Snow White and the Virgin Martyrs, Part 2

Here is the long-promised second part to Hrosvithe of Gandersheim’s play Dulcitius. There will be one part after this, just to wrap everything up neatly. It’s been a while, so here is part I again.

This is a closet drama, so was likely never meant to be actually performed but rather read aloud in a small group. This means that the stage directions are all included in the dialogue; one of Hrosvithe’s strengths is that she can so clearly visualise what the characters are doing and what the scene looks like. This also means some of the scenes are quite short–one character (or the chorus/soldiers) doing a single soliloquy, for instance.

Once again–the Latin (which you can find a copy of here) is assonantal prose, while my translations are condensed slightly to make them sound better in English.

When last we left our heroines, they were being held captive in Dulcitius kitchen pantry with the pots and pans, the idea being the their lacivious captor can get a look at them from there when he feels like. He’s let on that he wants to seduce them, and his soldiers think he’s probably not going to get very far, but their job is to put up with his wierdness, so the kitchen it is.

III. Dulcitius and his soldiers, in the middle of the night. Offstage, the girls are singing.

DUL: What are the captive women doing at this time of night?

SOL: They ares spending their time on hymns.

DUL: Let us go closer.

SOL: We shall hear the sound of their ringing vices from afar.

DUL: Keep watch in front of the doors with lamps. I will go in and have my fill of their eagerly-desired embraces.[1]

SOL: Go in. We’ll wait.


A depiction of our saintly sisters. It’s all over the internet but I’m not actually sure where it’s from; if any of you do let me know!

IV. Agapis, Hirena and Chionia, in the pantry.

AGA: What is making such a fit of nosie outside the door?

HIR: The wretched Dulcitius is coming in!

CHI: God preserve us!

AGA: Amen.

CHI: What is the meaning of this crashing of pots, saucepans, and frying pans?

HIR: I will look with great care–come closer, pray, look through the cracks!

AGA: What is it?

HIR: Look, that fool, crazed in mind, imagines he is enjoying our embraces!

AGA: What is he doing?

HIR: Now he clasps the pots to his tender bosom, pouring out soft kisses.

CHI: Ridiculous!

HIR: Because his face, hands and clothes are so befouled that the blackness which sticks to him expresses the likeness of an Ethiop.

AGA: It is right that he should appear such in his body as he is possessed by the Devil in his mind.

HIR: Look, he is preparing to come out. Let us listen to what the soldiers waiting outside the door will do.

V. Soldiers, Dulcitius.

SOL: Who’s coming out here? Some lunatic possessed by a demon, or rather the Devil himself! Run away!

DUL: Soldiers, where are you giong? Stop! Wait! Take me with your lamps to my bedroom!

SOL: It is the voice of our commander, but the appearance of the devil. Let us not stay where we are, but hasten our flight. An apparition wishes to destroy us!

DUL: I shall go to the palace, and make clear to the emperors what humiliation I am suffering.[2]


A mosaic Dulcitius (or someone else with the same name) had made for himself. It was found in a villa near Tudela, south of Navarre, and is now in the Museum of Navarre. Presumably it’s what he thinks he looks like right now.

VI. Dulcitius and the emperors’ doorkeepers, outside the palace.

DUL: Gatekeepers! Take me into the palace, because I have a secret for the emperor’s ears.

DOORKEEPERS: What is the foul and detestible monster, covered in torn and blackened rags? Let us beat him with our fists and throw him from the steps, and not let free access be given him any longer.

DUL: Oh, oh! What is happening? Am I not dressed in splendid clothes, and do I need seem shining in my entire body? Whoever looks at me shrinks from me like some horrible monster. I shall return to my wife, so that I may find out from her what has been done to me. Look – she is coming out, and the entire household follows her in tears.[3]

VII: Dulcitius and his wife, Coniunx.

CONIUNX: Oh, my lord husband Dulcitius. What are you suffering? You are not of sound mind! You have been made a laughingstock for the Christians!

DUL: Now at last, I realise that I have been made a fool of by their witchcraft!

CON: It was this that particularly disturbed me, this which saddened me: that you did not know what you suffered.

DUL: I command that these playful[4] girls should be brought out, and with their clothes torn off, stripped naked in public, so that in turn they may discover what my sense of humour is capable of!

VII: Soldiers

SOL: In vain we sweat, uselessly we toil! Look, the clothes stick to their virgin bodies like skin. Even the governor himself, who urged us on to stripping them, snores while sitting, nor can he be woken from sleep. Let us go to the emperor, and to him let us reveal what is happening.

IX. Diocletian.

DIO: It pains me greatly that I hear the governor, Dulcitius, has so greatly been made the object of mockery, so deluded, so reproached. But so that these cheap little girls do not boast that they make fun of our gods and worshippers of those gods without punishment, I will send Count Sissinius to exercise vengeance.

[Presumably, scary villain music begins to play right here. Possibly one of the themes for the Emperor in Star Wars….]

[1] The Latin is saturo, so Dulcitius could also be saying he’ll satisfy or, more disturbingly, saturate himself in the girls’ embraces. Eww.

[2] There was more than one emperor at the time. Diocletian ruled as part of a tetrarchy, along with Galenius, Constantius and Maximian. The latter two ruled another part of the empire, and weren’t so keen on persecuting Christians as Diocletian was.

[3] This isn’t a linguistic note. I just find it interesting what Hrosvithe does here, and that when everything has gone completely to hell, has the governor realise he should go home and ask his wife for help. It seems like a small touch of the writer showing in the text.

[4] The word Hrostvithe uses here is lascivae, which usually means wanton, or playful in a particularly sexual sense. Dulcitius may be projecting here, or it may be part of the very sexual connotation of the whole line. It’s an interesting word choice to apply to virgin martyrs, anyway.

One more bit to go, in which we see how all of this ends. And it’s really not pretty. Diocletian comes for his revenge!

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