Sunday, 1 March 2020

Prose rhythm and an emendation in a Donatist martyr act


Following on from last weekend’s post on the Te deum, I offer another example of how important prose rhythm is in understanding late Latin texts – and also how neglected. The following passage is one which I would not normally have read. The Donatist schism polarised north African Christianity long after the Great Persecution initiated by Diocletian in 303, and was still the most important feature of the religious landscape of Latin north Africa in the age of Augustine, a century and more afterwards. However historically important they may be, I must admit that Christian heresies and schisms somehow do not capture my interest, and that the details tend to slip my mind soon after taking them in. The passage I shall discuss was sneaked into my awareness through appearing on the handout at a splendid talk given by Neil McLynn at the Oxford Late Roman seminar a couple of weeks ago.

In the year 347, the arrival in Africa of two imperial notarii, Macarius and Paulus, precipitated violent disagreements after a period in which the Donatists had largely been left alone. Marculus was a Donatist bishop who went with others to protest, was arrested, tortured, and eventually executed by being hurled off a cliff on 29 November 347. Others questioned the facts (Augustine thought Marculus had jumped), but such is the account of the Passio benedicti martyris Marculi. The Passio’s survival was doubtless aided by the fact that readers did not know that it was a Donatist text. After all, they Donatists did not call themselves by that name, and their rivals, whom we call catholics, they named traditores, translatable as traitors but in fact alluding to the claim that they had handed over scriptures to the persecutors. The Passio is an artful and well written text, but little attention has been paid to it: the text of Jean-Louis Maier in Le dossier du Donatisme (Berlin 1987-9), 1.275-291, is confessedly taken over from Migne’s text in Patrologia Latina 8.760-766, which is itself more or less taken over from Mabillon’s Analecta vetera vol. 4 (1685), 105-115.

The passage in question (Passio Marculi 3.10) is printed in the editions more or less as follows:

Ecce subito de Constantis regis tyrannica domo et de palatii eius arce pollutum Macarianae persecutionis murmur increpuit. et duabus bestiis ad Africam missis, eodem scilicet Macario et Paulo, exsecrandum prorsus et dirum ecclesiae certamen indictum est; ut populus Christianus ad unitatem cum traditoribus faciendam nudatis militum gladiis et draconum praesentibus signis et tubarum uocibus cogeretur.

[I have made a couple of corrections: Mabillon and Migne have unionem rather than unitatem, against the consensus of the manuscripts* and Latin idiom, and somehow Migne and Maier have managed to change Mabillon’s tubarum, which is also in the manuscripts, to turbarum.]

Behold, suddenly from the tyrannical home of Constans the king and from the citadel of his palace, the polluted rumblings of the Macarian persecution sounded forth, and through the sending to Africa of two wild beasts, namely the same Macarius and Paulus, an altogether damnable and ominous war was declared on the church, with the aim that the Christian people should be compelled to unity with the betrayers, while the soldiers’ swords were drawn, the dragon standards present, and to the sound of the war-trumpets.

It immediately struck me that the passage was written with attention to both accentual and metrical prose rhythm – and almost as instantly that there was a problem. In what follows as in last week’s post, I = cursus planus, II = cursus tardus, III = cursus velox, x = absence of cursus; C = cretic (long short long), S = spondee (long long), T = tribrach (short short short), D = ditrochee (long short long short):

Ecce subito de Constantis regis tyrannica domo                                I
et de palatii eius arce                                                                          x
pollutum Macarianae persecutionis murmur increpuit.                      II, CT
Et duabus bestiis ad Africam missis                                                   I, CS
(eodem scilicet Macario et Paulo)                                                      ? (quasi CS if elision)†
exsecrandum prorsus et dirum ecclesiae certamen indictum est,       I (CS if elision)/ II (CC)†
ut populus Christianus ad unitatem cum traditoribus faciendam       III
nudatis militum gladiis                                                                       II, CT
et draconum praesentibus signis                                                         I, CS
et tubarum uocibus cogeretur.                                                            III, CD

The clausulation is very regular and even two cases where standard metrical clausulae are missing --tyrānnĭcā dŏ, tradi-tōrĭbūs făcĭēndăm -- are close to the cretic spondee and cretic ditrochee rhythms respectively, and both maintain cursus. The exception comes in the second line. We should correct to read:

Ecce subito de Constantis regis tyrannica domo                                I
et de palatii eius arce polluta                                                              I, CS
Macarianae persecutionis murmur increpuit.                                     II, CT

Behold, suddenly from the tyrannical home of Constans the king and from the polluted citadel of his palace, the rumblings of the Macarian persecution sounded forth…

And instantly, we find that two other problems are solved: there is now parallelism with the first clause (adjective, genitive and noun) and in the following clause an illogical combination of adjective and noun (polluted murmuring?) no longer challenges translators. Nor is the corruption a difficult one, with a following m encouraging dittography and the potential for an a written with a gap at the top in early Carolingian script (a bit like cc) to be misread as a u.

In the first place, this should remind us that schismatic Christians were just as capable of writing in elaborate rhythmical art-prose as others, and that it is really is a very widespread feature of later Latin literature. Secondly, it is striking that the Passio Marculi lacks a modern critical edition – and it is far from alone in texts from late antiquity in that fact. And indeed, it is one of many texts written in clausulated prose whose editors did their job either without a knowledge of prose rhythm or without an appreciation of its relevance to their task. Over a century after the rediscovery of Latin prose rhythm, there must be many thousands of corrections to be made in Latin literary and subliterary texts on that basis.

*Manuscripts: I have not had time to investigate fully, but with the help of H. Deleheye, ‘Domnus Marculus’, AB 53 (1935), 81-89, I know of four manuscripts, of which three are digitised:
-Paris, BNF, Lat. 5643, 35r-44r, considered 11th-century by the library, and as a/the source of the editio princeps https://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b10034493j/f37.item
-Paris, BNF, Lat. 12612, 79v-83v, 14th century, formerly Corbie and cited as such in Migne https://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b90668292/f80.item
-Zürich, Zentralbibliothek, C.10.i, 243v-246r (9th century, now kept long-term in Sankt Gallen, where it originates) https://www.e-codices.unifr.ch/en/zbz/C0010i/243v/0/Sequence-1137
-Brussels 9289, 106-107v

†Elision: it would take an analysis of the whole work to decide whether to elide indictum est and Macario et or to maintain the hiatus. In the latter case, elision would not quite create a cretic spondee clausula as the second syllable of Macarius is short, but this is a nuance that fourth century Latin-speakers probably would not have been aware .

Sunday, 23 February 2020

Te deum laudamus


Reading Dag Norberg’s An Introduction to the Study of Medieval Latin Versification, I came across his account of the ancient hymn Te deum laudamus. Having described both the metrical and accentual poetry of the Middle Ages, Norberg turns to things that are neither. Latin translations of the bible introduced the possibility of something that did not present regularity in either metrical or accentual terms – either in the distribution of heavy and light or accented and unaccented syllables – but that was still unmistakably poetry. This phenomenon was evident in the translations of the psalms, and in the New Testament it could be found in the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55), the Benedictus (Luke 1:68-79), and the Nunc dimittis (Luke 2:29-32). To these Norberg adds the Te deum (p. 156 of the English translation):

‘Following the models supplied by biblical poetry, poets also composed new poems… The best known among these, belonging to the first centuries of Christianity, is the Te Deum, which by the parallelism between its words and its ideas, gives us a representative image of this form of poetry.
            Te deum laudamus,
            te dominum confitemur,
te aeternum patrem omnis terra veneratur
tibi omnes angeli
tibi caeli et universae potestates
tibi  cherubim et seraphim incessabili voce proclamant
            Sanctus sanctus sanctus dominus deus Sabaoth’

For me, having spent much of my teens and twenties ‘in quires and places where they sing’ the Te deum has a special resonance, indeed all the greater since the Anglican church has generally retreated from having Mattins as a major service. In legend the Te deum was composed antiphonally by Ambrose and Augustine as the first baptised the second at Easter 387. A letter of Cyprian of Toulon, to be dated between 524 and 533 (MGH Epistolae 3.434-6 at 436) quotes lines from it as a hymn that the whole church throughout the world sings every day, in hymno quem omnis ecclesia toto orbe receptum canit, cottidie dicimus).

But is it in fact poetry? In its phrasing it conforms rather to the patterns of late Latin artistic prose. The defining characteristic of such prose is rhythm at the end of clauses. The rhythms are a development from the metrical clausulae famously used by Cicero (but actually much more widespread in Latin and previously Greek literature). The standard accentual clausulae of late antique prose are as follows (where ó is an accented and ~ and unaccented syllable):

I.               ó~~ó~ (cursus planus), e.g., vóce proclámant, déum laudámus
II.             ó~~ó~~ (cursus tardus), e.g., laúdat exércitus, fámulis súbveni
III.           ó~~~~ó~ (cursus velox), e.g. dóminum confitémur

These derive from the metrical clausulae. Thus vōcĕ prō/clāmānt, the cursus planus, corresponds to the cretic (long short long) and spondee (two longs): As long as there is a word break after the second or third syllable of the five, there will always by the regular rules of Latin accentuation be a stressed syllable at the start of each foot: hence the rise of the cursus. Similarly the cursus tardus arises from the double cretic clausula such as lāudăt ēx/ērcĭtūs) or from the cretic and tribrach (three shorts) such as laud-ābilīs / nŭmĕrŭs; both of these are favoured metrical clausulae in the early centuries AD. [Note, by the way, that it is indifferent whether the last syllable is long or short, hence the inconsistent use of metrical feet ending in a long and a short; the final syllable of exercitus and numerus in reality has the same quantity. Please just bear with the inconsistency]. Now the nature of the late antique accentual clausulae, as used in many authors, is that even if there may be a preference for the canonical metrical clausulae, other arrangements of syllables that give the same rhythmical effect are also admitted: some of these may be close to the metrical original. fămŭlīs sūbvĕnī, for example, is an anapaest (short short long) and a cretic; others are a bit further away: deum laudamus begins with a short and a long instead of the long and short of a cretic spondee clausula.

Two more clausulae need to be described to complete the picture. The third main accentual ending, the cursus velox, originally derives from a cretic and a ditrochee (long short long short), though even in more strictly metrical authors, the cretic in particular tends to be varied (so dominum / confitemur is anapaest and ditrochee). Finally, a metrical clausula which many others like is a variant on the cretic spondee, where the cretic is replaced by a first paeon (long short short short): the famous ēssĕ vĭdĕātŭr for which Cicero was notorious. Scholars of accentual prose rhythm have called this the cursus trispondaicus. In late antique prose it very often preserves the original metrical form: térra vene/rátur is both a metrical and accentual example of this ending.

Others too have pointed out that Te deum laudamus is in fact a prose hymn (Norberg himself later calls it 'poetry in prose', and see for example the notes of P. G. Walsh and C. Husch, One Hundred Latin Hymns (Cambridge Mass., 2012), 401, or the learned blogpost by Fr Edward McNamara, a Professor at the Regina Apostolorum University, here); but I have not found any account that explains in detail how this prose hymn works. So I here offer a reading of the Te deum laudamus as clausulated prose.

I indicate the clausulae with the signs I, II, III for cursus planus, tardus, and velox, 3 for cursus trispondaicus, x = an absence of regular cursus. Metrical clausulae are noted where they exist: C = cretic, S = spondee, T= tribrach, P1 = first paeon, D = ditrochee, Da = dactyl, Ap = anapaest. I have given the translation from the Book of Common Prayer, though not always the most accurate, out of respect for its own historical importance. You can find a translation by Walsh and Husch in One Hundred Christian Hymns, and one by Matthew Hoskin here.

Te deum laudamus,                                                                 I
te dominum confitemur                                                          III, ApD
te aeternum patrem omnis terra veneratur                              3, P1S
tibi omnes angeli, tibi caeli et universae potestates,              3
tibi cherubim et seraphim incessabili voce proclamant:        I, CS
Sanctus sanctus sanctus dominus deus Sabaoth,                    x
            pleni sunt caeli et terra maiestate gloriae tuae                        I

We praise thee, O God,
We acknowledge thee to be the Lord.
All the earth doth worship thee, the Father everlasting
To the all angels cry aloud, the heavens and all the powers therein
To thee Cherubim and Seraphim continually do cry
Holy holy holy Lord God of Hosts
Heaven and earth are full of the majesty of thy glory.

(The ending dominus deus Sabaoth is anomalous in two ways: first, it presents the Hebrew word Sabaoth (accented in Greek on the final syllable; I do not know how it was accented in fifth-century Latin, though it is on the first later in the Middle Ages); secondly it is a part of a quotation from the angels’ cry, originally in Isaiah 6.3, and a quotation should not be expected to preserve rhythm; the same might be said of the following line too).


Te gloriosus apostolorum chorus,                                          x
te prophetarum laudabilis numerus,                                       II, CT
te martyrum candidatus laudat exercitus.                               II, CC
Te per orbem terrarum sancta confitetur ecclesia:                 II, CC
Patrem inmensae maiestatis,                                                  3
venerandum tuum verum unicum filium,                               II, CC
sanctum quoque paraclitum spiritum.                                    II, CC

The glorious company of the Apostles praise thee,
The goodly fellowship of the Prophets praise thee,
The noble army of Martyrs praise thee.
The holy Church throughout all the world doth acknowledge thee,
The Father of an infinite Majesty;
Thine honourable, true, and only Son;
Also the Holy Ghost, the Comforter.

(Here all but the first clause show a regular clausula. Note that I assume paraclitus was scanned short long short long: even though it is from the Greek parákleitos, the antepenultimate accent normally led to the treatment of the penultimate syllable as short: see e.g. Prudentius Cath. 5.160, Perist. 10.430. Moreover, we can start to note a series of clauses ending in parallel rhythms and often scansions). 

Tu rex gloriae Christe;                                                            I, CS
tu patris sempiternus es filius.                                                II, CC
Tu ad liberandum suscepturus hominem                                x
non horruisti virginis uterum.                                                 II, DaT
Tu devicto mortis aculeo                                                        II, DaC
aperuisti credentibus regna caelorum.                                    I, CS
Tu ad dexteram dei sedes in gloria patris.                              I, CS
Iudex crederis esse venturus                                                   I, CS

Thou art the King of glory, O Christ;
Thou art the everlasting son of the father.
When thou tookest upon thee to deliver man,
Thou didst not abhor the virgin’s womb.
When thou hadst overcome the sharpness of death,
Thou didst open the kingdom of heaven to all believers.
Thou sittest at the right hand of God in the glory of the Father.
We believe that thou shalt come to be our judge.


Te ergo quaesumus, tuis famulis subveni,                             II, ApC
quos pretioso sanguine redemisti                                          III
Aeterna fac cum sanctis tuis in gloria numerari                    III

We therefore pray thee, help thy servants,
Whom thou hast redeemed with thy precious blood.
Make them to be numbered with thy saints in glory everlasting. 

(For the last clausula I have printed the standard liturgical text, but it would in fact be a regular cretic ditrochee if one accepts the reading munerari and deletes in, ‘make them to be rewarded with eternal glory alongside thy saints’, for which the manuscript evidence seems to be superior: see M. Frost, ‘Te Deum Laudamus: The Received Text’, JTS 43 (1942), 59-68. The fidelity of the hymn as a whole to metrical clausulae is not so strong as to compel this, but it is an additional argument in favour of gloria munerari).

There seems to be a consensus that the verses that follow are added later, mostly from the psalms, a fact that is dramatically illustrated by the sudden thinning out of clausulae:

Salvum fac populum tuum domine et benedic hereditati tuae;          x
et rege eos et extolle illos usque in aeternum.                                    3
Per singulos dies benedicimus te                                                        x
et laudamus nomen tuum in saeculum et in saeculum saeculi.          II, CC
Dignare domine die isto sine peccato nos custodire.                          I
Miserere nostri domine miserere nostri                                              x
Fiat misericordia tua domine super nos                                              x
quemadmodum speravimus in te                                                        x
In te domine speravi; non confundar in aeternum.                             3

O Lord, save thy people and bless thine heritage;
Govern them and lift them up for ever.
Day be day we magnify thee;
And we worship thy name, ever world without end.
Vouchsafe, O Lord, to keep us this day without sin.
O Lord ,have mercy upon us, have mercy upon us.
O Lord, let thy mercy lighten upon us,
As our trust is in thee.
O Lord, in thee have I trusted; let me never be confounded.

The difference in these last verses is stark: the regular use of final monosyllables, or of lines where there is only one intermediate syllable. They illustrate by contrast the technique of the previous lines: short phrases of a particular length, parallel or adjacent clauses often emphasised by the same rhythm and even sometimes metre.

The basic point I make here is not unknown to liturgical specialists. But it comes as a surprise to most of those whom I mention it to and Dag Norberg seems not to have heard about it; so it bears repeating and illustrating. More widely, this is symptomatic of the fact that prose rhythm in Latin -- perhaps because there is no direct equivalent in modern societies -- has tended to be seen as something rather obscure and mysterious. In fact, it was an absolutely central element of how educated and formal writing and performative speech worked in the Roman world. 

Here are a couple of my favourite Te deum settings. by Henry Purcell, and Marc-Antoine Charpentier: