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Struggling with Romanos’s “Dagger of Taste”

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  • Romanos Melodos
  • Romanus Melodus
  • Senses
  • Perception
  • Philosophy And Religion
  • Literature


The sixth-century hymnographer Romanos the Melodist has a developed language of eating and drinking, of anticipated meals and enjoyable feasts, and yet his palette of tastes is all but colorful. Hunger and thirst, on the other hand, are vibrantly displayed across the canvas. I take this to reflect a historical reality in which the lack of nutritious food may have been more urgent to most people than the lack of tasteful food. In this paper, then, I shall explore not only what the different tastes tell us, but also how a selection of characters approach food and drink with various hues of desire in Romanos’s poetry: the corpulent overeater (Hades) of bad-tasting food – who eats until he vomits; Jesus and the Samaritan woman thirsting for each other’s water; the junction between the Virgin’s breast-milk and congregational appetite; the ravenous craving – despicable or desirable? – of the harlot in love. Romanos’s universe appoints a central position to the fervently yearning self, with its hunger and thirst. This paper explores how plain flavors intersect with the rich patterns of gustatory expectations and excitement. Attempting to cut a breach between the untasteful and that which is becoming, the “dagger of taste,” as Romanos calls it, comes to serve religious discernment. Hence the faithful, with all their desires and needs, may be “depicted in true colors” by the Samaritan Woman and her unquenchable thirst for sweet water.

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