Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Ouranios Nomos-An Orphic Hymn to Law

THE ORPHIC HYMNS, which may have been composed as early as the 3rd cent. B.C., are 87 short religious poems, essentially prayers or invocations, addressed to various Greek-based deities, and probably used in Orphic worship. They show the influence of ancient Greek religious and mythical beliefs and practices, and are clearly pagan in inspiration. They enjoyed a resurgence in the early Renaissance. For example, Marsilio Ficino of Florence (1433-99), tutor to Lorenzo de’ Medici and a leading Neoplatonic philosopher of that day, was credited with reviving the singing of these ancient songs by means of the Orphic lyre. Ficino's friend and fellow humanist Pico della Mirandola wrote encomia regarding the magic quality of these poems and music. In addition to songs of praise to the multiple gods in the Greek pantheon, there are four poems of praise to deities directly related to justice and law. Though there is no english equivalent for the Greek concepts of Nomos, Dike, Dikaiosyne, and Themis, one can approximate these as a Law (Nomos), Equity (Dike), Justice (Dikaiosyne), and Custom (Themis). The hymns document that felt notion that law and justice bear some relationship to divinity. This relationship is so vivid that, to the polytheist, these components are personified as gods that may be invoked, appeased, and worshiped. The important message that remains for us today is that Law and Justice are more than just human words or human concepts based on mere will and power, but they have a transcendent or mysterious character which ultimately means they reference God, and bear some analogy to and reliance upon Him. The English translation is from Thomas Taylor, the Latin text and Greek lower-case text come from Gottfried Hermann's Orphica.

TO LAW (Nomos)

THE holy king of Gods and men I call,
Celestial Law, the righteous seal of all;
The seal which stamps whate'er the earth contains,
Nature's firm basis, and the liquid plains:
Stable, and starry, of harmonious frame,
Preserving laws eternally the same:
Thy all-composing pow'r in heaven appears,
Connects its frame, and props the starry spheres;
And shakes weak Envy with tremendous sound,
Toss'd by thy arm in giddy whirls around.
'Tis thine, the life of mortals to defend,
And crown existence with a blessed end;
For thy command and alone, of all that lives
Order and rule to ev'ry dwelling gives:
Ever observant of the upright mind,
And of just actions the companion kind;
Foe to the lawless, with avenging ire,
Their steps involving in destruction dire.
Come, bless, abundant pow'r, whom all revere,
By all desir'd, with favr'ing mind draw near;
Give me thro' life, on thee to fix my fight,
And ne'er forsake the equal paths of right.

("To Law," Orphic Hymn LXIII, Thomas Taylor, trans., The Hymns of Orpheus (London: 1792); see


Coeligenum atque hominum genium te Diva voco Lex
Coelestem astrificem, rerum commune sigillum,
Terrai aequorei salis, naturaeque statumen.
Concors et constans servans bene legibus aptum,
Quis tu is componens coeli immortalia iura
Et quatis sublestam invidiam vortiginis ritu,
Qui bona das vitae mortalibus munia obire.
Sola etenim moderare animantum cuncta guberna,
Consiliis cernens observantissima rectis
Casca experta comes, iustis innoxia semper
Iniustosque labefaciens ingentibus noxis.
Sed veneranda opulentifer omnium amoena voluptas,
Fac to nos memores aspirans nomen amicum.

Gottfried Hermann Orphica (1805) 589.

From: The Book of Orphic Hymns (1827)

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