The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

Audit tyrannus anxius

Words: Audit tyrannus anxius, Cathemerinon ("The Hymns of Prudentius"), Aurelius Clemens Prudentius (348-405)

Compare: Audit tyránnus ánxius from the Liturgia Horarum (The Liturgy of the Hours)

Translations: With Terror Doth The Tyrant Hear
When It Reach'd The Tyrant's Ear
With Boding Fears The Tyrant Hears

Audit tyrannus anxius
adesse regum principem,
qui nomen Israel regat
teneatque David regiam.

Exclamat amens nuntio,
successor instat, pellimur;
satelles i, ferrum rape,
perfunde cunas sanguine.

Quid proficit tantum nefas,
quid crimen Herodem iuvat?
unus tot inter funera
inpune Christus tollitur.

Iesu, tibi sit gloria,
qui natus es de Virgine,
cum Patre et almo Spiritu,
in sempiterna saecula. Amen.

Editor's Note:

The fourth stanza is a later addition; it was not written by Prudentius.

Notes from Rev. Matthew Britt, O.S.B., Hymns from the Breviary and Missal (London: Burns Oates & Washbourne Ltd., 1922), pp. 106-107.

Author: Prudentius (348-413). Meter: Iambic dimeter. Translation [of With Terror Doth The Tyrant Hear] by Monsignor Henry. There are eleven translations. Liturgical Use: Hymn for Matins on the Feast of The Holy Innocents. This hymn is a cento from the twelfth and last poem in the Cathemerinon of Prudentius, and in its full form it contains 208 lines. First line of complete hymn: Quicumque Christum quaeritis. Four beautiful centos from this hymn were included in the Breviary by Pius V (1568). One of these centos begins with the first line of the complete hymn. The following are the four centos, their composition, and their liturgical use:

1. Quicúmque Christum quĉritis (1-4; 37-44; 85-88). Transfiguration.

2. O sola magnarum urbium (77-80; 5-8; 61-64; 69-72). Epiphany.

3. Audit tyrannus anxius (93-100; 133-136). Holy Innocents. [this page]

4. Salvete, Flores Martyrum (125-132). Holy Innocents.

There is an article in the Cath. Encyl., treating of all four hymns, under the general heading: Quicumque Christum quceritis.

1. "The anxious tyrant hears that the King of kings is come, who would rule the people of Israel and possess the royal throne of David." Tyrannus anxius: Audiens autem Herodes rex, turbatus est, et omnis Jerosolyma cum illo (Matt. 2, 3). Regum Princeps: Jesus Christ—the prince of the kings of the earth (Apoc. 1, 5). Nomen Israel = populus Israel. Regiam (sc. sedem). Et dabit illi Dominus Deus sedem David patris ejus (Luke 1, 32).

2. "Rendered frantic by the message, he cries out: 'A successor is at hand, we are driven away: go, executioner, take the sword, drench the cradles with blood !'" Satelles, sing, for pl., attendants, bodyguard, soldiers. For the Scriptural account of the massacre of the Holy Innocents, see Matt. 2, 16-18. See also the articles on Holy Innocents and Herod, in the Cath. Encycl.

3. "But what availeth so great an outrage? What profiteth Herod this crime? Among so many slain, Christ alone is safely borne away." Unus = solus. Funera, lit., funerals; corpses, also death, esp. a violent death.

The following note is from John Julian, Dictionary of Hymnology (1892), pp. 946-947.

Quicumque Christum quaeritis. Prudentius. [Epiphany.]

This is the 12th and last poem in his Cathemerinon, and in its full form consists of 208 lines. It is found in a MS. of the 5th century in the Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris (8048, f. 39b), and is included in all eds. of his Opera: e.g. Halle, 1703, p. 75 ; and Aurelii Prudentii Clementis V. C. Opera Omnia . . . . (Delphin and Variorum Classics), London, 1824, vol. i. pp. 150-163. Though one of the finest poems of Prudentius, it was comparatively little used in the services of the Church until the revision of the Roman Breviary after the Council of Trent. In the edition of that Breviary published at Borne, 1570, there are the following centos :—

i. Quicumque Christum quaeritis. Transfiguration.

ii. O sola magnarum urbium. Epiphany.

iii. Audit tyrannus anxius. Holy Innocents, at Matins.

iv. Salvete flores martyrum. Holy Innocents, at Lauds.

These centos are repeated in later editions of the Roman Breviary, and also in Daniel, i., Nos. 107, 108, 112, and iv. p. 121.

The earliest and most beautiful cento is the Salvete flores martyrum, which is found in the St. Gall manuscript, No. 413, of the 11th century, in a 12th century manuscript in the British Museum (Add. 18301, f. 113), &c. [J. M.]

These centos have been translated into English as follows:—

. . .

iii. Audit tyrannus anxius. Holy Innocents.

This cento begins with line 93 of the poem. The Roman Breviary text is in Cardinal Newman's Hymni Ecclesiĉ, 1838 and 1865. Tr. as :—

1. The jealous tyrant saw with fear. Primer, 1706.

2. With boding fears, the tyrant hears. W. J. Copeland, 1848.

3. When it reached the tyrant's ear. E. Caswall, 1840.

4. The tyrant hears, and not in vain. J. Wallace, 1874.

5. Aghast the tyrant racked with care. H. M. Macgill, 1876. Another cento from the Latin beginning with the same stanza.

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