Food for the body, the body as food: Roman martyrs and the paradox of consumption [chapter]

Nicola Denzey Lewis, Jörg Rüpke, Anna-Katharina Rieger, Emiliano Urciuoli, Maik Patzelt, Valentino Gasparini, Rubina Raja
2020 Lived Religion in the Ancient Mediterranean World  
Each year in Sicily, Sicilians commemorate the life and death of Saint Agatha, a young woman martyred in antiquity, by consuming small cakes in the shape of a female breast. How did such a curious practiceeating a specific food shaped like a female body partcome to commemorate a late antique martyrdom, and when? This paper considers the curious conflation of bodiesparticularly martyrial bodiesand food in late antique Christian martyrial legends, and explores how gender and consumption work
more » ... nsumption work together in text and literature to produce a distinctive preoccupation with body parts, fluids, meat, milk, and breadsometimes positive, sometimes negative, and occasionally meant to evoke disgust or even delight. Each February 5th in the city of Catania, Sicilians commemorate their patron saint, Agatha. The heady mix of pious Catholic ritualextravagant and deeply feltand raucous street celebrations provides rich opportunities for considering "lived religion." The festival is resolutely modern in many waysit continues unabated in 21st century Italyand yet, it centers around a young woman believed to have been martyred in 251 CE, linking modernity with antiquity. How a modern Italian community evokes the collective memory of their patron saint is a fascinating and huge topic, albeit one that I cannot fully explore here in a project dedicated to antiquity. Nevertheless, this contribution to LAR's final meeting conference volume will focus on one particular element of this Catanian feast. During these festal days, in memory of Agatha's sexual mutilation at the hands of her torturers, Sicilians bake and consume mimetic food: small cherry-topped iced cakes known as minne di Sant'Agata or, in Sicilian dialect, minnuzzi di Sant'Ajta -Saint Agatha's little breasts. Why do Catanians "eat" Agatha? How do they do so, and why? Historian Cristina Mazzoni, in her wonderful book on women, cooking, and religious behaviors, terms the minne "edible icons of sexual sadomasochism" whose white icing "highlights rather than covers the perversion they evoke" (Mazzoni 2005, 81). Is this not a curious way of commemorating a saintto make her severed sexual
doi:10.1515/9783110557596-015 fatcat:ubvzfsh3irh6nf2ugmyuvccdju