The martyred tongue: the legendaries of Prudentius and Theresa Hak Kyung Cha

Abstract

This essay compares the treatments of language, suffering, and resistance in Prudentius’ Peristephanon and Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s Dictee, themes unified in the motif of the injured tongue. Both Prudentius and Cha craft fictionalized autobiographies by recounting stories of legendary martyrs, Christian in the Peristephanon, women in Dictee. In doing so, they explore the fallibility of historical records, reflect on the relationship between writing and torture, and meditate on muteness, linguistic signs, and the physical production of speech. A comparison with Prudentius sheds light on Cha’s innovative fusion of Christian hagiography and the classical tradition with meditations on Korean history and women’s bodies. At the same time, reading Prudentius through Cha reveals his strategy of undermining the authority of the pagan classics by using Latin with a Christian sense. Both authors insist on the potential of narrated trauma to transform subjection into power.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Find Philomela in Anderson (1977, Bk 6, ll. 556–557), Fulvia in Tempest (2014, 2), Hyperides in Roisman and Worthington (2015, 68), Timycha in Taylor (1818, 102), Jerome in White (1998, 76), Huneric in Marcellinus Comes (1844–1864, col. 933c), Equitius in Vogüé (1979, 44) and Dumitrescu (2013, 47), Leudegar in Baraz (2003, 51), other passions in Delehaye (1921, 281) and Baraz (2003, 51).

  2. 2.

    Carla Mazzio offers a similar catalogue of vulnerable tongues in Renaissance writing (1998, 103–104).

  3. 3.

    Citations of Prudentius are from Cunningham’s edition (1966) and refer to poem number and lines; citations of Dictee are from a reprint edition (Cha, 2001). The original 1982 Tanam Press edition bore the title Dictée. Translations are mine, but I have consulted Thomson’s translation of Prudentius (1953).

  4. 4.

    For a nuanced history of Dictee’s reception, see Yu (2009, 100–137).

  5. 5.

    However, Kim also emphasizes the importance of reading Cha as a Korean-American woman, and that refusing to do so is ‘a kind of reverse Orientalism’ that assimilates Cha to dominant white culture (1994, 22).

  6. 6.

    In his 1772 Treatise on the Origin of Language, Johann Gottfried von Herder imagines language beginning with the inarticulate cries of an animal in pain (Herder, 2004, 65).

  7. 7.

    For a book-length, but not exhaustive, study of Pe. 10, see Henke (1983). Pe. 10 may have been set aside due to its length. Walther Ludwig claims its use of the iambic trimeter marks it as a closet drama, an experimental Christian tragedy (1977, 336).

  8. 8.

    Chew (1995, 210), Bhabha (2005, 121–131), Schechter (2011, 269), Matter-Seibel (2012, 169).

  9. 9.

    Prudentius’ reclamation of classical literature and Latin language for Christian use is in line with other Late Antique authors such as Juvencus and Proba (Trout, 2005, 552–554). Recent studies of the period’s use of the classics include Pollmann (2017) and McGill and Pucci (2016).

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Dumitrescu, I. The martyred tongue: the legendaries of Prudentius and Theresa Hak Kyung Cha. Postmedieval 8, 334–351 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41280-017-0056-0

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