Medieval History

Select Sources Full Texts Saints' Lives Law Texts Maps Search Help

Selected Sources Sections Studying History End of Rome Byzantium Islam Roman Church Early Germans Celtic World Carolingians 10 C Collapse Economic Life Crusades Empire & Papacy France England Celtic States Iberia Italy Intellectual Life Medieval Church Jewish Life Social History Sex & Gender States & Society Renaissance Reformation Exploration
IHSP Credits

The Plays of Roswitha: Roswitha's Preface to Her Poetical Works

(The Life Story of the Blessed Virgin, The Fall and Conversion of Theophilus, The Martyrdom of Saint Agnes, Poems concerning the First Cenobites at Gandersheim, The Acts of Otho I, etc., etc..)

I OFFER this little book, which has not much to recommend it in the way of beauty, although it has been compiled with a good deal of care, for the criticism of all those learned people who do not take pleasure in a writer's faults but are anxious to amend them. I am well aware that in my first works I made many mistakes not only in prosody but in literary composition, and there must be much to criticise in this book. By acknowledging my shortcomings beforehand I hope I am entitled to ready indulgence as well as to careful correction of my mistakes. To the objection that may be raised that I have borrowed parts of this work from authorities which some condemn as apocryphal, I would answer that I have erred through ignorance, not through presumption. When I started, timidly enough, on the work of composition I did not know that the authenticity of my material had been questioned. On discovering this to be the case I decided not to discard it, because it often happens that what is reputed false turns out to be true. In these circumstances I shall need as much assistance in defending this little work as in improving it. It must be remembered that when I began it I was far from possessing the necessary qualifications, being young both in years and learning. Up to the present I have not submitted the work to any experts much as I needed their advice, for fear that the roughness of the style would make them discourage me to such an extent that I might give up writing altogether. Unknown to all round me, I have toiled in secret, often destroying what seemed to me to be ill written, and rewriting it. I have tried to the best of my ability to improvise on phrases collected from sacred writings in the precincts of our convent at Gandersheim. I was trained first by our most learned and gentle novicemistress Rikkarda and others. Later, I owed much to the kind favour and encouragement of a royal personage, Gerberga, under whose abbatial rule I am now living. She, though younger in years than I, was, as might be expected of the niece of an Emperor, far older in learning, and she had the kindness to make me familiar with the works of some of those authors in whose writings she had been instructed by learned men. Although prosody may seem a hard and difficult art for a woman to master, I, without any assistance but that given by the merciful grace of Heaven (in which I have trusted, rather than in my own strength), have attempted in this book to sing in dactyls. I was eager that the talent given me by Heaven should not grow rusty from neglect, and remain silent in my heart from apathy, but under the hammer of assiduous devotion should sound a chord of divine praise. If I have achieved nothing else, this alone should make my work of some value. Wherefore, reader, whosoever you may be, I beg you, if you think it right before God, to help me by not sparing censure of such pages as are poor and lack the skill of a master. If, on the contrary, you find some that stand the test of criticism, give the credit to God, ascribing all defects to my shortcomings. Do this in an indulgent rather than in a censorious spirit, for the critic forfeits the right to be severe when the writer acknowledges defects with humility.


Hrotsvitha, ca. 935-ca. 975. The Plays of Roswitha. Translated by Christopher St. John, with an introduction by Cardinal Gasquet and a critical preface by the translator.(London, Chatto & Windus, 1923)

Scanned in and HTMLed by C. Liang <>

This text is part of the Internet Medieval Source Book. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts related to medieval and Byzantine history.

Unless otherwise indicated the specific electronic form of the document is copyright. Permission is granted for electronic copying, distribution in print form for educational purposes and personal use. If you do reduplicate the document, indicate the source. No permission is granted for commercial use.

Paul Halsall, October 1999