugenia's own trial at court evokes this scene. It is as if the image of Thecla stamped in clay has actually imprinted itself on the bodily posture of Eugenia. Here we see how the writer of the Life has used not only the Acts of Paul and Thecla as a subtext, but also the discourses and practices--the art and artifacts--associated with her pilgrimage cult. While Eugenia's disguise as a male monk is to be read in terms of Thecla's transvestitism in the Acts, the undoing of that disguise is to be read in terms of Thecla's cultic iconography (an iconography that itself was an intertextual reading of Thecla's martyr trials in the Acts ).

In this way, the undoing of Eugenia's transvestite disguise is synonymous with the narrative "undoing" (or deconstruction) of the Acts of Paul and Thecla through multiple layers of intertextual rereading. In the Acts, Thecla survives martyr trials and then dresses as a man (thereby "undoing" her status as a woman) in order to travel as an itinerant apostle. In the Life of Eugenia, this plot movement is reversed. Having traveled to the outskirts of Alexandria, Eugenia disguises herself as a man and enters a male monastery; later, she is forced to reveal her identity (thereby reestablishing her identity as a woman, i.e. "undoing" what was earlier undone) in a trial before the Roman governor. The image of Eugenia's revealed and exonerated body functions as an icon to St. Thecla; yet, at the same time, in this image the texts and discourses of Thecla's cult have been subverted--subtly "undone" through a process of intertextual revision.
Despite their importance, the literature and art associated with St. Thecla were not the only subtexts for the early Christian legends of monastic women disguised as men, nor was the act of transvestitism the only locus for such intertextual play. In these legends, other stereotypical elements in the characterization of the heroines also betray traces of intertextuality.

The Call to Be a Holy Man:
Overhearing Scripture with St. Antony

In the Coptic Life of Hilaria, 47 the heroine is raised in Constantinople as the daughter of the emperor Zeno; and yet, despite the comfort of her [End Page 19] upbringing, she yearns for a life of monastic renunciation. Her sense of monastic calling is reinforced by a visit to church, where, having asked God to "let me hear from the scripture-lessons readings suited to my aim," she hears a series of scriptural readings disparaging the trappings of worldly wealth. 48 Because her royal status effectively bars her from pursuing this calling, she disguises herself as a knight and flees by boat to Alexandria. There, entering the church of St. Mark, she again asks the Lord to direct her through the words of Scripture. And again, she hears a series of readings advocating the renunciation of family and riches for the sake of the gospel. Immediately after this, she resolves to travel to Scetis (the ancient Wadi Natrun) and join one of the monastic settlements in that region. There she quickly earns renown for her ascetic endurance and self-renunciation.

The calling to the monastic life that Hilaria experiences would have been familiar to literate Christians in late antiquity, especially in the Egyptian context. Her overhearing of Scripture passages that seem to speak directly to her situation evokes the famous monastic calling of St. Antony, narrated in Athanasius' spiritual biography, the Life of Antony. After the death of his parents, Antony finds himself walking to church reflecting on "how the Apostles left everything and followed the Savior" (Matt 19.27). Arriving at church, he hears another verse from Matthew 19 being read--the words Jesus says to the rich man who asked him how he might obtain eternal life: "If you would be perfect, go, sell all of your possessions, and give them to the poor; and come, follow me, and you will have treasure in heaven" (19.21). In response to these words, Antony gives his land away, sells most of his possessions, and distributes the money to the poor. However, it is only when he returns to the church again, and hears another passage from Matthew ("Do not be anxious for the morrow" [6.34]) that he makes a total break from his former life: he gives the rest of his possessions away to the poor, places his sister in a nunnery, and enters the desert to pursue the monastic life. 49

This account of Antony's monastic calling serves as the subtext for Hilaria's own call. 50 Like Antony, she visits the church on two occasions, [End Page 20] and each time hears passages of Scripture read that confirm her desire for monastic renunciation. Hilaria's very act of "overhearing" Scripture accentuates the intertextual character of the narrative at this point: it is interesting that, while Antony hears only one verse each time he visits the church, Hilaria receives a surplus of biblical teaching--six passages on each occasion. The connection between Hilaria and Antony is also subtly reinforced by the final verse she hears during her visit to the church of St. Mark in Alexandria. The verse is from Matthew 19.29--Jesus' summary of his teaching to the rich man: "Ye who have left house and wife and child, in the generation to come ye shall receive them manifold and ye shall inherit life everlasting." For a late antique reader well-versed in Scripture, this verse would have sent him or her on an intertextual pathway that would have led, first to the larger context of Matthew 19 and then inevitably to the famous citation of that context in the Life of Antony. Through such an intertextual reading, Hilaria was presented as a new Antony, a new holy wo/man of the desert.

In effect, by portraying the Hilaria as heir to the monastic calling of St. Antony, the Life of Hilaria subtly presents the transvestite saint in male gendered terms. In late antiquity, while female saints were often privileged as models for women, male heroes and saints were frequently invoked as models for men. In the Life of Antony itself, Athanasius remarks that, "for monks, the life of Antony is a worthy model for the ascetic life." 51 Thus, in retracing the footsteps of her intertextual model Antony, Hilaria is understood to be actualizing a distinctively male piety.

A Third Gender? Becoming Eunuchs
for the Sake of the Kingdom of Heaven

I have already highlighted the ambiguity of the transvestite saints' gender status. This ambiguity is nowhere more evident than in their association with eunuchs in the legends. In late antiquity, eunuchs occupied a unique social position--one that was culturally constructed as a "third gender." 52 Their status as a "third gender" was established not only on the basis of their physiological differentiation from men and women and their exclusion [End Page 21] from procreative functions, but also on the basis of acculturated behaviors, mannerisms, and social roles. Eunuchs were often identified because of their distinctive dress and their stereotyped speech patterns and body language. They also performed particular social functions, especially ones that involved mediation across social boundaries. In this way, eunuchs were really liminal figures in ancient society. This perception of eunuchs extended to the early church as well. Both Clement of Alexandria and Gregory of Nazianzus classify them as a third category apart from men and women. In the words of Gregory, eunuchs are "of dubious sex." 53

Given the ancient perception of eunuchs as liminal figures, it is significant that, in their legends, transvestite female saints are often mistaken for eunuchs during their life as monks. After many years as a desert solitary, the transvestite holy woman Apolinaria is invited to join Abba Macarius' monastic community in Scetis because she is thought to be a eunuch. 54 In the Life of St. Mary/Marinos (the story with which I introduced this article), Mary is mistaken for a eunuch because "she was beardless and of delicate voice." 55 In the Life of Hilaria, Hilaria's fellow monks likewise assume that she is a eunuch because she has no beard. 56 Finally, the former prostitute Pelagia, after she is converted to Christianity by the bishop Nonnus, dresses herself in Nonnus' spare clothes and flees to Palestine to become a monastic hermit; there the church community in Jerusalem comes to know her as Pelagius the eunuch. 57

In other legends, the heroines intentionally cultivate the impression that they are eunuchs. For example, the transvestite saint Euphrosyne schemes to enter a male monastery outside Alexandria disguised as "a [End Page 22] eunuch from the palace." 58 In the Life of Matrona, Matrona cuts her hair and actually dresses herself "as a eunuch" before she enrolls in a male monastery. 59 Later, her assumed identity as a eunuch holds her in good stead when one of her fellow monks asks her why both of her ears were pierced. In response, she explains that, in her former life as a eunuch, she used to be in the employ of a woman who would adorn her "so that many of those who saw me said that I was a girl." 60 Pierced ears were, in fact, a common form of self-adornment for eunuchs. 61 In any case, Matrona's cover story worked and her true identity as a woman was kept secret (at least for the time being). This association of the female transvestite saint with eunuchs comes to a very different expression in the Life of Eugenia. In that work, Eugenia leaves her home accompanied by two eunuchs, and after cutting her hair and dressing as a man, she presents herself at a local monastery as one of their brothers. 62 The implication for the reader is that Eugenia, too, is to be viewed as a eunuch--as one whose piety is no longer "female" (nor, for that matter, fully "male").

This representation of Eugenia as a eunuch is reinforced by intertextual elements in the story. As I discussed earlier, Eugenia's reading of the Acts of Paul and Thecla while being transported in her litter prompted her call to the monastic life. In the text, Eugenia's act of reading is set off--bracketed--by an inclusio that emphasizes the presence of the eunuchs who were accompanying her on her journey.

Now there went with her many eunuchs and servants for her honour.
Now as the litter in which she was sitting with the pomp of noble women was going along, Eugenia was reading within it the book of Thecla, and was meditating on a passage in it.

And she said to the two eunuchs who were with her. . . . 63 [End Page 23]
The picture of Eugenia riding in her litter and reading a sacred text, along with the narrative's emphasis on the presence of eunuchs, would have called to mind for an early Christian reader the biblical story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8.26-40. In that story, the Ethiopian eunuch sits in his chariot reading the book of Isaiah, when the apostle Philip approaches and explains the meaning of the scripture to him. After being instructed in the faith by Philip, the Ethiopian eunuch gets down from his chariot and is baptized by Philip.

In the Life of Eugenia, Eugenia is placed intertextually in the role of the Ethiopian eunuch. Like the Ethiopian eunuch, Eugenia's act of reading initiates a series of events that lead to her conversion to Christianity. After dressing herself like a man (and thereby taking on the appearance of a eunuch), she ends up meeting the bishop Helenus, who instructs her in the faith and eventually baptizes her and her companions. Helenus, a surrogate for the apostle Philip, is featured in another episode that confirms Acts 8 as a key intertext for Eugenia's spiritual biography. When Eugenia first encounters Helenus, she is told a story about his recent encounter with a magician named Iraus, "who approached the people of the Christians with the wicked artifice of his magic." 64 The apostle Philip has a similar encounter in Acts 8.9-25 with a magician named Simon who "amazed [the people] with his magic." Significantly, this story of Simon the magician immediately precedes that of the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts.
As intertexts for the Life of Eugenia, these stories from Acts subtly reinforce Eugenia's characterization as one who has attained the status of eunuch for the kingdom of heaven. Eugenia, in her path toward conversion and a life of monastic renunciation, dramatizes the biblical model of "eunuchhood," and, in the process, enables herself to overcome the limitations of her sex. Eugenia later tries to describe this process in terms of a (temporary) shift in gender from female to male: "And being a woman by nature, in order that I might gain everlasting life, I became a man for a short time. . . ." 65 Ultimately, however, the intertextual representation of Eugenia as a eunuch undermines such bipolar (male-female) descriptions of gender categories, highlighting the ambiguity of Eugenia's status as a transvestite saint. [End Page 24]

The Androgynous Hero: Inverting the Story of Joseph and Potiphar's Wife

Another prominent intertextual feature in several of the transvestite saint legends involves the false accusation of sexual impropriety, a theme inspired by the story of Joseph and Potiphar's wife from Genesis 39. 66 In the biblical story, Joseph spurns the sexual advances of his master's wife only to have her accuse him of trying to seduce her. His master, Potiphar, then has Joseph thrown into prison on the basis of this false charge. The legends of Eugenia, Susannah, and Theodora all feature a similar scenario, with the subtle twist that the female transvestite saints are cast in the role of Joseph.

In the Life of Eugenia, the wife of a prominent senator asks Eugenia (who is in the guise of a monk named Eugenius) to heal her from the effects of a lingering fever. Eugenia complies, and then returns quickly to her monastery. However, the woman (Melania), attracted by Eugenia's appearance, calls her back on several occasions and tries to convince her to abandon her commitment to sexual chastity and enjoy "the good things of this world." Later, Melania visits Eugenia at the monastery, hoping "to embrace her secretly." When Eugenia spurns her advances, Melania flies into a rage and goes to the Alexandrian governor with the charge that the monk Eugenia had tried to seduce her with "shameful and vile words" and then tried to rape her. 67 It is this charge that eventually leads Eugenia to reveal herself and her identity before the Alexandrian court. The Life of Susannah, perhaps derived from Eugenia's legend,records an almost identical encounter with a female temptress. 68

In the Life of Theodora, 69 one can observe a very different variation on the Joseph and Potiphar's wife motif. At the beginning of the story, Theodora, a married woman living in Alexandria, is misled and seduced by a rich man living in Alexandria. As a result of her sin, Theodora grieves the loss of her soul. Wracked with guilt, she cuts off her hair, dresses like a man, and flees to a monastery eighteen miles west of Alexandria. There she lives a life of piety for many years. One day, returning to the monastery after an errand to the city, she meets a woman on the road who approaches her and tries to seduce her. While Theodora rejects [End Page 25] her advances, shortly thereafter the woman becomes pregnant and takes the opportunity to accuse Theodora of fathering the child. However, in contrast to the legends of Eugenia and Susannah, Theodora does not respond by revealing her identity, nor does she try to defend herself against the accusation in any other way. The child is left with her and she is cast out of the monastery. For seven years, she raises the child in the wild before her fellow monks, satisfied by her penance, finally welcome her back into the community. Theodora's innocence is only ascertained after her death, when her identity as a woman is discovered.

Theodora's story closely resembles that of Mary/Marinos. In the Life of St. Mary/Marinos, the transvestite saint is accused of impregnating a local innkeeper's daughter--the only difference is that this accusation is not prompted by an act of sexual rejection. The innkeeper's daughter is simply portrayed as a wayward young woman who, having been "deflowered" by a soldier, pins the blame for her pregnancy on the monk Marinos. The rest of Mary/Marinos' legend follows according to form. Refusing to defend herself against the false accusation, Mary is thrown out of her monastery and left to raise the child on her own. Readmitted to the monastery after three years, she keeps her true identity (and her innocence) secret until her death. 70

Similar false accusations of sexual impropriety and/or paternity appear in other transvestite saint legends as well, instances where the Joseph and Potiphar's wife motif has been adopted in abbreviated or modified form. In the Life of Apolinaria, the heroine (disguised as the monk Dorotheos) heals her sister of demon-possession; however, when the sister returns home the devil makes it appear as if she is pregnant and causes her to accuse Apolinaria of fathering the child. 71 A similar episode in the Life of Hilaria (without the simulated pregnancy) has Hilaria under suspicion for unseemly sexual behavior toward her sister. 72 In the Egyptian legend of St. Margaret, when a nun becomes pregnant, Margaret is accused and is put out of her monastery. She is only exonerated on her deathbed, when she writes a letter to the abbot revealing her identity. 73 [End Page 26]
What do these variations on the story of Joseph and Potiphar's wife tell us about the intertextual construction of gender in these legends? At first glance, the identification of the female transvestite saint with Joseph would simply seem to be yet another way to emphasize the saint's assimilation of male virtues: by resisting the seduction of the female temptress, the female monk was understood to be vanquishing her own female weakness. However, a study of late antique traditions about Joseph suggests that his reputation was more complex than this: as a result, the intertextual characterization of the transvestite saint as Joseph has more ambiguous consequences for the reading of gender in the legends.

Joseph was the subject of much commentary in early Christian, Jewish, and Islamic tradition, and some of this commentary focuses on his androgynous reputation. The biblical narrative (Gen 39.6) and subsequent commentaries on that narrative emphasize Joseph's physical beauty, a beauty that seems to cross gender lines. The Hebrew term used to describe Joseph's beauty ( yafeh / yafah ) is, in fact, applied to women more often than to men (see, for example, Song of Songs 4.1). 74 Jewish Midrashic writers and early Muslim commentators compare Joseph's beauty to that of his mother Rachel. 75 Indeed, Joseph's fair appearance is often described in feminine terms: in several sources, he even is said to have adapted an affected gait, coifed his hair, and applied make-up to enhance the natural beauty of his eyes. 76 The androgynous characterization of Joseph extends to ancient legends about his sexual attractiveness not only to women but to men as well. The church father Jerome claims that Potiphar himself was sexually attracted to Joseph; 77 a similar tradition is preserved in the Babylonian Talmud. 78 This tradition of same-sex attraction connected [End Page 27] with Joseph provides a fascinating intertextual context for reading the transvestite saint legends, where the story of Joseph and Potiphar's wife is effectively inverted and reenacted as the attempted seduction of one woman (disguised as a man) by another. For a late antique or Byzantine reader (especially in Egypt where the Joseph cult was most active), these traditions of androgyny and same-sex attraction would undoubtedly have resonated in the intertextual portrayal of the female transvestite saint as Joseph.

Bodies and Communities:
Textual Fragmentation and Intertextual Re-collection

In the transvestite saint legends that I have been discussing, the body of the transvestite saint is contested space--the locus of competing intertextual discourses that vie for the reader's notice. The result of these competing discourses is, in effect, the intertextual fragmentation and defeminization of the saint's body: she is alternately cast as a "female man" in the image of St. Thecla, a holy man of the desert who follows the call of St. Antony, a holy eunuch like that of the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts, and a chaste, androgynous hero modeled after Joseph.

The intertextual fragmentation and defeminization of the transvestite saint is frequently mirrored in the actual physical deterioration of the saint's body through ascetic practice. While the woman's body is obscured--elided--by the act of transvestitism, it is often physically deconstructed through the rigors of asceticism. Thus, one reads in the Life of Hilaria that her breasts became "shrunken with ascetic practices" and her menstrual flow dried up. 79 Apolinaria's body turns hard and rough like the hide of a tortoise: the narrator describes her body as having "melted away" through self-renunciation. 80 Recounting a visit to Pelagia's cell, her hagiographer recalls that her face had become "emaciated by fasting" [End Page 28] and her eyes "had sunk inwards like a great pit." 81 In these descriptions, one observes what Terry Wilfong has termed the "textual fragmentation" of the female body in late antique hagiography. 82

The physical transformation that the saints' bodies undergo in the legends (along with the intertextual strategy of linking these female saints with male or gender-ambiguous prototypes) contributes to the disjointed, defeminized image of the transvestite saint. At the same time, however, the legends themselves never quite allow their readers to forget that the transvestite saint is still a woman by nature. This is exemplified in the Life of Susannah, where the saint's body is mutilated through torture, but then is miraculously restored. That legend, set in the era of the martyrs, describes how Susannah, after living a heroically faithful life in the guise of a male monk, is persecuted on account of her faith by a pagan prefect named Alexander, who subjects her to a series of lurid tortures, including having her breasts slashed off and thrown to the birds. 83 While this act clearly plays into the larger narrative strategy of defeminizing the saint, the act is immediately "undone" when an angel recovers Susannah's breasts and restores them to her body. In this case, the fragmented body of the saint is reassembled and the saint herself is reinscribed as "female." This process of reinscribing the female identity of the transvestite saint could also take place on an intertextual level: the Life of Matrona is a prime example.

As in the other transvestite saint legends, various intertextual elements in the Life of Matrona represent the heroine in male or gender-ambiguous terms. After Matrona flees her abusive husband, disguises herself as a eunuch named Babylas, and enrolls in a male monastery in Constantinople, she is said to have been "completely transformed into a man," and is [End Page 29] compared to exemplary holy men like her adopted namesake St. Babylas of Nikomedeia, and the Maccabean martyr Eleazar. 84 The deconstruction of Matrona's female identity continues in a later episode that suggests intertextual connections with the Acts of Paul and Thecla. When Matrona's abusive husband interrogates one of her friends about her whereabouts, the friend answers: "Who this woman is of whom you speak, I know not (EEg~, tfiw stin ? gunO ?nper lgeiw, oEk oda)." 85 These words echo the apostle Paul's response when questioned about Thecla in the Acts: "I do not know the woman of whom you speak (OEk oda t?n guna?ka ?n lgeiw)." 86 In each case, while the response is intended to dissimulate, it also alludes to the fact that, within the context of the narrative, the heroine's identity as a woman has been (at least temporarily) erased from memory. Cast as a "holy man" like St. Babylas and Eleazar, identified with the transvestite St. Thecla, and rhetorically denied her status as a "woman," Matrona's character is intertextually fragmented; her gendered identity is dislocated, displaced.

And yet, throughout the Life of Matrona, this defeminizing agenda is offset by a competing intertextual agenda in which Matrona is increasingly defined within the context of women's community. Early in the narrative, two female friends named Eugenia and Susannah support Matrona's monastic aspirations. Eugenia brings Matrona to the male monastery headed by the monk Bassianos and enrolls her there disguised as a eunuch. 87 Susannah provides Matrona safe haven from her abusive husband, and later takes custody of Matrona's infant son so that Matrona can freely pursue her monastic calling. 88

Within the context of Matrona's legend, the names of these two friends--Eugenia and Susannah--recall the traditions of the two famous transvestite saints who bore the same names. 89 In this way, the Life intertextually [End Page 30] links Matrona with other legends of holy women disguised as men. This theme is reinforced later when Matrona travels to Syria and resides at the monastery of "the blessed Hilara"--probably an oblique reference to the Syrian tradition connected with the transvestite saint Hilaria. 90 Through these allusions, Matrona's piety is framed by the intertextual presence of a larger "community" of female transvestite saints.
This emphasis on women's community in the Life of Matrona is later expressed as an eschatological hope in Matrona's vision of a heavenly mansion and garden where she converses with a group of women, "marvelous in their attire and appearance." 91 This vision alludes not only to New Testament teachings comparing heaven to a "house with many rooms" (John 14.2), but also to Methodius' Symposium (ca. 300 c.e.), an ascetic work in which the author details his own vision of a heavenly banquet held in honor of a choir of female virgins with St. Thecla at their head. 92 This eschatological vision of women's community is finally realized for Matrona in the foundation of her monastery in Constantinople, where she served as head of a group of nuns who dressed in male monastic garb. According to the author of the Life, it was this community that initially preserved Matrona's memory and recorded the events of her life. 93 On more than one level, both intertextually and extratextually, the fragments of Matrona's identity were re-collected within the context of a women's community (albeit a crossdressing one). Thus, at the same time that it calls her female status into question, the Life reinscribes Matrona as a female saint.

Final Crossings: Gender, Christology, and Mimetic Plurality in the Legends of Monastic Women Disguised as Men

The creative tension in the transvestite saint legends between "manly" piety and female sexual identity is consistently fostered on an intertextual [End Page 31] level by the interplay of competing cultural discourses about gender--discourses that operate simultaneously, but function at cross purposes. 94 Thus, in the case of Matrona, the transvestite saint can be compared to the household woman in Jesus' parable who "hid three measures of meal till the whole was leavened" (Luke 13.21), and yet later in the same work can be said to function in the public male role of "overseer" or "bishop" (pfiskopow) for her community of female monks. 95 While these two discourses "cross," they do not cancel each other out. As a result, the bipolar view of human gender--while tacitly endorsed--is ultimately destabilized.

Perhaps nowhere is this ironic subversion of gender categories more evident than in a scene from the Life of St. Mary/Marinos (the story with which I began). When the superior of the monastery comes to Mary/Marinos with the accusation that s/he deflowered the innkeeper's daughter, we are told that "Marinos fell upon his face, saying, 'Forgive me, father, for I have sinned as a man.'" 96 Mary/Marinos would seem to be falsely confessing a sin s/he did not commit, but the reader is left to detangle a snarl of logic hidden behind this apparent lie. If Mary/Marinos did not sin, did s/he "not sin" as a man, or as a woman--or both? For the transvestite saint, which gender identity (male or female) is the real "lie"? Or do both options somehow fall short of the truth? The cryptic character of Mary/Marinos' "double-voiced" confession illustrates again how the transvestite saint legends destabilize conventional (bipolar) gender categories. 97

The destabilization of gender categories in the text is further highlighted by contemporary readings and misreadings of a later scene in the Life of St. Mary/Marinos where the monks discover the saint's female identity and are said to "shriek" in surprise. 98 The English translators of the vita originally suggested that the Greek (yro?yhsan) ought to be [End Page 32] translated, "they shrieked like women, " a reading that would have highlighted the "double-voiced" gender reversal implicit in the scene. However, the editors of the volume rejected this translation: they told the translators it was redundant since "only women shriek anyway[!]" 99 The translators (and we) are left to ask, "Who is represented as "male" and who is represented as "female" in this scene?" Does the revelation of the Mary's identity as a woman somehow reshape the monks into a sympathetic, female chorus (who cry out in a single voice, "Lord, have mercy!")? Or, by way of contrast, is this depiction of the monks' "female" reaction subtly meant to reinscribe Mary's true "male" piety after all? Is the textual revelation of Mary's female identity itself finally textually deconstructed? At the end of the narrative, the reader seems to be left in a whirl of unanswered questions, caught in a tangled web of ancient (and modern) assumptions about gender identity.

This modern tale of misreading finally raises the question of how the transvestite saint legends would have been read in late antiquity. What function would stories like that of Mary/Marinos have had for early Christian readers? Sebastian Brock and Susan Ashbrook Harvey have argued that all early Christian hagiography was ultimately grounded in the life and death of Christ and was motivated by an ethic of imitation. 100 Were ancient readers called to seek out the example of Christ in the lives of transvestite saints?

The Life of St. Mary/Marinos, at least, gives us hints of such a christomimetic function. At the very end of her Life, the hagiographer calls the reader to "emulate the blessed Mary" and thereby to "find mercy from our Lord Jesus Christ." 101 At first glance, this christological reference would simply seem to be formulaic, but in fact it would have called the reader's attention back to the scene at the beginning of the narrative when Mary was trying to persuade her father not to abandon her in his desire to enter a monastery. In the midst of admonishing him, she appeals specifically to Christ's example, "Do you not know what the Lord says? That the good shepherd giveth his life for his sheep? [John 10.11]." 102 These are the only two explicit references to Christ in the entire vita; however, given [End Page 33] their placement at the beginning and end of the Life, they function as a rhetorical inclusio that focuses the reader's attention on how the actions of Mary/Marinos reenact Christ's Passion. In the narrative, Mary quotes the teaching about the good shepherd as an exhortation to her father, but it functions intertextually as a christological paradigm for Mary's own life and sufferings: like Christ, she takes on the crimes of another; and like Christ, her identity is fully revealed only after her death (on "the third day"). 103 These themes are common to many of the transvestite saint legends, where other intertextual elements (especially the allusions to the lives of Antony and Joseph) reinforce this christological undercurrent--the Life of Antony itself was one of the first works to present the monastic life as an expression of imitatio Christi, and Joseph was viewed by various Christian writers as a type of Christ and his Passion. 104

How then does this christomimeticism function in relation to the various gender discourses in the Lives? In antiquity, the discourse of imitation had a political function--namely, the "valorization of sameness" and the "repression of difference" within communities. 105 Is the gospel of Christ (writ large) to be viewed then as an intertextual trump card--a kind of meta-narrative into which all other narratives are subsumed? Does the call to imitate Christ homogenize the various gender discourses in the lives?
To the contrary, I would suggest that the intertextual presentation of Christ as a mimetic model actually contributes to the destabilization of bipolar gender categories in the representation of the transvestite saint. At the same time that the ethic of imitation tries to inculcate "sameness," it takes as its presupposition the prior existence of difference. 106 In this case, [End Page 34] the attempt to present Christ's life and death as a (unified) paradigm cannot fully suppress the divergent discourses about Christ's identity in late antiquity. Such discourses are evident not only in the christological debates about his divine and human nature, but also in representations of Christ's body. Among different early Christian communities, Christ was viewed as an androgynous or gender-ambiguous figure: he was variously identified as the incarnation of the female, divine Wisdom, 107 pictured in eschatological visions as a woman, 108 and depicted in early Christian art in the form of Orpheus, the androgynous figure of Greek myth. 109 Virginia Burrus has also recently called attention to the sexually ambiguous representation of Christ in two fifth- and sixth-century mosaics in Thessalonica and Ravenna, where the figure of Christ in each case manifests "a manhood that has already incorporated the feminine." 110

In the legends of monastic women disguised as men, the intertextual play on the Passion of Christ is particularly embodied in the transvestite gesture itself. Here, the act of changing garments evokes another christological intertext, the Pauline baptismal formula of Galatians 3.27-28: "As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for you all one in Christ Jesus" (NRSV). When read in light of this intertext, the female saint's crossdressing [End Page 35] would seem to function as a metaphor for her being "one in Christ Jesus." However, at the same time that Galatians 3.28 envisions a "unification of opposites" in Christ, 111 its language ultimately subverts that vision and suggests a complete overturning of the traditional binary conception of gender identity. At the same time that Paul's language deconstructs the division of humanity into "male (on the one hand) and female (on the other)," it also deconstructs the unification of those opposites: "there is no longer male and female (conceived as a unit)". The Pauline intertext itself turns out to be "double-voiced." Thus, the figure of the transvestite saint does not simply undo human sexual division and reinscribe the primal, bisexual prototype of Genesis 1.27 ("he created them male and female"), 112 rather, as the intertextual embodiment of "no longer male and female," the figure of the transvestite saint actually destabilizes binary gender categories by undermining even the fundamental opposition of sexual division/nondivision itself.
In the place of this binary opposition, the reader is left with an eclectic array of competing intertextual discourses that bob and weave throughout the texts, a multiplicity of mimetic models for conceptualizing and embodying gender in late antiquity. Thus, my poststructuralist reading of early Christian transvestite saint legends ultimately reasserts the polyphony of gender discourses in the texts--a fugal chorus of competing voices that echo in the ear of the reader. 113 In the person of the transvestite saint, cultural discourses collide and coalesce; fragments of previous "texts" are re-collected and reconfigured. As I have suggested, contemporary theories of intertextuality provide a form-fitted model for analyzing the enigmatic result.


Stephen J. Davis is Professor of New Testament and Early Church History at the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo

1. Recent studies in the areas of gender and the human body have struggled with the issue of how the discursive representation or cultural "construction" of gender identity relates to "the emotional and experiential reality of inhabiting a body" (Dominic Montserrat, "Introduction," Changing Bodies, Changing Meanings: Studies on the Human Body in Antiquity, ed. D. Montserrat [London: Routledge, 1998], 4; cf. Gilbert Herdt, "Preface," Third Sex, Third Gender: Beyond Sexual Dimorphism in Culture and History [New York: Zone Books, 1996], esp. 17-19). This is an issue with which postmodern sociologists and anthropologists continue to wrestle, and one that I do not presume to resolve here. In this article, I use the terms "gender" and "body" specifically to refer to the ways in which cultural discourses helped shape ancient perceptions of what it meant to be "male," or "female," or (alternatively) someone whose gender identity was not so easily classified according to the traditional bipolar model. In the study of Christianity in late antiquity, it is certainly important to recognize how these different gender identities were "embodied" in terms of biological and genital experience, but my concern here is primarily on a social and textual level: namely, how did the gendered discourses of early Christian texts reshape and challenge previously held social assumptions?
2. Life of St. Mary/Marinos 3; tr. N. Constas, in Holy Women of Byzantium, ed. Alice-Mary Talbot (Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks, 1996), 7.
3. For the critical edition of the Greek text, see M. Richard, "La vie ancienne de Sainte Marie surnommee Marinos," in Corona Gratiarum: Miscellanea patristica, historica et liturgica Eligio Dekkers O.S.B. XII Lustra complenti oblata, I (Brugge: Sint Pietersabdej, 1975), 83-94. For a complete English translation of the Greek text, see Holy Women of Byzantium, 7-12.
4. Life of St. Mary/Marinos 4 and 21; Richard, "Vie ancienne de Sainte Marie," 88, 99.
5. E. Patlagean ("L'histoire de la femme deguisee en moine et l'evolution de la saintete feminine a Byzance," Studi Medievali, ser. 3, 17 [1976]: 600-602) lists and catalogues twelve vitae of female transvestite saints: Anastasia Patricia, Anna/Euphemianos, Apolinaria/Dorotheos, Athanasia (wife of Andronikos), Eugenia/Eugenios, Euphrosyne/Smaragdus, Hilaria/Hilarion, Mary (1)/Marinos, Mary (2), Matrona/Babylas, Pelagia/Pelagios, Theodora/Theodoros. However, two of these legends clearly date later than the seventh century (Anna/Euphemianos, ninth; Mary [2], eleventh or twelfth). To Patlagean's list may be added the vita of St. Susannah/John, also from the sixth or seventh century.
6. H. Delehaye, Les legends hagiographiques (Bruxelles: Societe des Bollandistes, 1927), 177, 192.
7. H. Usener, Legenden der heiligen Pelagia (Bonn: Adolph Marcus, 1879).
8. L. Radermacher, Hippolytos und Thekla: Studien zur Geschichte von Legende und Kultus, Kaiserliche Akademie der Wissenschaften in Wien, Philosophisch-historische Klasse, Sitzungsberichte 182.3 (Vienna: Alfred Holder, 1916).
9. Rosa Soder, Die Apokryphen Apostelgeschichten und die romanhafte Literatur der Antike (Stuttgart: S. Kohlhammer, 1932; repr. Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1969), 127-28; Gillian Clark, Women in Late Antiquity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993), 31.
10. M. Delcourt, Hermaphrodite: Myths and Rites of the Bisexual Figure in Classical Antiquity (London: Studio Books, 1961), 84-102.
11. Delcourt, Hermaphrodite, 96, 99-101.
12. J. Anson, "The Female Transvestite in Early Monasticism: The Origin and Development of a Motif," Viator 5 (1974): 5.
13. Anson, "Female Transvestite in Early Monasticism," 12-13; cf. E. Amelineau, "Histoire des deux filles de l'empereur Zenon," Proceedings of the Society of Biblical Archaeology 4.10 (1888): 181-206.
14. Anson, "Female Transvestite in Early Monasticism," 13-30.
15. Patlagean, "Histoire de la femme deguisee en moine," 600-604.
16. For an example of Claude Levi-Strauss' use of structuralist theory in linguistics and anthropology, see his book, Structural Anthropology (Garden City: Doubleday, 1967), ch. 2. Patlagean's article on transvestite saints' lives was an extension of her previous work in the structuralist study of early Byzantine hagiography in her article "Ancienne hagiographie Byzantine et histoire sociale," Annales 23 (1968): 106-26. For an English translation of this article, see "Ancient Byzantine Hagiography and Social History," in Saints and Their Cults: Studies in Religious Sociology, Folklore and History, ed. Stephen Wilson, tr. J. Hodgkin (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), 101-21.
17. Patlagean, "Histoire de la femme deguisee en moine," 610-16.
18. Nicholas Constas, "Life of St. Mary/Marinos," in Holy Women of Byzantium, 4-5. For his analysis of the legends as "rites of passage," Constas depends on the anthropological work of A. Van Gennep, The Rites of Passage, tr. M. B. Vizedom and G. L. Caffee (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1960). For an application of these concepts to the study of Christian pilgrimage, see Victor and Edith Turner, Image and Pilgrimage in Christian Culture: Anthropological Perspectives (New York: Columbia University Press, 1978).
19. Susan Ashbrook Harvey, "Women in Early Byzantine Hagiography: Reversing the Story," in 'That Gentle Strength': Historical Perspectives on Women in Christianity, ed. L. Coon, K. Haldane, and E. Sommer (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1990) 36-59, esp. 45-51.
20. Elizabeth Castelli, "'I Will Make Mary Male': Pieties of the Body and Gender Transformation of Christian Women in Late Antiquity," in Body Guards: The Cultural Politics of Gender Ambiguity, ed. J. Epstein and K. Straub (New York: Routledge, 1991), 29-49, esp. 44-47.
21. Life of Hilaria, ed. J. Drescher, in Three Coptic Legends (Cairo: Imprimerie de l'Institut francais d'archeologie orientale, 1947), 6. The translation here is by T. Wilfong, "Reading the Disjointed Body in Coptic: From Physical Modification to Textual Fragmentation," in Changing Bodies, Changing Meanings, 127.
22. Wilfong, "Reading the Disjointed Body in Coptic," 116-36, esp. 127-30. For other examples of the textual fragmentation of the female body in Christian literature, see C. W. Bynum, Fragmentation and Redemption: Essays on Gender and the Human Body in Medieval Religion (New York: Zone Books; Cambridge: MIT Press, 1991), 11-26, 181-238.
23. Ferdinand de Saussure, Third Course of Lectures on General Linguistics (1910-1911) (Oxford: Pergamon Press, 1993); Claude Levi-Strauss, Structural Anthropology.
24. Levi-Strauss, Structural Anthropology, ch. 2.
25. Mary Klages, "Structuralism/Poststructuralism," available at http://www .colorado.edu/English/ENGL2012Klages/1derrida.html (17 September 1997).
26. On the application of structuralism to biblical studies, see The Postmodern Bible: The Bible and Culture Collective, ed. G. Aichele, F. Burnett, E. Castelli, et al. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995), ch. 2, esp. 82-83.
27. Aichele et al., Postmodern Bible, 120.
28. Derrida, "Living On: Border Lines," tr. J. Holbert, in Deconstruction and Criticism, ed. Harold Bloom, et al. (New York: Seabury Press, 1979), 83-84; cf. Derrida, Of Grammatology, tr. G. C. Spivak (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1976), ch. 2.
29. For a history of this term and its theoretical application, see Graham Allen's recent publication Intertextuality (London: Routledge, 2000).
30. David Chandler, Semiotics for Beginners, available at http://www.argyroneta .com/s4b/sem09.html, last revised 19 April 1999.
31. Mark Taylor, "Deconstruction: What's the Difference?" Soundings 66 (1983): 400.
32. Roland Barthes, "Theory of the Text," in Untying the Text: A Post-Structuralist Reader, ed. Robert Young (Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1981), 39.
33. Jonathan Culler, "Presupposition and Intertextuality," in The Pursuit of Signs: Semiotics, Literature, Deconstruction (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1981), 101-3.
34. The best introduction to the use of poststructuralism in biblical study is Stephen D. Moore's Literary Criticism and the Gospels: The Theoretical Challenge (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989).
35. Life of Susannah 3-4, AASS, September 4: 154.
36. For the most comprehensive critical edition of the Acts of Paul and Thecla, see Acta Apostolorum Apocrypha, ed. Richard A. Lipsius and M. Bonnet (Leipzig: Hermann Mendelssohn, 1891), 235-72.
37. Portions of the following analysis of the Life of Eugenia have been adapted from chapter four of my book, The Cult of Saint Thecla (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), and a previous article, "Pilgrimage and the Cult of Saint Thecla," in Pilgrimage in Late Antique Egypt, ed. David Frankfurter (Leiden: Brill, 1998), 303-39.
38. Life of Eugenia 2; tr. Agnes Smith Lewis, Select Narratives of Holy Women, Studia Sinaitica 10 (London: C. J. Clay; New York: Macmillan, 1900), 2 (fol. 22a); see also the Armenian version edited by F. C. Conybeare, The Apology and Acts of Apollonius and Other Monuments of Early Christianity (London: Swan Sonnenschein; New York: Macmillan, 1894), 158. The mention of Acts of Paul and Thecla appears only in the Syriac and Armenian versions; the Latin substitutes "the teaching of that most blessed Apostle Paul" ( eius beatissimi Pauli apostoli doctrina; PL 59:607B). In fact, the Latin omits any and all references to the female saint. In this context, the textual tradition seems to support the hypothesis that the Syriac and Armenian versions offer an earlier reading. Given the apocryphal reputation of the Acts of Paul and Thecla in the Latin church, it is more likely that Thecla would have been deleted from the original text, rather than added to it at a later time.
39. Life of Eugenia 3; tr. Lewis, Select Narratives of Holy Women, 3 (fol. 22b); cf. Conybeare, Apology and Acts, 158. In the Latin version, Eugenia travels out to the suburbs of Alexandria for the express purpose of mingling with the Christians (PL 73:607C).
40. Life of Eugenia 8; tr. Lewis, Select Narratives of Holy Women, 12 (fol. 31b); cf. Conybeare, Apology and Acts, 168. The Latin and Greek editors retain this reading: lugebant universi confusi: parentes filiam, sororem fratres, servi dominam (PL 73:610D-611A); pebonto pikrw, ofl patrew thn yugatra, ofl edelfoi thn gnhsfian, ofl doEloi thn dspoinan (PG 116:624B); cf. Acts of Paul and Thecla 10.
41. Acts of Paul and Thecla 10: "And they wept bitterly, Thamyris missing his betrothed, Theocleia her child, the maidservants their mistress" (kai ofl men flklaion deinw, Yamuriw men gunaikow estoxn, Yeoklefia de tknou, afl de paidfiskai kurfiaw).
42. Life of Eugenia 15; tr. Lewis, Select Narratives of Holy Women, 20 (fol. 39a); cf. Conybeare, Apology and Acts, 176-77.
43. A similar scene appears in the Acts of Apolinaria where Apolinaria (disguised as a monk named Dorotheos) reveals her breasts to her parents in order to prove to them that she is their daughter, and to defend herself against a false charge of paternity ( Acts of Apolinaria, f. 218 v.; ed. Drescher, Three Coptic Legends, 159).
44. Life of Eugenia 15; tr. Lewis, Select Narratives of Holy Women, 21 (fol. 39b); cf. Conybeare, Apology and Acts, 177; PL 59:614D.
45. The date and provenance of these flasks and the Life of Eugenia are almost identical. The flasks were produced in the vicinity of Alexandria during the late fifth and sixth centuries (Zsolt Kiss, Les ampoules de Saint Menas decouvertes a Kom el-Dikka (1961-1981) [Varsovie: PWN-Editions scientifiques de Pologne, 1989], 14-18). The Life of Eugenia also seems to have been originally written in or around Alexandria during the sixth century (Anson, "Female Transvestite in Early Monasticism," 12).
46. Acts of Paul and Thecla 28, 33, 35.
47. The Coptic Life of Hilaria has been edited and translated by James Drescher, in Three Coptic Legends, 1-13, 69-82.
48. Life of Hilaria; tr. Drescher, Three Coptic Legends, 2-3, 70-71.
49. Athanasius, Life of Antony 2-3; PG 26:841-45.
50. The use of Antony's call as a model for spiritual conversion and monastic commitment is found elsewhere in early Christian literature, most notably in Book 8 of Augustine's Confessions. There, Augustine recalls how, in a state of spiritual turmoil, he was compelled to open his Bible and read the first chapter he encountered there, in much the same way that Antony, "accidentally coming in whilst the gospel was being read . . . received the admonition as if what was read were addressed to him" (Augustine, Confessions 8.29; tr. J. G. Pilkington, NPNF, 1st ser., 1:127).
51. Athanasius, Life of Antony, Prologue; PG 26:837. See also the Life of Antony, chapter 7, where Antony himself identifies the prophet Elijah as his own ascetic role model, "a mirror in which to study his own life" (PG 26:853).
52. Kathryn M. Ringrose, "Living in the Shadows: Eunuchs and Gender in Byzantium," in Third Sex, Third Gender, 85-109, esp. 94ff.
53. Clement of Alexandria, Stromata 3.15 (ed. Otto Stahlin and Ludwig Fruchtel, in Stromata 1-4 [Berlin: Akademie, 1985], 97-99); Gregory of Nazianzus, In Praise of Athanasius (PG 35:1106). For other similar early Christian attitudes toward eunuchs, see Ringrose, "Living in the Shadows," 89.
54. Life of Apolinaria, f. 216 v.-217 r.; ed. Drescher, Three Coptic Legends, 157.
55. Life of St. Mary/Marinos 5; ed. Richard, "Vie ancienne de Sainte Marie surnommee Marinos," 88, line 37; tr. Constas, Holy Women of Byzantium, 8.
56. Life of Hilaria; ed. Drescher, Three Coptic Legends, 6, 75. This scenario corresponds to ancient social realities. A lack of facial hair and other secondary male sexual traits (body hair, fully developed masculine musculature, deep vocal range) was characteristic of eunuchs who were castrated before puberty (Ringrose, "Living in the Shadows," 91). Many such eunuchs were dedicated to monasteries as young boys.
57. Life of Pelagia 12-13; tr. Benedicta Ward, Harlots of the Desert: A Study of Repentance in Early Monastic Sources (London: Mowbray, 1987), 73. Ward makes her translation from the Latin text (PL 73:663-72). The Syriac text of the Life of Pelagia has been translated by Sebastian P. Brock and Susan Ashbrook Harvey, Holy Women of the Syrian Orient, updated edition (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998), 40-62.
58. Life of Euphrosyne 9; AASS, February 2:538 (Latin text). For an English translation made from a Syriac manuscript of the Life of Euphrosyne, see Lewis, Select Narratives of Holy Women, 46-59. During the Byzantine era, eunuchs were regularly employed as advisors and confidantes in the imperial court: Shaun Tougher, "Byzantine Eunuchs: An Overview, with Special Reference to their Creation and Origin," in Women, Men and Eunuchs (London: Routledge, 1997), 168-84, esp. 168-73.
59. Life of Matrona 4; AASS, November 3:792; tr. Featherstone, Holy Women of Byzantium, 22.
60. Life of Matrona 5; AASS, November 3:792-93; tr. Featherstone, Holy Women of Byzantium, 23-24.
61. Ringrose, "Living in the Shadows," 95.
62. Life of Eugenia, f. 30a; tr. Lewis, Select Narratives of Holy Women, 11.
63. Life of Eugenia, f. 22b; tr. Lewis, Select Narratives of Holy Women, 3 (my italics).
64. Life of Eugenia, f. 26a; tr. Lewis, Select Narratives of Holy Women, 6.
65. Life of Eugenia, f. 39a; tr. Lewis, Select Narratives of Holy Women, 20.
66. Anson, "Female Transvestite in Early Monasticism," 17ff.
67. Life of Eugenia, f. 34a-37b; tr. Lewis, Select Narratives of Holy Women, 15-19.
68. Life of Susannah; AASS, September 4:151-60, esp. 155ff.; Anson, "Female Transvestite in Early Monasticism," 25-26.
69. Life of Theodora; PG 115:665-89.
70. Life of St. Mary/Marinos; Richard, "Vie ancienne de Sainte Marie surnommee Marinos," 83-94; tr. Constas, Holy Women of Byzantium, 7-12. For other examples of false charges of paternity in hagiographical literature, see Paul Canart, "Le nouveau-ne qui denonce son pere. Les avatars d'un conte populaire dans la litterature hagiographique," AB 84 (1966): 309-33.
71. Life of Apolinaria, f. 218 r.; ed. Drescher, Three Coptic Legends, 158-59.
72. Life of Hilaria; ed. Drescher, Three Coptic Legends, 79ff.
73. Life of Margaret; AASS, July 4:287; Anson, "Female Transvestite in Early Monasticism," 11. The date of Margaret's legend is uncertain.
74. Shalom Goldman, The Wiles of Women/The Wiles of Men: Joseph and Potiphar's Wife in Ancient New Eastern, Jewish, and Islamic Folklore (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1995), 79-90.
75. Genesis Rabbah 86:6; tr. H. Freedman and M. Simon, Midrash Rabbah, 3rded. (London: Soncino Press, 1983), 2:805. Among the Muslim writers who suggest that Joseph inherited his beauty from his mother Rachel are al-Tabari , Ta'rikh al-rusul wa'l-muluk (The History of al-Tabari), SUNY Series in Near Eastern Studies (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1987), 2:148, and al-Tha'labi, Qisas al-Anbiya' ('Ara'is al-majalis) (Cairo: Shirkat al-Shamarli, 1994), 109-11.
76. Genesis Rabbah 84.7; tr. H. Freedman and M. Simon, Midrash Rabbah, 2:774; cf. Louis Ginzberg, The Legends of the Jews (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1909-38/1937-66), 2:44 and 5:338 n. 106; and S. Goldman, Wiles of Women, 82.
77. Jerome, On Genesis 37.36 (CCL 72:45).
78. Babylonian Talmud, Sotah 13b: "And Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh's bought him, Rab said: 'He bought him for himself; but Gabriel came and castrated him, and then Gabriel came and mutilated him [pera' ], for originally his name is written Potiphar, but afterwards Potiphera" (tr. I. Epstein, The Babylonian Talmud; Seder Nashim [London: Soncino Press, 1935], 3:69-70; for other sources that preserve this tradition of Potiphar's desire for Joseph, see Ginzberg, Legends of the Jews, 2:43 and 5:337-38 n. 101). A number of early Jewish commentaries interpret Potiphar's title of saris as indicating that he was a eunuch, and therefore of elastic sexual proclivities (Goldman, Wiles of Women, 84-85). The writers of Jubilees and The Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs also identify Potiphar with Potiphera, named in Gen 41.45 as the parent of Asenath, Joseph's future wife ( Jubilees 40.10 and The Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs, Joseph 18.3; ed. and tr. R. H. Charles, The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1913], 2:71, 352).
79. Life of Hilaria; ed. Drescher, Three Coptic Legends, 6, 75.
80. Life of Apolinaria, f. 216 v.; ed. Drescher, Three Coptic Legends, 157.
81. Life of Pelagia 14; tr. Ward, Harlots of the Desert, 74. For a recent treatment of this passage that emphasizes its reworking of biblical subtexts, see Lynda L. Coon, Sacred Fictions: Holy Women and Hagiography in Late Antiquity (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1997), 82-83.
82. Wilfong, "Reading the Disjointed Body in Coptic," 116-36.
83. Life of Susannah 13; AASS, September 4:158. This episode in the Life of Susannah closely resembles the Coptic Martyrdom of SS. Paese and Thecla, where Thecla--an Egyptian namesake of the more famous Greek Thecla--suffers similar tortures (having her breasts cut off, having burning oil poured down her throat: Martyrdom of SS. Paese and Thecla 75 R i.20ff.; ed. E. A. E. Reymond and J. W. B. Barns, Four Martyrdoms from the Pierpont Morgan Coptic Codices [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1973], 64ff.). The similarities between the two accounts may suggest an intertextual connection between the Life of Susannah and the Martyrdom. The Martyrdom of SS. Paese and Thecla itself is intertextually dependent on the Acts of Paul and Thecla (Davis, Cult of Saint Thecla, 177-90).
84. Life of Matrona 4; AASS, November 3:792; tr. Featherstone, Holy Women of Byzantium, 22-23.
85. Life of Matrona 10; AASS, November 3:795; tr. Featherstone, Holy Women of Byzantium, 29.
86. Acts of Paul and Thecla 26; Lipsius and Bonnet, Acta Apostolorum Apocrypha, 253-54.
87. Life of Matrona 4; AASS, November 3:792; tr. Featherstone, Holy Women of Byzantium, 22.
88. Life of Matrona 3; AASS, November 3:791-92; tr. Featherstone, Holy Women of Byzantium, 21.
89. Eva Catafygiotu Topping, "St. Matrona and Her Friends: Sisterhood in Byzantium," in KAYHGHTRIA : Essays Presented to Joan Hussey, ed. J. Chrysostomides (Camberley: Porphyrogenitus, 1988), 215 n. 28; C. Mango, "Life of St. Matrona of Perge," in Holy Women of Byzantium, 20-21 nn. 29 and 32.
90. Life of Matrona 11; AASS, November 3:796; tr. Featherstone, Holy Women of Byzantium, 30-31. The Syriac version of Hilaria's life has been edited by A. J. Wensinck, The Legend of Hilaria, vol. 2 of Legends of Eastern Saints (Leiden: Brill, 1913), 9-89.
91. Life of Matrona 49; AASS, November 3:811; tr. Featherstone, Holy Women of Byzantium, 61-62.
92. For a critical edition of Methodius' Symposium, see the text edited by Herbert Musurillo, SC 95.
93. The author of the Life reports that it was a nun named Eulogia from Matrona's monastery who originally recorded the details of Matrona's life ( Life of Matrona 50; AASS, November 3:812; tr. Featherstone, Holy Women of Byzantium, 62).
94. My emphasis on intertextuality in the legends prioritizes synchronic readings over diachronic ones: indeed, as one theorist has put it, the phenomenon of intertextuality "introduces a new way of reading that destroys the linearity of the text" (Laurent Jenny, "The Strategy of Forms," in French Literary Theory Today: A Reader, ed. T. Todorov [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982], 44).
95. Life of Matrona 6 and 51; AASS, November 3:793-94, 812; tr. Featherstone, Holy Women of Byzantium, 26, 63.
96. Life of St. Mary/Marinos 11; Richard, "Vie ancienne de Sainte Marie surnommee Marinos," 90, lines 89-90; tr. Constas, Holy Women of Byzantium, 9.
97. The concepts of "double-voiced" discourse and "polyphony" originated in the work of the Russian literary theorist M. M. Bakhtin. For a cogent analysis of Bakhtin's thought and its implications for theories of intertextuality, see Graham Allen, Intertextuality, 14-30, 159-73.
98. Life of St. Mary/Marinos 18; Richard, "Vie ancienne de Sainte Marie surnommee Marinos," 93, line 145; tr. Constas, Holy Women of Byzantium, 11.
99. I am indebted to one of the external readers for JECS for this anecdote, which illustrates the deconstructive perils of modern publishing ( per litt., May 2, 2001).
100. Brock and Harvey, Holy Women of the Syrian Orient, 14; cf. Harvey, "Women in Early Byzantine Hagiography," 17.
101. Life of St. Mary/Marinos 21; Richard, "Vie ancienne de Sainte Marie surnommee Marinos," 94, lines 174-78; tr. Constas, Holy Women of Byzantium, 12.
102. Life of St. Mary/Marinos 2; Richard, "Vie ancienne de Sainte Marie surnommee Marinos," 87, lines 13-15; tr. Constas, Holy Women of Byzantium, 7.
103. Life of St. Mary/Marinos 18; Richard, "Vie ancienne de Sainte Marie surnommee Marinos," 92, line 136; tr. Constas, Holy Women of Byzantium, 11. Again, I must thank the external reader for JECS for suggesting that I explore the intertextual dimensions of christology in the legends.
104. J. Quasten, Patrology, (Utrecht: Spectrum, 1950), 3:43; Robert C. Gregg, "Introduction," in Athanasius: The Life of Antony and the Letter to Marcellinus (New York: Paulist Press, 1980), 4-5. For an interpretation of the Life of Antony as a mythic story of the Incarnate Word, see David Brakke, Athanasius and Asceticism (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998), 216ff. In early Christianity, Joseph was referred to widely as a type of Christ: see, for example, Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho 91; Cyprian, Epistle 54 and Treatises 9 and 12; John Chrysostom, Homily 84 on Matthew 26:51-54 and Homily 16 on Acts 7:6-7; Athanasius, Festal Letter 10.4 (338 c.e.); Jerome, Letter 48.4-5 and Letter 145 (on the imitation of Joseph as a way of taking up Christ's cross).
105. Elizabeth A. Castelli, Imitating Paul: A Discourse of Power (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1991), 124.
106. Ibid., 126.
107. Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza, In Memory of Her (New York: Crossroad, 1983), 230-40.
108. Epiphanius ( Panarion 49.1) describes a vision experienced by the Montanist prophetess Quintilla, in which Christ appeared to her in female form; for a discussion of this vision, see Christine Trevett, Montanism: Gender, Authority and the New Prophecy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 167-70.
109. On the depiction of Orpheus as a type for Christ in early Christian art, see Henri Leclercq, "Orphee," in Dictionnaire d'archeologie chretienne et de liturgie 12.2 (Paris: Librairie Letouzey et Ane, 1936), 2735-55. One of the more famous examples is a fourth-century wall painting in the Catacomb of Domitilla (the cubiculum of Orpheus): Umberto Maria Fasola B., Die Domitilla-Katacombe und die Basilika der Martyrer Nereus und Achilleus, 3rd ed., Romische und italienische Katakomben 1 (Vatican City: Pontificia Commissione di Archeologia Sacra, 1989), 63-64. The typological connection between Orpheus and Christ was made by both pagan and Christian authors in late antiquity: see, for example, Origen, Against Celsus 7.53 (where the Greek philosopher Celsus draws a parallel between Orpheus and Christ as two divinely inspired men who both died a violent death) and Eusebius, Life of Constantine 4.14 (where Orpheus' ability to charm ferocious beasts with his lyre is compared with how the divine Word used human nature as an "instrument" to soothe and heal the passions of the human soul). Finally, for a discussion of Orpheus as an androgynous figure, see Delcourt, Hermaphrodite, 67-72.
110. Virginia Burrus, "Begotten, Not Made": Conceiving Manhood in Late Antiquity (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2000), 190-92.
111. As argued by Wayne Meeks, "The Image of the Androgyne: Some Uses of a Symbol in Earliest Christianity," History of Religions 13.3 (1974): esp. 165-66.
112. Ibid., 185ff.
113. Describing the interplay of discourses within a text, Roland Barthes also adopts a musical metaphor: "The plural of the Text depends . . . on what might be called the stereographic plurality of its weave of signifiers" ( Image-Music-Text, tr. Stephen Heath [London: Fontana, 1977], 159).

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