Poet of the sixth century
Romanos, Saint, surnamed Greek: o melodos and theorretor, poet of the sixth century. The only authority for the life and date of this greatest of Greek hymn-writers is the account in the Menaion for October; his feast is October 1. According to this account he was by birth a Syrian, served as deacon in the church at Berytus, and came to Constantinople in the reign of Anastasios. It was in the Church of the Most Holy Theotokos (Greek: eis ta Kurou) that he received the charisma of sacred poetry. "After a religious retreat at Blachernae he returned to his church, and one night in his sleep saw a vision of the Most Holy Theotokos, who gave him a volume of paper, saying, `Take the paper and eat it'." The saint, in his dream, opened his mouth and swallowed the paper. It was Christmas Day, and immediately he awakened and marvelled and glorified God. Then, mounting the ambo, he began the strains of his
Greek: e parthenos semeron ton uperousion tiktei.
He wrote also about one thousand kontakia for other feasts before he died.
Beyond this passage, there are only two mentions of Romanos's name, one in the eighth-century poet St. Germanos, and once in Suidas (s.v. anaklomenon) who calls him "Romanos the melode". None of the Byzantine writers on hymnology allude to him: his fame was practically extinguished by the newer school of hymn-writers which flourished in the eighth and ninth centuries. Krumbacher has made it fairly certain, by a number of critical arguments, that the emperor named in the Menaion as reigning when Romanos came to the capital is Anastasius I (A.D. 491-518), not Anastasius II (A.D. 713-16); Pitra and Stevenson are of the same opinion. Probably, then, he lived through the reign of Justinian (A.D. 527-65), who was himself a hymn-writer; this would make him contemporary with two other Byzantine melodes, Anastasios and Kyriakos. "In poetic talent, fire of inspiration, depth of feeling, and elevation of language, he far surpasses all the other melodes. The literary history of the future will perhaps acclaim Romanos for the greatest ecclesiastical poet of all ages", says Krumbacher, and all the other critics of Byzantine poetry subscribe to this enthusiastic praise. Some have called him the Christian Pindar. Down till the twelfth century his Christmas hymn was performed by a double choir (from S. Sophia and the Holy Apostles) at the imperial banquet on that feast day. Of most of the others only a few strophes survive. The long hymns (kontakia) consist of twenty-five strophes (troparia), usually of twenty-one verses each, with a refrain. Besides the Christmas hymn we may cite the following titles to exemplify St. Romanos's choice of subjects: "Canticum Paschale", "de Crucis Triumpho", "de Iuda Proditore", "de Petri Negatione", "de Virgine iuxta crucem". Dramatic and pathetic dialogue plays a great part in the structure. The simple sincerity of tone sometimes puts the reader in mind of the Latin medieval hymns, or the earliest Italian religious verse. Romanos, like the other melodes, obeys a purely accentual or rhythmic law; the quantitative scansions are obsolete for those to whom he sings (see Byzantine Literature). Editions: Twenty-nine hymns in Pitra, "Analecta Sacra", I, 1876; three more in Pitra, "Sanctus Romanus veterum melodorum princeps" (1888); Krumbacher long ago promised a complete critical edition according to the Patmian codices, but has not yet achieved it.
J. S. PHILLIMORE