book cover for Perpetua's Journey

Perpetua’s Journey

Jennifer Rea
Jennifer Rea, associate professor of classics, is the second Liberal Arts and Sciences faculty member to collaborate with illustrator Liz Clarke for a graphic history book. Examining issues of power, gender, and religion in the ancient world, Perpetua’s Journey: Faith, Gender, and Power in the Roman Empire is a graphic history set in Roman Africa in 203 CE that tells the story of the Christian martyr Perpetua.

Vibia Perpetua was a young mother who lived in Roman Africa and, at the age of 22, chose to publicly proclaim her Christian faith. She died as a result of her actions, though she did not die alone; she was part of a group of Christian martyrs, including several slaves, who were placed in prison and then executed in Carthage during the birthday celebrations of Emperor Septimius Severus’s son in 203 CE. Perpetua’s diary, which is the first extant diary of a Christian woman, contains her account of the days leading up to her martyrdom.

Says Rea, “I have always been intrigued by Vibia Perpetua’s story because her narrative differs from other tales of Christian martyrs. She writes about her feelings in a way that allows us to relate to her, as a young mother and daughter: she describes her fights with her father over the fact that she has become a Christian, she relates how frightened she is to be in prison, and she reveals her deep love for her son.

“When an editor at Oxford University Press (OUP), Charles Cavaliere, approached me about writing a text for OUP’s graphic history series, I saw an opportunity to write a book about Perpetua that could offer a unique and immersive way to learn about life in Roman Africa. I also immediately thought about how Perpetua recounts a series of visions she has before her martyrdom. Her visions are incredibly detailed and full of visual imagery that I knew would translate beautifully into sequential art. Making this text was a highly creative process; I had to research what daily life was like in ancient Carthage and write historical commentary on all aspects of it. I then worked with an OUP artist, Liz Clarke, to make Perpetua’s story relevant to a modern audience in the graphic portion of the book: I translated her diary from Latin into English, and then turned it into a storyboard, with text that accompanied Liz’s pictures.”