Sacred Song from the Byzantine Pulpit: Romanos the Melodist

By R. J. Schork | Go to book overview
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1:26-35. In the series of charismatic salutations to the Theotokos
(Mother of God), there are frequent echoes of phrases from both the Old
and the New Testament; these lyric, and occasionally allusive, scriptural
references are cited for each stanza. It should also be noted that the An-
gel Gabriel's litany in the first stanza is introduced by Romanos' typical
extrascriptural demonstrative pronoun, "singing such (toiauta) saluta-
tions" (stanza 1.5). The archangelic adverbs "Boldly" (2.1) and "in fear"
(3.5), and John the Baptist's embryonic leaps that became "hosannas"
(5.5), are other examples of this technique of subtly signalling poetic and
often dramatic improvization.

The initial section of one stanza (12.1-5) has an obvious Christologi-
cal, antiheretical thrust. These lines are similar to a section of a homily
on the Theotokos by Basil of Seleucia, whose works were used several
times by Romanos as a direct source. 3 It has also been suggested that ref-
erences to "barbarians" and "Persian fire" (9.8-16) in the Magi section
could be seen as allusions to contemporary Byzantine victories over the
Persians. 4

Frequent rhyme, again especially in the salutations, is a very promi-
nent feature of this work. Incidental rhyme is found in the kontakia of
Romanos but more as a display of his skill at wordplay than as a deliber-
ate and repeated innovation in Greek poetry. 5

"The Akathistos Hymn," still chanted today on its own special feast
(the fifth Saturday of Lent) 6, is rightly regarded as one of the greatest mas-
terpieces of Byzantine liturgical poetry. Its influence on subsequent Greek
literature and the art of the Orthodox Church is significant and perva-
sive. 7 Was it composed by Romanos the Melodist? Many experts think
so. Constantine Trypanis, coeditor of the Oxford Romanos and the most
recent editor of "The Akathistos Hymn," writes that such an assignment
of authorship "is certainly possible, and even probable." But the absence
of a signature acrostic and of reliable manuscript attribution to a definite
author cause Trypanis to withhold positive judgment. 8

The metrical scheme of these stanzas is the same as that used in Romanos' The Temptation of Joseph (44). The most recent edition (see n. 2), however, re


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