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13.06.20, Walsh & Husch eds. and trans., One Hundred Latin Hymns

13.06.20, Walsh & Husch eds. and trans., One Hundred Latin Hymns

The study and teaching of Latin Christian hymnody tends to fall through the cracks of most academic programs. Partially this is because the field is necessarily multi-disciplinary, but also because the disciplines touching upon hymnody find their interests centered elsewhere. Traditionally Latinists neglected these lyrics generated between late antiquity and the early modern era primarily because they represented "decadent" forms of Latin grammar, vocabulary and style (as in the shift from quantitative to accentual and end-rhymed verse). For many musicologists, the difficulties involved in trying to determine the chant melodies applied to the older hymn texts in the eras before fixed graphic representation of pitches and durations shifted their focus of inquiry to later eras and more developed musical forms. For not a few practitioners of theology and religious studies, exploring these hymn texts was without much interest due to their comparative lack of conceptual precision in favor of poetic imagery.

Yet with changes in academic fashion, the study of Latin Christian hymnody is experiencing somewhat of a resurgence. Contemporary Latinists are interested in the historical development of Latin, especially as it transitions into the various Romance languages, and Latin hymnody witnesses to various stages in the development of ecclesiastical Latin. Acknowledging the difficulty of determining the Ur-melody for many of these hymn texts, musicologists shift their attention to social and ritual contexts for music-making witnessed to by these texts. Theologians and religious studies scholars show interest in hymn texts as expressions of intertextuality and social history, how theological concepts construct and reflect thought worlds for particular eras (e.g., how Dante uses particular hymn texts in the Purgatorio).

But even those who wish to teach Latin Christian hymnody for English-speaking students today have been hampered by a lack of easily accessible and critically established materials. As far as I can tell Arthur Sumner Walpole's Early Latin Hymns (Cambridge, 1922) and Ruth Ellis Messenger's Latin Hymns of the Middle Ages (New York, 1948) still remain the standard collections and thus cannot represent some of the critical advances in hymnological scholarship of the last decades. For students with little facility with Latin for whom an English translation would be helpful, Matthew Britt's The Hymns of the Breviary and the Missal (New York, 1922) and Joseph Connelly's Hymns of the Roman Liturgy (London, 1957) provide both verse translations and prose commentaries, but the individual texts are presented as intended for use in Roman Rite liturgy prior to the Second Vatican Council, not in historical order; the Latin texts frequently represent not the original wordings of the texts, but the revisions made in the seventeenth century and subsequent centuries to meet humanist standards of metrics and Latinity as well as theological considerations. So it is with real joy that I welcome Peter G. Walsh's edition and translation of One Hundred Latin Hymns: Ambrose to Aquinas, with the assistance of Christopher Husch, volume 18 in the Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library series. It could well serve with Joseph Szövérffy's Latin hymns (Turnhout, 1989), fascicle 55 in the Typologie des sources du Moyen Age occidental, as a fundamental text for a course in Latin Christian hymnody.

After a succinct but informative introduction giving a generally historical outline of the development of Latin Christian hymnody (vii–xxii), the author provides on facing pages the Latin text and an English translation of the hymn texts (1–377); citations of the critical editions of the texts employed and extensive notes on the translations appear as endnotes (383–501). A short bibliography (503–506), helpful index of incipits of the hymn texts (507–508) and general index (509–517) conclude the volume.

Professor Walsh has carefully apportioned his one hundred hymn texts among the major contributors to the genre from the fourth through the thirteenth century. He wisely gives the most space to Ambrose as the creator of the "Ambrosian" form (all fourteen of the purported authentic hymns), the Old and New Hymnals for their importance to Benedictine monasticism, Columba of Iona (representing Irish hymn-writing), Venerable Bede (representing Anglo-Saxon hymn-writing), various Carolingian hymn writers, and Peter Abelard (representing the most adventurous of the hymn writers), although both Bonaventure and Thomas Aquinas a great theologian-lyricists get their due. I confess that I would have wished for historical purposes that at least one example from Hilary of Poitiers, Ennodius, Notker Balbulus and Hermannus Contractus could also have graced the collection.

Let me conclude this review with an example of the translation. Here is Walsh's rendering of the third and fourth stanzas of "Aeterne rerum conditor," Ambrose's hymn to be sung at cockcrow. Stanza two has introduced the crowing of the "herald of the day" and the following two stanzas indicate its effects:

3. Hoc excitatus lucifer solvit polum caligine, hoc omnis errorum chorus vias nocendi deserit.

His crowing stirs the light-bringer to liberate the sky from gloom; by him the vagrant demons' band does quit the paths where they deal harm.

4. Hoc nauta vires colligit, pontique mitescunt freta; hoc ipse petra ecclesiae canente culpam diluit.

By him the sailor stirs his strength, and the sea's rough water's calm themselves. by him the church's rock himself, hearing him crow, washed out his guilt (2–3).

The first thing to notice is that the translation tries to adhere to the metrical scheme of the original (There is an extra syllable in line two of the fourth stanza, but there is also an extra syllable in line three of the fourth stanza, which allows the teacher to explain elision in Latin poetry.) It would thus be possible to sing the Latin and the English translation to the same chant melody. Second, his word choices are illuminative for the student: he prevents the reader from taking "lucifer" as a name for Satan, but he also stays closer to its etymology with "light-bringer" rather than "Morning Star" which could also fit the metrical pattern. Third, his translation is informed by good critical commentary, as when he translates "errorum" as "vagrant demons" rather than "truant slaves," following Walpole. Fourth, for those students who might not be familiar with biblical narratives, he subtly highlights the pun on "Peter/Rock" by translating "ipse" as "himself." A similar concern to strike a balance between conveying the conceptual content and providing a singable lyricism pervades the work.

I am grateful to Christopher Husch for carefully preparing One Hundred Latin Hymns for publication, with oversight by Jan M. Ziolkowski, Danuta Shanzer, Roger Wright and Michael Winterbottom. Some twenty years in preparation, it is an eminently useful addition to the Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library series.