Extraordinary Women of the Medieval and Renaissance World: A Biographical Dictionary

By Carole Levin; Debra Barrett-Graves et al. | Go to book overview

HROTSVIT OF GANDERSHEIM
(Roswitha, Hrosvitha)
(ca. 932/935-1001/1002)

Germany
Poet, Dramatist, and Historian

Hrotsvit, the Canoness of Gandersheim, lays claim to a host of extraordinary achievements. In the introduction to her dramas, Hrotsvit calls herself the strong voice of Gandersheim ( Clamor Validus Gandeshemensis). Hrotsvit is the first known nonliturgical dramatist of Christianity. Based on hagiography (the writing of saints' lives), her innovative dramas anticipate the revival of theater in the Middle Ages by approximately one and a half centuries. In addition to her original contributions to drama, Hrotsvit has earned a place in the history of women as the first female German poet and historian.

The benefactors of the religious foundation of Gandersheim (ca. 852)--DukeLiudolf and his wife Oda--also have the distinction of being the ancestors of the illustrious Ottonian Dynasty, whose monarchs first consolidated their rule in Saxon Germany. During the reign of the Ottos, Germany became one of the strongest and most enlightened European states. Otto I, known as Otto the Great ( 912- 973), received a succession of imperial crowns and titles: King of the Germans ( 936), King of the Lombards ( 951), and the title of Holy Roman Emperor ( 962). Not only was Otto I an exceptionally gifted statesman; he was also an avid patron of learning and of the Church.

Imperialism, learning, and faith thrived under the Ottos in a cultural renaissance regarded as a continuation of the ninth-century revival of learning known as the Carolingian Renaissance. Otto's brother, Bruno, the Archbishop of Cologne, brought artists and scholars from Constantinople to the German court. When the emperor's son, Otto II, took Theophano, a Greek princess, as his wife, Greek culture and philosophy continued to influence the German court.

In 947 Otto I decreed the foundation of Gandersheim free from

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