Do you remember Hrotsvit (Roswitha) of Gandersheim, mentioned in the survey of world literature that you took as an undergraduate? “The first female German poet, the first dramatist of Germany, the first person in Germany to employ the Faust theme, etc.”—but who cared? Because Hrotsvit, the canoness of the Imperial Abbey of Gandersheim, wrote her legends, plays, and epics in Latin, they were for many years a lost treasure for everyone except scholars.
In a labor of love, Katharina Wilson has now translated Hrotsvit’s Latin dramas into rhymed, rhythmic English prose. Wilson has included a very read able introduction that summarizes the action and setting of each play. She also describes the excitement of the German humanists who discovered the original manuscripts of Hrotsvit’s works and published them in 1501.
Wilson’s training in philology and rhetoric is a gossamer-thin academic robe through which Hrotsvit’s artful writing sparkles. Hrotsvit wrote her dramas in answer to the pagan plays of Terence so that “the mind might be stirred to reflection, the heart to love, and the reader to moral improvement.” Even modern readers will be moved by such elemental stories as “The Conversion of the Harlot Thais.”
A noble task, nobly done, / Full of virtue veiled with fun.
[The Dramas of Hrotsvit of Gandersheim, translated by Katharina M. Wilson; Saskatoon: Matrologia Latina/Peregrina Publishing]