Passio Sanctarum Perpetuae et Felicitatis, vol. I: Textum Graecum et Latinum ad fidem codicum mss., edidit Cornelius Ioannes Maria Ioseph van Beek. Accedunt Acta brevia SS. Perpetuae et Felicitatis, Noviomagi, Dekker & Van De Vegt, 1936.
The Passio Perpetuae et Felciitatis focuses on the events surrounding the martyrdom of six young African catechumens, from their arrest to their deaths. The text comprises three distinct parts attributed to different authors. An anonymous redactor composed a prologue, the account of the arrest, episodes relevant to the martyrdom (in particular the depiction of combat with wild beasts in the amphitheater at Carthage), the final beheading, and an epilogue (§1-2, 14-21). He inserted into this broader narrative two “diaries” that purports to have been composed in prison by Perpetua (§3-10) and Satyrus, the group’s catechist (§11-13). Perpetua’s writings focus above all on a series of dramatic encounters with her pagan father interspersed with four visions / dreams. Satyrus describes a vision of his own. Nine manuscripts of the text have survived in Latin, and in 1890 a Greek copy was discovered in a codex from Jerusalem. A shorter, later version of the Latin text also exists (Acta brevia); this Acta gives greater attention to the interrogation and introduces some significant changes in relation to the primary account.
The work has raised many questions, the majority of which remain open, on the identity of the redactor (an earlier hypothesis that it was Tertullian has now been abandoned); on the nature of the original version (the prevalent thesis being that the Latin text came first, owing to linguistic and stylistic differences between the three parts that are more evident in the Latin); on the redactor’s views on Montanism (he tends to belittle Montanist influence); on the authenticity of the diaries (with some believing them inventions of the redactor); on Perpetua’s level of education (be it lower or higher); and on her cultural references (biblical and classical). Particularly striking is the formal quality of her writing: despite using vulgar elements, Christianisms, harsh syntax, and a poor lexicon, it is nevertheless expressive and forceful, capable of joining the sublime and the tragic with the realism of ordinary life. For these reasons, it has been identified as a typical example of sermo humilis (Auerbach). A debate has recently arisen concerning the relationship between the Acta brevia and the Passio, as some scholars maintain that the Acta preserve material that is both ancient and reliable. [C. Mazzucco; tr. C. L. Caterine].