The Meters of Greek and Latin Poetry

The Meters of Greek and Latin Poetry

The Meters of Greek and Latin Poetry

The Meters of Greek and Latin Poetry

Excerpt

With the exception of the Saturnian meter (see Note below), all meters of classical Latin poetry are based on Greek prototypes. Greek verse is quantitative, i.e., poetic rhythm is determined by a sequence of long and short elements and not, as in English, by the natural word accent. The Latin language, in its classical period at least, seems to have had a stress accent which followed the so-called "Penultimate Law", i.e., if the next-to-last syllable of a word is long, it carries the accent; if it is short, the accent falls on the syllable preceding it. As we shall see below, it may well be that this natural word stress alone carried the rhythm of the only indigenous Italic meter that we know, the Saturnian.

Exactly how a language with such an accent was able to base its poetry on the meters of a totally different kind of language is one of the most vexed questions of classical philology, which the scope of this book does not permit us to discuss in detail. That Latin poetry did model its verse structures on Greek meters is certain, and it seems that in doing so Latin found no such difficulties as English does, for example, when it tries to imitate the Greek (or Latin) hexameter. But at the same time, there can be no doubt that the natural word accent played some part in Latin poetry; not only do the rules governing brevis brevians (see below, section II. 4) remain incomprehensible without a consideration of word accent, but, as we shall see below, there is a coincidence of word accent and long element in certain word groups . . .

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