From Classical Antiquity to the present, virginity has been closely allied with power: as someone who chooses a life of celibacy retains mastery over his or her body. Sexual potency withheld becomes an energy-reservoir that can ensure independence and enhance self-esteem, but it can also be harnessed by public institutions and redirected for the common good. This was the founding principle of the Vestal Virgins of Rome and later in the monastic orders of the middle ages. Mythical accounts of goddesses and heroines who possessed the ability to recover their virginity after sexual experience demonstrate a belief that virginity is paradoxically connected both with social autonomy and the ability to serve the human community. Virginity Revisited is a collection of essays that examines virginity not as a physical reality but as a cultural artefact. By situating the topic of virginity within a range of historical 'moments' and using a variety of methodologies, Virginity Revisited illuminates how chastity provided a certain agency, autonomy, and power to women.
This is a study of the positive and negative features of sexual renunciation, from ancient Greek divinities and mythical women, in Rome's Vestal Virgins, in the Christian martyrs and Mariology in the Medieval and early Modern period, and in Grace Marks, the heroine of Margaret Atwood's novel Alias Grace.
Judith Fletcher is an associate professor in the Department of Classics at Wilfrid Laurier University. Bonnie MacLachlan is an associate professor emerita in the Department of Classical Studies at Western University.