Surnamed ho melodos and ho theorrhetor, poet of the sixth century. The only
authority for the life and date of this greatest of Greek hymn-writers is the
account in the Menaion for October; his feast is 1 October. According to this
account he was by birth a Syrian, served as deacon in the church at Berytus, and
came to Constantinople in the reign of Anastasios. It was in the Church of the
Most Holy Theotokos (eis ta Kyrou) that he received the charisma of sacred
After a religious retreat at Blachernae he returned to his church, and
one night in his sleep saw a vision of the Most Holy Theotokos, who gave him a
volume of paper, saying, 'Take the paper and eat it'. The saint, in his dream,
opened his mouth and swallowed the paper. It was Christmas Day, and immediately
he awakened and marvelled and glorified God. Then, mounting the ambo, he began
the strains of his
he parthenos semeron ton hyperousion tiktei.
He wrote also about one thousand kontakia for other feasts before he died.
Beyond this passage, there are only two mentions of Romanos's name, one in
the eighth-century poet St. Germanos, and once in Suidas (s. v. anaklomenon),
who calls him
Romanos the melode. None of the Byzantine writers on hymnology
allude to him: his fame was practically extinguished by the newer school of
hymn-writers which flourished in the eighth and ninth centuries. Krumbacher has
made it fairly certain, by a number of critical arguments, that the emperor
named in the Menaion as reigning when Romanos came to the capital is Anastasius
I (A.D. 491-518), not Anastasius II (A.D. 713-16); Pitra and Stevenson are of
the same opinion. Probably, then, he lived through the reign of Justinian (A.D.
527-65), who was himself a hymn-writer; this would make him contemporary with
two other Byzantine melodes, Anastasios and Kyriakos.
In poetic talent, fire of
inspiration, depth of feeling, and elevation of language, he far surpasses all
the other melodes. The literary history of the future will perhaps acclaim
Romanos for the greatest ecclesiastical poet of all ages, says Krumbacher, and
all the other critics of Byzantine poetry subscribe to this enthusiastic praise.
Some have called him the Christian Pindar. Down till the twelfth century his
Christmas hymn was performed by a double choir (from S. Sophia and the Holy
Apostles) at the imperial banquet on that feast day. Of most of the others only
a few strophes survive. The long hymns (kontakia) consist of twenty-five
strophes (troparia), usually of twenty-one verses each, with a refrain. Besides
the Christmas hymn we may cite the following titles to exemplify St. Romanos's
choice of subjects:
de Crucis Triumpho,
de Petri Negatione,
de Virgine iuxta crucem. Dramatic and
pathetic dialogue plays a great part in the structure. The simple sincerity of
tone sometimes puts the reader in mind of the Latin medieval hymns, or the
earliest Italian religious verse. Romanos, like the other melodes, obeys a
purely accentual or rhythmic law; the quantitative scansions are obsolete for
those to whom he sings (see BYZANTINE LITERATURE, IV). Editions: Twenty-nine
hymns in Pitra,
Analecta Sacra, I, 1876; three more in Pitra,
veterum melodorum princeps (1888); Krumbacher long ago promised a complete
critical edition according to the Patmian codices, but has not yet achieved it.
PITRA, Hymnographie de l'Eglise grecque (Rome, 1867); BOUVY, Poetes et Melodes (Nimes, 1886); KRUMBACHER, Gesch. d. byz. Literatur, Munich, 312-18; IDEM, Studien zu Romanos (Munich, 1899); IDEM, Umarbeitungen bei Romanos (Munich, 1899); JACOBI, Zur Geschichte des grieschischen Kirchenliedes in Briegers Zeitschrift fur Kirchengeschichte (1882), V, 177-250.
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