Monday, April 03, 2006

"Sapientia" and the benefits of theocracy

Invited to suggest a work of fiction about life in a theocracy, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak wrote:
If you don't mind a play, I'd give you Sapientia by Hrotswitha von Gandersheim, which has remained inspiring to feminists because of its use of a theocracy to suggest rational resistance against its enemy.
Hrotswitha, or Hrotsvit, was a Catholic nun who lived in the thriving abbey of Gandersheim in Saxony in the latter part of the tenth century.

A summary of the play:
Sapientia tells the story of a mother, Sapientia, and her three daughters Fides, Spes, and Karitas, confronted by pagan Roman emperor Hadrian, who wants them to renounce their Christianity. Each female character refuses to foreswear her faith, and the three daughters are tortured and killed; then the mother dies in grief. The details of the torture of these martyrs are typical of medieval legends of saints' lives and martyr dramas. Each woman is offered the chance to give up her Christian beliefs. After she refuses, she is subjected to various tortures such as being boiled in tar and pitch and having her body mutilated with knives. In every case, the women are emotionally and spiritually unscathed by the torture, joyfully willing to suffer for their faith until death. Such stories and plays were intended to serve as inspiration to believers, illustrating the power of God to strengthen and aid the faithful in times of trouble or persecution.
Gayatri Spivak is Avalon Foundation Professor in the Humanities at Columbia University.

Among her publications are Of Grammatology (translation with critical introduction of Jacques Derrida's De la grammmatologie), Imaginary Maps, Breast Stories, Old Women (translations with critical material of the fiction of Mahasweta Devi), In Other Worlds, The Post-Colonial Critic, Outside in the Teaching Machine, A Critique of Postcolonial Reason, and Death of a Discipline.

Thanks to Gayatri Spivak for the recommendations.

For the novels about life under theocracies suggested by Joseph Epstein and Todd Gitlin, click here. For the recommendations from K. Anthony Appiah, click here.

--Marshal Zeringue