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Epithalamium Definition

A poem written in honor of the bride and groom.

EPITHALAMIUM (Gr. ?π?, at or upon, and θ?λαμος, a nuptial chamber), originally among the Greeks a song in praise of bride and bridegroom, which was sung by a number of boys and girls at the door of the nuptial chamber. According to the scholiast on Theocritus, one form, the κατακοιμητικ?ν, was employed at night, and another, the διεγερτικ?ν, to arouse the bride and bridegroom on the following morning. In either case, as was natural, the main burden of the song consisted of invocations of blessing and predictions of happiness, interrupted from time to time by the ancient chorus of Hymen hymenaee. Among the Romans a similar custom was in vogue, but the song was sung by girls only, after the marriage guests had gone, and it contained much more of what modern morality would condemn as obscene. In the hands of the poets the epithalamium was developed into a special literary form, and received considerable cultivation. Sappho, Anacreon, Stesichorus and Pindar are all regarded as masters of the species, but the finest example preserved in Greek literature is the 18th Idyll of Theocritus, which celebrates the marriage of Menelaus and Helen. In Latin, the epithalamium, imitated from Fescennine Greek models, was a base form of literature, when Catullus redeemed it and gave it dignity by modelling his Marriage of Thetis and Peleus on a lost ode of Sappho. In later times Statius, Ausonius, Sidonius Apollinaris and Claudian are the authors of the best-known epithalamia in classical Latin; and they have been imitated by Buchanan, Scaliger, Sannazaro, and a whole host of modern Latin poets, with whom, indeed, the form was at one time in great favour. The names of Ronsard, Malherbe and Scarron are especially associated with the species in French literature, and Marini and Metastasio in Italian. Perhaps no poem of this class has been more universally admired than the Epithalamium of Spenser (1595), though he has found no unworthy rivals in Ben Jonson, Donne and Quarles. At the close of In Memoriam Tennyson has appended a poem, on the nuptials of his sister, which is strictly an epithalamium.


The Epithalamium is a song or poem about a marriage celebration. The word is derived from its Greek origin of Epithalamos which means bridal chamber. The poem or song is meant to show homage and tribute to the bride and/or groom. During ancient Greek times, the poem or song was read or sung to the bride and groom during their wedding celebration. The Epithalamium originally was penned as a song for the bride who was on her way to her marriage chamber. It was normally sung by children as a part of a celebration about what the bride would encounter after being married.

The Epithalamium was later penned as a poem with the best example given in the 18th century Greek culture. It was later done in the Latin culture by great poets Claudian, Ausonius, Apollinaris and Sidonius. The Epithalamium,"A Ballad Upon a Wedding" as penned by Sir John Suckling, is one of the most popular ever penned by a poet. 

Epithalamium Poem Example

Epithalamium  
by Matthew Rohrer


In the middle garden is the secret wedding,
that hides always under the other one
and under the shiny things of the other one. Under a tree
one hand reaches through the grainy dusk toward another.
Two right hands. The ring is a weed that will surely die.

There is no one else for miles,
and even those people far away are deaf and blind.
There is no one to bless this.
There are the dark trees, and just beyond the trees.


Copyright © 2001 by Matthew Rohrer.


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Misc. Definitions

\Ep`i*tha*la"mi*um\, n.; pl. {Epithalamiums}, L. {Epithalamia}. [L., fr. Gr. ?, orig. an adj., nuptial; 'epi` upon, at + ? bride chamber.] A nuptial song, or poem in honor of the bride and bridegroom. The kind of poem which was called epithalamium . . . sung when the bride was led into her chamber. --B. Jonson.

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