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Description of the Hagia Sophia (423-447)

ἀλλὰ δύσις πυλεῶνα μέγαν πολυδαίδαλον ἴσχει,
οὐχ ἕνα· τριχθαδίους γὰρ ἔχει κατὰ τέλσα μελάθρου.
μηκεδανὸς δ’ ἐπὶ τοῖσι πύλαις παραπέπταται αὐλών,
δεχνύμενος προσιόντας ὑπ’ εὐρυπόροισι θυρέτροις,
μῆκος ἔχων ὅσον εὖρος ἀνάκτορα θέσκελα νηοῦ.
χῶρος ὅδε Γραικοῖσι φατίζεται ἀνδράσι νάρθηξ.
ἔνθα δέ τις κατὰ νύκτα διαμπερὲς ἦχος ἀνέρπων
εὐκέλαδος Χριστοῖο βιαρκέος οὔατα θέλγει,
ὁππόθι τιμήεντα θεουδέος ὄργια Δαυὶδ
ἀντιπόροις ἰαχῆισιν ἀείδεται ἀνδράσι μύστηις,
Δαυὶδ πρηϋνόοιο, τὸν ἤινεσε θέσκελος ὀμφή,
φωτὸς ἀγακλήεντος, ὅθεν πολύυμνος ἀπορρὼξ
γαστέρι δεξαμένη τὸν ἀμήτορα παῖδα θεοῖο
Χριστὸν ἀνεβλάστησεν ἀπειρογάμοισι λοχείαις,
μητρώιοις δ’ ὑπέθηκε τὸν ἄσπορον υἱέα θεσμοῖς.
ἑπτὰ δ’ ἀνευρύνας ἱεροὺς πυλεῶνας ἀνοίγει,
λαὸν ἔσω καλέοντας ὁμιλαδόν· ἀλλ’ ὁ μὲν αὐτῶν
ἐνστρέφεται νάρθηκος ἐπὶ στεινοῖο μετώπου
ἐς νότον, ὃς δὲ βορῆος ἐπὶ πτερά· τῶν γε μὲν ἄλλων
νηοκόρος παλάμηισι μεμυκότα θαιρὸν ἀνοίγει
ἑσπέριον περὶ τοῖχον, ὃς ὕστατός ἐστι μελάθρου.
Πῆι φέρομαι; τίς μῦθον ἀνήρπασε πλαγκτὸν ἀήτης
οἷάπερ ἐν πελάγεσσι; μέσον παραδέδρομε νηοῦ
χῶρον ὑπερκύδαντα. παλιννόστησον, ἀοιδή,
θάμβος ὅπηι πανάπιστον ἰδεῖν, πανάπιστον ἀκοῦσαι.

And looking towards the sunset, one might see the same as towards the dawn, though a portion differs. For there in the centre it is not drawn round in a circle, as on the eastern boundary, where sit the learned priests on seats of resplendent silver, but at the west end is a vast entrance; not only one door, but three. And outside of the doors there stretches a long porch receiving beneath wide portals those that enter; and it is as long as the wondrous church is broad. In the Greek speech this part is called the narthex. Here through the night swells the melodious sound, pleasing to the ears of Him who giveth life to all; when the psalms of David are sung in antiphonal strains — that sweet-voiced David, whom the divine voice of the Almighty praised, and whose glorious posterity conceived the sinless Son of God, who was in Virgin’s pangs brought forth, and subjected to a Mother’s care. Now into this porch open seven wide holy gates inviting the people to enter. One of them is on the south of the narrow porch, and another opens to Boreas, but the others are opened on creaking hinges by the doorkeeper in the west wall. This wall is the end of the church. Whither am I carried? What breeze has driven, like a ship at sea, my errant speech? The very centre of the famous church is all forgotten; return, my muse, to see the wonders scarcely to be believed when seen or heard.


W. R. Lethaby & H. Swainson (1894), The Church of Sancta Sophia Constantinople: a study of Byzantine building(London, New York, Macmillan & Co), 40-41.


Description of the Hagia Sophia, 806-809

Πάντα ν γλαΐηι καταειμένα, πάντα νοήσεις
μμασι θάμβος γοντα·φαεσφορίην δ λιγαίνειν
σπερίην ο μθος πάρκιος. τάχα φαίης
ννύχιον Φαέθοντα καταυγάζειν σέβας κου.

Thus is everything clothed in beauty; everything you will perceive
with eyes full of wonder. But no words are sufficient
to describe the illumination in the evening: you might say that some
nocturnal sun filled the majestic temple with light.


Translation adapted from C. A. Mango (1986), The Art of the Byzantine Empire 312–1453: Sources and Documents(Toronto, University of Toronto Press).