‘Cannot You Use a Loving Violence?’: Cancer Surgery

  • Alanna Skuse
Open Access
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Literature, Science and Medicine book series


Saint Agatha, an early Christian martyr, was popularly believed to have had her breasts removed as a method of torture. The young Christian, living in ancient Sicily around 231 AD, had caught the eye of the ‘idolatrous’ governor Quintianus, who, angered by her rejection of his sexual advances, had her arrested for her faith and imprisoned in the house of Aphrodisia, a prostitute who attempted to persuade Agatha to welcome Quintianus’s attentions.2 Finding that she remained unmoved, Quintianus ordered Agatha to be tortured by having her breasts mutilated and cut off. Then, infuriated by the composure with which Agatha bore this punishment, he had her thrown into a dungeon and left to die. Quintianus’s final revenge, however, was futile, since Saint Peter appeared to the stricken Christian and restored her breasts. She died after later being rolled on hot coals, an avowed martyr of the faith.


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Copyright information

© Alanna Skuse 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Alanna Skuse
    • 1
  1. 1.Folger Shakespeare LibraryUSA

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