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Hymns of the Eastern Church
J. M. Neale
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Pages (PDF): 134
Publication Date: 1884
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This is a collection of translations of hymns from the Eastern Orthodox church, most written during the height of the Byzantine Empire. Neale includes extensive introductory material and biographies of each hymn writer (most of whom have names beginning with 'S.'--'Saint').
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As a general rule, the first poetical attempts of the Eastern, like those of the Western, Church, were in classical measures. But as classical Greek died out from being a spoken language,—as new trains of thought were familiarized,—as new words were coined,—a versification became valueless, which was attached with no living bonds to the new energy, to the onward movement. Dean Trench has admirably expressed this truth in the introduction to his "Sacred Latin Poetry," and showed how the "new wine must be put into new bottles."
Ecclesiastical terms must be used, which rebel against classical metre: in Greek, no less than in Latin, five words in eight would be shut out of the principal classical rhythms. Now, the Gospel was preached to the poor. Church hymns must be the life-expression of all hearts. The Church was forced to make a way for saying in poetry what her message bade her say.
S. Gregory Nazianzen, the first Greek Church poet, used only the ordinary classical measures. S. Sophronius of Jerusalem employed (and in their way not unhappily), Anacreontics: and his hymns on various festivals have some elegance. But there is a certain degree of dilettante-ism, rather than of earnestness, in these compositions; and the most airy, tripping, frivolous measure that the Greek Muse possessed, never, by any possibility, could form the ordinary utterance of the Church. The Church compositions of S. Sophronius, though called ποιήματα, are in fact mere prose: as those grand prayers on the Epiphany.
How then was the problem to be solved as to the composition of Eastern Church Song? In Latin, somewhat before the time of S. Sophronius, A.D. 630, it was answered by the glorious introduction of rhyme. Why not in Greek also?
Now, it is no less true in Greek, than in Latin, that there was a tendency to rhyme from the very beginning. Open Homer: look for caudate rhymes:—
Νημερτής τε καὶ Ἀψευδὴς καὶ Καλλιάνασσα·
Ἔνθαδ᾽ ἔην Κλυμένη, Ἰάνειρα καὶ Ἰφιάνασσα.
Il. xviii. 46.
Ἄστεος αἰθομένοιο· θεῶν δέ Ϝε μῆνις ἀνῆκεν.
Πᾶσι δὲ θῆκε πόνον, πολλοῖσι δὲ κήδἐ ἐφῆκεν·
Ὡς Ἀχιλεὺς Τρώεσσι πόνον καὶ κήδεα θῆκεν·
Il. xxi. 523.
Οὐ μὲν γὰρ μεῖζον κλέος ἀνέρος, ὄφρα κεν ἦσιν
Η ὅ τι ποσσὶν τε ῥέζει καὶ χερσὶ Ϝεῆσιν·.
Odyss. viii. 147.
Leonines are still more common. The reader's attention is particularly requested to those that follow:—
Il. ii. 220. Ἔχθιστος δ᾽ Αχιλῆϊ μάλιστ᾽ ἦν, ἠδ᾽ Ὀδυσῆϊ,
484. Ἔσπετε νῦν μοι, Μοῦσαι, Ὀλύμπια δώματ᾽ ἔχουσαι·
475. Ῥεῖα διακρίνωσιν, ἐπεί κε νομῶ μιγέωσιν.
iii. 84. Ὥς ἔφαθ᾽· οἱ δ᾽ ἔσχοντο μάχης, ἄνεῳ τ᾽ ἐγένοντο.
v. 529. Ὦ φίλοι, ἀνέρες ἔστε, καὶ ἄλκιμον ἦτορ ἕλεσθε.
vi. 242. Τὸν δ᾽ Ἑλένη μύθοισι προσηύδα μειλιχίοισι.
Od. i. 40.Ἐκ γὰρ Ὀρέσταο τίσις ἔσσεται ἈτρεϜίδαο.
397. Αὐτὰρ ἐγὼ Ϝοἴκοιο Ϝἄναξ ἔσομ᾽ ἡμετέροιο.
iv. 12 1. Ἐκ δ᾽ Ἑλένη θαλάμοιο θυώδεος ὑψορόφοιο.
xiv. 371. Ἀσπίδας, ὅσσαι ἄρισται ἔνὶ στρατῷ ἠδὲ μέγισται.
And I might mark multitudes more: but these are enough by way of example. The question then occurs at once, Why did not the new life, instilled into the Greek as well as into the Latin language by Christianity, seize the grand capability of Rhyme in the one case as well as in the other? How stately it would have been in anapæstics! how sweet in trochaics!
Why was it neglected?
For this reason: the reader must remember that hardly one of the rhymes I have been pointing out in Homer would be rhymes to a Greek ear. Read them accentually, and you find ἄρισται and μέγισται are no more double rhymes to a Greek than gloriously and ferociously are to us: μοῦσαι and ἔχουσαι, no more than glory and victory. Accent, in the decline of the language, was trampling down quantity. Now accent is not favourable to such rhymes, though many poems have been thus composed in the newer Greek:
εὗρον φίλον κοματάκη
καθ᾽ ὅπερ τετεραγωνάκη
But it was not sufficiently removed from every-day life,—too familiar,—had too little dignity. There was an innate vulgarity about it which rendered it impossible to the Church. Now, let it be observed, accentuation even in Latin was not without its difficulty. In the new style, dissyllables, whatever their real quantity, were always read—and so we read them now—as trochees. Férox, vélox, scéptrum.
Hence a verse in the early metrical hymns, such as—
"Castos fides somnos juvat,"
a dimeter iambic, would have been read in mediæval times, Cástos fídes sómnos júvat, and so have virtually become a dimeter trochaic. Popular poetry soon devised its own metre, political verse, as it was called, because used for every-day domestic matters. This was none other than a favourite metre of Aristophanes, iambic tetrameter catalectic,—our own ballad rhythm:—
"A Captain bold of Halifax, who lived in country quarters."
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