Snow White and the Virgin Martyrs: The Terrifying Conclusion!

And here we finish the play! I’ll tell you one other interesting thing about Hrosvithe of Gandersheim and her work: From the end of the 15th century, printing companies used to have exclusive rights to print copies of particular books for a certain length of time, granted either by a monarch or the Pope. The first record of a German copyright privelege was in 1501, when Conrad Celtes of Sodalitas Rhenana Celtica was given the rights to print copies of Hrosvithe’s dramas. Since the only surviving manuscript copy of her work was one prepared by printers and covered with their marks, this is probably a lot of why we have this play at all!

That was published by this dignified-looking dude here.

Need a refresher of the last two parts? Here is part 1 and part 2.

When last we left our heroines, they’d made a great fool of Dulcitius. Diocletian, rather upset by this, decided to send them to be tortured to death by another of his lords, the nasty Count Sissinius, instead.

Now, this is the last part of a martyrdom story, so there’s a certain amount of torture and death to be expected. It’s ‘comedy’ in the sense that everybody gets what the universe says they deserve, rather than because it’s funny. Funny was Dulcitius snogging the pots and pans–from here on, things get a bit darker.

X. Count Sissinius, a villain, with his soldiers.

SIS: Soldiers, where are these fun-loving girls who ought to be tortured?

SOL: They are afflicted in the prison.

SIS: Keep Hirena back and bring out the others.

SOL: Why do you except one?

SIS: Sparing her youth. Perhaps she will be converted more easily if she will not be terrified by the presence of her sisters.

SOL: Very well.

XI. Sissinius, his soldiers, Agapis, and Chionia.

SOL: Those who you commanded for are present.

SIS: Lend your consent, Love and Snow White, to my advice.

AGA: As if we will consent!

SIS: Offer libations to the gods.

CHI: To the true and eternal father and to his co-eternal son and to the holy paraclete of both we offer up the sacrifice of praise without ceasing.

SIS: I do not persuade you of this, but I will prohibit it with penalties.

AGA: You shall not forbid it, nor shall we ever sacrifice to the demons!

SIS: Set aside the hardness of your heart and sacrifice. But if not, I shall cause you to be killed in accordance with the command of the emperor, Diocletian.

CHI: It is right that for the purposes of the murder of us you should obey the orders of your commander, whose orders you know that we despise. If, indeed, by sparing you make any delay, it is proper that you should be killed.

SIS: Do not delay, soldiers, seize these blasphemous women and fling them into the fire alive!

SOL: Let us press on to pyres being about to be built and let us hand them over to the raging flames so that we may put an end to their insults.

AGA: Not unto thee, oh Lord, not unto thee is this power unknown, that the fire should forget the power of its nature in obeying you. But we are weary of delay and so we beg for the bonds of our souls to be unloosed whereby, our bodies having been destroyed, our spirits may rejoice with thee in heaven.

SOL: Oh strange, oh wondrous miracle. Behold, their souls have departed from their bodies and no traces of injury can be found. But neither their hair nor their clothes are burned by the fire, let along their bodies.

SIS: Bring forth Hirena.

SOL: Indeed.

XI: Sissinius and Hirena

SIS: Tremble, Hirena, at the death of your sisters, and beware lest you perish by their example.

HIR: I wish to follow their example by dying, so I may deserve to live eternally with them.

SIS: Yield, yield to my persuasion!

HIR: I shall not yield to one who advocates wickedness.

SIS: If you will not yield, I shall offer you a rapid death. But I shall delay it, and multiply new torments day by day.

“I find your lack of faith in the pagan gods disturbing…”

HIR: The more biterly I am tormented, the more gloriously will I be exalted.

SIS: You do not fear tortures. I will employ that which you will shudder at!

HIR: Whatever adversity you use against me, I shall escape with the assistance of Christ.

SIS: I shall have you taken to a brothel and cause your body to be foully stained.

HIR: It is better that the body should be stained with any insults and injuries than the soul should be pollutted with idols.

SIS: If you will be the companion of prostitutes being polluted, you will no longer be able to be counted amongst the company of virgins.

HIR: Pleasure produces punishment, necessity a crown. Nor is he called a guilty man unless the mind consents.

SIS: In vain did I spare her! In vain did I take pity on the innocent naiveté of this girl.

SOL: We knew that already. To no extent can she be bent to the worship of the gods, nor can she ever be broken by threats.

SIS: I shall spare her no longer.

SOL: Quite right.

SIS: Seize her without pity, and drag her cruelly to the brothel with dishonour.

HIR: They shall not take me.

SIS: Who can forbid them?

HIR: He who rules the universe by the providence of Himself.

SIS: I’ll find that out.

HIR: And more quickly than you would like.

SIS: Do not be terrified, soldiers, by the deceptive prophesy of this blasphemous woman.

SOL: We are not afraid, but we attempt to obey your orders.

XII: Sissinius and his soldiers

SIS: Who are these men who are running in upon us? How similar they are to the soldiers to whom we handed over Hirena! It is them! Why are you running so quickly? Where are you going, so out of breath?

SOL: It is you we seek.

SIS: Where is she whom you dragged away?

SOL: On the brow of the hill.

SIS: Which hill?

SOL: The nearby hill.

SIS: Oh you men, dull and lacking in sense, incapable of thought.

SOL: Why are you complaining? Why do you threaten us with your voice and your face?

SIS: May the gods damn you!

SOL: What wrong have we done you? What injury have we done you? What orders of yours have we contravened?

SIS: DId I not give orders that you should drag this rebel against the gods to the place of ill repute?

SOL: You did order it, and we worked at fulfilling your orders, but there we met two unknown young men asserting that they had been sent by you for this purpose, that they should lead Hirena to the summit of the hill.

SIS: I knew nothing of that.

SOL: We realise that.

SIS: What did they look like?

SOL: Brilliant in dress, exceedingly reverend in face.

SIS: You did not follow them?

SOL: We followed them.

SIS: What did they do?

SOL: They placed themselves on the right and left of Hirena, and sent us here so the completion of the business would not be hidden from you.

SIS: It remains that my horse having been mounted I should go straight there and find out who these men have been who made fun of us so freely.

SOL: Let us hasten equally.

XIII: Sissinius, soldiers, and Hirena

SIS: Hmm. I don’t know what I’m doing. I am destroyed to the depths by the witchcraft of the Christ worshippers. Look, I go around the mountain and finding the footpath sometimes I cannot discover the way up, nor find once more the way back.

SOL: We are all mocked in miraculous fashion, and we are exhausted. If you suffer this mad person[1] to live longer you will destroy yourself and us.

SIS: Whichever of you are my men, boldly stretch your bow, fire your arrow, pierce this witch!

SOL: That is proper.

HIR: Wretched man! Blush and groan that you are shamefully overcome, because you have been unable to overcome the childhood of the tiny little girl without the appearance of arms.

SIS: Whatever the disgrace, I can endure it lightly, because I have absolutely no doubt that you are going to die.

HIR: From now on it will be me who rejoices, as greatly as possible, and you who must be sorrowful. Because in return for the severity of your cruelty you will be damned to Hell, but I, who am about to receive the palm of martyrdom and the crown of virginity, shall enter the heavenly bridal chamber of the eternal king, to whom is honour and glory forever and ever.


The three virgin martyrs, shown here watched over by their mentor St Xeno

[1] Lit: et si insanum caput diutius vivere sustines (if you endure the head of a mad one) with ‘head’ as synecdoche standing in for the whole.

Whew! That’s finally done! I’m getting ready for the holidays and excitement next week, but should have some Christmas traditions ready to share with you soon!


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