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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
Print version ISSN 0041-4751


VAN BEEK, Pieta. "Rather a virgin than a widow": Two Latin erotic poems attributed to Anna Maria van Schurman (1607-1678). Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2009, vol.49, n.2, pp.338-356. ISSN 2224-7912.

Recent, fascinating publications such as Women Writing Latin (2002) and Women Latin Poets (2005) show us that a significant number of women have written in Latin since the Roman Empire up till now. Anna Maria van Schurman (1607-1678), the first female student in Europe and the most learned woman of her time, was one of them. Born in Cologne, she lived most of her long life behind the Domcathedral in Utrecht, Holland, where she became known for her knowledge of at least fourteen languages (German, Dutch, English, French, Latin, Greek, Italian, Hebrew, Aramaic, Arabic, Syriac, Samaritan, Persian and Ethiopic). She even composed a grammar for Ethiopic. Van Schurman was a multi-talented woman. She was an artist, wrote poetry and corresponded with many learned men and women of the European Res Publica Litteraria (the Republic of Letters), for example from England and Ireland: Simonds D' Ewes, James Harrington, Bathsua Makin, John Owen, Elisabeth Stuart, Queen Henrietta Maria, Samuel Collins, Samuel Rutherford, Dorothy Moore, John Dury, William Penn, Utricia Swann-Ogle and Archibald Hamilton. Part of herwork in Latin, Greek, Hebrew and French was published as the Opuscula Hebraea Graeca Latina et Gallica, prosaica et metrica, a book that was reprinted several times and can still be found in most of the European Libraries. It contains also her Dissertatio De Ingenii Muliebris ad Doctrinam et meliores Litteras aptitudine, translated into English as The Learned Maid. Thousands of people visited her, among these queens, such as Christina van Sweden and Maria de Gonzages of Poland included. Later in life she left the academy, city and church of Utrecht, joined the radical wandering protestant group of the Labadists and condemned her "worldly" learning. As a defence she wrote a learned autobiography in Latin, the Eukleria In this article I will concentrate on her Latin poems. It was after all a Latin poem written on invitation ofprofessor Voetius that in the end gave her admission to the university. I have been able to trace more than 60 Latin poems, most of them unpublished. In the corpus two rather erotic poems stand out. These poems are in the possession of the University Library of the University of Amsterdam and are titled "Ad Janum Meierum, Nuptias Danicas spectantem, Amatorem regi similem esse" ("For Janus Meijer, who was a spectator at the Danish wedding, that a lover is similar to a king") and " Ad Ioannem Fridericum Gronovium. Virgines Viduis Praeferendas esse" ("For Johannes Fredericus Gronovius, that virgins should be preferred above widows"). I will argue that they are fremdkörper in her oeuvre, considering the facts that the poems are not in her handwriting or style, that women were not allowed to write love and erotic poetry at all, and that she herself was bound by a promise to her father on his deathbed, to celebrate celibacy her whole life. However, the most important fact I discovered was that Vincent Fabricius from Hamburg was the author. He had the poems published in Leyden in 1638. Not only the authorship of the poems but also their location at the University Library of Amsterdam should be corrected. They should be given back to the Royal Library in The Hague where they belong as number 58 of manuscript KB 133 B 8. How they got in Amsterdam is not known yet. In the attachment of this article I will provide a translation of both poems.

Keywords : Anna Maria van Schurman; seventeenth century; Dutch history; first female student; learned women; women Latin poets; Voetius; erotic poetry; love poetry; Neo-Latin.

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