His Wife


‘Later, leaving youth behind and attaining manhood, Gengulph chose for himself a wife of high standing, as was fitting.  But she, although likewise descended from the most noble of origins, was notably ignoble in her behaviour, as our story hereafter will show.  God, who judges secretly, tolerated this vicious woman (so I believe) to be the means by which the blessed man’s reputation for patience might be tested, and his blameless innocency proved to the full.’  Vita I.

Gengulf and his wife (source unknown)

Gengulph’s wife naturally appears as a prominent figure in both Vita I and Hroswitha, and both writers emphasize that she was of the same high social status as Gengulphus. Hroswitha is alone in suggesting that Gengulph delays marriage in a way which causes popular alarm:

The Eastern Franks were indeed filled with joy at the great merits and goodness of their duke.
And [Gengulph]  –  beloved of Christ, and in every way worthy of his people – was urged by strong representations from his chief courtiers to take to himself a suitable young woman
to join in lawful wedlock as is fitting, lest the noble line of the royal family should come to an end through lack of issue…   Hroswitha

But this naturally fits in with her view of Gengulph as the heir of a ducal family with ‘subjects’ (conceptions which are entirely lacking from Vita I).

She even refers to the wife as ‘royal’, and goes so far as to comment briefly upon her personal attractions.

At length the worthy duke Gengulphus, taking account of these concerns and much moved by the gentle warnings of his statesmen, and by his own warm inclination, married his beloved.
She was a distinguished woman, of royal blood and of singular beauty.

Hroswitha is also unique in providing her with a name – Ganea. This can scarcely be from any kind of sympathetic motive, as she elsewhere alludes to her as ‘she-wolf‘, ‘damnable harlot‘, ‘brazen creature‘, and a variety of other unflattering epithets. It is difficult to determine if Hroswitha in her use of the name Ganea, is preserving a genuine tradition, exercising her inventive powers, or simply being surreptitiously spiteful.

The name is an unlikely one. There is no evidence for its use as a female name except in this text. It does not appear to have any evident meaning as a forename of Germanic origin. The only relevant language in which the word has any significance is Latin; where it means a sleazy roadside brothel or, by extension, a provider of its characteristic entertainments. This – even taking into account the erosion of Latin learning during the Merovingian period – would make it an improbable choice of name for the daughter of a high-ranking family in C8th Burgundy. It may be, therefore, that Hroswitha simply intended the word, or name, as another term of abuse.

A more interesting possibility is that the woman’s name was correctly Gan… plus some other unknown element, and that Hroswitha has deliberately tampered with it in order to give it an enduring unsavoury connotation. If a kind of damnatio memoriæ was intended, Hroswitha has certainly succeeded in her aim, for the improbable and disreputable name Ganea is the only one by which the saint’s wife has been known throughout the following centuries.

Note on the Illustrations:  The editor regrets that we cannot discover the source of these charming depictions of a well-fed Gengulph and his wife and the well owner, and would be glad to receive information about them. 

© Paul Trenchard
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