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"Nor are you touched by the emotion that overcame Eve": sexual desire and female sexual renunciation in the works of Bishop Avitus of Vienne

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posted on 2022-03-28, 17:10 authored by Catherine Rosbrook
Alcimus Ecdicius Avitus lived at the turn of the sixth - century AD. He was bishop of Vienne, a see located in the Burgundian Kingdom. His surviving works, including a letter collection, two poems (De spiritalis historiae gestis and de consolatoria castitatis laude) and several homiletic fragments, have been previously noted by scholars for their political and theological content. My thesis provides a new perspective on Avitus : I argue that the theme of sexuality features prominently throughout his works. To demonstrate my argument, I reconstruct the beliefs Avitus held about two particular aspects about of sexuality, sexual desire and female sexual renunciation, by drawing upon his various texts. I suggest that in his writings Avitus consistently depicts sexual desire as a destructive, contaminating force, which he believed capable of tainting the act of sex, the institution of marriage, and the process of reproduction. I then propose that Avitus believed the contaminating effects of sexual desire can be minimised through a commitment to sexual renunciation. According to Avitus, female renunciants in particular are entitled to significant worldly and heavenly benefits as a reward for resisting the temptations of sexual desire and exhibiting great willpower. Throughout the thesis I show that Avitus' beliefs about both sexual desire and female sexual renunciation recall the theologies of his forebears, Ambrose, Jerome and Augustine. Given the wide circulation of these men's works in late - antique Gaul, it is likely that they could have influenced Avitus' own writings about sexuality. Although Avitus' works do not survive in the volume Ambrose's, Jerome's or Augustine's do, I contend that they are nonetheless significant and worthy of recognition for the information about sexuality they contain. I hope to show that the pervading themes of sexual desire and female sexual renunciation render Avitus' letters, poetry and, to a lesser extent, his sermons, unique and significant sources for the place of sexuality in post - Roman, pre - Mero vingian Gaul.


Table of Contents

1. "One had to speak of sex": Status quaestionis -- 2. "It was a frequent practice to read writers whose artistry was of a similar kind": Sexuality in the writings of Avitus' forebears Ambrose, Jerome and Augustin -- 3. "A disgusting urge tries to prove your bodies foul": Sexual Desire in the Works of Avitus -- 4. "Who is so barbaric as not to envy the happiness of this virgin?": Female Sexual Renunciation in the Works of Avitus.


Theoretical thesis. Bibliography: pages 66-76

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis MRes


MRes, Macquarie University, Faculty of Arts, Department of Ancient History

Department, Centre or School

Department of Ancient History

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Neil Bronwen


Copyright Catherine Rosbrook 2019. Copyright disclaimer:




1 online resource (vi, 76 pages) 1 colour illustration

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