“The Cosmic Lord upon a Foal”: A Greek Epigram for Palm Sunday

This past Sunday was Palm Sunday. Don’t worry; there’s a poem for that.

We once again return to Book 1 of The Greek Anthology. Poem 1.52 is a two-line epigram in dactylic hexameters on Palm Sunday, and I have turned it into six lines of rhymed iambic tetrameters.

The poem takes the form of an “apostrophe”: an address to Jerusalem, the “daughter of Zion,” in reference to Matthew’s use of Zechariah 9:9 in Matthew 21:5:

Tell ye the daughter of Sion, Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, meek, and sitting upon an ass, and a colt the foal of an ass.


The epigram has a decidedly epic feel. For instance, instead of using the word κύριος [kurios] for “Lord,” the poet uses the Homeric-sounding ἄναξ [anax]. While Christ is seated on a foal rather than a war-horse, he nevertheless goes “quickly” (αἶψα [aipsa]) to his suffering and death. This is a king who does not fear single combat with the dark powers.

As in the past, I give the Greek text according to the Loeb edition, the Loeb translation, and my metrical translation.

The Greek text:

Εἰς τὰ Βαΐα

Χαῖρε, Σιὼν θύγατερ, καὶ δέρκεο Χριστὸν ἄνακτα

πώλῳ ἐφεζόμενον καὶ ἐς πάθος αἶψα κιόντα.

The Loeb translation:

Greetings, daughter of Zion, and look on Christ the king seated on a foal and going swiftly to his suffering.

Trans. W.R. Paton, rev. by Michael A. Tueller

My version:

On Palm Sunday

Daughter of Zion, hail and see

This veiled celestial mystery:

The cosmic Lord upon a foal

(As presaged in the ancient scroll)

Lights out in haste for suffering–

A slave’s death for the King of Kings. 


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