Kassia

Last updated
Saint Kassia
Kassia.jpg
Icon of St. Kassia
Born810
Constantinople
Died865
Kasos
Venerated in Latin Catholic Church
Eastern Catholic Churches
Eastern Orthodox Church
Canonized Pre-congregation
Feast 7 September

Kassia or Kassiani (Greek : ΚασσιανήMedieval Greek:  [kasia'ni]; 805/810 - before 865) was an Eastern Roman abbess, poet, composer, and hymnographer. She is one of the first medieval composers whose scores are both extant and able to be interpreted by modern scholars and musicians. Approximately fifty of her hymns are extant and twenty-three are included in Orthodox Church liturgical books. The exact number is difficult to assess, as many hymns are ascribed to different authors in different manuscripts and are often identified as anonymous.

Greek language Language spoken in Greece, Cyprus and Southern Albania

Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages, native to Greece, Cyprus and other parts of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea. It has the longest documented history of any living Indo-European language, spanning more than 3000 years of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the major part of its history; other systems, such as Linear B and the Cypriot syllabary, were used previously. The alphabet arose from the Phoenician script and was in turn the basis of the Latin, Cyrillic, Armenian, Coptic, Gothic, and many other writing systems.

Byzantine Empire Roman Empire during Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages

The Byzantine Empire, also referred to as the Eastern Roman Empire or Byzantium, was the continuation of the Roman Empire in its eastern provinces during Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, when its capital city was Constantinople. It survived the fragmentation and fall of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century AD and continued to exist for an additional thousand years until it fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1453. During most of its existence, the empire was the most powerful economic, cultural and military force in Europe."Byzantine Empire" is a term created after the end of the realm; its citizens continued to refer to their empire simply as the Roman Empire, or Romania (Ῥωμανία), and to themselves as "Romans".

Abbess female superior of a community of nuns, often an abbey

In Catholicism, an abbess is the female superior of a community of nuns, which is often an abbey.

Contents

Additionally, some 789 of her non-liturgical verses survive. Many are epigrams or aphorisms called "gnomic verse", for example, "I hate the rich man moaning as if he were poor."

Gnomic poetry consists of meaningful sayings put into verse to aid the memory. They were known by the Greeks as gnomes, from the Greek word for "an opinion". A gnome was defined by the Elizabethan critic Henry Peacham as "a saying pertaining to the manners and common practices of men, which declareth, with an apt brevity, what in this our life ought to be done, or not done".

Kassia is notable as one of only two Eastern Roman women known to have written in their own names during the Middle Ages, the other being Anna Comnena. [1]

Name

Her name is a feminine Greek form of the Latin name Cassius. It is variously spelled Κασσιανή (contemporary pronunciation [kaˈsçani] ), Κασ(σ)ία (Kas[s]ia), Εικασία (Eikasia), Ικασία (Ikasia), Kassiani, Cas[s]ia, Cassiane, Kassiana. Modern English-language references to her as a composer generally use the name "Kassia," while references to her religious life tend to use Kassia or Kassiani.

Cassia (gens) families from Ancient Rome who shared the Cassius nomen

The gens Cassia was a Roman family of great antiquity. The earliest members of this gens appearing in history may have been patrician, but all those appearing in later times were plebeians. The first of the Cassii to obtain the consulship was Spurius Cassius Viscellinus, in 502 BC. He proposed the first agrarian law, for which he was charged with aspiring to make himself king, and put to death by the patrician nobility. The Cassii were amongst the most prominent families of the later Republic, and they frequently held high office, lasting well into imperial times. Among their namesakes are the Via Cassia, the road to Arretium, and the village of Cassianum Hirpinum, originally an estate belonging to one of this family in the country of the Hirpini.

Life

19th century representation of Theophilos' choice Emperor Theophilos chooses his wife.jpg
19th century representation of Theophilos' choice

Kassia was born between 805 and 810 in Constantinople into a wealthy family [2] and grew to be exceptionally beautiful and intelligent.[ who? ] Three Byzantine chroniclers, Pseudo-Symeon the Logothete, George the Monk (a.k.a. George the Sinner) and Leo the Grammarian, claim that she was a participant in the "bride show" (the means by which Byzantine princes/emperors sometimes chose a bride, by giving a golden apple to his choice) organized for the young bachelor Theophilos by his stepmother, the Empress Dowager Euphrosyne. Smitten by Kassia's beauty, the young emperor approached her and said: "Through a woman [came forth] the baser [things]", referring to the sin and suffering coming as a result of Eve's transgression. Kassia promptly responded by saying: "And through a woman [came forth] the better [things]", referring to the hope of salvation resulting from the Incarnation of Christ through the Virgin Mary. According to tradition, the verbatim dialogue was:

Constantinople capital city of the Eastern Roman or Byzantine Empire, the Latin and the Ottoman Empire

Constantinople was the capital city of the Roman Empire (330–395), of the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire, of the brief Crusader state known as the Latin Empire (1204–1261) and of the Ottoman Empire (1453–1923). In 1923 the capital of Turkey, the successor state of the Ottoman Empire, was moved to Ankara and the name Constantinople was officially changed to Istanbul. The city is located in what is now the European side and the core of modern Istanbul. The city is still referred to as Constantinople in Greek-speaking sources.

Theophilos (emperor) Byzantine emperor

Theophilos was the Byzantine Emperor from 829 until his death in 842. He was the second emperor of the Amorian dynasty and the last emperor to support iconoclasm. Theophilos personally led the armies in his lifelong war against the Arabs, beginning in 831.

Euphrosyne, was a Byzantine empress by marriage to Michael II. She was a daughter of Byzantine emperor Constantine VI, the last representative of the Isaurian dynasty, and his empress Maria of Amnia.

"-Ἐκ γυναικὸς τὰ χείρω." Medieval Greek:  [ek ʝyne'kos ta 'çiro]
"-Kαὶ ἐκ γυναικὸς τὰ κρείττω." Medieval Greek:  [c(e) ek ʝyneˈkos ta ˈkrito]

His pride wounded by Kassia's terse rebuttal, Theophilos rejected her and chose Theodora as his wife.

When next we hear of Kassia in 843 she had founded a convent in the west of Constantinople, near the Constantinian Walls, and became its first abbess. [3] Although many scholars attribute this to bitterness at having failed to marry Theophilos and become Empress, a letter from Theodore the Studite indicates that she had other motivations for wanting a monastic life. It had a close relationship with the nearby monastery of Stoudios, which was to play a central role in re-editing the Byzantine liturgical books in the 9th and 10th centuries, thus ensuring the survival of her work (Kurt Sherry, p. 56). However, since the monastic life was a common vocation in her day, religious zeal is as likely a motive as either depression or aspiration for artistic renown. [4]

The Emperor Theophilos was a fierce iconoclast, and any residual feelings he may have had for Kassia did not preserve her from the imperial policy of persecution for her defence of the veneration of icons. Among other things, she was subjected to scourging with a lash. In spite of this, she remained outspoken in defence of the Orthodox Faith, at one point saying, "I hate silence, when it is time to speak." [4]

After the death of Theophilos in 842 his young son Michael III became Eastern Roman Emperor, with the Empress Theodora acting as Regent. Together they ended the second iconoclastic period (814-842); peace was restored to the empire.

Kassia traveled to Italy briefly, but eventually settled on the Greek Island of Kasos where she died sometime between 867 and 890 CE. In the city of Panaghia, there is a church where Kassia's tomb/reliquary may be found [5]

Works

Kassiani wrote many hymns which are still used in the Byzantine liturgy to this day. Kassiani became known to the great Theodore the Studite, while she was still a young girl, and he was impressed by her learning and literary style. [4] She not only wrote spiritual poetry, but composed music to accompany it. She is regarded as an "exceptional and rare phenomenon" among composers of her day [6] At least twenty-three genuine hymns are ascribed to her. [4]

Hymn of Kassia

The most famous of her compositions is the eponymous Hymn of Kassia (also known as the Troparion of Kassiani), which is chanted each year at matins on Holy Wednesday (which in usual parish practice is sung Tuesday evening) at the end of the aposticha.

Tradition says that in his later years the Emperor Theophilus, still in love with her, wished to see her one more time before he died, so he rode to the monastery where she resided. Kassia was alone in her cell, writing her Hymn when she realized that the commotion she heard was because the imperial retinue had arrived. She was still in love with him but was now devoted to God and hid away because she did not want to let her old passion overcome her monastic vow. She left the unfinished hymn on the table. Theophilus found her cell and entered it alone. He looked for her but she was not there; she was hiding in a closet, watching him. Theophilus, overcome with sadness, cried and regretted that moment of pride when he rejected such a beautiful and intellectual woman; then he noticed the papers on the table and read them. When he had finished reading, he sat and added one line to the hymn; then he left. The line attributed to the Emperor is the line "those feet whose sound Eve heard at dusk in Paradise and hid herself for fear". Legend says that as he was leaving he noticed Kassia in the closet but did not speak to her, out of respect for her wished privacy. Kassia emerged when the emperor was gone, read what he had written and finished the hymn.

The music for the hymn is slow, sorrowful and plaintive, lasting about ten to twenty minutes, depending on tempo and style of execution. It requires a very wide vocal range, and is considered one of the most demanding, if not the most demanding, pieces of solo Byzantine chant, and cantors take great pride in delivering it well. It is also sung by choirs in unison, often underpinned by Byzantine vocal bass drone. The faithful make a point of going to church specifically "to listen to Kassiani" that evening. In many places in Greece, the Bridegroom Matins service of Great Tuesday is popular with sex workers, who may not often be seen in church at other times of the year. They come in great numbers, in order to hear the Hymn of Kassiani, as the hymn is associated with the woman fallen in many sins. [7]

Portrayals

Many fictitious stories were created around her relationship with Emperor Theofilos. Contemporary historians such as Glykas, Ptochoprodromos, Kodinos, Zonaras and Georgios Amartolos described her exile in Italy during the Iconoclasy wars and later settled and died in Kasos sometime between 867 and 890 CE.

She is portrayed by Karima McAdams in the 5th season of the television series Vikings .

Other works

Among the other hymns she composed are the following:

Religious commemoration

The feast day of Saint Kassiani is celebrated by the Orthodox Church on September 7.

She is often depicted on the icon of the Sunday of Orthodoxy (the First Sunday of Great Lent), because of her strong defence of the veneration of icons.

Recordings

The following are commercial recordings of the music of Kassia:

See also

Related Research Articles

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Byzantine Rite Whole of the worship life of the Eastern Catholic Churches

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Apolytikion

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Troparion

A troparion in Byzantine music and in the religious music of Eastern Orthodox Christianity is a short hymn of one stanza, or organised in more complex forms as series of stanzas.

Kontakion

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Kathisma

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References

  1. Stephenson, Paul, ed. (2010). The Byzantine World. p. 66. Retrieved 5 February 2013.
  2. Touliatos, Grove online
  3. "Other Women's Voices" Archived 2007-10-11 at the Wayback Machine
  4. 1 2 3 4 The Lives of the Spiritual Mothers, Buena Vista CO: Holy Apostles Convent, 1991, pp. 374–381, ISBN   0-944359-05-1, LOC 91-070245
  5. Savas J. Svas, Hymnology of the Eastern Orthodox Church (Byzantine Melodies, 1983), p. 108.
  6. "Hymn Of Saint Kassiani". www.goarch.org. Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.
  7. Byzantine hymns of the first female composer: Kassia, vocame.de

Other sources