A History of Byzantine Music and Hymnography

By Egon Wellesz | Go to book overview

CHAPTER I
THE ORIGINS OF BYZANTINE MUSIC

I. THE ORIENTAL HYPOTHESIS

IN A.D. 324 Constantine the Great, as part of his plan for the transformation of the pagan Roman Empire,1 began to rebuild and fortify the small Greek town of Byzantium, with the intention of making it the capital of the Empire in the East. On 11 May 330 he attended its solemn inauguration and endowed it with the rights and privileges of Rome. From that time forward 'Byzantium' disappeared and the town took the name of New Rome (Nέα ̔Ρώμη) or Constantinople. In the few cases where the old word Byzantium or Byzantis does occur, the use is deliberately archaic.

The inhabitants of the Empire were called Romans (̔Pωμαι + ̑οι), for, with Julian the Apostate's championship of Hellenism, the name 'Hellenes' (῞Eλληνες) and the conception of Hellenism fell into disrepute. It was not until the fourteenth century that a new classical movement began and we find 'Byzantium' used once again for Constantinople and 'Hellenes' for Romans, and then chiefly by Western writers who saw in Byzantine literature a continuation of Greek classical tradition. These pioneers of Byzantine scholarship, basing their argument principally on the fact that, although it had lost its old vigour, the language remained the same, succeeded in convincing the rest of the learned world that Byzantine civilization was nothing more nor less than the continuation of that of ancient Greece. Thus, from a linguistic point of view, Byzantine civilization came to be regarded as a coda to the ancient and the Hellenistic world.

In opposition to this theory the Oriental hypothesis has recently been put forward, emphasizing the influence of Semitic and even Iranian civilization on the Hellenized countries of the Near East which formed the most important part of the Byzantine Empire.2 After the penetration of the East by Alexander the Great, a

____________________
1
Cf. S . Runciman, Byzantine Civilization2 ( London, 1936), p. 14.
2
Cf. S. Strzygowski, Orient oder Rom ( 1901), Kleinasien ( 1903), Altai-Iran und Völkerwanderung ( 1917), Origins of Christian Church Art ( 1923); Ch. Diehl, Manuel de l'Art byzantin2 ( 1925-6); O. M. Dalton, East Christian Art ( 1925), Byzantine Art; A. Baumstark, Liturgie comparée ( 1939).

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