Roswitha of Gandersheim
ROSWITHA OF GANDERSHEIM
German poet, canoness of the monastery of Gandersheim; b. c. 935; d. after 1000. Her education was fostered by Rikkardis and Gerberga, the niece of otto i;
both were later abbesses at Gandersheim. The Latin works of Roswitha (Hrotsvitha, Hrosvitha), edited by Conrad Celtes in 1501, consisted of metrical legends, dramas, and historical problems and epics. Her works reveal something of her personality—she wrote in utter secrecy until she was finished, not confiding in anyone—and are evidence of an education surprisingly good in the 10th century. She was a product of her times, and yet had an unusual acquaintance with the writings of antiquity.
Roswitha's earliest works are eight legends in Leonine hexameters or elegiac distichs, dealing with the pagan-Christian conflict so recurrent in the monastic literature of the Middle Ages. In the Theophilus a compact with the devil forms the leading idea and is one of the earliest expressions of this now familiar Faustian theme. Her historic poems provide valuable source material for early German history.
The largest portion of Roswitha's works includes her six dramas or comedies. These are Gallicanus, Dulcitius, Callimachus, Abraham, Paphnutius, and Sapientia. The plots of these plays are taken from ecclesiastical legends. The literary form of Roswitha's plays belongs to the ancient rather than the modern drama. As a self-acknowledged pupil of Terence she belongs to the classical world. She was an imitator, not an originator. In two important aspects, however, Roswitha did depart from classical precedent. She entirely disregarded the law of unities exemplified in Terence, and she admitted into her dramas a combination of the tragic and comic not to be found in the works of her prototype.
The works of Roswitha, primarily didactic and moralistic in tone, show little understanding of dramatic structure. For all the promise of further tuition from classical antiquity they displayed, her writings were apparently neglected in the Middle Ages, and were without influence before the Renaissance. In recent times her works have been translated and modern adaptations of her plays have received limited performance.
Bibliography: Hrotsvithae opera, ed. p. de winterfeld, Monumenta Germanica Scriptores rerum Germanicarum (1902) v.59. The Non-dramatic Works of Hrosvitha, ed. and tr. m. g. wiegand (St. Louis 1936); Hrosvithae Liber tertius, ed. and tr. m. b. bergman (Covington, Ky. 1943). f. j. e. raby, A History of Secular Latin Poetry in the Middle Ages 1:277–278. Geschichte der lateinischen Literatur des Mittelalters 1:619–632. f. l. cross, Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church 660–661.
[c. e. sheedy]