Academic journal article Magistra

Ego Clamor Validus Gandeshemensis Hrotsvitha of Gandersheim: Her Sources, Motives, and Historical Context

Academic journal article Magistra

Ego Clamor Validus Gandeshemensis Hrotsvitha of Gandersheim: Her Sources, Motives, and Historical Context

Article excerpt

Hrotsvitha, "the strong voice" of Gandersheim, as she styles herself in her Preface (Old Saxon Hrôthsuith), was a canoness of the imperial convent of Gandersheim, whose compositions are a testament to the intellectual heights attained by a select group of female religious during the Ottonian Renaissance.2 In addition to the Primordia Coenobii Gandeshemesnis (Primordio), Hrotsvitha also wrote the Gesta Ottonis, a history of the Ottonian Dynasty, as well as eight legends and six dramas which depict the vitae of selected saints. Her dramas especially have received a great deal of attention from scholars whose interpretations impose an astounding variety of motives on Hrotsvitha. This essay will attempt to analyze the motivations behind one of those dramas, the play commonly referred to as Dulcitius, but more appropriately entitled Agape, Chionia, and Hirena (Agape), after the heroines rather than the villain.3

The passage quoted above is an excerpt from the Preface to her plays that plainly lays out her purpose in writing. A surprising number of scholars have presented critiques of Hrotsvitha's plays, and especially Agape, in which they either disregard or misinterpret both the historical context of the author and this detailed Preface to her works. Considering the plays as disembodied pieces of literature, they offer analyses based on modem conceptions of gender and sexuality projected onto an age in which such viewpoints cannot be considered as historically relevant.

The author, however, should be allowed to speak for herself. Hrotsvitha's Preface to her plays presents a rare glimpse into the intentions of the author as she lays before the audience a clear motivation for her subject matter. Scholars of Hrotsvitha are truly fortunate to have such a candid message from the author herself to consult, and no accurate analysis can be reached without placing the Preface at the foundation of the study.

However, the goal of this essay is not just to examine her intentions for writing this particular play. Some scholars neglect the fact that Hrotsvitha's plays are not solely derived from her own creative efforts.4 All six of her plays are based on previously collected martyr legends, or "Passions," which Hrotsvitha has essentially rewritten in the dramatic form. Several authors have referred to Hrotsvitha's original source when discussing Agape, but it appears that no comprehensive study has been presented which thoroughly considers Hrotsvitha's dramatic version in relation to this source.

A study of the relationship between these two works is a crucial element to an accurate analysis of Agape. No theories regarding Hrotsvitha's intentions can be arrived at without first understanding which elements were already present in a preexisting body of knowledge and which were conceived of by Hrotsvitha herself. The questions then arise: What changes did Hrotsvitha make to the original martyr legend and why? What does Hrotsvitha's interpretation of this passion tell modem scholars about her intellectual milieu and the condition of women in the tenth century?

In distinguishing the changes and additions Hrotsvitha made to the original legend this study takes analysis a step further and offer a more nuanced and comprehensive analysis of Hrotsvitha's Agape, Chionia, and Hirena, one that treats the Preface together with the historical context in which Hrotsvitha was writing. It also suggests that her compositions have a deeper meaning in light of the contemporaneous Gandersheim conflict, during which the canonesses were forced even to resort to arms for the preservation of their autonomy. Agape not only serves as a depiction of female triumph, but also makes a larger statement regarding Gandersheim's independence as a women-operated institution under attack from an external male threat seeking to jeopardize their way of life.

Hrotsvitha 's Preface

Hrotsvitha's Preface to her dramas was intended to act as a message to her audience laying out her intentions, her motivations, and her method for her writings. …

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