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Chapter Three "Sorcerer" Alliances, Enmities, and the Death of Priscillian
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Severus' concise report supplies most of our information about the journey made by Priscillian, Instantius, and Salvianus following their departure from their Spanish churches. The three bishops apparently crossed the Pyrenees through the western passes and followed a route "through the interior of Aquitaine."[1] In Aquitaine they campaigned actively and successfully for support. They seem to have directed their course toward Agen and Bordeaux, perhaps hoping to obtain letters from bishops Phoebadius and Delphinus confirming that they had not been condemned at the Council of Saragossa. Along the way the travellers stopped at Eauze, where they made a favorable impression: Severus reports that Instantius, Salvianus, and Priscillian "with depraved speeches perverted the people of Eauze, who were indeed at that time good and devoted to religion."[2] This passage indicates that the Christians of Eauze had not formerly been supporters of Priscillian; there is no evidence that Priscillian had followers in Aquitaine before his departure from Avila.[3]

From Eauze the travellers continued on to Bordeaux, where they likewise met with a strong, although by no means universally favorable, response. Indeed, if the Spaniards had hoped for Delphinus' support, they were disappointed: according to Severus, Priscillian and his companions were driven out of town by the bishop himself.[4] This seemingly dramatic gesture of hostility invites comparison with the previous reception of the ascetic bishops in Merida; there, as we have seen, they were met by a crowd of Bishop Hydatius' supporters, who barred them from the pres-bytery and beat them with sticks. The situations at Merida and Bordeaux were by no means identical: Priscillian and his friends presumably approached the bishop of Bordeaux as supplicants, rather than as mediators or ever accusers, as had been the case in Merida. However, Delphinus' action suggests that the presence of the Spanish bishops in Bordeaux, as in Merida, was perceived as a sufficiently serious threat to the unity of the local Christian community and to the authority of its bishop to require a public gesture of repudiation. Here again, we need not hypothesize some early "Priscillianist" influence in Bordeaux to explain either Delphinus' original motivation for attending the Council of Saragossa or his response to Priscillian's subsequent appearance in Bordeaux. Not only is such a hypothesis poorly supported by the sources; it also seems misleadingly to externalize the causes of Delphinus' defensiveness, which must finally also be explained in terms of the dynamics of the local community.


That Delphinus had some reason to fear lack of support from powerful members of the local community is confirmed by Severus' report that certain well-placed Christians of the region readily patronized Priscillian's circle in spite of their bishop's strong repudiation of the Spaniards. Indeed, Euchrotia, widow of the well-known rhetorician Attius Tiro Delphidius, received the Spanish ascetics hospitably on her estate, where they remained for at least a brief period.[5] It was probably also at this point that a certain Urbica of Bordeaux became a supporter of Priscillian. A Priscillianist Urbica is known to us from an entry in Prosper's Chronicle (c. 433): "At Bordeaux a certain disciple of Priscillian by the name of Urbica was stoned to death by a mob on account of her obstinacy in impiety."[6]

This Urbica is probably to be identified with the aristocratic Pomponia Urbica who was related by marriage to the poet Ausonius and who is commemorated by the same poet in his Parentalia .[7] Pomponia Urbica seems to have died in the mid 380s after a brief widowhood;[8] thus the date of her death, as well as her name and provenance, supports her identification with the Priscillianist Urbica. Moreover, Ausonius' portrayal of Pomponia Urbica reflects personal ambivalence and an apologetic intent, which could plausibly derive from Pomponia Urbica's embarrassing association with Priscillian and her unseemly death at the hands of an anti-Priscillianist mob in Bordeaux.

Ausonius opens his brief poem by praising his subject in stereotypical terms for her high birth and old-fashioned morals, emphasizing her identity as the wife of the respected Julianus Censor. He acknowledges the strength of her innate qualities, but moves quickly to emphasize the influence of her husband's teaching and example:

Strong in inborn virtues and enriched also by those that her spouse, that
      her father and mother taught—
That Tanaquil, that the Pythagorean Theano possessed, and that
      perished without copy in the death of her husband.[9]

The coupled allusions to Tanaquil and Theano, both known for their close partnerships with their husbands, are double-edged. Although each could be interpreted as a symbol of traditional Roman wifely virtue, contributing to Ausonius' positive depiction of Pomponia Urbica as a devoted wife and virtuous woman, both Theano and Tanaquil were foreigners, one Greek, the other Etruscan, and both took on social and religious roles unusual for a woman, one being a Pythagorean philosopher, the other an interpreter of omens and a powerful queen.[10] It is thus possible that, as one scholar has suggested, the "novelties of the Priscillianists" may be alluded to in the comparison of Pomponia Urbica to Theano, wife of Pythagoras


and member of a sect known for its secrecy, asceticism, and tolerance of female participation.[11] The reference to Tanaquil, who was skilled in both divination and politics, may function similarly to evoke Pomponia Urbica's disturbing religious activities, as well as her notable courage and independence, particularly since Ausonius seems to use the figure of Tanaquil elsewhere to imply Priscillianist leanings.[12] Final support for the identification of Prosper's Priscillianist Urbica with Ausonius' Pomponia Urbica is found in Ausonius' emphasis on Pomponia Urbica's readiness for death.[13]

And if fate had allowed you so to exchange, Censor would still live now
     in this time of ours.
But you were not tormented for long by widowhood, joining your
     husband immediately through your desired death.[14]

In these lines, poetic reinterpretation seems to transform an unseemly martyr's death into a classical manifestation of wifely virtue.

Severus does not mention Urbica by name, whether out of ignorance of her story or because he, like Ausonius, had some reason to be embarrassed by her death. He does, however, report that Euchrotia and her daughter Procula joined Priscillian, Instantius, and Salvianus on their journey to Rome. He refers sarcastically to the "disgraceful and, to be sure, modest company, including wives and even unrelated women" who accompanied the bishops.[15] Although the group may have included married couples, it is more likely that Severus simply knew that Priscillian was criticized for travelling with Euchrotia and Procula; from this seed he grew his "company" of women, who included not only wives—which, he implies, might have been scandalous enough—but even "strange" or "unrelated" women (alienis etiam feminis ). The bishops at Saragossa had used the same term—alienus —to object to the mingling of women with "strange" men in the Priscillianist study groups, thereby implying the scandal of both heresy and sexual promiscuity.[16]

Severus adds that it was the "common talk" that Euchrotia's daughter Procula had become pregnant through the "violation" (stupro ) of Priscillian and used herbs to abort the pregnancy.[17] Ausonius seems to offer independent confirmation of the existence of such a rumor when he refers to the "mistake" (errore ) of Delphidius' daughter.[18] The report probably stemmed originally from local outrage at Priscillian's having left Aquitaine with "strange" or "unrelated" women, particularly younger women. We are reminded that the bishops at Saragossa had been particularly concerned to limit and control young female ascetics.[19] The choice of older women like Euchrotia to lead an ascetic life was more easily accepted than


were their daughters' vows of celibacy.[20] Indignation at the young girls' rejection of conventional social roles—above all, the duty to procreate—combined with heightened suspicions of sexual immorality in the young.[21]

The motivations of the Gallic women who accompanied the Spanish bishops on their journey are unknown. Perhaps Euchrotia hoped to use her money and influence to aid Priscillian's cause in Italy. Possibly she and the others were taking advantage of the opportunity to hear the famous bishop of Milan preach or to make a pilgrimage to the holy shrines in Rome.[22] Severus makes no further reference to Procula and mentions Euchrotia again only in the context of her execution at Trier. The understatement and ambiguity that characterize Severus' representation of Priscillian's elite female supporters evoke the multiple interpretive possibilities available to the late-ancient historian and his readers. The familiar and all-pervasive relationships of patronage and friendship might always be made suspect, becoming tinged with the conspiratorial and the effeminate by their hinted dislodgement from the public sphere of legitimate masculine governance.

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