Dancing meter

Today’s post is by Nell Wright and covers a fascinating way of teaching Latin meter to students.
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
This is based off of a presentation given at a CANE Annual Meeting and material used reading Vergil at Malden High School 2005-2012.

Latin stories

Today’s post is a guest post from T. J. Howell.
Advanced Grammar Activities
It’s that time of year again. Time to introduce the ablative absolute to another generation of Latinists. Dreams (nightmares?) of “nouns having been verbed” and cheap alcohol jokes spin wildly in your head. You’ve reviewed ablative forms and the laundry list of participles. You’ve looked at sentences full of hoc facto, his verbis dictis, me auctore, vice versa, and all your other favorites. But how to get it to stick?
Here’s an idea that I’ve been playing around with recently in my classes. While it uses an active method, you can easily turn it into a composition or even a reading assignment if that’s what you prefer.
The idea is to make up a story. But you won’t be doing it, your students will. Each sentence should be simple and short – a noun, a verb, an object. Maybe a prepositional phrase if you’re feeling plucky! The vocab could be based on whatever you’re studying at the time or, if you have a class like mine, there’re sure to be lots of dinosaurs, pickles, butterflies, and awkward turtles. There should also be multiple actors and objects, since grammar laws frown on ablative absolutes sharing nouns with the rest of their sentence.
ludamus! Your first student says (or writes, or whatever, or maybe you start it so you have some control over vocabulary and theme) “olim miles per silvam ambulabat.” Ooh! Mysterious! What could happen? That’s the next student’s responsibility! Maybe that student suggests “subito miles sonitum in silva audivit.”
BUT – and here’s the ablative absolute part – they’ll have to start their sentence by refering to the one that was just said, i.e. “milite per silvam ambulante…” Naturally the second sentence in our example will now have to change a bit. Here you can talk about what “absolute” really means and why you can’t share nouns and all that. In the end the second sentence might be “milite per silvam ambulante, sonitus auditus est.” or “milite per silvam ambulante, aliqud in silva sonitum fecit.”
Then the story continues around the room. “sonitu facto, miles effugit. milite effugiente, arbor trans viam cecidit! via obstata, miles revertit. milite revertente, monstrum apparuit et dixit “me paenitet!” hoc dicto, miles constitit.”
And so on. You’ll have to do a little work to keep it on track, and it will help, as I said above, if you have a few people or items so the sentences can wind back and forth between them. I’ve found that it’s helpful to write the story on the white board or over a projected computer screen. That way, everyone can better keep track of the story and the weaker students have increasing numbers of grammatical models to lean on when making their own sentence.
T. J. Howell has been teaching at Belchertown for 13 years, and is a graduate of the MAT program at UMASS, with extensive conventicula experience.