As a nun, what were Hroswitha of Gandersheim's extraordinary accomplishments?

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Hroswitha of Gandersheim was herself a nun and later a canoness. She is described as:

Nun, playwright, and the first woman historian of the Germans.

She is thought to have been of aristocratic birth, and entered the convent at approximately twenty-three years of age.

In joining the nunnery, Hroswitha was carefully and conscientiously educated, a right that would not have been afforded to many women of that time; she dedicated herself to learning, and this would have been of particular importance in becoming a canoness. With this title, she would be permitted to leave Gandersheim, interacting with the world at large, especially at court.

Hroswitha of Gandersheim was particular about the quality of her work, turning always to God, rather than herself, for credit. She wrote:

Sometimes I compose with great effort, again I destroyed what I had poorly written...[so that] the slight talent...given me by Heaven should not lie idle in the dark recesses of the mind and thus be destroyed by the rush of neglect.

In her essay of 1960 regarding Hroswitha of Gandersheim, Sister Mary Marguerite Butler wrote that the...

...reading of the prefaces which she composed for each of her individual works, as well as an analysis of the content and style of her writing, reveals the character of the woman, her great stature as a religious, and her status as a writer.

Hroswitha would eventually become a Benedictine canoness; she wrote a total of six plays. Whereas they were inspired by Terence, a Roman playwright, her focus was much different. Her plays and other writings dealt with, for instance, the subject of chastity. She also wrote Faust-like works where human beings traded their souls to the Devil for worldly goods, but unlike Faust, characters were saved—one by the Virgin Mary. Whereas Terence's works were secular, Hroswitha's writings were firmly based upon her religious beliefs. Technically, her works are separated into three types:

...eight holy legends and saints' lives in verse, six dramas in the manner of Terence, and two narrative poems.

Hroswitha compiled her works at Gandersheim, which was...

...recognized as a center of intellectual and religious activity.

Historically, Gandersheim enjoyed the protection of the German Holy Roman Emperor Otto I. (Hroswitha would one day write about Otto I and his descendants.) Under the "patronage" of Otto I, the abbess at Gandersheim would have been permitted to have...

...her own court, knights, and the right to coin money and attend the meetings of his Diet.

Hroswitha spent almost the entirety of her adult life at Gandersheim. It is estimated that Hroswitha was probably born in 935 and died approximately 1003; she would have been close to seventy years of age.

 

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