In German superstition Ahnfrau is an ancestress of some noble family, whose spirit appears to give warning of an approaching disaster or death.
Die Ahnfrau is a five-act tragedy in trochaic verse by F. Grillparzer. It is his first published play. The plot, adapting a French anecdote of the robber Jules Mandrin and an anonymous ghost novel (Die blutende Gestalt mit Dolch und Lampe oder die Beschwörung im Schlosse Stern bei Prag), was originally conceived for a story, but J. Schreyvogel encouraged Grillparzer to dramatize it (1816). Grillparzer revised the play with Schreyvogel's help and it was successfully performed on 31 January 1817 in the Theater an der Wien. Schreyvogel defended the play against unfavourable criticism in a preface (‘Vorbericht’) to the first edition (1817).
The action, accomplishing the extinction of the house of Graf Zdenko von Borotin, is mainly supported by the ghost of the adulterous ancestress (‘Ahnfrau’), whose appearance to the characters signifies their doom, which she can foresee but not prevent. The sequence of events reveals the love of Borotin's daughter Bertha for Jaromir, who turns out to be her brother. Although believed to have died as a boy, Jaromir has been brought up by the robber Boleslav, who returns to reveal the true relationship between the characters as Borotin is about to die from an injury inflicted by Jaromir when trying to escape arrest as a robber. Bertha, upon hearing that she has loved her brother, and that the son has unwittingly killed his father, dies from shock, while the ‘Ahnfrau’ saves Jaromir from arrest and condemnation by killing him with her kiss.