Polycarp’s martyrdom shows many aspects of masculinity that are present throughout Christian, Jewish, and Greco-Roman martyr tradition. His courage and acceptance of death and suffering, and his control of emotions are themes that make up the collective identity of Christian martyrs. Often, Christian martyrs are individuals who would otherwise not be thought of as having masculine traits. These people include youth, women, and elderly men. These identifying features “illustrate the superiority of Christian masculinity”, because even those traditionally thought of as weak are able to overcome pain and fear through the power of God (Cobb, 62). The author of The Martyrdom of St. Polycarp describes the Jews and other Roman’s involved in Polycarp’s execution as a lawless mob full of “uncontrollable rage” (7-9). These descriptions portray these other groups as being devoid of the honorable masculine traits that Polycarp and other Christian martyrs are often given in these martyr narratives.
The Martyrdom of Polycarp served as an example for Christian martyrs in its emphases on an imitation of the crucifixion of Jesus (The Martyrdom of St. Polycarp, 17). Many aspects of this narrative are obviously meant to bring forth images of this fundamental martyrdom story which forms the base for martyrdom as part of the collective Christian identity. In the second paragraph of The Martyrdom of St. Polycarp the author says that Polycarp behaved “just as the Lord did…that he might be delivered up, that we might be his imitators” (3). It seems as though Polycarp was thought of as a sort of savior like Jesus Christ in that any who followed his example would be saved. Even some specific details are similar to the life of Jesus and his crucifixion. The author makes a point to say that “the police captain” who ordered Polycarp’s execution “was called Herod” which alludes to the story of King Herod in the bible (The Martyrdom of St. Polycarp, 7). Another important detail emerges when Polycarp is being burned alive. Polycarp’s “body could not be consumed by the fire” so one of the executioners stabs him with a dagger so that he will die faster (The Martyrdom of St. Polycarp, 15). This is reminiscent of Jesus’s crucifixion. When he has been on the cross for some time and still has not died, the Roman soldiers become impatient and one of them stabs him in the side so that he will die more quickly. It seems that The Martyrdom of St. Polycarp and other similar Christian martyrdoms are just extensions of that one fundamental martyrdom that defines the religion.