The aim of this paper is to consider the benefits of teaching Terence along with his daring medieval aemulatrix, the ninth-century Saxon nun, Hrotsvit of Gandersheim. In the first part, I will present data based on two interdisciplinary courses on Roman comedy and its reception, one undergraduate (spring 2006) and one graduate (winter 2008). Students enrolled in these classes came from the Classics, English, and Drama Departments and thus ranged widely in their ability to read the original Latin texts. The primary material reading lists, including Plautus, Terence, Hrotsvit, Machiavelli, and Shakespeare, catered to this two-tier audience. Both curricula also featured introductory readings and lectures as well as appropriate research assignments, and led to performance. For the final performance, the respective groups were asked to choose scenes from any of the assigned readings, including the plays of the palliata and their diverse adaptations. Both groups unanimously opted for the short ‘plays’ by Hrotsvit over the classical originals and staged two different dramas, the undergraduate class performing Dulcitius in an English translation (concocted by the participants), the graduate, Calimachus in the Latin original (adapted by the instructor).
In the second part of the paper, I propose to identify the characteristics that made Hrotsvit so appealing to both graduate and undergraduate audiences and to suggest ways in which we might use these characteristics to promote the study of Roman comedy. Part of Hrotsvit’s attraction, I argue, is the nature of her plays, which, as Christian appropriations of Terence, purposefully challenge the original ideology of love and marriage promoted in the palliata. Hrotsvit's work is thus uniquely suited to serve as metaphor for our cross-cultural readings and mis-readings of classical texts. To illustrate this point, I intend to use a DVD documenting the performance of Calimachus, showing how the students deliberately twisted Hrotsvit’s message that the Christian God can empower even women, giving it both anachronistically modern and ironically feminist overtones. In conclusion, I propose that inviting students to engage with adaptations and pastiches of classical texts, preferably through performance, might be an effective way to embolden them as modern readers to claim ownership of Plautus and Terence. It is as active participants in the classical tradition that modern readers can best come to appreciate Roman comedy in all its complexity.