A World of Speculation

You can find everything on the Internet.

Prove it. How about the structural specifications of an obscure form of poetry in wide use in the Byzantine Empire from the early sixth century through the late seventh century, when it dropped out of sight except for a few stanzas scattered throughout the Liturgy of the Orthodox Church?

Hah! you of little belief(.net):

Simply put, the kontakion was a ‘sung sermon.’ It served to instruct the clergy and laity on the subject of a feast day relating to the life of Christ, His Mother, or one of the saints venerated by the Orthodox Church.

The kontakion’s original form consisted of a series of 18 to 30 stanzas written in the same meter. The meters used were based on stress accents and the syllable-count in each line. These stanzas were preceded by a prelude of one to four stanzas, composed in a different meter, that introduced the refrain found at the end of every stanza. This refrain was typically sung by the people. The initial letter of each stanza, when strung together, formed an acrostic that either followed the Greek alphabet, spelled out a simple message, or gave the name of the composer.

One compelling characteristic of the kontakion is its use of dramatic dialogue. The composers did not hesitate to place words in the mouths of their characters. The anonymous Lament of Adam finds Adam beseeching Paradise itself to intercede on his behalf: ‘O paradise, embrace your now landless landlord/And by the rustle of your leaves entreat our Maker/To keep you open.’ Romanos’ kontakion ‘On the Victory of the Cross’ finds Hades describing his reaction as the cross shatters the gates of hell: ‘Go on, wake up, Belial,’ Hades cries, ‘Run, unveil your eyes and see the root of the tree within my soul.’ Such imagery heightened the congregation’s sense of participation in the cosmic drama of Christianity.

I’ve done a poem in the style of a troparion, which we’ve actually sung (dare I say this in public?) in my parish church.

I love the word game, the puzzle, of a complicated poetic structure. I don’t anticipate writing a sermon in poetry, because I’m the last person in the world who ought to be sermonizing. Still, doesn’t that look like fun?

I’ll post it if I come up with anything.

H/T: Because sometimes a link is not enough:

Mickey Hodges [the writer of the article] is a member of St. John Orthodox Church in Memphis, Tennessee, and has translated numerous Orthodox hymns from Greek into English.