The Oxyrhynchus Hymn

The following is taken from a manuscript fragment known as Parchment Oxyrhyncus 15.1786 [or more commonly as POxy 1786]. It was found on a papyri fragment in an ancient garbage dump in Egypt in 1918  and dates from the late 3rd century. It is significant for two reasons:

  1. It is the latest in date of the extant compositions using ancient Greek music notation and thus marks the end of that era.
  2. It is the earliest extant example of Christian hymnody. There are a few other hymns that are arguably older, including “Hail, Gladdening Light” and some passages of the New Testament [though there's some disagreement there if they are hymns or merely poetic flights]

The Oxyrhynchus Hymn


“(Spoken) [Σε Πάτερ κόσμων, Πάτερ αἰώνων, μέλπωμεν] ὁμοῦ, πᾶσαι τε Θεοῦ λόγιμοι δο[ῦλο]ι. Ὅσα κ[όσμος ἔχει πρὸς ἐπουρανίων ἁγίων σελάων.]
(Sung) [Πρ]υτανήω σιγάτω, μηδ’ ἄστρα φαεσφόρα λ[αμπέ]
(Spoken) σθων, [ἀπ]ολει[όντων] ῥ[ιπαὶ πνοιῶν, πηγαὶ]
(Sung) ποταμῶν ῥοθίων πᾶσαι. Υμνούντων δ’ ἡμῶν [Π]ατέρα χ’ Υἱὸν χ’ Ἅγιον Πνεῦμα, πᾶσαι δυνάμεις ἐπιφωνούντων· Ἀμήν, Ἀμήν. Κράτος, αἶνος [ἀεὶ καὶ δόξα Θεοὶ δωτῆρι μόνῳ πάντων] ἀγαθῶν· Ἀμήν, Ἀμήν.”

. . . Let it be silent,

Let the luminous stars not shine,

let the winds and all the noisy rivers die down;

and as we hymn the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,

let all the powers add ‘Amen, amen.’

Empire, praise always, and glory to God,

the sole giver of all good things.

Amen, amen.

4 thoughts on “The Oxyrhynchus Hymn

  1. Great work :) unbelievable!!!!!!!! The scripts looks like eastern Syriac.
    Thanks for the website. This is something I can start my research on what is Christianity and who is a real Christian?
    Andrews

  2. Thank You very much. I’m a teacher History of music in Poland and you have helped me a lot in preparing may lesson!
    Anna form Poznan

  3. Thanks for both the picture and the sound. Can you confirm that the audio is an attempt to reproduce the ancient melody? It would be interesting to know who the singers/chanters are and the occasion on which the hymn was used.

    • The audio is a transcript of an ancient-greek melody. I can’t write out the music for you in here, but if you wish I can email it to you. The recording was published by Harmonia Mundi and it’s called ‘Musique de la Grece Antique’. You can find all the info there. The chant is a hymn to the Holy Trinity.

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