- Prudentius’ Hymns for Hours and Seasons: Liber Cathemerinon by Nicholas Richardson
Prudentius’ Hymns for Hours and Seasons: Liber Cathemerinon
Routledge Later Latin Poetry
London and New York: Routledge, 2016
Pp. 181. $122.00.
This slender volume by British classicist Nicholas Richardson, best known for his work on Greek poetry (Homer, Homeric hymns, Pindar), is a welcome addition to this new series from Routledge edited by J. M. Pucci. Prudentius is well served with the 1926 CSEL edition by Bergman and the 1966 CCL edition by Cunningham of the Latin texts and the two volumes by Thomson from 1949 and 1953 in Loeb of his works in English. Even Liber cathemerinon, a collection of twelve hymns for some moments of the day and some liturgical feasts, has been well catered for use in English-language scholarship with Gerard O’Daly’s Days Linked by Son: Prudentius’ Cathemerinon (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), a work that appeared around the same time that the draft of this translation was completed. Comparison between the two is going to be inevitable. At half the length of O’Daly (who does include the Latin), the question has to be raised about what benefit there is for a reader choosing this volume over the earlier.
The work divides into three: an introduction, the translation, and notes. The Introduction gives brief outlines of Prudentius’s life, his works, Liber cathemerinon in particular, Prudentius’s historical, literary, and liturgical contexts, the poetical style and meter employed, and something about its later reception. In contrast to O’Daly, who suggests Prudentius being in competition with Ambrose in the nascent hymn genre, Richardson notes the dependence on Ambrose but without suggesting any motive. While Prudentius’s anti-Arianism is stressed as part of his historical context, and there is some mention of the general turbulence of the opening decade of the fifth century, there is no discussion here about any historical allusions within the dozen hymns of Liber cathemerinon. The literary allusions to Ausonius and Paulinus of Nola, the Bible, as well as to Virgil and Horace, on the other hand, are more clearly noted, which is not surprising given Richardson’s background. Changes to Latin poetry in the context of late antiquity [End Page 154] is something Richardson touches upon and which is a valuable contribution for a series that has late antiquity as its focus. Thus, the poetic dimension is well described in terms of style, meter, and prosody, but the liturgical dimension of these poems as hymns is much less developed, although Richardson is more open to the possibility that they were intended for liturgical use than O’Daly, who wants to restrict them to private reading.
Richardson generally follows O’Daly’s Latin text (who generally preferred Bergman over Cunningham), with a few exceptions noted in section X of the Introduction. His translation tends to the literal and uses classical meters, even if not always the same one employed by Prudentius for a particular hymn. This is where Richardson’s long familiarity with classical poetry pays huge dividends. However, the question of translating the hymns with any kind of liturgical use in mind is not addressed.
Careful reading of the notes, particularly the introductory ones for each hymn, is less helpful especially for those interested in finding anything about how Prudentius was ever used liturgically. Richardson, in speaking about the 1962 Roman Missal or the office (Liturgy of the Hours) in use at the same time, gives the unfortunate impression that this form of Catholic liturgy had been in existence since the foundation of Christianity, whereas it has only been created in the sixteenth century. Something about the presence of Prudentius’s hymns in medieval liturgical books would have been valuable to provide for those interested in such history.
It is slightly annoying that works referred to in the abbreviations at the front of the volume do not appear in the bibliography at the end. While the scholar may still turn to O’Daly for a fuller treatment, this volume is certainly one that, in some places, offers an alternative perspective to his and happily can be read by the...