Ὅσοι ἀσχολήθηκαν ἔστω καὶ περιστασιακὰ μὲ τὰ πρωτοχριστιανικὰ μαρτυρολόγια ἔχουν παρατηρήσει σὲ ὁρισμένα ἀπὸ τὰ κείμενα αὐτὰ μιὰ ἀσυνήθιστη κι ἐξωπραγματικὴ ἄσκηση βίας. Ὅσο κι ἂν τὰ βασανιστήρια ἦταν δεδομένα στὴν Ρωμαϊκὴ Αὐτοκρατορία, οἱ ἐντατικοὶ βασανισμοὶ διάρκειας ἑπτὰ καὶ εἴκοσι χρόνων, σίγουρα θὰ ὑπερβαίνουν κάθε ὅριο ἀνθρώπινης ἀντοχῆς. Μὰ τὸν καῖνε, μὰ τὸν κρεμᾶνε ἀνάποδα, ὁ μάρτυρας εἶναι πρακτικὰ ἀθάνατος, καὶ μόνο μὲ ἀποκεφαλισμὸ ἀπαλλάσσονται ἀπὸ τὴν παρουσία του οἱ Ἐθνικοί. Συνεπῶς, κάτι ἄλλο δείχνεται μὲ τὸν ὑπερβολικὸ τονισμὸ τῆς βίας στὰ μαρτυρολόγια, καὶ ὄχι ἡ ἀνύπαρκτη μαζοχιστικὴ τάση τῶν πρώτων Χριστιανῶν ἢ ἡ θανατολαγνεία τους· οὔτε ἡ ἀνυπαρξία τῶν μαρτύρων ἢ τοῦ μαρτυρίου, φυσικά. Στὴν πραγματικότητα, βασισμένοι σὲ προϋπάρχουσες ρωμαϊκὲς ἀντιλήψεις γιὰ τὰ βασανιστήρια, νέες ἀλλὰ καὶ παλαιότερες, οἱ Χριστιανοὶ συνέχισαν ἀλλὰ καὶ ἀντέστρεψαν νοηματικὰ τὴν ρωμαϊκὴ σχέση βασανιστῆ – βασανιζόμενου. Ὁ βασανισμένος νικᾶ, καὶ δὲν χάνει σὲ σχέση μὲ τὸν βασανιστή (ὅπως γινόταν ἕως τότε), ἡ ὁμολογία ἐνοχῆς (τοῦ ἀνακρινόμενου, διὰ τῶν βασανιστηρίων) πλέον, στοὺς Χριστιανούς, ἀποσπᾶται ἄμεσα: ἄρνηση λατρείας τῶν θεῶν, ὁ βασανιζόμενος κατηγορούμενος γίνεται κατήγορος (τῆς ἀρχαίας θρησκείας καὶ τῶν ἠθῶν της) κ.ο.κ. Ὁ μάρτυρας-ἅγιος ἀπεικονίζεται μὲ τὰ σύμβολα τοῦ βασανισμοῦ του, ποὺ πλέον εἶναι σύμβολα τῆς νίκης. Ἡ ὑπερβολή, λοιπόν, εἶναι ἕνας συνδυασμὸς φαντασίας λόγῳ τρόμου (καὶ μόνο ἡ θέα τῶν ἐργαλείων βασανισμοῦ προκαλοῦσε τρομακτικὲς σκέψεις στὸν μέσο ρωμαῖο πολίτη, καὶ παράλληλα δὲν ὑπῆρχαν ἐφημερίδες) ἀλλὰ καὶ νοηματικῆς στόχευσης.
Recent scholarship has highlighted a new focus on bodily suffering and bodily endurance that developed in the first three centuries of the Common Era. Seneca’s letters, amongst a range of Latin, and also Greek texts, show a veritable transformation of ideas of patientia (patience, ability to bear suffering) and hypomone (endurance), newly promoted as positive virtues, appropriate to men as well as women. […] The Christian concentration on violence and suffering was a highly particular distillation of a very Roman predilection. A wealth of recent academic works has concentrated on the Roman preference for spectacular cruelty: maiming, torture and death, as entertainment. The relationship between Christianity and these ‘dangerous games’ has been, in comparison, neglected. The traditional narrative depicts Christian humanity triumphing over Roman cruelty. While there was Christian criticism of violent entertainment, this criticism was not on the kind of humanitarian grounds we might expect. The concern of the Christian critics, like that of the Stoics before them, was with the harm done to the spectator, rather than the ‘spectated’. […]. While traditionally violence stood to show the power of the inflicter, martyrology reversed the equation. A denial, transformation, or transfer of pain shifted the locus of power, in the arena, and in the text. A denial, transformation, or transfer of pain shifted the locus of power, in the arena, and in the text. The greater the violence, the greater the possibility for victory: the more endurance, fortitude, immunity can be shown. The more the torments are multiplied, the more opportunities the victim has for demonstrating victory. The final result, the death of the victim, is of course the ultimate victory, in the Christian scheme. […]
Behind the terror was the belief that only torture could ultimately guarantee the truth, as expressed in the definition of Ulpian: ‘By Quaestio we mean the infliction of bodily torment and pain for the drawing out of the truth.’ While there was some ancient debate regarding the status of evidence gained in this way, torture was never criticized on principle. […] In the North African martyr texts pain is transformed by its participants in a way which the outsider, the enemy, cannot understand.[…] Late antique martyrology managed to reverse the torture process still further […] The Christian has already confessed his or her ‘crime’: his refusal to worship the Roman gods. The aim of the quaestio thus is not to prove that he is a criminal, and to persuade him to reveal his crime. Rather, the object is to force the accused to obliterate this crime. Martyr and martyrologist transform the whole process, so that the confessio produced by torture is the confession, the witness to Christ. […] A further irony, of course, is that the confession that is produced is one that is, in any case, offered willingly. […] The martyr is calm, unruffled, and able to mock at ease, while his torturers, who supposedly are measuring and controlling the pain they are inflicting, have lost control and become bestialized. The power relations between authority and subject are being reversed. […]. The soul/body disjunction present during the earlier tortures is now even more explicit. However, even a lifeless body has to conquer the torturers in the logic of the martyr act, a paradoxical logic of body/soul relations. Although on the one hand martyr discourse consistently denies the importance of the body and its sufferings, on the other it becomes, in the words of Brent Shaw, ‘the critical site of power discourses that flow through it and are inscribed upon it’. Thus when the corpse of Vincent is exposed to wild beasts, they refuse to touch him […] another transformation meant that the heavenly martyr himself was able to take over the role of iudex, as instigator of tormenta against a very different kind of victim.
L. Grig, Torture and truth in late antique martyrology, Early Medieval Europe, 11.4 (2002) 321-336.