Epithalamion vs Prothalamion: Difference and Comparison

 Poems are sung in the marriage ceremony to make the ceremony more beautiful. Edmund Spenser wrote two poems called Epithalamion and Prothalamion, and they both denote the occasion of marriage.

Epithalamion is a poem sung for celebrating marriage. Whereas, Prothalamion is a poem sung for celebrating the engagement ceremony. Both these poems differ in terms of lines and stanza.

Key Takeaways

  1. Epithalamion celebrates a wedding, while Prothalamion honors a betrothal.
  2. Epithalamion is a marriage ode, and Prothalamion is a pre-wedding poem.
  3. Edmund Spenser wrote the first known Epithalamion and Prothalamion in English literature.

Epithalamion vs Prothalamion

Epithalamion is a poem that celebrates a wedding day, describing the beauty of the bride and groom, and their future together. Prothalamion is a poem which celebrates the upcoming wedding of two people, containing wishes of good fortune, fertility, and prosperity.

Epithalamion vs Prothalamion

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Epithalamion is a poem written for the honor of the bride and bridegroom. It is classic in tradition and takes its settings and images from Ireland. It is a type of lyric poem called Spenserian Sonnet.

It has only a few references to the poet’s own country and situation. It is also called Epithalamy or Epithalamium. It is sung at the marriage chamber. 

Prothalamion has a theme called celebration around the river Thames. It is a key symbol and setting. Ideas of beauty, along with the images, surround the theme. It has nymphs gathering flower crowns for the two sisters.

It is called a nuptial song because it is Edmund Spenser’s second wedding song. It is an example of renaissance writing. He published this poem in the year 1596 in celebration of his double marriage. 

Comparison Table

Parameters of ComparisonEpithalamionProthalamion
DefinitionIt is an elaborate poem that celebrates marriage.It is a poem or song that celebrates the forthcoming wedding.
LengthIt is relatively longer.It is relatively shorter.
Personal approachIt is less.It is more.
HighlightsPersonal nature of a marital union.Address the social significance of a marriage union.

What is Epithalamion?

It is an ode written by Edmund Spenser for his bride Elizabeth Boyle. He wrote this during their wedding day in the year 1594.

Though it was written in 1594, it was published in London by William Ponsonby during the year 1595. Ancient Greeks sang this song believing that it would bring good fortune to the marriage.

It includes more mythical allusions. It has 24 stanzas and 365 lines, in which 16 describe the daylight hours of the wedding and 8 describe the wedding night.

It was coined by Catalan Composer Roberto Gerhard. It was associated with the 17th century. It is like a toast to a bride and a groom. It was written mostly in ancient times.

This is not common in today’s era. It includes Greek gods called Hymen, who is the god of marriage.

This song is traditionally derived from songs sung by crowds of wedding celebrations as they escorted the couple to the bridal chamber. 

It is derived from the free words called epi + thalamus. This poem eventually became a literary genre and served ancient Greek poets who produced examples of epithalamia.

It was popularized by Roman writers like Catullus, who composed an epithalamion for Peleus and Thetis. They are the legendary parents of Achilles. It begins with the traditional invocation to the Muses. 

What is Prothalamion?

It is a song or poem which is used for celebrating the forthcoming wedding. It is a 180-line poem. The poem begins with the poet himself, and he is discontented. It is a culmination of the sonnets of Amoretti.

The poem begins with the description of the river Thames. The poet uses the conventional symbol for courting birds. The birds sing the mating tunes. These tunes are part of the poet’s wedding tunes.

In that place, he finds two beautiful maidens. He praises those two birds and later seeks blessings from them for the double wedding celebration.

This poem celebrates the double marriage of honorable and virtuous ladies Elizabeth and Katherine Somerset to two worthy gentlemen. He invokes pagan gods to bless the couples.

The marriage procession takes place down the river Thames of the Essex house. 

The Essex House is nothing but the venue of the wedding. The title prothalamion means betrothal song or a song sung before the wedding.

This word comes from the Greek word Pro and Thalamus, where pro means before and thalamus means bridal chamber. This term was invented by Spens.

It consists of 10 stanzas and 18 lines. It contains a final record of Spenser’s disappointment in England.  

Main Differences Between Epithalamion and Prothalamion

  1. The word Epithalamion is derived from Ancient Greece. On the other hand, the word Prothalamion is derived from Greek Roots.
  2. Epithalamion was first originated in the year 1595. On the other hand, Prothalamion was first originated in the year 1596.
  3. Epithalamion highlights the personal nature of a marital union. On the other hand, Prothalamion addresses the social significance of a marriage union.
  4. The personal approach in Epithalamion is less. On the other hand, the personal approach in Prothalamion is more.
  5. The length of Epithalamion is larger. On the other hand, the length of Prothalamion is shorter.
  6. Epithalamion elaborates poem on marriage celebration. On the other hand, Prothalamion is a poem or song used for celebrating a forthcoming wedding. 
  1. https://search.proquest.com/openview/d68f987ef2cd588484b1aa0bb5dccfb7/1?pq-origsite=gscholar&cbl=18750&diss=y
  2. https://escholarship.org/content/qt40f4t2wv/qt40f4t2wv.pdf

Last Updated : 20 July, 2023

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