Kassia: A female hymnographer of the 9th century
By Spyros Panagopoulos
Proceedings of the 1st International Conference of the ASBMH, Athens (2007)
Introduction: For over 1,000 years many men and a few women wrote hymns in Byzantium. Their contribution to world literature and to Greek letters constitutes a vast and priceless treasure of sacred poetry. It’s impossible to exaggerate the value of this hymnography, since it expresses, as nothing else can, the spiritual riches, faith and beauty of Eastern Christendom. Some of these hymns are still chanted today in many languages in Orthodox Churches in every part of the world. Others remain unknown. Hidden in manuscripts stored in monastic libraries, they wait to be discovered and to be edited.
It’s obvious that the Byzantine female hymnography was not flourished especially in Byzantium. We have the names of hundreds male hymnodists who came from all parts of the oikoumene, from Greece, Italy, Palestine, and Syria, as well as from the islands of Cyprus, Crete and Sicily. These hymnodists came of all classes of Byzantine society, from the obscure man who signed his hymn ὁ ἀμαρτωλός (the sinner) to the Emperor Justinian (527‑565), who wrote in imperial red ink the troparion ὁ μονογενὴς υἱός, and then ordered its insertion into the Divine Liturgy.
Despite the great number of male hymnodists, we know only six feminine names that composed hymns: Γρηγορίς, Μάρθα, Θεοδοσία79 , Θέκλα80 , Κασσία and Παλαιολογίνα. The fame of Kassia the Melodist outshines by far all other women writers in both medieval and Modern Greek writers.