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19 - Female Characters as Modes of Knowing in Late Imperial Dialogues: The Body, Desire, and the Intellectual Life

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 October 2023

Lewis Ayres
Affiliation:
University of Durham and Australian Catholic University, Melbourne
Michael W. Champion
Affiliation:
Australian Catholic University, Melbourne
Matthew R. Crawford
Affiliation:
Australian Catholic University, Melbourne
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Summary

From the Socratics to Augustine, men used women’s voices in philosophical dialogues to speak as experts on the body, especially in three aspects: birth, the physical details of death, and erotic desire. These connections were inaugurated by Plato and Xenophon. However, a changing anthropology, and especially the belief that the body persisted after death, led certain Christian authors to increase the role given to female characters. When the body was revalued and brought into the centre of philosophical focus, women’s voices moved from reported speech into direct speech. Simultaneously, late ancient Christian authors reflected on the inherent connection between erotic desire and the genre of the dialogue itself, matching their subject to their form. Using female characters in their dialogues helped male authors come to know certain things that using male voices could not do as well, by thinking through specific topics ‘like a woman’; the female, with her culturally embodied nature, became a model of an ideal life which insisted on the persistence of the body, even in the afterlife.

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The Intellectual World of Late Antique Christianity
Reshaping Classical Traditions
, pp. 347 - 365
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2023

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