Hrotsvitha of Gandersheim (Latin: Hrotsvitha Gandeshemensis), (c. 935 – c. 1002), was a 10th-century German secular canoness, as well as a dramatist and poet who lived and worked at Gandersheim Abbey in modern-day Bad Gandersheim, Lower Saxony, established by the Ottonian dynasty. She wrote in Latin, and is considered by some to be the first person since antiquity to compose drama in the Latin West. She has also been called "the most remarkable woman of her time."
Each writer who has mentioned Hrotsvitha had his own way of writing her name. Some variations include Hrosvite, Hroswitha, Hroswithe, Rhotswitha, Roswit and modernized Roswitha. Even this long list is not complete. The meaning of this name has been a focus for disagreement. Her name, as she herself attests, is Old Saxon for "strong voice."
Life and background
We do not know Hrotsvitha’s family lineage, at what time she entered the nunnery, or what reasons led her to take the veil. There is no direct evidence concerning the dates of her birth, consecration, and death. Hrotsvitha’s biography largely depends on her own accounts or results of inferential reasoning. For instance, in her historical poem, “Carmen de Primordiis Coenobii Gandersheimensis”, she tells us that she entered the world a long while after the death of Otto (the father of Henry the Saxon), which occurred in 912. From the overall disposition of her works and the position we are sure she occupied at Gandersheim, it is inferred that she was born into the Saxon nobility. Due to the depth of her point of view in her writings, it is widely believed that she took the veil later in life. Also, some scholars think it is quite possible that she had gone through some of the experiences of love and renunciation that are so persistent throughout her legends and plays.
She studied under Rikkardis and Abbess Gerberga, daughter of the German king Henry the Fowler. Gerberga's brother, Otto I, penned a history that became one of Hrotsvitha's poetical subjects, in her Carmen de Gestis Oddonis Imperatoris, which encompasses the period up to Otto's coronation as Emperor in 962.
She was noted for her great learning and was introduced to Roman Writers by Gerberga. Hrotsvit's work shows familiarity, not only with the Church fathers, but also with Classical poetry, including Virgil, Horace, Ovid, Plautus and Terence (on whom her own verse was modelled). Several of her plays draw on the so-called apocryphal gospels. Her works form part of the Ottonian Renaissance.
Scholars have questioned the authenticity of Hrotsvitha's works. Studies examining these works closely and extensively to detect the presence or lack of discrepancies or patterns among them can provide evidence of their authenticity. Thus, analysis of Hrotsvitha's works are important to the discussion of what influence Hrotsvitha, as a woman, and her writing may have actually had on society at that time.
Hrosvitha divided her work into three books:
A. Liber Primus
- 1. Prose introduction
- 2. Verse dedication to the Abbess Gerberg
- 3. Eight legends
- 4. Prose conclusion
B. Liber Secundus
- 1. Prose introduction
- 2. Epistola eiusdem ad quosdam sapientes huius libri fautores
- 3. Six dramas
- 4. Poem on a Vision of St. John (35 lines). Another briefer poem in the Codex is not by Hrotsvitha
C. Liber Tertius
- 1. Prose introduction
- 2. Verse dedications to Otto I and Otto II
- 3. Gesta Oddonis
- 4. Verse introduction
- 5. Primordia Coenobii Gandeshemensis
Hrothsvitha's works fell under the categories of legends, comedies, and plays. Cardinal Gasquet said her works have "a claim to an eminent place in medieval literature, and do honor to her sex, to the age in which she lived, and to the vocation which she followed."
The Book of Legends contained eight legends— with the exception of Gangolf—in dactylic hexameter- the writing style that is most prominent in poetry and can be found in Homer's Iliad and Odyssey.
Hrotsvitha penned a number of legends in verse. Two of these are those of St. Gingulphus and Theophilus.
The story of Theophilus was one of the most popular written in any language. It describes how the young and ambitious archdeacon Theophilus, raised by his uncle in sixth century Antioch, is overcome by disappointment about his lack of promotion in the church. He consults a Jewish sorcerer and is taken to a meeting of devils. Theophilus renounces God in a written document and joins hands with Satan. He gains a position of high influence, and is happy with his power until he begins to repent the sin he has committed. Theophilus requests help from the Virgin Mary in order to reverse his contract with the devil, and ultimately the good trumps the evil, and the contract is terminated. Hrotsvitha supplements the story with her description of Theophilus in The Seven Arts:- De sophiae rivis septeno fonte manantis.
A common theme throughout this legend, which is also applicable to some of the other legends, is the presence of the devil and the constant battle between good and evil. Theophilus's option to side with the devil, but then turn against him is a primary example of this in the text- the good always win. The devil is a common presence in many of Hrosvitha's works, and she characterizes him according to the conventions of her time. Even if the devil himself is not present in the works of Hrosvitha, she often incorporates his sinful characteristics into another character in the work.
The most well known and original of the works of Hrotsvitha is her imitation of Terence. It was written in prose as six comedies. She writes in her preface that her writing will appeal to many who are attracted by the charm of style.
The comedies of Hrotsvitha took the place of Terence in the studies of Gandersheim. Her themes remained love stories. Among them include Gallicanus, Dulcitius, Callimachus, Abraham, Paphnutius, and Sapientia. The reader will note Dulcitius being stricken with illusion, embracing the pots and kettles in the kitchen. In the meantime three lovely maidens, Agape, Chionia, and Hirena, are rescued from his villainy. Dulcitius is the only one of Hrotsvitha's comedies that could really fit the modern sense of the word.
Plays and Drama
Her plays feature the chastity and perseverance of Christian women and contrast these to the perceived Latin portrayal of women as weak and emotional. Her Passio Sancti Pelagii is derived, she says, from an eyewitness to the martyrdom of Pelagius of Cordova.
One of the biggest debates over Hrosvitha's plays is over whether they were ever acted while she was alive. However, they are known to have been performed many times since her death, the earliest confirmation of which was in Paris in 1888.
One of Hrotsvitha's most well known plays was Gallicanus. It was also the first drama she wrote and, like another of her dramas, Calimachus, focuses on the theme of conversion. The central woman in the story is the Emperor Constantine's daughter, Constance. Constance is a consecrated Virgin, while Gallicanus is the Commander-in-Chief of Constantine's army. When Gallicanus tells Constantine that he wants to marry his daughter, Constantine goes to Constance and tells her of Gallicanus' wishes. But Constance is strong in her convictions of chastity, and Constantine supports his daughter's wishes.
Constance has a plan for her father to avoid her having to marry Gallicanus, which he happily goes along with. The conversion part comes in when they plan to have Gallicanus convert to Christianity. Constance's Grand Almoners, John and Paul, see to it that Gallicanus wants to convert when he thinks he might lose a battle, and after his victory Gallicanus has himself baptized and takes a vow of celibacy. Likewise, he informs Constantine that he can no longer marry his daughter, like Constance had planned. Constance is portrayed as an intelligent girl who has dedication and a vow of chastity, a common theme in Hrotsvitha's plays. Her faith is emphasized, as is her perseverance.
Gallicanus is comparable to one of Hrosvitha's eight legends, Agnes. Both highlight the preservation of the main female's virginity and her faithfulness to God, even though the marriage she is being offered is an honorable one. Both also deal with conversion in a very similar way, with the man seeking to marry her eventually converting himself and becoming a follower of Christ. In all of Hrovitha's works that include the preserving of one's virginity, there seems to be a pattern of it being only a female virtue.
Other Works The third book comprised two historical writings in Latin Hexameters: the Gesta Ottonis (a history of the Ottonian houses 919–65) and the Primordia coenobii Gandeshemensis (a history of her order from 846–919). The most important manuscript of her works, containing all the texts other than Primordia, is the Codex Bayerische Staatsbibliothek (Bavarian State Library) Clm 14485, a manuscript written by several, different hands in Gandersehim toward the end of the 10th or start of the 11th centuries. It was discovered by the humanist Conrad Celtis in 1493/94 in the Cloister of St. Emmeram in Regensburg and formed the first edition (illustrated by Albrecht Dürer).
- People were skeptical of her talents because she was a woman who had written plays and this was something Hrotsvitha realized. She said she “put womanly weakness aside and summoned manly strength to her prudent heart,” She did not want to be discredited by people because she was a woman and she said she had the strength of a man within her heart. In the prologue to The Book Of Legends Hrotsvitha states the following “Scorn he should not render at the writer’s weaker gender Who these small lines had sung with a woman’s untutored tongue But rather should he praise the Lord’s celestial grace”. She acknowledges that she is a female and even calls herself a member of the “weaker gender”. She asks her readers to focus on the “Lord’s grace” rather than on her gender because she strongly states that her talent is given to her by God not by being tutored and it should be appreciated not condemned.
Perceptions of Hrotsvitha during her Lifetime
- Since she was one of the first female writers of her time, her work was not taken with the same respect it would have been if she was a man. People were still close-minded on who could write plays and they believed that it could only be a man. Which is why Hrotsvith continued to stress in her writings that people look past her gender because it was god given. She was very spiritual so she credited her talents to god and insinuated that her writing was what he ultimately wanted.
Modern Perceptions of Hrotsvitha
- The Book of Legends is a collection of eight legends and it clearly evident that there is a theme of religion throughout and within this book. The fifth and sixth legend Theophilus, and Basilius, are both based on Latin translations of the vitae of Greek saints. The legends speak about the Faustian tradition in the West and in these legends sinners sell their souls to Satan. In her seventh and eighth poems, which are titled Dionysius, and St. Agnes, Hrotsvitha recounts the martyrdoms of early Christians. These are only a few examples from the Book of Legends and in the other poems she expresses similar themes of Martyrdom, religion and spirituality.
Common Theme of Religion In Her Work
- An example from The Book of Legends was of the legend of Basilius. Basilius, a fourth-century bishop of Caesarea exuded the traits of goodness and the power of Christ on earth by defeating Satan in a physical and verbal struggle for the soul of a servant who has fallen in love with his master’s daughter. Satan causes the couple to “burn in mad desire” in order to turn Christians away from Christ. This man renounces Christ in return for marriage to the daughter. This legend sums up all of the religious themes present in the previous examples mentioned. It includes a battle between good and evil or Christ and Satan. In which she illustrates the powers of Satan to be similar to if not equal in controlling a person to do evil where as Christ would have them doing good.
Modern editions and translations
- Winterfeld, Paul von (ed.) (1902) Hrotsvithae opera. (Monumenta Germaniae Historica; SS. rer. Germanicarum) Available from Digital MGH online.
- Strecker, Karl (ed.) (1902) Hrotsvithae opera.
- Berschin, Walter (ed.). Hrotsvit: Opera Omnia. Bibliotheca Scriptorum Graecorum et Romanorum Teubneriana. Munich/Leipzig, 2001. ISBN 3-598-71912-4
- Pelagius in Petroff, Elizabeth Alvilda, ed. (1986) Medieval Women's Visionary Literature, pp 114–24. ISBN 0-19-503712-X
- Abraham in Petroff, Elizabeth Alvilda, ed. (1986) Medieval Women's Visionary Literature, pp 124–35. ISBN 0-19-503712-X
- Hrotsvit von Gandersheim, Sämtliche Dichtungen; aus dem Mittellateinischen übertragen von Otto Baumhauer, Jacob Bendixen und Theodor Gottfried Pfund; mit einer Einführung von Berg Nagel. München: Winkler, 1966.
- Hrotsvitha von Gandersheim. Munich, 1973 (German translations by H. Hohmeyer).
Since 1973 Bad Gandersheim has annually awarded the Roswitha Prize, named for Hrosvitha, to female writers; since 1974 the Roswitha Ring has been awarded at the close of each summer season of the Gandersheimer Domfestspiele to the outstanding actress.
In 2006, American feminist drama group Guerrilla Girls On Tour issued the "First Annual Hrosvitha Challenge" on their website, announcing that they would bestow the First Annual Hrosvitha Award on whichever professional theater decides "to scrap their plans of producing yet another production of a Greek tragedy and instead produce a play by Hrosvitha, the first female playwright".
- Wilson 1984, pp. 30–63.
- Haight, Anne Lynn (1965). Hroswitha of Gandersheim. The Hroswitha Club. p. 3.
- Jones, Charles W (2001). Medieval Literature in Translation. Mineola: Dover. p. 210. ISBN 0-486-41581-3.
- Hudson, William Henry (July 1888). "Hrotsvitha of Gandersheim". The English Historical Review 3 (11): 431–457.
- Wilson 1984, p. 31.
- Zcydcl, Edwin H. (July 1947). "A Chronological Hrotsvitha Bibliography through 1700 with Annotations". The Journal of English and Germanic Philology 46: 290–294. Retrieved April 22.
- Hudson, William Henry (July 1888). "Hrotsvitha of Gandersheim". The English Historical Review 3: 431–457. Retrieved April 22, 2013.
- Silber, Patricia. Hrotsvit and the Devil.
- Butler, Mary Marguerite (2011). Hrotsvitha: The Theatricality of Her Plays. Literary Licensing. ISBN 978-1-258-18180-2.
- Haight, Anne Lynn (1965). Hroswitha of Gandersheim. The Hroswirha Club. pp. 24–25.
- of Gandersheim, Hrotswitha (1986). Larissa Bonfante and Alexandra Bonfante-Warren, trans. and, ed. The Plays of Hrotswitha of Gandersheim. Oak Park: Bolchazy-Carducci. ISBN 978-0-86516-178-8.
- Haight, Anne Lynn (1965). Hroswitha of Gandersheim. The Hroswitha Club. p. 35.
- Haight, Anne Lynn (1965). Hroswitha of Gandersheim. The Hroswitha Club. pp. 23–24.
- Wilson, Katharina (1998). Hrotsvit of Gandersheim: Her Works. Cambridge: D.S. Brewer. p. 15.
- Johnson, Brenda. "Hrotsvit of Gandersheim Tenth Century Poet and Play Wright". Mount Saint Agnes Theological Center for Women. Retrieved 22 April 2013.
- McDonald-Miranda, Kathryn. "Hrosvit of Gandersheim: Her Works and Their Messages". Cleveland State University. Retrieved 22 April 2013.
- Wilson, Katharina M (1984), "The Saxon Canoness: Hrotsvit of Gandersheim", Medieval Women Writers, Manchester: Manchester University Press, pp. 30–63, ISBN 978-0-8203-0641-4.
- Bodarwé, Katrinette. "Hrotswit zwischen Vorbild und Phantom." In Gandersheim und Essen – Vergleichende Untersuchungen zu sächsischen Frauenstiften, ed. Martin Hoernes and Hedwig Röckelein. Essen: Klartext Verlag, 2006. ISBN 3-89861-510-3.
- Cescutti, Eva. Hrotsvit und die Männer. Konstruktionen von Männlichkeit und Weiblichkeit im Umfeld der Ottonen. Munich, 1998. ISBN 3-7705-3278-3.
- Düchting, R. In: Lexikon des Mittelalters. vol. 5. 148–9.
- Haight, Anne Lyon, Hroswitha of Gandersheim; her life, times, and works, and a comprehensive bibliography. New York: Hroswitha Club, 1965.
- Ker, William Paton. The Dark Ages. Mentor Books, May 1958. pp. 117–8.
- Licht, Tino. "Hrotsvitspuren in ottonischer Dichtung (nebst einem neuen Hrotsvitgedicht)." Mittellateinisches Jahrbuch; 43 (2008) pp.347-353.
- Rädle, Fidel. "Hrotsvit von Gandersheim." In Die deutsche Literatur des Mittelalters. Verfasserlexikon; 4 (1983). pp. 196–210.
- "Roswitha". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 1913.
- "Hroswitha", The Prodigal Daughter Project (biography), Valpo.
- "Latin Entries", Bibliotheca Augustana, DE: FH Augsburg.
- "MGH", Gallica (facsimile), FR: BNF, folio v4.
- Gesta Ottonis (translation) (in German), DE: In facto.
- Disse, D, Hrotsvit, Infi online. Very good site about "Other Women's Voices" with links (Engl.)
- "Roswitha", ADB (article) 29: 283–94
- "Rosvita", Personaggi (article) (in Italian), Storia medievale with pictures.
- "First Annual Hrosvitha Award", Guerrilla Girls On Tour.
- "Opera Omnia", Migne Patrologia Latina with analytical indexes.
- Liber tertius (text, translation, and commentary), Archive.