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Medieval Women Writers

Women Writers of the Middle Ages, Renaissance, Reformation

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Around the world, a few women came to public attention as writers during the period from the sixth through fourteenth centuries. Here are many of them, listed in chronological order. Some names may be familiar, but you're likely to find some you didn't know before.

Khansa (Al-Khansa, Tumadir bint 'Amr)

about 575 - about 644

A convert to Islam during the life of the Prophet Muhammed, her poems are mainly about the deaths of her brothers in battles before Islam's arrival. She's thus known both as an Islamic woman poet and as an example of pre-Islamic Arabian literature.

Rabiah al-Adawiyah

713 - 801

Rabi'ah al-'Adawiyyah of Basrah was a Sufi saint, an ascetic who was also a teacher. Those who wrote about her in the first few hundred years after her death portrayed her as a model of Islamic knowledge and mystical practice or critic of humanity. Of her poems and writings that survive, some may be of Maryam of Bashrah (her student) or Rabi'ah bint Isma'il of Damascas.

Dhuoda

about 803 - about 843

Wife of Bernard of Septimania who was godson of Louis I (King of France, Holy Roman Emperor) and who became embroiled in a civil war against Louis, Dhuoda was left alone when her husband had her two children taken from her. She sent her sons a written collection of advice plus quotations from other writings.

Hrotsvitha von Gandersheim

about 930 - 1002

First known woman dramatist, Hrotsvitha von Gandersheim also wrote poems and chronicles.

Michitsuna no haha

about 935 to about 995

She wrote a diary about court life and is known as a poet.

Murasaki Shikibu

about 976-978 - about 1026-1031

Murasaki Shikibu is credited with writing the first novel in the world, based on her years as an attendant in the Japanese imperial court.

Trotula of Salerno

? - about 1097

Trotula was the name given to a medieval medical compilation of texts, and the authorship of at least some of the texts is attributed to a female physician, Trota, sometimes called Trotula. The texts were standards for guiding gynecological and obstetrical practice for centuries.

Anna Comnena

1083 - 1148

Her mother was Irene Ducas, and her father was the Emperor Alexius I Comnenus of Byzantium. After her father's death, she documented his life and reign in a 15-volume history written in Greek, which also included information on medicine, astronomy, and accomplished women of Byzantium.

Li Qingzhao (Li Ch'ing-Chao)

1084 - about 1155

A Buddhist of northern China (now Shandong) with literary parents, she wrote lyric poetry and, with her husband, collected antiquities, during the Song dynasty. During the Jin (Tartar) invasion, she and her husband lost most of their possessions. A few years later, her husband died. She finished a manual of antiquities which her husband had begun, adding a memoir of her life and poetry to it. Most of her poems -- 13 volumes during her lifetime -- were destroyed or lost.

Frau Ava

? - 1127

A German nun who wrote poems about 1120-1125, Frau Ava's writings are the first in German by a womanwoman whose name is known. Little is known about her life, except that she seems to have had sons and she may have lived as a recluse within a church or monastery.

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