Publication Date



Hrotswitha, women's issues, medieval rhetoric


Even without external corroborating evidence, we may infer from her works that the nun Hrotswitha (Hrotsvit in Saxon) lived in Saxony during the second half of the tenth century. Because she seems to have had considerable freedom of movement and expression for a woman at that time, writing about worldly affairs evidently with some personal knowledge of them, she was most likely a canoness, that is, not fully cloistered. She must have visited the courts of the Saxon kings, probably more than once, since she chronicles their exploits and composes poetry of a type briefly popularized by a scholar in residence there. Her family, therefore, belonged in all probability to the aristocracy. Steeped in women's issues that are seen from an astoundingly modern outlook, at the same time her works use ancient and medieval rhetorical strategies with remarkable confidence and intelligence. That she composed plays, whether to be produced on stage or not, demonstrates furthermore an unusually close familiarity with the classical tradition and attests to a high level of erudition for anyone, much less a woman in her day. All in all, she is clearly one of the finest writers, indeed minds, of the Ottonian resurgence.