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Title: An 'Apocryphal' Role Model Allowing for a Different Lifestyle
Subtitle: Olympias as a Late Antique Thecla
Author(s): NICKLAS, Tobias
Journal: Ephemerides Theologicae Lovanienses
Volume: 96    Issue: 3   Date: 2020   
Pages: 509-519
DOI: 10.2143/ETL.96.3.3288588

Abstract :
Even though the Acts of Paul and Thecla were not accepted as a canonical writing, the figure of Thecla played a decisive role both in ancient and medieval Christian popular devotions and in the construction of active roles for women in ecclesiastical contexts that tried to marginalize them. The article asks how the non-canonical figure of Thecla could be used to justify alternative models of female life-style in Late Antiquity. It focuses on the Life of Olympias, a fifth-century writing about a wealthy upper-class woman who after the early death of her first husband refused to marry again and, instead, chose an ascetic way of life. The Life of Olympias constructs an open space for an educated upperclass woman like Olympias in which she transforms herself into an individual who is no longer defined by her sex, or even further, into a person transcending gender. At the same time several aspects of the original Thecla image had to be suppressed. Olympias can no longer be understood as a teacher of both men and women, but must be seen as subordinate to a holy man and an inspired teacher like John Chrysostom. There is also no room for the erotic aspects at play in the Acts of Paul and Thecla: eros has been replaced by agapē. Nonetheless, this open space can be understood as an 'other space', beyond the canon, which means that even for groups that acknowledge the canon and its authority, canonical texts are unable to control the whole variety of life situations that can be derived from them.

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