Kassia – A Woman Who Fought Adversity, Judgment and Criticism to Create Powerful Works

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Kassia – A Woman Who Fought Adversity, Judgment and Criticism to Create Powerful Works

A woman who fought adversity, judgement and criticism to create powerful works. Kassia, also known as Kassiani, was a ninth century abbess and compos

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A woman who fought adversity, judgement and criticism to create powerful works.
Kassia, also known as Kassiani, was a ninth century abbess and composer who wrote both poetry and liturgical music. She was born into a wealthy family in Constantinople and was considered exceptionally beautiful and intelligent. Byzantine chroniclers report that she was part of the “bride show” (the process by which Byzantine princes and emperors sometimes selected a bride) put on for the young emperor Theophilos by his stepmother, the Empress Dowager Euphrosyne. Theophilos was so smitten with her beauty that he proposed marriage. She refused, however, and instead became an abbess and composer.

She composed a large number of Stichera, the hymns that comprise the daily Eastern Orthodox liturgy. Roughly half of her compositions are attributed to her, although this is a bit disputed given the fact that several manuscript sources credit other composers with some of her work. A tabulation of the occasions for which these stichera are performed (shown in Table 1) reveals that the majority are sung during vespers.

One of Kassia’s most famous stichera is this song for Holy Wednesday, in which she gives voice to a nameless woman from the Gospels who anoints Christ on the feet with oil. The poem, a fine example of Kassia’s poetic mastery and sensibility, compares her actions to those of Eve in the Garden of Eden after man’s first transgression. It further affirms the omnipotence of God and reflects her confidence that, no matter how many sins she has committed, His compassion is infinite.

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