Saturday, December 24, 2011

Saintly Saturday: St. Eugenia of Rome

Christmas Eve is the Feast day of St. Eugenia the Nun-martyr of Rome. Though born in Rome, St. Eugenia actually grew up in Alexandria because her father was sent there to be the Prefect of Egypt by Emperor Commodus (A.D. 180-192).

During a period when Christians were banned from the city, she encountered the Epistles of St. Paul. This made her wish with all her heart to become a Christian — something she kept secret from her parents. Under the pretense of enjoying the countryside at a family estate outside the city, she arranged to be taken to a monastery to learn more about Christianity.

There she was baptized by the Bishop Elias who learned of her coming through a vision. He then blessed her to pursue asceticism at the monastery disguised as the monk Eugene.

Having a gift for healing, she garnered the attention of a rich young woman named Melanthia. Wishing to lure what she thought was a young monk away from the ascetic life, she threw herself at the saint. When spurned, she accused St. Eugenia of rape. The trial went before her father, the Prefect, where she was forced to reveal her true identity.

Eventually, the rest of her family came to believe in Christ and her father (as Prefect) was shortly thereafter martyred. The family then moved back to Rome, where St. Eugenia was eventually arrested and martyred herself.

Personally, this is one of my favorite stories among the lives of the saints. I think it has to do with the fact that I have a soft spot for Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night and stories like it. I love the drama created by mistaken identity — especially when that mistaken identity is one that is chosen rather than forced. As I have been meditating upon this story this week, it occurs to me that this is one of the reasons why I also have a soft-spot for half-orcs — the demi-human race I prefer over all others.

I have to admit, though, that I am not overly fond of the various iterations of half-orc that came out after 1ed AD&D. The reason I like this version better than all others can be found in the description of half-orcs in the PH:
Orcs are fecund and create many cross-breeds, most of the offspring of such being typically orcish. However, some one-tenth of orc-human mongrels ore sufficiently non-orcish to pass for human.
Furthermore, because of this affinity towards humanity, half-orc player characters are able to be all of these various classes. The implication is that the other 90% of half-orcs are functionally orcs — 1 HD monsters.

Thus, half-orcs (if played according to their description) do not go around proudly declaring their orcish heritage, but rather hide it choosing, rather, to disguise themselves as humans so as to blend into a society in which they believe they can eek out a better life. This could also be true of half-elves (those that choose to live in human society — which brings up the very interesting question as why they chose human over elvish society).

Unfortunately, our tendency as role-players is to play half-orcs and half-elves as full-blooded orcs or elves with a different set of mechanical advantages (I am guilty as the next guy). This can be seen in the fact that 3ed half-orcs look and play like orcs in virtually everything except name. Personally, I think the source of this tendency is the Racial Preferences Table, which all but declares that half-orcs despise just about everybody, lending credence to the idea that they are open about being an orc.

How much more interesting would it be, though, if all of that antipathy were kept secret? What if there was a real incentive to pretending to be human and avoid detection as a half-orc (or half-elf)? This is when stories of mistaken identity of our own creation can become part of play — where we can make our own Eugenias and Violas.

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