Friday, January 09, 2009

"The Hymns of Prudentius, translated by R. Martin Pope"

Something nice, from Project Gutenburg; this was apparently originally published in 1905. I was trying to find out more about the "longer alphabetic hymn" from which so many of the Christmas and Epiphany Office hymns have been taken, and came across this in my search.

I also came across the hymn O sola magnarum urbium, which is, according to TPL, the Lauds hymn in the Roman Breviary for Epiphany (but not in the Sarum Use that we've already discussed):
This hymn is composed of four verses from the Hymn for the Epiphany from Prudentius' (384-413) Cathemerinon, which is 52 stanzas long. In 1568, four short hymns were assembled from selected stanzas from Prudentius' hymn and introduced into the Breviary by Pope Pius V. This hymn is one of them and is used in the Roman Breviary at Lauds on Epiphany.

Here are the words, in Latin and English ("Translation by Fr. Edward Caswall (1814-1878)"), from the above:
O SOLA magnarum urbium
maior Bethlehem, cui contigit
ducem salutis caelitus
incorporatum gignere.

Haec stella, quae solis rotam
vincit decore ac lumine,
venisse terris nuntiat
cum carne terrestri Deum.

Videre postquam illum Magi,
eoa promunt munera:
stratique votis offerunt
thus, myrrham, et aurum regium.

Regem Deumque annuntiant
thesaurus, et fragrans odor
thuris Sabaei, ac myrrheus
pulvis sepulchrum praedocet.

Iesu, tibi sit gloria,
qui apparuisti gentibus,
cum Patre, et almo Spiritu,
in sempiterna saecula.

BETHLEHEM! of noblest cities
none can once with thee compare;
thou alone the Lord from heaven
didst for us Incarnate bear.

Fairer than the sun at morning
was the star that told His birth;
to the lands their God announcing,
hid beneath a form of earth.

By its lambent beauty guided,
see the eastern kings appear;
see them bend, their gifts to offer-
gifts of incense, gold, and myrrh.

Solem things of mystic meaning!-
Incense doth the God disclose;
Gold a royal Child proclaimeth;
Myrrh a future tomb foreshows.

Holy Jesu, in Thy brightness
to the Gentile world displayed,
with the Father and the Spirit,
endless praise to Thee be paid.

This would be, I do believe, the hymn in the Hymnal 1982 known as "Earth has many a noble city," and sung to the tune Stuttgart.

Wikipedia has this to say about Prudentius:
Aurelius Prudentius Clemens was a Roman Christian poet, born in the Roman province of Tarraconensis (now Northern Spain) in 348. He probably died in Spain, as well, some time after 405, possibly around 413. The place of his birth is uncertain, but it may have been Caesaraugusta Saragossa, Tarraco Tarragona, or Calagurris Calahorra.

Prudentius practised law with some success, and was twice provincial governor, perhaps in his native country, before the emperor Theodosius I summoned him to court. Towards the end of his life (possibly around 392) Prudentius retired from public life to become an ascetic, fasting until evening and abstaining entirely from animal food. Prudentius later collected the Christian poems written during this period and added a preface, which he himself dated 405.

The poetry of Prudentius is influenced by early Christian authors, such as Tertullian and St. Ambrose, as well as the Bible and the acts of the martyrs. His hymn Da, puer, plectrum (including "Corde natus ex parentis": "Of the Father's Love Begotten") and the hymn for Epiphany O sola magnarum urbium ("Earth Has Many a Noble City"), both from the Cathemerinon, are still in use today. The allegorical Psychomachia, however, is his most influential work and became the inspiration and wellspring of medieval allegorical literature.

The works of Prudentius include:
  • Liber Cathemerinon -- ("Book in Accordance with the Hours") comprises 12 lyric poems on various times of the day and on church festivals.
  • Liber Peristephanon -- ("Crowns of Martyrdom") contains 14 lyric poems on Spanish and Roman martyrs.
  • Apotheosis -- ("Deification") attacks disclaimers of the Trinity and the divinity of Jesus.
  • Hamartigenia -- ("The Origin of Sin") attacks the Gnostic dualism of Marcion and his followers.
  • Psychomachia -- ("Battle of Souls") describes the struggle of faith, supported by the cardinal virtues, against idolatry and the corresponding vices.
  • Libri contra Symmachum -- ("Books Against Symmachus") oppose the pagan senator Symmachus's requests that the altar of Victory be restored to the Senate house.
  • Dittochæon -- ("The Double Testament") contains 49 quatrains intended as captions for the murals of a basilica in Rome.

I admit to being a bit confused as to what actually comprises the Cathemerinon; some sources seem to indicate that it's a long (I guess "alphabetic"; 2 x 26 = 52?) hymn of 52 stanzas, but this Project Gutenberg book seems to say that the whole collection of hymns of Prudentius is called The Cathemerinon.

So I will continue to look into this and will post again when I nail this down. Meantime, I thought people might be interested in having this "e-book" to look over.

EDIT: Well, here's more, from the Denver Seminary: "Hymns of Prudentius - The Cathemerinon, or The Daily Round," which looks to be a review of a book of the same name by David Slavitt:
Everything known about the life of Aurelius Prudentius Clemens is contained in a 45 verse introduction to his collection of hymns that he published in 405 C.E. when he was 57 years old. Born into a reasonably prosperous Christian family in Spain in 348, Prudentius enjoyed a typical education based on the literature and rhetoric of the classical era. He had a brief career as an advocate and held increasingly responsible positions in the imperial civil service. Tiring of the emptiness of his life, he visited Rome c.401-403. It was while touring Rome, with its combination of monuments both classical and Christian, that Prudentius vowed to spend the remainder of his life writing hymns in praise of God for an audience that was more familiar with the literature of the classical past than with Scripture-based Christianity. Thus, much of the imagery and vocabulary in Prudentius' hymns have more in common with the writings of Virgil and Ovid than the New Testament. Written in conscious imitation of the pagan hymns of Horace, Prudentius' hymns are full of images drawn from the world of nature. Rather than trying to convert his thinly Christianized audience through Scriptural exegesis or christological explanation, Prudentius lets the beauty and interrelated complexity of the natural world draw the mind towards the Creator. In contrast to various systems of gnosticism and Neoplatonism prevalent in his day, Prudentius repeatedly stressed the fact that acceptance of Christianity did not necessitate a rejection of either the created world or the physical body. On the contrary, Prudentius employs a wide variety of images from nature to proclaim God's involvement in the physical world.

The Cathemerinon is a set of twelve hymns included within a much larger collection of hymns by Prudentius. The first six hymns are each written for use at a particular time during the course of the day, thus giving Christians an opportunity to sanctify all the hours of the day. Hymns 1 and 2 are for morning use, hymns 3 and 4 are sung before and after meals, hymns 5 and 6 are for evening and bedtime. Prudentius wrote these hymns at the beginning of the fifth century when monasticism, with its regimen of prescribed hours for daily prayer, song and spiritual reading, was beginning to make inroads into Latin-speaking urban culture in the western Roman Empire. Although there is no direct evidence that Prudentius himself had any monastic affiliation, his hymns were soon included in the liturgy of the early church. As hymns, Prudentius' religious poetry continues to be used for liturgical purposes down to the present day. Hymn IX, "Corde natus ex Parentis," is included in the Handbook to the Lutheran Hymnal, 1942 edition, hymn #98. Even a cursory search of any online hymnography database will yield numerous other examples of the use of Prudentius' poetry in worship services over the centuries.

In addition to the first six hymns for use at particular times throughout the day, the remaining six hymns of the Cathemerinon deal with specific events during the life of a Christian. Hymns 7 and 8 are sung before and after fasting. Hymn 9 is a litany of miracles performed by Christ and is one of the few instances in Prudentius' poetry where a knowledge of the Gospels is required in order for the poem to be intelligible. Hymn 10 is to be used at a Christian burial. In opposition to several heterodox groups popular at the time, Prudentius stresses the physical resurrection of the body. Hymn 11 was composed for use at Christmas. Unfortunately, Prudentius has framed his explanation of the physical birth of the Son of God in terms of an anti-Jewish polemic. Although the question of the physical birth, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ was a hotly debated topic during Prudentius' time, his polemical imagery and vocabulary in this particular poem render it unsuitable for use without appropriate explanations of the tragic adversus Judaeos tradition in Christian theology. Hymn 12 is for Epiphany and again uses images from the created world, the star at Bethlehem, to draw the reader/listener toward the Creator.

Slavitt is first and foremost a poet. His translations are rather free adaptations of Prudentius' poems. (The Latin text is not included with Slavitt's tanslation.) However, Slavitt's translations can lift the soul, something that my translations, for all their cognizance of Latin grammar, do not do.

"wearisome bodies that weren't
designed to soar as our minds can do in flights
not unlike angels' arabesques, when we take
the heavenly view of dreams, which is why our nights
can be far brighter than what we know, awake" (Hymn 6).

Reviewed by Victoria Erhart
The Catholic University of America
Washington, D.C.

No comments:


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...