Sacred Song from the Byzantine Pulpit: Romanos the Melodist

By R. J. Schork | Go to book overview
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"The Passion of Christ" (20)

Twenty-three stanzas with the acrostic EΕIΣ TO ΠAØΣ ψAAMOΣ Ω ("song of/by Romanos on the Passion").


Good Friday

Passion narratives are found in all four gospels and this kontakion does not give special attention to any single version. The only direct reference to the Bible identifies a Psalm (74:4) of David as the source of the lyrical phrase "founded the columns of the world." Romanos quotes these words in the midst of a number of allusions that pivot around a paradox. The poet asks how the Lord of "pillars" in the Old Testament can submit to being scourged, as the New Testament Redeemer, at a pillar (stanza 14.2- 7).

Most of this work is a series of charged apostrophes expressing outrage that Pilate and the Jews, repeatedly and scornfully called the "lawless" (anomoi), dared to judge and condemn the Lord as one who broke the law. There is a central panel containing a lively and legalistic debate between the Jewish mob and Christ. The latter's evangelical refusal to reply to Pilate is converted by Romanos into several elaborate plays on various meanings of the word "word," none of which can be translated literally (see opening lines of stanzas 7 and 8). 1 Christ cites his miracles of mercy as evidence of his dedication to a law more important than hollow honor of the Sabbath. In fact, stanza 11 is a pastiche of psalmodic reproaches aimed at the ancient Jews. Pilate's exculpatory hand-washing is also mocked as a bit of sophistic cowardice (15.4-8).

Although the rhetoric of consternation, with abundant oxymorons and puns, provides the primary poetic energy for this kontakion, the trope of

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