The Vestal Nun: The Afterlife and Reception of Vestal Virgins in Art and Literature in Late Antiquity and After
Journal article, Peer reviewed
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Original versionJournal of Early Christian History. 2021, 10 (2), 8-27. 10.1080/2222582X.2021.1926302
This article traces some strands of the reception of Vestal Virgins from Late Antiquity through the Middle Ages and to the modern era. An in-depth study of all available sources is beyond the scope of this article, but a survey of some popular and often widely diffused texts from these periods may give us an indication of the “afterlife” of the Vestal Virgins. The study starts by discussing some examples from different kinds of literature where the notion of the Vestal Virgins as “proximate others” to the virgins of the Church is encountered, before turning to the remarkable concept of incestum as a term specifically applied to describe the loss of sacred virgins’ virginity. The main argument is that the Vestal Virgins came to be irrevocably entangled with later conceptualisations of Christian virginity, and that the representation and reception of Vestal Virgins as “same but not-same” as Christian virgins played an important part in conveying these underlying comparative conceptualisations of the Vestals.