Interpreting Blood: Saint Margaret & Alypius

Group: Spencer, Jonah, Spencer, Jo

Imagine brutal slasher horrors with flesh being ripped from bone and dripping chainsaws. The victims scream and plead for their lives. Blood sprays across the walls, the ceilings, and the camera. Viewers might flinch, or cover their eyes and look away. 

There is something so visceral and gruesome about blood. Imagine anything awful; imagine that scene from a horror movie where the victim is torn in half and cut into pieces. 

Now imagine it again, without the blood. Does it feel incomplete? Does it feel, somehow, less violent or awful? 


In Tiberius’ account of the life of Saint Margaret, blood is a powerful imagery. It is more than something that merely runs in the veins of humanity; rather, it is something that carries significance and meaning, enough so to cause reactions in and dictate the actions of men. The prefect Olibrius, after beating Margaret, “covered his face with his cloak, for her could not look upon her because of the blood,” (121). It is the blood, and not the sight of her tortured body, that stops him from looking upon her. As well, when she is beaten so that, “her blood flowed to the ground as water does from the purest spring,” (119) we see an outcry from the onlookers. More specifically: “and all the women who stood there wept bitterly because of the blood,” (119). What is it about the sight of blood alone that evokes such visceral, powerful reactions from all involved? Why is it the blood that horrifies them, and not the rest of Margaret’s broken form? Surely it is not the act of drawing blood that is heinous or sinful, or else the prefect would have refrained from doing so in the first place. It is something more specifically about the sight of blood.


The impact of the sight of blood is brought up in a different text as well: Augustine’s Alypius also shows an instance where the sight of blood is evocative of powerful consequences. In the text, Alypius is a student of Augustine, one who develops an obsession with gladiatorial games which Augustine finds distasteful and immoral. After citing an intervention by God, Augustine reports that Alypius realizes the error of his ways and stops going to the games. Alypius even denounces the games, and shows an avulsion to them; however, pressured by his peers, he is later brought to one in Rome. He declares that although they can physically place him in the amphitheater, he will refuse to look and attend, thereby creating a separation within himself between the physical and the mental/spiritual. He manages this for a while, but eventually hears a great roar from the crowd and is overwhelmed by curiosity. He opens his eyes.

“That shout, entering his ears, made his eyes fly open. The mind thus buffeted and overthrown was more rash than steady, and all the weaker for reliance on itself rather than on [God]. The minute he saw blood, he was sipping animality, and turned no more away” (121).

The sight of blood almost appears to corrupt Alypius. The passage then goes on to describe the madness of the spectacle and how Alypius has changed from the man he was before he looked. It seems then that seeing blood shattered the separation he had managed to block between his spirituality and his physicality; he was no longer able to distinguish between them, and was thereafter both physically and mentally/spiritually in the amphitheater, watching and witnessing the games he had denounced earlier. 


Seeing blood must be important. The prefect covers his face; the women are horrified; and Alypius is corrupted, all through the commonality of witnessing blood. Could that be why the prefect covered his face – to maintain some part of his spirituality or a virginity that Alypius lost when he looked? Is it the blood itself – the very sight of red – or rather, what it represents that is important: suffering and pain, nearly synonymous with blood. Perhaps to look upon blood is to acknowledge that the bleeder is suffering, and the prefect could not bear to face the reality that he had wounded this woman. As well, blood is necessary for life. It sustains us, and without it we would die. Blood is also not normally seen, because it is inside the body – if it is visible, that implies injury or harm. Something has gone wrong. To see someone bleeding is to see them dying, as they lose that which sustains them. Maybe that is the true horror that blood symbolizes: death, and suffering. And though the two texts are very different, it is interesting to see that their treatment of blood has such commonalities between them. 

Saint Margaret by Joan Reixach

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