Romanos the Melodist and the Christian self in early Byzantium

Romanos the Melodist and the Christian self in early Byzantium

By Derek Krueger

Paper given at the 21st International Congress of Byzantine Studies (2006)

Introduction: Within his hymns, the sixth-century liturgical poet Romanos the Melodist gave voice to a wide range of biblical characters. He composed dialogues, imaginatively reconstructing the interactions of biblical personae. In his Christological hymns, his audience might witness Christ’s interaction with Mary, Peter, Thomas, or the sinful woman. In hymns on Old Testament themes, his listeners attended the narratives of Abraham and Sarah, Joseph, and Jonah. Keying his hymns to the events of the liturgical calendar, Romanos gave psychological depth to biblical heroes and villains, modelling a whole range of possible interactions both with the sacred stories and with God himself. Andrew Louth has written, ‘For Romanos the kontakion is a form of liturgical story-telling. In each case, an event, as related in the Scriptures and celebrated in the Liturgy, is retold in such a way as to enable those who hear it to enter into it’. And Georgia Frank stresses the hymns’ articulation of the place of biblical narrative in early Byzantine ritual drama, arguing that ‘Romanos’s hymns … represent the emergence of biblical epic in the context of Christian worship’.

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