Latin metre group – a guest post by Jill Woodberry

Today we have a guest post from Jill Woodberry, a PhD student at King’s who helps to organise a Latin metre reading group at KCL. Jill writes:

The idea for the metre group was conceived after one of Victoria’s neo-Latin reading group sessions, when a few of us found ourselves bemoaning that, though we might manage to translate a Latin poem, we had little idea how its rhythms should sound. We decided to meet regularly to try to get to grips with Latin metre, and count ourselves very fortunate that Caroline Spearing agreed to ‘lead’ us in a regular reading group. The meetings were made possible through the sterling work of Lucy Jackson in dealing with the complexities of KCL room bookings and general admin.

As a foundational practice we concentrated on hexameter. At first we would take one line each, and painstakingly work out the scansion mathematically before reading it out loud in turn. Gradually however we became more adept at speaking unprepared lines as we grew more familiar with the rhythmic patterns of the hexameter. We looked at Virgil, Catullus and Ovid, and noted in particular stylistic differences in their use of elision. We then moved on to elegiac couplets and Catullan hendecasyllables.

Towards the end of the semester, Lois Potter, as expert on early-modern drama, gave us a fascinating talk on the shifting use of metre in Shakespearean drama. At the end of the session we read the ‘echo’ scene from Webster’s Duchess of Malfi, noting the comparison with Ovid’s treatment of the echoing voice in the story of Echo and Narcissus which we had read some weeks earlier.

This semester we have moved on to the very different lyric metres, reading poems by Horace as well as some by Cowley and Sarbiewski (the latter in part to coincide with the neo-Latin reading group). We began with Alcaics, followed by Sapphics. Though our sessions are largely practical, sometimes an element of the theoretical enters in; a vexed issue for us from the conceptual/technical standpoint, is how far it is relevant to consider these lyric metres in terms of smaller units of ‘feet’, as is possible with hexameter and pentameter, or whether each line should be considered a ‘colon’ in its own right. The fact that authorities seem to differ in the way they divide lines suggests that there is no definite rule. We are just beginning to look at Asclepiads, and here, arguably, we do return to an idea of the basic unit of the choriamb as a kind of ‘foot’.

The continuing success of our group is due in part to the enthusiasm of members for hearing spoken Latin poetry, and in part to its interdisciplinary nature, with our very varied interests, expertise and scholarly backgrounds resulting in stimulating and illuminating comment and discussion.

Later, when the survey stage of the Leverhulme project is complete, we look forward to a talk by Victoria on the wide variety of metres that have been discovered in early modern texts.

Finally, this semester we have timed our sessions to align with the main neo-Latin reading group, i.e. 2-3pm on Mondays, and if anyone would like to join us they are very welcome (room is S2.38). Contact details are:;;



Author: Victoria

I am an early modernist who works primarily upon the relationship between Latin and vernacular (especially but not only English) poetry between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries. I am Senior Lecturer in Latin Language and Literature at King's College London.

7 thoughts on “Latin metre group – a guest post by Jill Woodberry”

    1. Hi Peter. I can’t speak for Jill (whose post this is, but she doesn’t have access to reply), but yes, I know that Bianca and Raffaella have been using this website a bit as they identify metres in manuscript verse. It only does hexameter and elegiacs though I think so is of quite limited use to us in terms of the project, where the metrical challenges are largely presented by unusual lyric metres and all the unclassical forms that you find in neo-Latin sources (rhyming verse, free verse, Latin Pindarics and so on). Our metrical data shows some really interesting patterns though which I’ll post about in due course.

  1. Rṓmānū́s pŏpŭlū́s gāudḗt nūnc cṓllĭbŭs ā́lbis,
    nā́m cāndḗnt sŭbĭtṓ tḗmplă fŏrū́mquĕ nĭvé
    Scansion produced by the link mentioned above.

    1. Peter Hulse – I’ve just chanced upon this thread (?), am very much an outsider but also an up to a point practising Latin poet – and I am very grieved by the accents, Rṓmānū́s pŏpŭlū́s gāudḗt etc, in your example. The subtlety of quantitative verse is completely lost if one adjusts stress according to feet rather than keeping to the natural accentuation of Latin words. If you’re interested I’ve made this point (rather well, I think!) in the blurb to a collection of my poetry published in 2015, see . More recently I’ve occasionally been sending out tweets in verse @stephanuscoombs – but generally feel these are rather lame: perhaps I’m past my peak!

      Stephen Coombs

  2. I just thought I’d mention it.
    More posts on metres would be very interesting.
    By the way, I’ve read your article about Marvell and Fisher. I loved the bit about Cromwell being likened to a Turriger . . . Elephas. I’ve also started reading Claudian’s ‘In Rufinum’ again: the last time I read it was just after Cameron’s ‘Honorius’ came out!

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