Romanos Melodos

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ROMANOS MELODOS (first half of sixth century), hymnographer and composer. Romanos was born of a Jewish family in Emesa (the present Homs), Syria. It is not known whether his parents had already converted to Christianity or whether he did so himself in youth. He became a deacon at Berytus (Beirut) and during the reign of Anastasius I (491–518) went to Constantinople, where he joined the clergy of the Theotokos church. According to legend, he was inspired by a vision of Mary to write, and immediately sing, the work which became his most famous one – "the First Kontakion on the Nativity," thus also creating the poetical-musical form which was to remain the foremost vehicle of Byzantine liturgical poetry until the seventh century. The kontakion (essay) is a long strophic poem, often of 24 equistructural stanzas prefaced by an introduction, the koukoullion (lit. "hood"), which furnishes the refrain. About 85 of the hundreds of kontakia ascribed to Romanos have been proved to be by him but his authorship of the most famous hymn of the Byzantine Church, "Akathistos," is still in doubt, nor can it be ascertained whether any of his original melodies have survived in manuscripts or in the traditional repertoire. Romanos' kontakia are elaborately constructed "poetical sermons" on subjects from the New and Old Testament, and were greatly influenced by the forms established by St. Ephraem the Syrian. Links with the contemporary rise of the synagogal *piyyut may well be possible but need further investigation. Romanos, considered by tradition and scholarship alike as the "father of Byzantine hymnology," was canonized and his feast day is October 1st.


P. Maas and C.A. Trypanis (eds.), Saint Meolodos Romanos, Sancti Romani Melodi Cantica (1963); J. Grosdidier de Matons (ed.), Romanos le Melode, 3 vols. (1964–65); E. Wellesz, A History of Byzantine Music and Hymnography (19612), 179–97; M. Stoer, in: mgg, 11 (1963), 784f.

[Bathja Bayer]