Sunday, January 09, 2005

The Young Martyr

As I have mentioned earlier, I have been reading Eusebius’ History of the Church. I’ve reached the part where he covers the Great Persecution under Roman emperors Diocletian and Maximin, and indeed it was very horrific. What is curious to me is Eusebius’ attitude about suicide. As far as I can recall, Xtians have always opposed suicide under all circumstances. I did notice however that Eusebius, with no hint of censure on his part, mentioned several cases, in his lengthy accounts of the persecution, where Xtian women committed suicide, often by drowning themselves in a nearby river, rather than endure impending sexual assault at the hands of Roman soldiers, or others, who were acting as tools of the persecution. Eusebius seemed to think that suicide was commendable in this case. While I am not trying to make too much out of this, I did find it curious, and it might provide a different perspective on the well known painting by Paul Delaroche, entitled “The Young Martyr”. In the painting, we have a beautiful young maiden, hands bound, floating dead in the clear water of a river. Although it is late evening, the background being dark, a heavenly light shines down from above upon her, and an aureole is depicted just above her head, an artistic convention indicating a martyr. However, there is no indications of the cause of death, and no apparent wounds are seen anywhere, so presumably the young lady died by drowning. What I wonder is whether in this case the painter Delaroche was harkening back to the incidents mentioned by Eusebius, and thus is implying that the lady chose to drown herself rather than have her chastity assaulted. I really don’t know for sure, but the painting might have such an interpretation.