Hymns as Acclamations: The Case of Ambrose of Milan

TitleHymns as Acclamations: The Case of Ambrose of Milan
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2013
AuthorsWilliams, MS
Ancient AuthorsAmbrose (OCD)
JournalJournal of Late Antiquity

The hymns of Ambrose of Milan may usefully be seen in the context of other forms of rhythmic chant and song found in the social world of the Roman Empire: above all, they may be connected with popular songs and with acclamations, whether theatrical, political, or religious. Ambrose's hymns in particular share with songs and acclamations a number of formal features, being regular in form and based on accentual stress patterns rather than quantitative meter, and being similarly intended for popular and untrained participation. The most important parallel, however, lies in what may be called their function or effect: for just as did songs and acclamations, Ambrose's hymns demonstrated and articulated the unity of a diverse population by allowing the constituents to express themselves in a single voice. What the hymns may have lacked in spontaneity—being complex and pre-composed—they gained in direction and discipline, so that Ambrose was able to exploit the unity and harmony of his congregation in support of his own political and religious aims. Ambrose's hymns thus reconfigured songs and acclamations as a means of establishing and promoting a Milanese Christian identity and of affirming his own popular authority and legitimacy. [http://muse.jhu.edu/article/510715]


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