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Out of the Pietist Labyrinth: Susanna Sprögel’s Latin Verses

Owen Ewald

At the end of the long theological work Consilia et Responsa Theologica appear thirty-nine Latin poems by Susanna Sprögel.  This paper will connect these poems to the Consilia, to Pietist religious movements in Germany, and to traditions of Classical education, especially verse composition.  Despite the Latin words at the beginning of the title, Consilia mostly features theological discussion in German; the main portion of work is technically anonymous, but scholarly opinion has shifted from attributing it to Gottfried Arnold, the named author of the preface and Sprögel’s son-in-law, to Sprögel herself (Martin; Stevenson).  
While many authors of Pietist verse, such as Quirinus Kuhlman, wrote in German to oppose the official Latin of Roman Catholicism and praised vernacular translators like John Wyclif (Smith), Sprögel wrote her verse in Latin.  Sprögel used Latin rather than German possibly because other female Pietists, Anna Maria Van Schurman and Henrietta von Gersdorff, had already written widely reprinted Latin verses (Stevenson).  Morever, such verses would appeal to educated elites throughout Europe and could draw on other literary traditions that were not embedded within established churches.  Sprögel’s meter is an adaptation of the eight-syllable line of thousands of years of Christian verse since Prudentius (fl. 405 AD), and each eight-syllable line alternates with a seven-syllable line.  Her use of end-rhyme recalls Pietist hymns or other Pietist poetry like Kuhlmann’s.
The theological dialogue and the poems both concern spiritual life and how the human soul turns toward God.  For example, Poem 5.17-20 reads, nullis, profecto, nullis / quietus horis vixero /donec Deum medullis / cordi caelum fixero.  Since not only the heart but also the medulla or marrow has erotic connotations in Classical literature (Rosenmeyer), this poem echoes a section in the Consilia in which the human soul falls in love with God:  «Wenn eine Seele erst in Gottes Leibe erwedt ist,…ihr Seele-hunger sucht sich in eigener Gefälligkeit auf verborgene Weise zu sättigen» (“When a soul first is raised up in God’s love,…its soul-hunger seeks to fulfill itself in its own kindness in a secret way,” 416).  In this example, Sprögel emphasizes a strong but hidden yearning for God in both Latin and German sections of the Consilia. 
Most strikingly, her second poem uses the still-living image of the Labyrinth to describe the spiritual life of a Christian (labyrinthus est rotundus / habens dolosas orbitas, 3-4), an image present not only at Chartres Cathedral but also in Ovid, Metamorphoses 8.  The Christian must escape, as Theseus did, by following the “thread” (filum, 15) of general revelation, but towards God (in Deum convertere, 20) rather than towards Ariadne.
Finally, these poems demonstrate the continuing role of Latin verse composition in European education, even if male graduates of a German Gymnasium would have recognized Sprögel’s verse as something radically different from traditional Latin poetry (Grafton & Jardine; Stevenson).  Her verses exemplify how Latin verse composition was not only a pedagogical method, but also a medium for emotional and theological expression.  These verses can draw on images and vocabulary of past Latin poetry like the medulla and the labyrinth, but their aim is to exemplify an emotionally involved Christian faith rather than merely echo past creativity.

Session/Panel Title

Neo-Latin Texts in the Americas and Europe

Session/Paper Number

53.1

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