Pindar and the Renaissance Hymn-Ode, 1450-1700

By Stella P. Revard | Go to book overview
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Pindar and the Christian Hymn-Ode

In its early development the Christian hymn-ode often took a parallel course to that of its classical cousin, the humanistic hymn-ode. While some sixteenth-century poets attempted to preserve in their hymns traditional Christian liturgical language and idiom, the majority enthusiastically embraced the language and techniques of classical hymn and Pindaric ode for religious as well as secular poetry. Fifteenth- and early sixteenth-century hymns not only employed classical hexameters, but also Sapphics, Alcaics, iambics, elegiacs, often consciously lifting poetic descriptions and phrases from Horace, Ovid, Lucretius, and Pindar. The problem of classical imitation thus was further aggravated for Christian poets when the so-called classical hymn or ode was addressed to Christ or the Virgin, rather than to their pagan prototypes, Apollo or Venus. One of the scholars most critical of other poets' experimentation with classical forms for Christian hymns was, curiously enough, also one of the first men to employ Pindaric triads for religious verse: none other than Julius Caesar Scaliger (1484–1558), the arbiter of ancient and modern poetics.1 While he was attempting to use Pindaric triads for his own

1 See Julius Caesar Scaliger, Poetices Libri Septem (Lyons, 1561). The Poetices includes both a survey of ancient and modern poetry. As we have noted in Chapter 1, Scaliger was among the first to analyze Pindar's poetic corpus, noting that Pindar's original output had included a great many types of lyric poetry—epinicia, paeans, dithyrambs, and hymns. He also observed that Pindar's epinicia are in some sense hymns (Poetices, 48). He knew that Pindar applied the word hymn (ύμνοι) to his own odes (p. 50), and that for the Greeks the general word (ϋμνος) applied to what the Latins call “celebratio” (p. 162). Yet, he did attempt to use the word hymn in a different way for the Renaissance, distinguishing it as a genre from epinicia, which celebrates victory in games, paeans that give thanks to the gods for victory in battles, and hymns, which are spoken at altars to the gods (p. 48). Scaliger's


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