Sacred Song from the Byzantine Pulpit: Romanos the Melodist

By R. J. Schork | Go to book overview
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"Judas" (17)

Twenty-three stanzas with the acrostic TOY TAIIEINOY PΩMANOY IIOIHMA ("poem of/by the humble Romanos"); as in kontakion 19, the diphthong "El" of TAIIEINOY is spelled phonetically as an "I."

Holy (Maundy) Thursday

All four evangelists narrate parts of the events involved in the washing of the apostles' feet and Judas' betrayal of Christ ( Matthew 27:3-10, Mark 14:10-11, Luke 22:1-6, John 18:1-11). The single reference to Scripture in this kontakion calls attention to a "lyric" phrase that is borrowed from Psalm 40-10 and applied to Judas: "[He] drank the wine and ate the bread, he kicked up his heels [in rebellion], as the Bible says" ( stanza 12:4-5). The only significant allusion to the Old Testament (18.1-7) is a complex comparison between Elijah's destruction of two troops of Samaritans ( 2 Kings 1:2-17) and Judas' attempt to do away with Christ. To establish a typological link between the fraternal betrayers of the Patriarch Joseph and Jesus at 19.4-7, Romanos equates the "thirty pieces of silver" of the gospels with the sum received by the Midianite merchants in the Old Testament. In Genesis 37:28, however, the number of coins is twenty (of silver in the Hebrew and the Vulgate; of gold in the Septuagint). 1

The point of this kontakion is not the vivid narrative recreation of Judas' treachery; rather, the poem is a litany of curses, a cascade of deprecations on the traitor's head. 2 As such, it is a tour de force of Romanos' rhetorical versatility: puns, antitheses, parallelism, paradox, frequent rhyme, all sorts of wordplay punctuate every stanza. This sustained lyrical intensity -- a challenge to the translator -- proves that the Melodist is capable of creating original poetry charged with emotional feeling.


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