PELAOIA, ST. An Antiochene saint of this name, a virgin of fifteen years, who chose death by a leap from the housetop rather than dishonour, is mentioned by Ambrose (Be Pirg., iii. 7, 33 sq.,'Ep. xxxvii. act &mid.), and is the subject of two sermons by Chrysostom. More famous is the story of another Pelagic of Antioch, a famous ballet-girl of the town, who, in the full flower of her beauty and guilty sovereignty over the youth of the city, was suddenly converted by the influence of the holy bishop Nonnus, -whom she had seen and heard for a moment as he preached in front of a church which she happened to pass with her gay train of attendants and admirers. She sought out Nonnus, and her tears of genuine penitence overcame his canonical scruples ; she was baptized, and, disguising herself in male attire and in the dress of a penitent, she retired to the grotto on the Mount of Olives which still bears her name, and there died after three years of strict penance. This story, which seems to combine with the name of the older Pelagia some traits from an actual history referred to by Chrysostom (Horn. lxvii. in Mat. § 3), is preserved in a narrative bearing the fictitious name of John, a deacon of the equally fictitious Nonnus, which by internal evidence is assigned by Usener to the second quarter of the 5th century. Usener, however, has shown that the very popular legend has a much older basis, and that, in common with a number of other female saints, including Marina or MARGARITA. (y.v.), and Pelagic of Tarsus, whose story is closely akin to the Marina legend, Pelagia is only a Christianized travesty of an old local form of Aphrodite. The name of Marina or Pelagia is an epithet of Aphrodite ; the parallel figure of Anthusa in Seleucia of Cilicia bears a name to be explained by the Anthers of Cnossus ; the corresponding saint at Tyre is Porphyria, corresponding to Venus Purpurissa, The contradictory attributes of a pure virgin and a penitent are explicable in legends proper to the Syrian coast, where Astarte-Aphrodite had correspondingly opposite forms and character ; the masculine garb of the converted Pelagia is to be explained from the hermaphrodite Aphroditus -Aphrodite of western Asia, the Cyprian Amathusia.
Sec Usener, Legenden der hailigen Ringlet, Bonn, 1879, and Gildemeister's edition of the Syriac version of the legend of Pelagia of Autioch, Bonn Univ. Progr. of 22d March 1879.