poetry


Dancing meter

Today’s post is by Nell Wright and covers a fascinating way of teaching Latin meter to students.

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When I introduce my Latin students to dactylic hexameter, I present the musical picture, which is the big picture – steady beats of narration with a lingering sense of the dance in them. We refine rules of prosody over time as they come up. For instance, mutes and liquids, final anceps, caesuras, all have to wait, as does the very musical discussion of the patterns created by ictus and accent.
This presentation will take longer than my first foray usually does; it contains three days’ worth of study. I only teach about fifteen minutes of meter per day. Therefore, the outline is divided into three parts. I have included sample homework for each class.

Salvete discipuli. incipit lectio.

I. Each reads aloud one line in group A.
(Can you dance to that?)

II. I read the same lines and ask how many beats. I start reading as they do, slowly change to
a dance pace and rhythm

III. As I read, the students walk the big beats, starting on left foot.

IV. Stop. Describe what you hear when you step on your right foot. Now, clap doubles on every second step (except the last); then try it walking

V. Diagram the pattern on the board, and students copy. Name spondees and dactyls, and explain that they have nothing to do with word end. The last foot is always marked
long-long even if it’s long-short.

VI. a. Put Latin (teucrorum ex oculis) on the board, read it, have them describe elision (difference between what they hear and what they see)

VI.b. Rules of elision based on scholars’ observations (alpha set)
1. final vowel before an initial vowel elides
(initial h disappears; initial i can be j, a consonant)
2. final um, am and em elide before an initial vowel
3. the quantity you mark is the quantity of the syllable not elided

VII. try eliding on own with group B. Review. Assign group C for homework- mark elisions.

VIII. Review one line as homework. Draw pattern on the board and discuss what they see as to longs and shorts and six beats.
1. by nature – diphthongs, inflections you know (eg amare) or root of word (memorize and/or look up) a good first on e to learn is primus! Then you should keep a running list of common words you look up.
2. by position – vowels followed by two consonants: X, Z, all doubles and certain combinations (b c d g k p q t with l m n r)
IX. working on group D (classem in convexo nemorum sub rupe cavata):
write in longa you’re sure of
shorts must go in as pairs, so a single space must be long

X. students put some on board – no single shorts, six feet.
NB. The first syllable is always long, but that’s not a reason to ignore it. You can learn n natural longs by observing.

XI. read each scanned line aloud. Assign group E for homework- marking longs and shorts you’re sure of.

XII. lines from D on board as if it were homework – any patterns, new logic, hints?

XIII. read aloud for dance. I reread until they can hear the diaeresis. Describe – here end of
foot coincides with end of word. Mark and name it.

XIV. review whole method: write lines out, make elisions, longs you know (position and nature). Fill in and check – no single shorts, six feet, first and last syllable long.

XV. Each student scans a line at board

XVI. and reads it. quick – not stresses on longs, lengthening. One sentence to repeat a lot and
memorize for homework: Arma virumque cano.

She also has a wonderful handout with common long syllables: NellScansion.pdf
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This is based off of a presentation given at a CANE Annual Meeting and material used reading Vergil at Malden High School 2005-2012.