Ecclesiastical drama "Aabraham"
Ecclesiastical drama by Hrotsvit of Gandersheim "Aabraham" (10th century)
Festival project: Director:Anne Maasik, leading roles: Raivo Adlas, Eevald Aavik, Miina Laanesaar, Anu Ander; music provided by "Festivitas Artium. Schola".
The name of Hrotsvit of Gandersheim would probably ring no bells for an Estonian who is not a philologist or a medievalist. The writings of this woman who lived more than a thousand years ago (c. 935-972) have not been available in Estonian so far. She was probably not widely known in her lifetime either as the only known manuscript with her work was found by the humanist Conrad Celtes in St Emmeran's monastery only in 1493 and it was published in 1501.
Hrotsvit came from the German aristocracy and lived in the Gandersheim Benedictine nunnery where the abtess persuaded her to write down in Latin the history of the nunnery (Primordia coenobii Gandersheimensis) and a longer a poem about the heroic deeds of Emperor Otto (Gesta Ottonis). She has also recorded in hexametres eight legends about saints (in the manner of Virgil and Ovid) and written six plays with the following introduction: There are many Catholics to be found who prefer pagan books to the holy ones for their elegant style and this is a circumstance which we can never adequately explain away. There are others who stick to the Scriptures and although they deride the pagans, they still often read Terence's fables; while they enjoy his smooth language, they let themselves be contaminated by learning ungodly things. Thus I, the Loud Cry of Gandersheim, have not refused to imitate him while others pay their respects by reading him; that is why in the same manner in which the foul deeds of pampered women are recited the chaste and laudable deeds of holy virgins are described. /---/
The dramas are written in rhythmic prose the periods of which frequently rhyme, though not always happily or noticeably. The text is full of quotations from the Old and New Testament, paraphrases, religious turns of phrase, liturgical reminiscences etc. Besides the ancients, also the influence of later poets (above all Prudentius) and prose writers (Boethius, Bede, Alcuin and others and the Church Fathers) is noticeable. The dramas were originally untitled, equipped as they were with a small synopsis in the manner of Aristophanes. In later times they started to be referred to by the protagonists: Gallicanus, Dulcitius, Calimachus, Abraham, Pafnutius, Sapientia. She wrote six plays to counteract to pagan influence of Terence's six comedies. Her plays can also be tentatively called comedies but they in no way ridicule the values of Hrotsvit''s own Christian way of life but those of the secular world, using the technique of situational comedy. In great probability the plays were never performed in the Middle Ages, the texts were meant for the educated reader. The Germans think very highly of Hrotsvit, considering her to be the very first German poetess and today her plays are successfully performed.