Hrotsvit of Gandersheim: Her Works and Their Messages
McDonald-Miranda, Kathryn A. (Cleveland State University)
Master of Arts in History, Cleveland State University, College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences (2010)
Hrotsvit of Gandersheim, a poetess and playwright during the tenth century, created a body of work that both reflected and instructed people in her society. During this period, Europe witnessed extensive societal changes including the reemergence of the Holy Roman Empire, the eastward expansion of Christianity, and a cultural development known as the Ottonian Renaissance. The imperial court, emphatic sponsors of the arts, approved of the legends, dramas, and histories written by Hrotsvit as Christian alternatives to popular pagan literature. The following text presents interpretations of the legends and dramas identifying how they functioned as didactic devices intended to cultivate particular perceptions of non-Christians while simultaneously providing an idealistically defined Christian society. A new translation of her preface to the dramas confirms the argument that Hrotsvit had intended visual productions of her dramas while grammatical analyses of the legends and dramas further support the position of oral deliveries. Transmitted orally, the works could then reach the largely illiterate population without compromising the aesthetic appeal appreciated by the elites. Investigations into the sources Hrotsvit may have used and the changes she made enable a better understanding of how one woman, representing the aristocratic and religious communities, envisioned her world.
The reign of Otto I (936-73) marked a pronounced transformation in the social and geographical landscape of the Holy Roman Empire. The Ottonians asserted their secular supremacy in contrast to their Carolingian predecessors, who had received their authority, albeit symbolically, from the pope. Henry I (919-36) had, for example, refused the traditional anointing by the pope upon his ascension. Otto I, Henry’s successor and son, received his coronation in 962 with all the pageantry fitting for an emperor. His rule, however, was far from absolute. Internal rebellions and external conflicts marred Otto’s reign from the beginning and the frequent warfare represented only one aspect of the tenth century. It was during this time that lay investiture began as well as a cultural resurgence commonly referred to as the Ottonian Renaissance. The three are significant together because it was in the context of the two former that the authors of the latter composed their works. One author in particular stands out for her contributions: Hrotsvit of Gandersheim (c 935-c 1000). Her opus consists of eight legends, six plays, two historical epics, one poem, and a series of letters and prefaces to the works. It is from these letters and prefaces that scholars have pieced together the particulars of her life.