School of Humanities



Judith Nichols

Phone: (+61 8) 9315 1404


Start date

Mar 2010

Submission date

Jul 2014

Judith Nichols


Jerome’s Women: Creating identity and fashioning scholars


This research will reappraise Jerome’s letters as they relate to women, particularly in the light of ancient epistolography: what its conventions were, how it might be employed for the writer’s purposes and its taxonomy. It will be suggested that although Jerome’s letters reveal a difficult person, he is no mere ranter against women in general. In his letters to women and about women he creates a persona of the erudite, yet humble ascetic who has rejected all the worldly aspirations of a Roman of his class. In addition he reinterprets in ascetic terms the traditional roles of patrician women, fashioning a woman free from the trials of family life and devoted to the pursuit of biblical study. His reinterpretation of the ideal Roman woman is contrasted with that described by Pliny in his letters.

Why my research is important

While recent scholarly research has begun to explore Jerome’s search for identity, the comparing and contrasting of the attitude of Pliny and Jerome to the women of patrician rank is a fresh approach. Both writers use a similar taxonomy of women in senatorial society as betrothed, matron and widow. Jerome, it will be argued, sought to transform the Roman understanding of the family into terms of the new dispensation, while maintaining the categories. In addition both men used their association with high-ranking women to dissociate themselves from past associations which militated against the image they wished to project.

A re-evaluation of Jerome’s attitude to women. This thesis will investigate how Jerome was viewed by his contemporaries with regard to women scholars; the seriousness with which he approached the mentoring of women in their study of the Scriptures, and the fact that unlike Pliny he encouraged learning independent of the senior male family member.

An understanding of the conventions of epistolography in antiquity may bring new light on Jerome’s purposes and aspirations particularly in his relationship with women.


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