Ebook Design Project: Plays by Roswitha of Gandersheim

by Cameron N. Coulter


Posted on June 3, 2019 ebook design


Screenshot of the Standard Ebooks homepage

I think most people have heard of Project Gutenberg, which provides free ebooks of public domain texts, but have you heard of Standard Ebooks?

Project Gutenberg’s ebooks are notoriously ugly. They’re functional, but there’s really no work put into typography or design. This is where Standard Ebooks comes in. Standard Ebooks is a volunteer project that produces new editions of public domain texts, incorporating rich semantic data as well as modern typography and design standards. If you want an ebook of a public domain text, Standard Ebooks should be your first stop.

And now, I’ve completed my first project for Standard Ebooks! I’ve produced Plays by Roswitha of Gandersheim, a collection of six short plays by the awesome 10th century German canoness. I’ve blogged about her a few times before, so check out those posts for my thoughts about how awesome she is. Since the first English translation of her plays has finally, officially, and unequivocally entered the public domain this year, I am excited and eager to share her work with whomever I can.

Here’s the book’s cover as well as the blurb I wrote for the book:

Cover image of Plays of Roswitha of Gandersheim
The cover of the Standard Ebooks edition of Plays by Roswitha of Gandersheim

Roswitha, also known as Hrotsvitha of Gandersheim, was a tenth century German canoness, dramatist, and poet. A remarkable woman, she has been called the first Western playwright since antiquity as well as the first known woman playwright. She was inspired by the Roman comic playwright Terence, who wrote six farces filled with disguises, misunderstandings, and pagan debauchery. Upset by Terence’s immoral subject matter but also inspired by his well-crafted plays, Roswitha sought to “Christianize” his work by writing six plays of her own.

Roswitha wrote six dramas in Latin. Two are concerned with the conversation of nonbelievers (Gallicanus and Callimachus), two are concerned with the repentance of sinners (Abraham and Paphnutius), and two are concerned with the martyrdom of virgins (Dulcitus and Sapientia).

This edition, originally published in 1923, includes an introduction by Cardinal Francis Aidan Gasquet (an English Benedictine monk and scholar), a critical preface by the translator (Christopher St. John), and prefaces written by Roswitha herself.

You can download page scans of the original 1923 book from the Internet Archive. You can also download an ebook of the book from the Internet Archive; however, that’s based off a computer transcription that has more than a few errors. I’ve corrected the computer transcription and published the result on GitHub, so if you want to remix Roswitha’s plays for whatever reason, you’ll probably want to copy the GitHub repository and build off that. I’m also working on uploading the transcription to Project Gutenberg, so it should be available there as well before long.


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Hrotsvitha of Gandersheim Standard Ebooks collection drama