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Sons and mothers: Agrippina, Semiramis, and the philological construction of gender roles in early modern Germany (Lohenstein's 'Agrippina,' 1665)

Trois ou quatre heures du Regne de Neron ont este plus funestes a l'Empire Romain que toute la vie d'Agrippine sa Mere. (Three or four hours of Nero's reign were more deadly to the Roman Empire than the entire life of Agrippina, his mother.)

Pierre de Moyne, La Galerie des Femmes Fortes (1647, 1660)

Gentes tamen esse feruntur,/in quibus et nato genetrix et nata parenti/iungitur. (And yet, they say that there are tribes among whom mother and son, daughter with father mates.)

Ovid, Metamorphoses, 10:331-33

Act three of Daniel Casper von Lohenstein's 1665 German-language play about Nero s assassination of his mother and erstwhile co-regent Agrippina in A.D. 59 contains what could arguably be deemed one of the most salacious scenes produced on the early modern stage in central Europe. The astoundingly explicit rendering of the incident of incestuous seduction is based on suggestions by Suetonius and Tacitus of improper sexual relations between mother and son.(1) Although barely noted in the criticism, the material realities of the play's production might well have made the erotically-charged scene all the more outrageous. Lohenstein's Agrippina belonged to the genre of early modern schooldrama; produced under the aegis of one of the humanistic Gymnasien in Breslau (now Wroclaw) in the year following its publication in 1665, the play - including all female roles - was acted by schoolboys whose lessons in history and rhetoric and familiarity with the classical tradition were driven home by their participation in the onstage reenactment of events from Roman history.(2) The incest scene calls attention to the potentially offensive realities of these productions in which boys playing female roles both seduced and were the objects of seductive behavior involving other schoolboys playing men.(3)

I have written elsewhere of the fluidity of boundaries between the sexes as well as between the staging of history and the history of the (transvestite) stage in early modern German-language texts.(4) In view of the explicit enactment of mother-son incest for which the text of Lohenstein's play about Agrippina in particular calls, an additional level of textual transgression demands attention. The Agrippina was dedicated to Duchess Louise of Liegnitz, Brieg, and Wohlau. Like the historical Agrippina, Louise was the daughter, wife, and mother of sovereigns;(5) several years after the play's initial production, she became regent of one of the smaller principalities located close to Breslau where Lohenstein worked and lived after her husband had died and before her son came of age. The conceit of the reproduction of ancient Rome's political institutions and history in the here-and-now of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation was a powerful one; if it were to hold in this case, however, with the world in the play spilling over into the world in which it was produced, what was the Duchess to make of the play's depiction of the violence and depravity of Agrippina's relationship with Nero?(6) Was Lohenstein suggesting that she would become seductive and Agrippina-like to the young prince of Liegnitz, George William (just five years old when the play was produced), or that he would become murderous and thus Nero-like to her, his protector, in turn? The "kluge Furstin" (wise princess) and "Preisswurdigste Regentin" (most praiseworthy regent) Louise was described by her husband in the will in which he designated her as regent as a "gentle" woman with an "excellent mind," a woman who understood Latin, French, and Italian and possessed "all princely virtues."(7) How was the duchess dedicatee of the play to evaluate Agrippina's shocking sexual profile (an integral part of her political identity, according to the Roman historians) as it was presented in Lohenstein's text? Was incestuous behavior consonant with a female ruler's "princely" role? What, finally, did the erotic contortions on stage, both in the incest scene and elsewhere in Lohenstein's Agrippina, have to do with the humanist project of this early modern, Roman history play?

As unexpected as it might seem, it is precisely in the incest scene in act three of Lohenstein's play that the connections between "depravity," humanism, and female power emerge. The key to these connections lies in repeated references in this scene to the case of the famous Persian queen Semiramis, said in some source texts also to have committed incest with her son. These sources are cited in Lohenstein's elaborate "Anmerckungen," or notes to the play, published in the year prior to its production.(8) The textual apparatus of the Agrippina also contains references to the annotated editions of Tacitus and Suetonius the German playwright used in constructing both the incest scene and the play as a whole. Lohenstein's glosses function, I will argue, as a kind of textual monument to the complexities of late humanist learnedness and its imbrication with the material realities of central European gender politics in this period. The intricacy with which the many levels of allusion to and citation of the annotated editions of Roman history coexist and interact in Lohenstein's play, both with one another and with the literal context of the play's production, is reminiscent of Freud's image of the archaeological multidimensionality of the city of Rome as a model of the human psyche, with traces of various historical periods and heterogeneous moments and architectural styles jockeying for position within the unitary space of the latter-day tourist's eye.(9) The incest scene in act three of Lohenstein's Roman play in particular contains multiple layers of philological sedimentation that move in and out of focus as the play-script and the printed text of Agrippina coincide, overlap, yet remain distinct; "excavating" Lohenstein's text at this point in the play allows us to discern a tradition of alternative political and sexual identities that illuminate the behavior first of Semiramis and then of Agrippina in turn. This tradition helps explain the logic of Lohenstein's dedication of his "lecherous" play to Duchess Louise.(10) The interpenetration of textual tradition and the material circumstances of the play's production demonstrates that philology was heavily implicated in the creation of meaning in this late humanist "political" schooldrama.(11) The (sexual) politics of the play emerge in its margins, so to speak, and reveal the importance of intertextuality for early modern gender studies.

It is helpful first to investigate the particular circumstances of Lohenstein's play insofar as they reveal the contours of the clash between gender ideology and material realities in post-Thirty Years' War central Europe, particularly in terms of women's political profile in the upper and ruling classes. Produced by schoolboy actors in the city of Breslau in 1666, the play is dedicated, as mentioned above, to Louise, duchess of the Silesian principalities of Liegnitz, Brieg, and Wohlau, by birth a princess of the influential house of Anhalt. In 1672 Louise became regent for her young son George William, the last of the Piastian princes, a long-standing Calvinist lineage well-known for its irenic stance in the complex confessional politics of the eastern reaches of the post-Reformation and post-Tridentine Empire.(12) In spite of popular assertions that women were unfit for political office and even legally excluded by the so-called Salic Law in France, the political realities of central European principalities such as Liegnitz created situations in which women became regents in the absence of their husbands or during the minority of their sons.(13) Only dynastic continuity could protect their small fiefdoms from being swallowed up by an empire ever on the lookout for both new sources of revenue and nonconformist areas to recatholicize and thus subdue, on the one hand, or from being torn apart by internal confessional strife, on the other.

In the case of Louise of Liegnitz, the struggle to retain control in the face of both imperial pressure and internal factionalism ultimately led to a less-than-graceful acceleration of the young prince's majority in 1675 and thus to her removal from the political scene. But during the period in which she had been not just his biological parent but also the "Landes-Mutter," Louise was a major figure on the Silesian political stage. Her achievements may have caused Lohenstein several years later to characterize her as an anomaly, a "Wunder-Wercke des Weiblichen Geschlechtes" (a wonder of the female sex), and to be able to think only of male figures in the classical tradition as precedents for her political wisdom,(14) but she was a female head of state nevertheless. Moreover, she was not unusual for the time. In the neighboring principality of Oels, for example, which was "ein weibliches Lehngut" according to the Silesian chronicler Friedrich Lucae, the line of succession officially ran through the females of the family. Thus Princess Elizabeth Maria could inherit the principality in her own right in 1647 and as a result step more easily into the regency in 1664 at the death of her husband, who had married into power when he married her. Elizabeth Maria ruled until her sons came of age in 1672.(15) Lohenstein is known to have been employed as a privy councillor (Regierungsrat) by Elizabeth Maria in Oels in 1668. Louise of Liegnitz too had relied on the poet-play-wright for advice and rewarded him for his loyalty and services with the gift of an estate; her sponsorship may have been one of the reasons why Lohenstein was offered the position of Geheimsekretar in Liegnitz sometime before 1670.(16) Although he turned down the offer and accepted the powerful position of Syndikus, or legal trustee and representative, of the strong urban political center of nearby Breslau in 1670 instead, Lohenstein remained close to the court of Liegnitz. Breslau had often found itself in the position of allying with the rulers of the surrounding principalities in its struggle for autonomy vis-a-vis a weakened and thus aggressive imperial hierarchy in need of increased revenues and assurances of loyalty in the volatile political context of the time. As Syndikus, Lohenstein relied heavily on his local connections in his negotiations with the empire, particularly when he traveled to Vienna in 1675 to negotiate a readjustment of the tax structure and to oppose the stationing of imperial troops in the city.(17) Thus, the reality of a female head of state was never far away.

It is in connection with the material realities of local leadership and political strategizing, realities that included the presence of powerful women, as well as with an eye to public morality among the ruling classes, that Lohenstein can be seen to have come to rely on the annotational apparatus that accompanied many of the texts of classical historiography published during this period, texts in which the political parallels between ancient Rome and the Holy Roman Empire were examined in great detail. He could have derived his stance on legitimate political behavior by women in particular and thus his portrayal of Agrippina from the tradition of "political-historical philology" that Kuhlmann has demonstrated was the early seventeenth-century successor to the learned commentaries of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries published in Italy, texts that were themselves highly "political," as Stephanie Jed and others have shown.(18) This northern version of seventeenth-century political philology found its most avid practitioners in the Rhineland, in Heidelberg, Strassburg, and as far west as Montpelier; it yielded innumerable commentaries on classical historians like Suetonius and Tacitus of the kind available for Lohenstein in his planning of political strategies as well as in the composition of the notes to his plays. I will argue below that these commentaries acknowledge the realities of female rulership during this period and articulate a gender ideology strikingly at odds with any simplistic requirement of chastity, fidelity, and silence for women.(19)

But it was not only the playwright-statesman Lohenstein who would have been familiar with this strain of late humanist commentary. Women in line to take over governmental positions might also have had access to and interest in its lessons. Queen Christina of Sweden, who ruled between 1644 and 1654, is said to have read a chapter of Tacitus every day, for example, and in the second half of her reign called to her court many of the German philologist-statesmen mentioned by Kuhlmann.(20) In 1639 the learned Anna Maria van Schurmann wrote to Elizabeth of Bohemia, then director of the convent at Herford, recommending the texts of Plutarch, Suetonius, and Tacitus along with learned commentaries on them as a means of acquiring a "connoissance des choses passees" (knowledge of historical events) and of learning "quel usage on peut tirer des examples antiques" (what use one could derive from ancient examples).(21) Schurmann argues elsewhere in favor of education for women who would have the opportunity to put their learning to good use; she may well have been thinking of the "profession" of politics which was in fact open to women of rank in specific cases at the time? The fact that they could read Latin and often were familiar with the great "historicos" of the past is usually mentioned, finally, in the descriptions of such women in the pro-woman literature of the period.(23) Often educated together with their brothers at the courts of many of the minor principalities in central Europe, the daughters of the smaller houses and dynasties would have studied classical history in editions in which the commentaries were just as significant as the original texts.(24) Louise of Liegnitz was one of these.(25) She may thus have recognized some of the issues articulated in Lohenstein's play as derived from these "political" glosses, particularly those of relevance for female regents.

It is with specific regard for the question of the female head of state's sexual profile that the underlying logic of several of these commentaries becomes important, particularly insofar as they articulate standards of political behavior for powerful women that do not shy away from (although they do not condone) adventures of the kind in which Nero and Agrippina were said to have been involved. It is a logic based on the argument that biological differences between men and women are relatively insignificant, particularly in the case of the ruling classes. Thus, as I show below, the same rules for astute and effective political behavior are considered in these texts to be applicable to and equal for both men and women, since in practice, political identity and access to power were determined primarily by class, confession, and family, rather than sex. Pierre Le Moyne articulates this position in his La Galerie des Femmes Fortes (1647):

Disons encore, que s'il n'importe de quelle couleur [et] de quelle etoffe soit habille le Pilote d'un vaisseau, pourveu qu'il entende la Carte, [et] qu'il ayt le science des vents [et] des Etoiles; Il n'importe gueres plus, de quel sexe [et] de quelle complexion soit le Corps, qui n'est que l'habillement de l'Ame qui gouverne. L'importance est que cette Ame soit instruite [et] bien conseillee.

(Let us say again, then, that the color and material of the garb in which the pilot of a vessel is clothed is immaterial, as long as he can read the map and understands the habits of the winds and the stars; it is hardly more important what the sex or makeup is of the body, since it is no more than the garb of the person [soul] in charge. The most important issue is that this person be well educated and well advised.)(26)

Lohenstein refers to this French compilation of the stories of famous women in the footnotes to another of his plays.(27) The situations of the two authors were similar. Le Moyne's morality tract celebrated and was dedicated to Anne of Austria, widow of Louis XIII. Lohenstein's Agrippina was dedicated to Duchess Louise. The contextual parallels allow us to discern how the German play converts into its underlying message the partisan claim made in the French morality treatise about the irrelevance of gender in the arena of political action.

The famous and much cited case of the ancient Assyrian queen Semiramis plays a prominent role in both Le Moyne's text (174-75, 191-96) and in the historiographical commentary on which both he and Lohenstein relied precisely in terms of this twist in conventional gender ideology, in the representation, that is, of biological difference as in some cases irrelevant in the political realm. Deliberately obscuring her sex in the interest of political survival, the story goes, Semiramis shrewdly decided to clothe herself as a man at the outset of her reign, which in some versions began with her regency for her son. Semiramis's reputation derived precisely from the fact that she was in reality a powerful woman, however, for once established she revealed her identity and was much celebrated in innumerable treatises of the time for the excellence of her unexpected achievements.(28)

What is significant for our understanding of Lohenstein's Agrippina play about Semiramis's reputation as a strategist and politician - both in Le Moyne's text and in humanist commentaries on her story as told by the historians - is that in at least one recognizable tradition of annotation and commentary, unchastity was tolerated, as Ian MacLean has written, in women endowed with "heroic virtues" and power.(29) The issue of chastity is relevant in the Persian queen's case, since it was also well known that in addition to having a reputation for transvestite politics and political savvy, Semiramis had been accused of sexual extravagance and is even said to have attempted to commit incest with the son for whom she initially ruled. The parallels to Agrippina are clear. The degree to which the commentary tradition on the story of Semiramis's attempt at incest highlights or obscures, explains or condemns her behavior as evidence of a prurient character, on the one hand, or as astute political maneuvering, on the other, provides an interesting insight into the debate about the sexual profile of powerful women. It is a debate with which Lohenstein was familiar, initially perhaps via Le Moyne, but then also in the commentaries on the classical historians that his notes indicate he knew. The dedicatee of his Agrippina play, Duchess Louise, may also have known the parameters of the discussion about the power and sexual activities of ruling women by means of her readings of both the historians and Lohenstein's notes. Thus the reference in the play to Semiramis as a powerful and sexually active political woman in a play about a powerful and sexually active woman, namely Agrippina, may not have fallen on deaf ears.

An investigation of the intertextual relationship between Agrippina and Semiramis and of the standards of sexual conduct (also between relatives) in both the literal and figurative margins of Lohenstein's play calls our attention, then, to the complex realities of women's political power, particularly in the special case of queen-regents and female heads of state, in early modern central Europe. While the late humanist commentators on ancient history whose editions I examine below probably did not consider incest an exemplary or recommendable political strategy, it nevertheless emerges out of the textual traditions concerned with Semiramis and Agrippina as a familiar and even effective practice within the context of the political mores of the ruling classes of the time. By examining several exemplary seventeenth-century commentaries, we can perhaps begin to understand the way in which the female ruler-to-be Louise might have received a play containing such explicit scenes of mother-son incest and lasciviousness. We can also gain insight into the way in which the schoolboy actor playing Agrippina could have profitably identified with his character, indeed even come to value the lessons represented by her behavior by the end of the play. These are lessons that would have been useful for him, given the realities of both upper- and ruling-class women's power in the early to mid-seventeenth century in central and eastern Europe, realities with which he was to be confronted as he made his way out into the world of political administration for which he was being prepared. These realities become a bit clearer if we understand the political ends to which philological knowledge was put in this period. Let us now turn to the specifics of the philological tradition that lie embedded in Lohenstein's play.

The incest scene in act three of Lohenstein's Agrippina is one of the reasons why the play as a whole has been most criticized. In it, the queen mother is shown using both her physical attractiveness and a kind of seductive learnedness and worldly sophistication in affairs of state to seduce Nero, her son.(30) The scene "produces" the seduction with great attention to physical detail. Arousing him with the promise that the fire her lips have set can be cooled off only in the "new snow of her bosom (or lap)" ("der glatte Schnee der Schooss," 3:141, 61), Agrippina responds, in answer to Nero's desperate protests that he would indulge but for the fact that this same "Schooss" had carried him for nine months (line 46), with an argument familiar from much theory of Staatsrason; she argues that legal and moral injunctions against incest apply only to lesser mortals, and certainly not to Caesar (line 164). Moreover, should her son need some sort of legal frame for succumbing to a mother's wiles, Agrippina cites the precedent of "Persian law," which "permits a mother to betake herself to her son's bed" ("Der Persen Recht last zu: dass eine Mutter sich/Ins Sohnes Bette lagt," lines 207-08, 62). The beginning of the textual trail that ultimately leads to Semiramis and her annotational afterlife in the early modern period begins here. Just prior, however, to tasting the final fruits of both her words and her deeds, as Agrippina says (line 236, 63), deeds that have already driven Nero to fall trembling, pale, but burning with passion upon her breasts, the queen-mother's plans are disrupted by the entry of her son's mistress Acre, who breaks in upon the scene. Sent by Seneca and Burrhus to prevent Nero from falling into the clutches of the woman whose "addiction to ruling power" (Regiersucht, line 90, 59) Burrhus claims has motivated this shameful behavior, Acte inhibits its fulfillment.

As shocking as we might find the explicit nature of this scene, there is no indication that it was not played as it was written and printed in the text published the previous year.(31) And any number of props, such as papier-mache breasts, could have contributed to the illusion that it was really a powerful, indeed (from a political perspective) threatening woman who dominated this scene.(32) It is the printed version, however, with its annotations, that points most convincingly to the historical feasibility or logic of such a scene, with its focus on the woman and queen mother as sexual protagonist. Lohenstein's notes contain traces of the playwright's familiarity with the complexities of a similar case of maternal incest on the part of a female sovereign, namely Semiramis, whose sexual habits were the object of conflicting evaluations about the moral propriety and political legitimacy of a woman ruler's behavior.

Before proceeding to an analysis of Lohenstein's references to the Persian Semiramis, however, it is important to recognize that Agrippina's political profile is made to emerge in the German play precisely in the context and as a result of her sexual behavior in this scene. In one of Lohenstein's sources, namely Tacitus's Annales, the historian explains that his sources admit of a certain uncertainty as to whether it was "in fact" Nero or Agrippina who took the initiative (see Tacitus, 1942, 14:2, 320-21). The detail is significant. The lack of clarity as to whether Agrippina was using sex as a means to retain power, since she had fallen into disfavor with her son, or whether she "really conceived such a monstrous wickedness in her heart" (321) - not surprising in a woman whose reputation for infamous behavior was well known - indicates the apparent lack of a conclusive stance on the queen's political culpability. In Lohenstein's play as performed text, the motivation for the scene seems also to be left ambiguous. Agrippina stands accused by third parties of political manipulation. Yet she insists - as she must in order to remain innocent of the charge of political intrigue - that it is because of a kind of spontaneous, indeed uncontrollable desire that she approaches her son in an erotic way.(35) Lohenstein's published notes, however, specifically on the reference to Persian law at line 207, indicate the parameters of the immensely complex debate among historians and political commentators about the connections between intrigue and desire, connections that suggest he intended to represent the seduction as a planned act of political manipulation. And yet, precisely the political origins of Agrippina's attempt at incest pointed to in Lohenstein's glosses suggest his apparent desire not to condemn the queen-mother outright for her sexual political initiative, but rather to ultimately excuse her; or if that is too strong, they at least indicate his conviction that Agrippina's deployment of seduction as a political tool is not to be declared the expression of a perverse sexuality or "political prostitution," as Just has maintained, but evaluated rather in terms of whether it was ultimately politically effective or not.(34) It thus becomes possible via philology to read Lohenstein's use of Agrippina's reference to Persian law as an indication that the play was addressing issues of political pragmatism rather than simply representing a powerful woman's moral turpitude. Duchess Louise may have been just as, if not more, interested in pragmatics as in values, given the similarities between herself and the stage Agrippina.

Halfway through the incest scene in Lohenstein's play, Nero rejects Agrippina's suggestion of the possibility of an alternative culture, namely that of the Persians in which the mother-son copulation she suggests is legally sanctioned. He retorts: "Viel / was der Perse lobt / ist bey den Romern Sunde" ("Much that is praiseworthy for the Persians is considered a sin by the Romans," 3:210, 62). The moralizing tone that characterizes the immoral Nero here accords paradoxically with the position taken by many critics who condemn Agrippina for attempting to seduce her son and who point to her erotic depravity in this scene as a sign of her degenerate state. And yet, such a position may not have been in harmony with the stance of the play, for when we turn to the elaborate notes printed after the text of the play, we find Nero's statement about the illegitimacy of Agrippina's reference to Persian precedent glossed in the following way: "Hiervon redet die gantze Praefatio Aemilii Probi" ("This is the topic of the entire preface of Aemilius Probus," 126). This brief reference contains the key to Lohenstein's disagreement with and self-distancing from Nero's condemnatory claim.

Lohenstein's citation in his notes of the preface by Aemilius Probus refers to the opening chapter of Cornelius Nepos's De Excellentibus Ducibus Exterarum Gentium (On the Great Leaders of Foreign Lands, first century B.C.), a collection of biographies of famous men, attributed by some until the beginning of our own century to the compiler Aemilius Probus.(35) Nepos's preface refers, however, not to Persian customs, as Nero's remark might indicate, but to those of the Greeks. In announcing the topic and method of his book, Nepos states that the customs of Greek civilization - in contrast to those of Rome - prove the reality of cultural variety and thus the relativity of moral judgment. Cimon of Athens married his sister (by the same father, "sororem germanam"), for example. Nepos argues: "Because his fellow citizens used the same practice" ("quippe cum cives ejus eodem uterentur instituto"), the act was not considered a disgrace, although Roman custom would judge it abominable indeed ("at id quidem nostris moribus nefas habetur"). Conversely, many Roman practices held to be "proper" (decora) are "considered sinful among other cultures" ("apud illos turpia putantur"). Thus not all peoples find the same acts to be good or evil, Nepos writes. The rule of thumb is by and large that of convention, he concludes, and of "the practices of one's ancestors" (majorum institutis), which are determined by specific political and social needs. Nepos's series of biographies of foreign generals is designed to illustrate this point.

While it is not obvious that Lohenstein necessarily agreed with Nepos's stance in the preface to his lives of famous leaders, the fact that he cites this text specifically within the context of the incest scene in his play suggests that Agrippina's argument about a Persian precedent for the permissibility of incest was, at the very least, a possible and recognizable position in a debate about the relativity of cultural values conducted among ancient historians and biographers, and thus neither unique nor the outrageous product of her depraved mind. And indeed, in at least some of the numerous early modern commentaries on Nepos's text,(36) there is a striking fascination with cataloguing examples of cultures in which precisely the incestuous aspect of the Greek Cimon's alliance with his sister is considered legitimate. There is every indication that Lohenstein used several of these commentaries in composing his play, since, as I will show, it is their notes (rather than the primary texts) that contain the textual origins of Lohenstein's incestuous Persian mothers. The position that his Agrippina espouses, namely that there are cultures that have legalized incest, can be thus documented to have been well-known, and indeed, even acceptable to some scholars at the time.

In the edition of Nepos's Vitae published by Augustinus van Staveren in Leiden in 1734, for example, the annotations written by numerous earlier humanists are excerpted, compared, and contrasted in an elaborate annotational apparatus at the bottom of each page.(37) Here we have access to the universe of terms included in the debate about power and morality with which Lohenstein would have been familiar as he wrote his play. The notes on Nepos's "Praefatio" are extensive, often spilling over onto the page after the one on which the line to which they originally refer is located, thus crowding the main text into a small sliver at the top of the page. The note to Nepos's story of Cimon and his sister as an example of permissible incest in Greek culture (6-7) is no exception; it is lengthy and contains selections of glosses by scholars working in Lohenstein's day. Of particular interest in this context is the part of the note attributed to "Ernstius"; the reference is to Heinrich Ernst, or Ernesti, of Helmstadt (d. 1665), who published a volume of learned reflections on Nepos's Vitae in 1637.(38) Ernesti glosses the "nefas" of Nepos's statement that the incest permitted in Greek culture is considered a crime by the Romans with an intensification ("Id est, turpe" - that is, morally dishonorable, Nepos, 1734, 6). Yet he also cites Theodoretus and Tertullian to the effect that other peoples, including not surprisingly the Persians, allowed mothers, sisters, and daughters to "mix with their own" (suis miscebantur, ibid.). If Lohenstein had been using an edition of Nepos either edited by Ernesti or an earlier version of an edition like van Staveren's 1734 variorum Nepos containing excerpts of Ernesti's remarks, it is easy to explain why he (Lohenstein) can cite Probus (Nepos) in his own note to Agrippina's claim about the Persians, since the Persian connection would have jumped up at him off the page. That is, although Nepos himself talks only about the Greeks and the Romans, and thus had nothing to say about Persian customs in particular, Lohenstein would have found the connection between his Romans and the Persians in Ernesti's marginal notes, annotations that were typographically more prominent than Nepos's original text. The humanist desire to document and assemble reference upon reference to the "aberrancies" of ancient custom and habit may thus have ultimately had the effect of bringing some readers, including Lohenstein, around to Nepos's - and indirectly, Agrippina's - point of view. Confronted with the textual "reality" and presence of numerous situations in which incestuous behavior considered illegal, immoral, and reprehensible by one culture was documented as acceptable, even common, to another, the real possibility of the kind of cultural relativism for which Lohenstein's Agrippina argues becomes difficult to ignore.

The note on Nepos's Cimon in van Staveren's 1734 edition that contains Ernesti's 1637 mention of the Persians ends with a reference to other places where additional information can be found about customs accepted among the Persians and "eastern peoples" ("Persarum [et] Medorum morem acceptum," 7) specifically, as it turns out, with reference to mother-son incest, as the conclusion of the note reveals: "V. [et] Brissonium de regno Persarum L. 2. p. 229. laudatum a Cl. Haverkampio. Hunc Persarum [et] Medorum morem acceptum refert Semiramidi Conon Narr. 9 apud Photium Biblioth, p. 428, 429. Ubi vide, quae de hoc more notantur ab interpret." ("See also Brisson's De regno Persarum, book 2, p. 229, cited by Cl. [?] Haverkamp. Conon's ninth Tale in Photius's Bibliotheca, 428, 429, attributes this accepted custom of the Persians and the Medes to Semiramis. See the commentator's observation about this custom in his notes to the passage," Nepos, 1734, 7.)(39) One of the most famous examples of Persian incest was of course that between the warrior-queen Semiramis of Assyria and her young son Ninus, for whom she ruled; it is to her story that the note explicitly refers. Both the French statesman Barnabas Brisson (1531-1591) and the pompous but learned Dutch professor Jacob Gronov (1645-1716), who published under the name of Gerhard Haverkamp, were obviously familiar with the Semiramis story and had commented upon it; it is their commentaries that van Staveren cites here.(40) Although van Staveren's edition of Nepos was published some 70 years after Lohenstein wrote his play, it cites commentaries like Ernesti's, Brisson's, and Gronov's that were available in the first three quarters of the century, and thus reflects the level of knowledge current among central and northern humanists at the time Lohenstein wrote. And on the basis of such knowledge about the classical texts, it seemed logical to van Staveren - as it may well have seemed to Lohenstein, who would have used similar editions and been familiar with this same tradition of annotation - to think, in connection with Nepos (Lohenstein's Probus), of the general issue of Roman incest as tied to the specific case of the Persian Semiramis, probably because it was so well known. This may have caused Lohenstein to link his Agrippina with the Persians in general at lines 207 and 210 of his play and with Semiramis in particular some one hundred lines after Nero's dismissive claim.

One hundred lines after Agrippina cites the acceptability of mother-son incest in "Persian law," Nero's duplicitous advisor Anicetus describes her attempt at seduction with an explicit reference to Semiramis herself, according to Anicetus, a lascivious and ambitious mother (3:310-11, 65). The reference is designed to move Nero in the direction of matricide, suggesting first of all that Agrippina is guilty of intrigue and second that if she would act the role of Semiramis, he (Nero) must fulfill the terms of the comparison and "legitimately" kill his mother, as Ninus (Semiramis's son) is said to have done. What version of Semiramis's story is Anicetus referring to, and where does Lohenstein stand on the question of the comparison's applicability? Is Agrippina guilty of plotting a coup, and was Semiramis a model for her, as Anicetus would seem to suggest?

The origins of Anicetus's negative judgment of Semiramis are most easily available in Boccaccio's De mulieribus claris.(41) Semiramis is described there as having ruled for her son in his minority after the death of his father, the king of Babylon. As clever as she was beautiful, and fearing that a woman might not be obeyed, she contrived to be taken for her son - they were similar in build, Boccaccio says - by "inventing" the style of dressing that came to be popular for the entire country, masking her sex (mentita sexum, 32) with a turban and baggy leggings, or pants. Ruling the country and doing deeds remarkable even in men, she soon found herself in a secure enough political and military position to reveal her true sex. In the process, Boccaccio comments, she had convinced her people that ability, rather than biology, was of greatest importance in a leader (34). The only spot on Semiramis's illustrious life and career - but a spot capable, Boccaccio claims, of wiping away the memory of anything praiseworthy she had done - came when she succumbed to a lustful passion for her son, and thereby established the permissibility of mother-son incest.(42) Ninus, enraged (ira inpulsus, 38) by her incestuous advances or jealousy or fear that children might be born as a result of the deed, is said by some, in Boccaccio's account, to have murdered her after thirty-two years of rule. His reaction was understandable, Boccaccio's commentary implies, since her lust eradicated any positive memory of her earlier deeds.

Lohenstein's Anicetus obviously shares Boccaccio's misogynistic assessment when he cries: "Sie [Agrippina] hat den Halss verwirgt nur durch die bosen Luste. / Des Ninus Faust durchstach der geilen Mutter Bruste. / Wil sie Semiramis / muss Nero Ninus seyn." ("She has brought on her own destruction only by means of her evil carnal pleasures. Ninus pierced his lustful mother's breasts. If she [Agrippina] would be Semiramis, Nero must become Ninus in turn," lines 309-11, 65.) And yet, it is in the context of Anicetus's depiction of Agrippina as a new Semiramis that Lohenstein's notes make clear that he, as the author of the play, was familiar with other, more positive assessments of Semiramis's career than those articulated by either his character or Boccaccio. These notes indicate that he would have his readers bear in mind the expanded context of her story, presented by Anicetus only in abbreviated fashion and without the full context of the incestuous act. By calling attention to this wider context, the text of the notes suggests that Anicetus's remarks are to be understood precisely as limited; Semiramis's other accomplishments and their similarity to Agrippina's achievements become more visible as a result.

In his gloss on Anicetus's reference to Semiramis, Lohenstein writes: "Von der grossen Konigin zu Babylon Semiramis ist bekandt: Dass sie ihr Sohn Ninus / welchem sie Bluttschande angemuthet / getodtet habe. Justin. lib. I." ("It is well known about Semiramis, the great queen of Babylon, that her son, whom she had encouraged to commit incest [with her], killed her. Justinus. Book I," 126.) "Justinus" is Marcus Junian(I)us Justinus, who wrote a third-century epitome of the Augustan historian Pompeius Trogus's Historicae Philippicae. Lohenstein's note continues to the effect that Semiramis is also said by some to have turned into a dove at her death, thus explaining the tradition that Babylonian standards and flags always depicted that bird. The reference here reads: "wie aus Diod. Sicul. Athan. Kircher. Oedip. Aegypt. tom. 2. part I. c. 3. p. 26. anfuhret" ("[The Jesuit humanist] Athanasius Kircher [1602-1680] cites from Diodorus Siculus [Diodorus of Sicily] in his [Kircher's] Oedipus Aegyptiacus [1652], second volume, part one, chapter three, page 26"). This reference to Kircher on Semiramis might seem extraneous, except that it makes us wonder why the Babylonians would have honored the memory of so depraved a queen by adopting her symbol as their mascot. Indeed, the expanded note makes us ask whether Semiramis's depravity was the only characteristic that stood out in her life. Both Diodorus's and Justinus's versions, versions that Lohenstein seems to have known, answer this question by pointing to a very different Semiramis than Boccaccio's.

Diodorus of Sicily's story of Semiramis is the lengthiest and most detailed rendering of the deeds of the woman whom he calls "the most renowned of all women of whom we have any record" (2, 4:1).(43) He tells the history of her rise to power through marriage to Ninus (father of Ninyas, her son) and how she was "endowed with understanding, daring, and all the other qualities which contribute to distinction" (2, 6:5, 367). The story of her invention of the sex-masking Persian garb is told here not in association with her regency for her son but in connection rather with her talent for military analysis and strategy (2, 6:67, 367-69); it thus does not strike the reader as a surprise when she subsequently inherits the kingdom upon Ninus's demise (2, 7:1, 371). Tales of her building projects in Babylon, military exploits, and feats of engineering skill go on to fill some sixteen long chapters of Diodorus's narrative; her sexual preferences are mentioned only in passing and contextualized by the remark that she refused to "contract a lawful marriage" with any of her lovers not because of her promiscuity, but because she was "afraid that she might be deprived of her supreme position" (2, 13:4, 393-95) if she did. Diodorus makes no mention of incestuous activity with Ninyas; to the contrary, his account states that it is the revelation of a court conspiracy against her on her son's behalf but carried out by one of his eunuchs that causes Semiramis to abdicate and turn the kingdom over to him. "After . . . commanding the governors to obey him [Ninyas], she at once disappeared . . . . Some making a myth of it, say that she turned into a dove and flew off in the company of many birds . . . and this, they say, is why the Assyrians worship the dove as a god, thus deifying Semiramis" (2, 20:1-2, 417). This is the detail, of course, that Kircher picked up and Lohenstein repeated in turn.(44) It is a detail, however, that points to the alternative story of her end in Diodorus's account and to the lengthy account of her illustrious career that precedes it, a career not associated with incest at all, but rather that of a wise, powerful, and respected queen.(45)

Diodorus's World History dates from the first century B.C. His is the lengthiest and best known classical version of Semiramis's story, a story in which it would have been difficult to find a reason to censure the queen, particularly in terms of her sexual behavior. Many of the other classical sources on Semiramis, from Herodotus's brief reference in the fifth century B.C. through Plutarch (A.D. 50-120) and Claudius Aelianus (A.D. second century) likewise mention only her achievements and political acumen, which in some versions allow her to outwit her husband and take over his kingdom.(46) It is not surprising, then, that in Justinus's third-century portrayal of the Assyrian queen - the other version Lohenstein cites - Semiramis also appears in a positive light, since it was clearly to Diodorus's version as well as to the others that any subsequent biographer would have initially turned.

In Justinus's Epitoma Historiarum Philippicarum Pompei Trogi, Semiramis's life is told in rather shorter fashion than in Diodorus's History, but with a similar emphasis on her achievements as a political leader.(47) The story of her transvestism occurs here in connection with her regency for her son; it was here, in all likelihood, that Boccaccio found it. Wisely considering the difficulties that even her husband, a man (nino viro) had ruling such diverse peoples (tantis gentibus, 1, 2:1), she concludes that she as a woman would have even less success, and thus dresses herself and her people in the loose unisex garb, achieving great things (magnas . . . res) thereafter, as Justinus writes (2, 2:5). When she finally reveals her true sex, moreover, no one takes it amiss. Indeed, her reputation even increases, he continues, since it becomes clear that she has, precisely as a woman, surpassed not only all other women, but men as well (1, 2:6). She founded Babylon, led wars of conquest, and died, he concludes, murdered by her son, when she sought sexual intercourse with him ("um concubitum filii petisset, ab eodem interfecta est," 1, 2:10) after thirty-two years of rule. Not mentioned in the accounts by Herodotus, Plutarch, and Aelianus, the source of Justinus's story of Semiramis's attempted incest is unclear. In any case, it is presented in his text as a matter of historical record, nothing more. Justinus's overall assessment of the queen's behavior is thus quite positive and very different, as Irene Samuel shows, from the condemnations to which later medieval writers, such as Augustine, Orosius, and Jerome, subjected her in their texts, texts based on Justinus but radically different from him in tone.(48)

Lohenstein's omission in his notes of references to Augustine, Orosius, or Jerome (whose versions he could have been introduced to in the marginalia of contemporary editions of Justinus - see below) in connection with Anicetus's condemnation of Agrippina as following Semiramis's model is striking. His gloss could have included their versions of the Semiramis story in order to underscore and legitimate Anicetus's negative assessment, but it did not. Rather, the playwright refers only, as indicated above, to Justinus and Diodorus. The fact that Lohenstein calls attention to their versions of the legend rather than to the condemnatory remarks by the Church fathers invokes the tradition of a strong and politically savvy Semiramis whose reputation the accusation of incest could do little to tarnish. In the context of Lohenstein's annotations then, Anicetus's remark about the two women's common depravity becomes suspect, particularly if we look to seventeenth-century editions of Justinus, texts edited and published with annotations by scholars whose work Lohenstein is known to have valued. For in these editions it becomes clear that the tradition of late humanist commentary with which Lohenstein would have been working when he referred to Justinus as his source for the Semiramis story saw not the act of incest, but rather Ninus's murder of his mother as the paramount crime. In the context of Lohenstein's play about Nero's murder of Agrippina, the parallels could not be more apparent.

In the edition of Justinus edited by the Strassburg professor Matthias Bernegger and printed in 1631, for example, it is Diodorus's version of Semiramis's life, along with Plutarch's and Aelianus's high-lighting of the clever way in which she usurped Ninus's throne, that are referenced in the notes to the final line of Justinus's book 1, chapter 1, when Semiramis's name is mentioned for the first time.(49) Lohenstein used Bernegger's Justinus commentary in another play about the African queen Sophonisbe, made famous for her resistance to the Romans in the Second Punic War.(50) We can surmise that it is this edition that he used in composing the Agrippina as well. More significant, however, are Bernegger's remarks at the end of chapter 2 of Justinus's Historiae, where the fact of Semiramis's incest and the subsequent matricide are discussed; he emphatically begins his gloss on the line "ab eodem interfecta est" ("by him [Ninus son] she was killed") with clear disapproval: "Injuste," he writes ("unjustly," with no right, Justinus, 1631, 7). The gloss begins by citing by title and chapter the texts by Orosius and Augustine in which Semiramis's lustful character is condemned, it is true, but ends with a string of references to the classical authors for whom it was her political shrewdness that distinguished her. The second list includes Herodotus and Plutarch.

Not only is the implication that Semiramis's reputation as a leader outweighs the accusation of incest, the stance that Justinus in fact held, but the very form of the gloss indicates that Bernegger agreed with him. A humanist legal theorist and man of state like Bernegger would have known, that is, that the mos italicus of dialectical argumentation usually called for presenting the case to be refuted first.(51) Bernegger also calls attention in his gloss on this line to his remarks somewhat later on in Justinus's text ("Infra, 16, 1, 4," ibid.). When we turn to Justinus 16, 1, 4, we discover that the issue being discussed is parricide, for which, Justinus declares, there is never enough just cause ("quanquam in parricidio, nulla satis iusta causa ad scleris patrocinia praetexi potest"), regardless of whether it is politically expedient or not. Bernegger's commentary is lengthy and explicates other famous incidents of parricide (see Justinus, 1631, 269-70). The question of immorality and political expediency is of course clearly what is at stake in the scene of incest in Lohenstein's Agrippina, the scene to which the entire discussion of Semiramis refers. In Bernegger's notes on Justinus, then, it is the matricide Ninus and not Semiramis who commits the clearly immoral act. He kills her "unjustly." Against the background of Bernegger's glosses, which Lohenstein almost certainly knew, the play's reference to a Ninus-like Nero and a Semiramis-like Agrippina suggests that the playwright may have understood them as representatives of negative and positive political and moral behavior, in that order, regardless of the incest attempt. Nero's killing of Agrippina is thus implicitly condemned more than Agrippina's seduction of her son.

Other editions of Justinus available when Lohenstein was composing the Agrippina contain Bernegger's glosses and, indeed, even supplement Bernegger's understanding of the Semiramis story with still more complimentary material derived from other ancient sources.(52) Like Bernegger, so too these other commentators understand the act of incest engaged in by Semiramis to have been undertaken not by a lust-crazed woman blinded by desire, but rather by a powerful queen seeking to preserve her power in a skillful, if perhaps (from our perspective) somewhat unorthodox way. It may well have been either to editions such as these or to a volume containing notes by Bernegger alone that Lohenstein thought he was referring his readers when he cited Justinus's rendering of her story in his notes. The suggestion is that if Agrippina were indeed as similar to Semiramis as Anicetus's remark suggests, she would have been following a model of a woman considered by at least one tradition of ancient historiography not as a promiscuous hussy, but as an example of a powerful ruling woman, a "femme forte." Lohenstein's gloss thus ironizes his character's claim by citing a commentary tradition at odds with Anicetus's stance. The horrific aspect of a play dominated by an incestuous queen mother loses quite a bit of its threat when seen in this light. Rather, it may well have appealed to Duchess Louise precisely as a staging of a ruling woman's political options.

The matter-of-fact perspective from which both Justinus's version of the Semiramis story as well as a number of seventeenth-century commentaries on Justinus consider the event of mother-son incest begins to suggest how Lohenstein's depiction of a seductive Agrippina could be understood as a potentially sympathetic one, indeed, why she can occupy a position endowed with almost positive value at the end of the play when her spirit "haunts" a cowed Nero, who in a standard neo-Senecan moment resorts to sorcery as a means to appease her.(53) The portrayal of Agrippina in an intertextual vocabulary of the unjustly wronged in act five occurs, I would like to argue, in spite of, or perhaps better, exactly as a result of the scene of attempted incest in act three. For the powerful woman acting according to Semiramis's model, political circumstances often dictated that actions (including attempted incest) perhaps not permissible in other contexts be undertaken in the interest of acquiring or maintaining power. Somewhat further on in the van Staveren variorum Nepos I discussed earlier, in a gloss on the Roman custom of women's appearance at public banquets, a note by one Johann Heinrich Boecler, quoted from his 1640 reflections on Nepos, articulates this stance. Boecler registers his recognition of the practical implications of Nepos's acceptance of a principle of cultural relativism: "Nihil autem dubitaverim afferere [sic]: Nepotis testimonio, de more universe accepto, nihil detrahere, quae haud dubie diversa personarum, locorum, temporum, ceterarumque rerum, quibus consuetudines aliquam dissimilitudinem aut exceptionem patiuntur, conditione aliter acciderunt" (11-12). In other words, if the particular historical and political situation warrants it, behavior very unlike that one might expect could be deemed acceptable. This seems in fact to have been the case in Semiramis's relationship with her son, and indeed in Agrippina's incest attempt as well.

Boecler belonged to the group of German philologists and historians active in and near Strassburg and Heidelberg, a group that included Bernegger and others, whose humanist learning was more often than not deployed in the service of the practical politics of the day.(54) Their editions of the Roman historians dominate Lohenstein's notes when he refers with specificity to the editions he used. Although separated from this group by a generation or so, he could have shared certain political values with them, including support for and employment by local powers with Calvinist sympathies (in the Rhineland for Boecler and the others, in Silesia and at the Piastian court for Lohenstein). Such parallel circumstances could have made their early and mid-century commentaries resonate with useful insights for the playwright and might explain the consistency with which these specific versions - out of the many available ones - of the classical historians, particularly Tacitus, are cited in Lohenstein's notes.(55) Full of both concrete references as well as asides designed to reflect upon contemporary political issues, these commentaries recognize that as personnel and power constellations change in a given political context, so too do the standards for judging right and wrong. Indeed, as Boecler writes elsewhere, the study of history demonstrates that "the very nature of virtue changes and varies" ("mutatur [et] variatur ipsa honesti natura").(56) The example of incest among the Persians may have been a case in point. If, moreover, circumstance can justify or at least explain what might seem aberrant or idiosyncratic behavior as politically motivated, Agrippina's recourse to attempted seduction in order to protect herself and her power base from deteriorating in the face of opposition from Nero's counselors could be understood as neither so strange nor so much the product of a particularly lustful or ambitious woman after all. Rather, like Semiramis in at least some versions of her story, the queen mother was using sex to try and retain power, a perfectly predictable and pragmatic act given the labile political situation she faced. The only problem was, of course, that, unlike Semiramis, Agrippina's strategy failed. The point may not have been lost on the Duchess.

It was probably to an edition of Tacitus prepared by a member of the Rhineland group, one Christopher Forstner, a well-known political advisor to the house of Montpelier and representative to the peace conference after the Thirty Years' War of 1648-49, that Lohenstein referred in his development of the materials for his play about Agrippina.(57) He cites Forstner's commentary on Tacitus's Annales explicitly in his notes to his other "Neronian" play Epicharis; we can assume that he also had this edition in mind, if not on his desk, as he wrote the Agrippina too, which was published in the same year and produced on alternate days with the Epicharis for two weeks in May of 1666.(58) Forstner's notes on Tacitus, particularly concerning the matter of incest as well as the question of appropriate behavior for a queen mother sharing power with her son, are important to understanding Lohenstein's portrayal of Agrippina as a female ruler, especially if we keep the example of Semiramis in mind. For the behavior that Tacitus describes Agrippina as engaged in during the episodes depicted on the school stage is characterized by Forstner as, like Semiramis's, perhaps somewhat unwise, but certainly not abnormal for a woman in her position in the political context of the time. By "excavating" the site of Lohenstein's use of Tacitean material in his Agrippina, we may be able to hear the echoes of Forstner's commentaries in Lohenstein's play as they might have fallen on interested ears in the case of the Duchess Louise in 1665, since she could have expected to be confronted with a similar situation in the years to come. At the same time, the schoolboy actor playing the role of Agrippina, as well as his fellows watching him act, could have learned lessons about what to expect in terms of sexual-political behavior once they reached their eventual administrative positions at Silesia's small courts, where they were as likely as not to serve female heads of state.

It is in Forstner's notes on the chapters of the Annales in which Agrippina's rise and fall are charted that Lohenstein would have found a treatment of the queen mother distinguished by its pragmatism, by its recognition, that is, of the realities of court life and of the modes of behavior typical, above all, of contexts in which powerful women might have been present. Several lengthy notes address the topic of female regency in some detail; the potential for competition and tension between mother and soon-to-be-of-age son is described with a tone that denotes clear familiarity with the topic. What is striking about Forstner's notes, which would have been obvious to anyone who consulted them in connection with Lohenstein's very specific citations to the Annales by book and chapter in his endnotes to the play, is the matter-of-factness with which Forstner treats Agrippina's behavior as a queen mother. Above all, he acknowledges her as an equal match for the emperor, her son; her talents for and methods of political manipulation and survival seem entirely predictable, sometimes even praiseworthy, given the context. Most significantly, when she - and others resort to sexual intrigue in pursuit of their political ends, Forstner observes that such behavior is typical of courtly realities, both in Rome and in his own time. No doubt Semiramis would have functioned effectively in both contexts.

It is in connection with Tacitus's remarks in book 12 of the Annales on Agrippina's rivalry with Nero's aunt Lepida for her son's favor that Forstner first notes the nature of the difficulties between queen mothers and their sons. Tacitus suggests that Agrippina's ambition ultimately caused her to be "fierce and full of menace" to her son since she "could give her son command, but could not bear his commands" ("Filio dare imperium, tolerare imperitantem nequibat," 12:64). While Tacitus clearly seems critical here, Forstner's note indicates a more impartial position: "Matrum reginarum ingenium!" ("Oh, the genius [mode of thinking] of queen mothers!" Tacitus, 1652, 246), he writes; such a reaction seems predictable to him given the situation and the personnel.(59) The brief note here closes with the suggestion that readers consult Forstner's own earlier remarks on Annales 3 ("V. Omiss. ad 3. annal. p. 582"). The context of that earlier, lengthier gloss, namely Tacitus's account of the relationship between Julia Augusta and Tiberius, prepares for Forstner's later position since it documents a prior example of mother-son tensions. "The hatred of prince sons [principium filiorum . . . odia] against their mothers is long standing," explains Forstner's note on Annales 3. "The lust for power is more passionate than all other feelings," he goes on, such that "queens" (reginae) who are regents or the keepers of power (tutelae potestate) actually aim at maintaining their role as sole ruler (tyrannidem), "thinking that they should be the heir to the throne rather than the son" ("nec tam filium Principem esse, quam se matrem, cogitant"). And conversely, "the woman's rank is considered [by the son] a lessening of the power of the prince." This is why, he concludes with a series of examples, so many sons and mothers have been rivals. In the case of Nero and his mother, he comments, the rivalry culminated in his plot for her death.(60)

Seen against the background of Forstner's notes, the desire of Lohenstein's Agrippina to maintain power may have been problematic, but would not have appeared unusual or out of place. Indeed, it was probably the result of the same kind of political logic that had motivated Semiramis's behavior as it was analyzed in the histories and commentaries discussed above. Forstner's remarks on Annales 13:12, where Tacitus writes of the gradual weakening of Agrippina's hold on her son, indicate in a similar fashion and with a similar tone that the relationship between queen regent and prince is by definition fraught with tension. To observe its mechanics on stage might have been a useful lesson indeed. "It is rare [rara est]," Forstner writes, "that the power of a queen mother lasts until the end of the regency or that it will not be disturbed by any clouds of rivalry [dissension]; modesty [in a queen mother] after the office [of regent] has been put down is even rarer; it would be more recommended to retain modesty [however] than to bring disfavor upon oneself by [trying to] prolong one's power into the years when the son is his own master. And this was the case with Nero when his mother's power began gradually to weaken."(61) The remark seems quite clearly to be directed at women in positions of regency and seeks to warn them of the consequences of various modes of behavior. We must bear in mind that the 1652 Forstner volume in which these remarks appear was dedicated to a woman ruler, Queen Christina, and Lohenstein could have found reason to think of the duchess when he read Forstner's notes. The notion that a queen mother's power seldom lasts out the regency and is even more rarely relinquished with grace nevertheless indicates that disputes about power were more the rule than the exception and these could happen even before the young prince had reached his majority. Duchess Louise may have paid special attention to this final point.

The manner in which the relationship between Nero and Agrippina is discussed in Forstner's glosses indicates that they were in fact political rivals, caught in a power struggle, in which either one of them could win, but not both.(62) It is in light of such an assessment of her role that we can best understand Forstner's frequent use of the Latin term princeps when referring to Agrippina (see his notes on 14:3 and 14:6, for example, in Tacitus, 1661, 7-8 and 14, respectively); she functions at this point in her relationship with Nero as a "rival chief," as if she were herself in line for the throne. She had already demonstrated her talent for ruling and could point to an impressive list of accomplishments; Forstner makes special note of Agrippina's "artes observandae" ("skills of observation") in his comments on Tacitus's description at Annales 12:41 (Tacitus, 1652, 203-06) of her careful removal from positions of influence of anyone who favored Britannicus over Nero as Claudius's heir. While Forstner's gloss mainly recapitulates all the tricks by which she made her son seem legitimate in the people's and the military's eyes, Forstner seems to possess a kind of admiration for the woman who could "produce" such a successful political event. Her power was recognized by many, he recounts, particularly those in the colony named after her, and is "celebrated even to our day" ("ad nostram usq[ue] aetatem celebrata," 204).

It is precisely in terms of Agrippina's acknowledged proficiency as a ruler, moreover, that it makes sense - to Forstner - that when she begins to lose a grip on power, she should use all possible methods to regain it. One of the methods of political manipulation attributed to Agrippina in the course of her long career was that of seduction. It is in the context of his discussion of the alleged incest with Nero that Tacitus mentions that Agrippina is said as a girl to have allowed herself to be seduced by Lepidus "in the hope of winning power" (14:2). She is also reputed to have secured Nero's succession to the throne by means of her infamous marriage with Claudius, her uncle. It is thus no surprise that she uses a combination of these methods - incestuous sex - when attempting to retain power vis-a-vis her son.

Tacitus writes that his sources are divided on the issue of Agrippina's incestuous relationship with Nero. Cluvius claims that Agrippina was so "eager to retain her influence" that she "offered him her person"; Fabius Rusticus "tells us that it was not Agrippina, but Nero, who lusted for the crime" (14:2). Although Forstner does not take sides in the dispute about sources that Tacitus describes, his notes clearly suggest that he prefers the accounts of Cluvius who claimed that it was in fact Agrippina who initiated the sexual encounter with her son. And yet, these same notes indicate, we must not be shocked nor accuse her of abnormal sex drive and perverted lust. For, as Forstner writes in his gloss of the entire discussion of incest: "Retinendae vel quaerendae potentiae instrumentum, adulteria, [et] stupra, alibi (a) notavi." ("I have noted elsewhere (a) that adultery and debauchery are the means of seeking or retaining power," Tacitus, 1661, 7). The note must refer to Agrippina's methods, since Nero is in fact in power at this point and thus would need to neither "seek" nor "retain" it. The note to this note, referred to by "(a)", directs the reader once again back to Forstner's comments on Annales 3, where the sexual disgraces of Lepida are discussed (3:22-23). Earlier in the section on Agrippina and her relationship with Claudius (12: 7), moreover, Tacitus in fact indicates that Agrippina was not particularly unchaste. Although it was well known that she seduced her uncle, once she gained power through her marriage to him, "there was sternness and generally arrogance in public," and "no sort of immodesty at home, unless it conduced to power" ("Nihil impudicum, nisi dominationi expediret" - emphasis added). Forstner remarks briefly, "Vide quae infra ad hunc librum notabimus" ("see my comments below on this book," Tacitus, 1652, 130) and refers to his own notes to 12:25 where Agrippina's use of her lover Pallas as a tool in the promotion of Nero is discussed. There Forstner comments, "Veneficia, stupra, adulteria, potentiae sive quaerendae sive servandae instrumenta" ("poisonings, unchastity, and adultery are the instruments of seeking or retaining power," Tacitus, 1652, 168), and refers again to his notes on Annales 3. The unadorned comment, reiterated at these several points in the narrative (and in an additional comment on the story of Poppaea as well [Tacitus, 1652, 323-24]), that adultery, seduction, and unchastity were standard instrumenta of power politics, by no means suggests that Forstner approved of Agrippina resorting to sexual intrigue when she found her place in the court hierarchy threatened. But it does indicate that he did not find it unusual given his familiarity with numerous European courts at the time. Agrippina's mistake was thus neither of a moral nature nor a character flaw, but rather one of timing and location, since she had not seen to it that Acte be prevented from interrupting. Nero's counselors were clearly against the queen mother, and counselors, as Forstner, himself a counselor, knew, must always be cultivated and kept on one's side. What Lohenstein, based on assessments of political intrigue like those contained in Forstner's notes on his primary source, Tacitus, was showing in his play was not his disapproval of a powerful woman's attempting an incestuous seduction as part of a plan to retain political power. Rather, he was depicting the context in which the plan failed. Duchess Louise might have had good cause to take note of the lesson.

Much has been written about the role of humanism and its texts in the development of the apparatus and ideology of the Italian city-state of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries; Stephanie Jed has recently added the dimension of gender to the discussion of philology's role in producing political identity in humanism's heyday, pointing out how "violating," "castigating," and "contaminating" gendered ancient texts played a necessary role in the conceit that "purified" Roman values, for example, could form the basis of Florentine political claims. The "political-historical philology" of seventeenth-century central European humanism provides a somewhat different kind of model for the role humanist learnedness played in the construction of both an ideology of gender and of a gendered politics; its encyclopedic, apparently eclectic, but always pragmatic interest in ancient verba was driven by the need to find parallels in the res of past events to function as models for survival behavior amid the complex and instable realities of the early modern political scene. And indeed, early modern gender politics and ideology in central Europe frequently functioned on the basis of precisely such a pragmatics, particularly where the (for us) unexpected realities of female rulership were concerned. Lohenstein's Agrippina testifies to the existence of such realities and indicates that philology occupied an important position in the artes politicae of the time. Learned women rulers, such as Duchess Louise of Liegnitz, and aspiring schoolboy-actors, such as those who acted in Lohenstein's play, were in a good position to benefit from the insights into the parameters of political behavior and moral judgment delineated by the play and its notes. They are strikingly modern parameters, moreover, in spite - or, perhaps, precisely because - of the fact that they were in part derived from ancient texts.


1 See Suetonius, 28, 228; and Tacitus, 1942, 14:2, 320-21.

2 On the tradition of early modern Schuldrama in Central Europe, see Barner, 310-18; and Spellerberg, [1978.sup.1], 58-69. On the tradition in Breslau in particular, see Schlesinger, 4-7. Hippe, 159-92, reports on the carefully kept diaries of Elias Major, the rector of the Elizabeth Gymnasium in Breslau, which include descriptions of the plays. On the curriculum of the German schools in this period, see Schindel. On the curriculum in Breslau Gymnasien in particular, see Banet.

3 There has been a great deal of attention paid to the issue of stage transvestism on the Elizabethan stage. See, among others, Howard and Orgel. Little or no attention has been paid to the issue in scholarship on Lohenstein or German schooldrama. Meyer-Kalkus, 17-18, is, as far as I know, the only scholar to note this aspect of the production of Lohenstein's plays. Fichte, 148, comments upon the confusion of gender roles in Lohenstein's plays but does not extend his analysis to the context of production.

4 See Newman, 220-22.

5 See Tacitus, 1942, 12:42, 270: "[Agrippina was] a woman who up to this time was the only recorded instance of one who, an emperor's daughter, was sister, wife, and mother of a sovereign."

6 On the parallelisms asserted between ancient Rome and the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation, see Oestreich, 10. Wichert, 135-59, has nevertheless recently problematized the ease with which scholars have accepted this parallelism on behalf of their early modern subjects in his book on Lohenstein. Accepting the parallelism between the ancient and modern empires would have in some cases meant affirming imperial claims at odds with the sovereignty of other early modern political entities, such as the principality over which Duchess Louise came to rule.

7 Lohenstein addresses Louise as a "kluge Furstin" in his dedicatory remarks to the play, 12-13. Spellerberg, [1978.sup.2], 681, has suggested that the inscription on Louise's coffin, described by Lucae, in which she is called a "Preisswurdigste Regentin," may have been authored by Lohenstein. Duke Christian's will is quoted in Schuck, 89. Dr. Ewa Pietrzak (Wroclaw) was kind enough to forward a copy of Schuck's essay to me. Duchess Louise's background, education, marriage, widowhood, and regency are described in detail in Lucae, 1501-40.

8 For a description of the publication history of Lohenstein's Agrippina, see Asmuth, [1971.sup.1], 31-33. The edition of the play used and cited here is Just's, 1955. Hereafter all references to this edition of Lohenstein's play will be cited parenthetically within the text by act, line, and page.

9 See Freud. On Freud's use of the image of Rome as an archaeological site, see Damrosch; Garber; 52-54; and Ginzburg.

10 Lohenstein himself characterized the play as "lasterhaft." See his prefatory remarks to the "Anmerckungen" to the Agrippina, 113. Precisely his acknowledgment of the apparently questionable moral niveau of the text makes the dedication to the quite respectable Louise all the more puzzling.

11 It is worth noting here that my premise is that textual criticism and philological studies are crucial in the interpretation of early modern texts and reveal aspects of the political realities of Renaissance textuality that have received too little attention. For a general commentary on the place of textual criticism in the marketplace of literary scholarship today, see McGann.

12 Lucae, chapter ten, "Von dem Briegischen Furstenthum," tells the story of the Piastian house during these years. See also Sinapius, 1728, 139-40, on Louise's succession to the regency. Schoffler describes the entire network of Calvinist princes and sympathizers during this period, and Wichert, 150-51, characterizes the politics of the Piastian princes as "eine Politik des Ausgleichs."

13 On the Salic Law, see Ronzeaud; and MacLean, 1977, 1-24, esp. 16. Also see MacLean, 1980, 73-75. For a central European rendering of the Salic Law debate and of its applicability in the face of a break in a dynastic line, with the potential loss of property and political power that could result, see Goclerius, passim, but "Caput Decimum," 31-33, in particular, on the issue of mothers succeeding to positions as heads of state.

14 See Lohenstein, 1679, C3.

15 On Oels as "ein weibliches Lehngut" and on Elizabeth Maria's regency ("Ober-Vormundschafft") for her sons, see Lucae, 1133-39. Grunhagen, 351-52, elides the fact of Elizabeth Maria's regency.

16 On Lohenstein's employment by these women, see Gebauer's foreword to his edition of Lohenstein, 1731, 1:viii; Sinapius, 1707, 1:647-48 and 679-80; and idem, 1728, 787. Also see Muller, 42-45.

17 See Muller, 45-61, on Lohenstein s activities as Syndikus and the trip to Vienna. Also see Wichert, 145-48, on Lohenstein's political mission in Vienna.

18 See Jed, 18-50; and Kuhlmann.

19 For a description of the debates about women's roles in this period, see Woodbridge; and Jardine. Also see, more recently, Jordan.

20 See Etter, 159, note 285. On Queen Christina in general, see Friese, who conceives of Christina's familiarity with the historiographical tradition as the result of her "mannliche Erziehung" (479), which suggests that she was an exception. My argument is that among certain classes, the education of women and men, girls and boys, would in fact have been sex-blind.

21 See Schurmann's collected letters in her Opuscula. The letter to Elizabeth of Bohemia is dated 7 September 1639 and is cited on 207-08 of this edition.

22 See Schurmann's treatise on education for women, Num foeminae christianae conveniat studium litterarum? (1648). I consulted this text in the 1749 Spanheim edition. Excerpts of the treatise are available in German translation in Gossmann, 1984, 47-52. On Schurmann in general, see Becker-Cantarino.

23 See, for example, the collection of descriptions of learned women's lives by Frawenlob, Die Lobwurdige Gesellschaft Der Gelehrten Weiber (1631-33), reprinted in Gossmann, 1985, 46-83. The reference to the reading of histories may be found in Frawenlob's life of the young Anna Maria Kramerin (d. 1627), 55-56; he describes Louysa Amona of Anhalt (as well as countless others) as "in der Lateinschen und Frantzosischen Sprache gelehrt" (72). On the tradition of such collections of the stories of legendary, historical, and contemporary women in the seventeenth century, see Woods.

24 On the schooling of young noblewomen in this period, see Kleinschmidt, 549-57. Becker-Cantarino, 562, underscores that this was only the tradition in the elite of the elite. Davis, 157, nevertheless sees the participation of learned noblewomen in the historiographical tradition as symptomatic of their "strong connection or concern with the politics of their time." On the issue of noblewomen and their involvement in the humanist tradition as a matter of "vocational training," so to speak, see Grafton and Jardine, 29-57: "Women Humanists: Education for What?"

25 Schuck, 88, describes Louise's upbringing and education. Also see Lucae, 1501, on her reputation for wit and learnedness prior to her marriage with Duke Christian.

26 See Le Moyne, 10. For several conflicting evaluations of Le Moyne's stance on the issue of education and power for women, see MacLean, 1977, 77-79 and 188, and Lougee, 63-64. More recently, see Schlumbohm.

27 See the "Anmerckungen" to his other Nero play, Epicharis, 4:97, 283.

28 I analyze the various traditions of Semiramis legend below.

29 Tasso's treatise on women, Discorso della virtu feminile e donnesca (1582) seems to have provided the origin for this controversy. See MacLean, 1977, 19-21. Le Moyne refutes Tasso in his La Galerie on this specific issue (191-96). Yet his examples seem to confirm Tasso's point.

30 Just, 1961, 121, cites Paul Stachel's 1907 Seneca und alas deutsche Renaissancedrama as an example of this "moralische Abwertung" of Lohenstein's play. Also see Lunding, 134-35; Lunding sees the (im)morality of Lohenstein's characters and of the playwright as somehow commensurate with one another. Asmuth, 1971 (2), 26-27, sees the effect of the incest scene as "rhetorical" rather than in terms of performance, and thus misses the additional levels of complexity that the performative context would have entailed.

31 See Spellerberg, 1978(3), 636-39, on the pamphlet summaries of the plays that were handed out at the time of their production. The Szenar for the Agrippina does not indicate that the incest scene was not played.

32 On the various tricks associated with the production of martyr plays, for example, in which the simulation of acts of torture called for the use of such props, see Gascoigne, 72-77.

33 I am indebted here to Wichert's analysis, 383-86, of the question of Agrippina's culpability.

34 See Just, 1955, xiv.

35 See Nepos, 1961, 4-5.

36 There were some sixteen editions published between the time of the editio princeps in 1470 and 1675, five of which were written by northern European humanists between 1608 and 1657. See Nepos, 1977, x-xi.

37 See Nepos, 1734.

38 See the article on Ernstius in Jocher, 2:385. Marshall dates Ernstius's Nepos edition as having been published in 1637. See Nepos, 1977, xi.

39 Here as elsewhere, I am indebted to Professor Patrick Sinclair (UC, Irvine) for his help with translating some of the Latin texts.

40 On the Frenchman, Barnabas Brisson, see Jocher, 1:1385-86. On Gronov/Haverkampius, see Jocher, 2:1193.

41 I cite Boccaccio after the Latin edition of his works, edited by Branca. See Boccaccio, 1967, 32-39. The Semiramis story as told by Boccaccio is available in English in Boccaccio, 1963, 4-7.

42 The Latin text reads: "Ceterum h[a]ec omnia, nedum in femina, sed in quocunque viro strenuo, mirabilia atque laudabilia et perpetua memoria celebranda, una obscena mulier f[o]edavit illecebra" (36).

43 See Diodorus of Sicily, 1:357.

44 See Kircher, 364. On Kircher and his vast influence on the poets of the period, see Fletcher.

45 It must have been a reading of Diodorus's version of Semiramis's story that gave Christine de Pizan the impetus to represent her Semiramis as a politically astute woman, whose act of incest with her son is explained as a protective measure against potential encroachment upon her power and as an indication of her political self-esteem, for no other man was worthy of her as a wife. See de Pizan, 38-40. On Christine's Semiramis, see Quilligan, 69-84. Quilligan does not mention the Diodorus source.

46 See Herodotus, 168-69; Plutarch, "Mulierum Virtutes," 3: 476-77, "Regum et Imperatorum Apophthegmata," 3:14-15, and "Amatorius," 9:332-35; and Aelianus, 204-07.

47 See Justinus, 1972, 1, 1:10-2:13, 4-5.

48 See Samuel, 34-35; Augustine, 5:370-73; and Orosius, 1:4, 1-8, 43-45.

49 See Justinus, 1631, 5.

50 See Lohenstein, Sophonisbe, 396 and 404, where he refers explicitly to Bernegger's commentary on Justinus. He also indicates that he used Bernegger's Suetonius edition in his notes to his play, Cleopatra, 205.

51 On the medieval method of the mos italicus and its afterlife in Renaissance jurisprudence, see MacLean, 1980, 68-69.

52 See, for example, Justinus, 1660, 8-12.

53 The final scene of Lohenstein's Agrippina (act five) can be read as an inversion of the end of book four of Virgil's Aeneid, where Dido uses the talents of a sorceress to invoke Aeneas's spirit. The parallels to the Aeneid are suggested in Lohenstein's notes to this scene. See 132-35. When analyzed in full, such an intertextual reference has the effect of suggesting that Lohenstein's Agrippina ultimately occupies the position of the departed Aeneas, conventionally identified as a positive figure (the future founder of Rome) in Virgil's text. That her spirit is allowed to "haunt" Nero also associates her with an unjustly wronged figure from contemporary tyrant dramas. On the tyrant dramas, see Bushnell. Menhennet has analyzed the positive valences of the queen at the end of the play from a characterological perspective, but has not studied the textual references. Behar, 1:100-02, has also studied this scene in terms of its sources in the demonological texts of the period.

54 On Boecler in particular, see Else-Lilly Etter, 160-61. Kuhlmann also gives the background of this group.

55 On the numerous Tacitus editions available at this time, see Burke and Schellhase. Given the availability of other, more well-known editions, the consistency with which Lohenstein used the editions edited by the Rhineland group is striking.

56 Cited in Kuhlmann, 342, n. 30.

57 On Forstner, see Etter, 162-66; and Stein. Forstner's Notae Politicae on Tacitus's Annales were published over a number of years, from the volume on the first six books, written and published in Padua in 1626 when Forstner was a young student, to the second volume (1651), dedicated to the imperial chancellor, Peter Heinrich of Stralendorf, through whom Forstner hoped to secure a position at the court in Vienna, to the commentaries on the later books, written and published in 1652 and 1662, after he had witnessed first hand, as the chancellor of the earldom of Montpelier (with responsibilities in Paris), the intricacies of political behavior and court intrigue from Paris to Uppsala and Vienna. The 1652 volume is dedicated to Queen Christina of Sweden, presumably because of the famous similitudo temporis between the days of the Roman Principate and those of her own rule.

58 Lohenstein refers to Forstner's Tacitus in his notes on the following lines in his Epicharis play: 1:645, 738; 2:168, 540; 3:150, 466, 494; and 4:97 and 484. On the production dates, see Asmuth, 1971(1), 31.

59 Forstner clearly meant his notes to be read alongside of an edition of Tacitus; his text does not contain the actual text of the Annales, but rather just the ends of the lines upon which he comments, as a way for the reader to orient him/herself in the notes. The Latin text cited here is, therefore, the Loeb edition of the Annales, edited by John Jackson. See Tacitus, 1956.

60 Forstner's notes on the first six books of the Annales may be found in Tacitus, 1655. The page reference in Forstner's notes to book twelve (in Tacitus, 1652) to the notes on book three (i.e., 582 in Tacitus, 1655) is correct.

61 See Tacitus, 1652, 276. The Latin text reads: "Rara est Reginarum Matrum usque ad tutelae finem perdurans, nec ullis simultatum nebulis turbata potentia: rarior post depositam administrationem modestia: quam retinere satius esset, quam prorogato in annos, quibus sui juris filius est, imperio offensas accersere. Ita apud Neronem infracta paulatim matris potentia." I am grateful to Dr. Nicola Kaminsky (Tubingen) and Professor Patrick Sinclair (UC, Irvine) for assistance in translating the Forstner commentaries.

62 Compare Forstner's notes on Annales 14:7 in Tacitus, 1661, 14. The Forstner text refers to "Cap. VIII" here, but its content clearly refers to Burrhus's and Seneca's plot, which is described in chapter seven.


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Author:Newman, Jane O.
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Date:Mar 22, 1996
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