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: firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org.