Cold-blooded tales of women with tails in the works of Johannes Praetorius (1630-80)

Rosa Marie Elizabeth Pohl, University of Pennsylvania


Some of the most interesting contributions made by Johannes Praetorius were his collections of curiosities, superstitions, and folk traditions. Beginning with an introduction to Praetorius' life and a synopsis of secondary contributions with respect to his writings, this study analyzes the superstitions and folk tales from Praetorius' German language works in which women are given partial or total animal characteristics, concentrating on the motif of the "cold-blooded" female. After a summary of general ideas regarding females in Praetorius' writings and in an historical context, the core of this study delves further into the world of Praetorius' women in their cold-blooded state with its culmination in his portrayal of the legendary figure Melusine. It explores his sources and the historical development of his misogynist perceptions as well as the relationship of his ideas with those associated with the witch-hunts of Europe during this time. Much of what Praetorius writes is rooted in Antiquity and to some extent in Christian theology and would be considered quite typical of early modern learned opinion; however, Praetorius often portrays women in a more negative manner than many of his literary colleagues. Using excerpts from various authors, Praetorius supports his own theories about women, frequently taking them out of context, omitting pertinent information or embellishing and distorting information supplied by others. Objective details included in the works of his contemporaries become Praetorius' subjective, negative commentary on females. Many of the passages which are examined in this study show women with fish- and snake-like qualities as well as the motifs of the mermaid and Melusine, revealing how Praetorius' women become a part of a male-appointed "non-human" gender. Praetorius warns his reading public about these evil creatures and about women in general, whom he believes are deceptive and even demonic. Although the essence of his writing is usually more negative than that of his literary colleagues, Praetorius is a figure of his time, and a further look at the folk traditions and stories collected and recorded by him may be the key to further understanding the function and status of women in the literature of the seventeenth century.

Subject Area

Germanic literature|Folklore|Biographies|Womens studies

Recommended Citation

Pohl, Rosa Marie Elizabeth, "Cold-blooded tales of women with tails in the works of Johannes Praetorius (1630-80)" (1996). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9627987.