Friday, December 17, 2010

ero cras

One of my favourite Christmas hymns (it's too good to be simply a carol) has always been O Come, O Come Emmanuel. I discovered a couple of years ago that it's based on a Latin original which dates back (possibly) as far as the 8th century.

I thought that was pretty cool, but last weekend I mentioned to a friend how much I liked it, and she started telling me about the seven O Antiphons. I'd never even heard of the word, so she explained to me that an antiphon is simply a verse or a stanza, particularly of a religious song. The seven O Antiphons are the seven verses of the hymn (there are a few different versions around; most of the English ones have just five verses I think), which each start with an appeal to the awaited Messiah, using a different title or image. The seven titles are:
  • O Sapientia (Wisdom)
  • O Adonai (Lord)
  • O Radix Jesse (Root of Jesse)
  • O Clavis David (Key of David)
  • O Oriens (Dawn - often 'Day-Spring' in English versions)
  • O Rex Gentium (King of the nations)
  • O Emmanuel (Emmanuel - God with us)
In the seven days leading up to Christmas (i.e. starting on the 17th), monks would (and many still do) sing these verses, adding an extra verse each day, as way of preparing themselves for the coming of Jesus. Gradually a fuller and fuller picture of the coming Messiah would be built up, until on Christmas Eve they would sing all seven verses together and the picture would be complete.

The seventh verse also completes a reverse acrostic - that is if you read the first letter of each of the titles backwards you spell two Latin words: ero cras (I will be tomorrow), which is of course an appropriate message for Christmas Eve.

You can read more about the O Antiphons here and here.

2 comments:

Jc said...

Hey!! excuse me, I'm from Spain and I have seen you posted a translation from the Aeneid in which I'm working now, and I have a question: how can "collis" go with "obscuros" if "obscuros" is acc pl and "collis" is nom, gen pl??
I don't know what to do with that "obscuros", please can you help me?

Thanks, excuse my english!

jm said...

hi, thanks for leaving a comment. Virgil (and lots of other classical writers) often use -is as an alternative ending for -es (nom or acc plural). so in the passage you're referring to (the beginning of Book VI perhaps?) i'd guess that's what's going on. that's not something you'd find in most grammar books, but it's actually pretty common. hope that helps.