Meter in Tragedy (Split from topic "Let's Read: AJAX")

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Re: Meter in Tragedy (Split from topic "Let's Read: AJAX")

Post by mwh » Mon Jun 06, 2016 8:01 pm

172-200, triadic (but we don’t discover that until the epode arrives). Like all odes this is high lyric, a very sharp break from the preceding anapests. It’s easy to analyze in terms of the compositional norms of the panhellenic poets (Stesichorus Pindar Bacchylides in particular) who composed in a weakly Doric literary dialect. It’s closely cognate with them, in language and meter alike, though distinctively Sophoclean (just as Sophocles’ iambic trimeters are) in subtle ways that I’d find hard to describe.

The strophe (and hence the antistrophe) is in more or less standard “dactylo-epitrite” (horrible name, but we’re stuck with it, at least in English: Italians and French resist), while the epode likewise has strong Pindaric affinity, and affinity with dactylo-epitrite too, but is most conveniently analyzed in “aeolo-choriambic” terms. Hylander already gave a good descriptive outline of their components above. (A defect of analysis in D/e terms is that it falsely implies that the meter is built up of metrical units linked by anceps. And I wouldn’t talk of “cretics.”)

Dactylo-epitrite (D/e) combines dactylic and iambo-trochaic rhythms in various more or less standardized ways. You get longs alternating both with double-shorts (as in dactylic) and with single-shorts and anceps (as in iambo-trochaic). Aeolo-choriambic does much the same, in differently sterotyped ways. The hotch-potch of nomenclature is a nuisance, and conceals more than it reveals. Best just to read the ode metrically and register the recurring and variant patterns as they emerge, and particularly striking sequences. Just be on the lookout for the “Doric alpha” which in Attic would be eta.

Here’s how I’d go about it.

η ρα σε Ταυροπόλα Διος Αρτεμις ω μεγα- sounds like dactylic hexameter (—uu—uu—| uu—uu—uu …), but the dactyls just keep on going (-λα φατις ω, —uu—uu—) until they bump up against μᾶτερ αισχυνης εμας ωρμασε πανδαμους (—u—x—u—x—u—x—), an iambo-trochaic sequence which runs on into (πανδαμους) επι βους αγελαιας (… —uu—uu——||), a dactylic clausula as in the epic hexameter.
And so on.
(It’s all very Stesichorean, but you don’t need to know that.)
I much prefer this organic and progressive way of "analyzing" to merely pinning labels on to various lengths. But it's admittedly a bit unorthodox, and I'd appreciate feedback.

The ode could well end at the end of the antistrophe (191), but the add-on epode is tied in to it both in sense (“Don’t just sit there ||| but rouse yourself”) and meter (...—uu——|||—uu—uu—…). It brings the focus back down to Ajax’ tent (the skene at the center rear of the stage area) from which then emerges … not Ajax on cue but Tecmessa. The heavy “dragged” close (…ἕστακεν, …———) is notable, and echoes the similar endings of the preceding lines (reading βαρυαλγητα· and period end in 199, with the manuscripts and the old OCT). The effect has been called gloomy (T.B.L.Webster, husband of A.M.Dale), which may well be so, but to me it conveys a sense of reluctance and unease.

What did the ode mean to the audience? Well, we could say it temporarily carried them into the world of choral lyric, away from the earth-bound nitty-gritty of characters in interactive discourse. They witness the chorus taking off into unhappy reflection and speculation while the world around them stands still, and they soak up the mood of anxiety over Ajax.

Cop-out, you say, and perhaps rightly. But the meters used have few particular associations beyond “choral lyric.” (Thomas Cole in an interesting book on “Epiploke” alludes in passing to modern musical keys, calling dactylo-epitrite Pindar’s “epinician major” and aeolic his “epinician minor”, and odes were composed in various “modes” very hard to capture, “Phrygian,” “Dorian,” etc.) There’s little that can be pinned down with any precision. It’s more a matter of ethos. Hylander offered musical composition as an analogy. The composer, whether Beethoven or Berg or Sophocles, works within a tradition (or extends the bounds of it) and makes certain choices which collectively define the nature of the result. The better you know the tradition, the more informed your responses will be. The original audience members themselves, of course, brought a diversity of experience and expectation to the theater.

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Re: Meter in Tragedy (Split from topic "Let's Read: AJAX")

Post by Paul Derouda » Mon Jun 06, 2016 8:42 pm

Thank you. You have, again, answered so many questions I've had. I'm going read it all over again paying especial attention to the meter, while revising particular points you mention (as well as the vocabulary!). (I confess I've been advancing pretty quickly and just reached 370.)

I reckon my lack of knowledge of musical theory (I mean even the basics) is also a problem here.

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Re: Meter in Tragedy (Split from topic "Let's Read: AJAX")

Post by Hylander » Mon Jun 06, 2016 10:03 pm

Interesting how the shift from "chanted" or "marching" anapests to the melic register is marked by σιγ in 171 to Ταυροπόλα in 172 and μεγάλα μᾶτερ αἰσχύνας ἐμᾶς in 173-4. Of course, music would make this apparent on stage, but this illustrates the interaction of form/genre/dialect. (Recognizing that the mss. apparently don't always get Doric α vs. Ionic η right).
I reckon my lack of knowledge of musical theory (I mean even the basics) is also a problem here.
Maybe your lack of knowledge of music theory is helpful in that you aren't burdened by preconceptions.

Again, thanks to mwh for the effort he put into this!

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Re: Meter in Tragedy (Split from topic "Let's Read: AJAX")

Post by swtwentyman » Wed Jun 08, 2016 6:35 pm

Might this thread be stickied, along with mwh's post on conditionals, as they're of universal interest and help not bound by time (more selfishly, I'm nowhere near good enough to appreciate this particular thread and I don't want it to have disappeared when I could get something out of it)? If the post on dialects is worthy of it...

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Re: Meter in Tragedy (Split from topic "Let's Read: AJAX")

Post by mwh » Mon Jun 13, 2016 2:39 am

Formal analysis of the play. The “parodos” starts with the chorus’ entering anapests at 134. Everything before that is the “prologue.” The choral ode following the anapests (str. ant. ep.), 172-200, is counted as belonging to the parodos, while the exchange with Tecmessa when she enters at 201 is counted as belonging to the first “episode,” which is deemed to run all the way down to 595!

Analysis in these terms is informed by Aristotle’s treatment of tragedy in the Poetics, but can seem rather artificial and sterile. What justifies it is the fact that Tecmessa is continuously on stage from 201 to 595. At that point the stage is vacated (except for the chorus, on stage throughout) and the chorus sing the first “stasimon” (here two strophic pairs, 596-645).

Then comes a second “episode,” this one less than 50 lines long! and consisting of a single speech—or rhesis/ῥῆσις—by Ajax (646-92, the famous “deception” speech). Then the 2nd stasimon, a single strophic pair (693-718). Then the 3rd episode, 719-865, divided into two by a scene change at 814/5! The latter part of it is another solo speech by Ajax, at the end of which he kills himself. The play itself will not end for another 550 lines.

This is an extraordinary structure, highly unorthodox. Meter shows that it concentrates the pathos in the first half of the play. Every tragedy has an outburst of dochmiacs, a peculiar meter almost exclusive to tragedy. (We’ll discuss them when we come to them, but Hylander already mentioned them.) Dochmiacs always mark a tragedy’s emotive climax. Normally they don’t come till near the end of a play. (In the OT, for instance, the dochmiacs don’t get under way till after 1300, with only 200 lines left to go.) But in the Ajax, uniquely, they’re brought all the way forward to 349, Ajax’ first utterance since the prologue (apart from a few anticipatory moans and groans off). At that point there are still more than a thousand lines to go!

I'd welcome feedback on these posts. Too elementary? Too advanced? Too boring? If people want, I can post something on the lyric sections as we go through, starting with 221-56. But nothing too detailed. I'd like to contextualize them a bit.

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Re: Meter in Tragedy (Split from topic "Let's Read: AJAX")

Post by anphph » Mon Jun 13, 2016 10:06 am

This, followed up by your discussion of meter, led me to a side question (hopefully not too off topic — if so, I'll start another thread): are there any ancient writers/grammarians who discuss the presence and use of meter? (So, to simplify, «Dochmiacs always mark a tragedy’s emotive climax.») Or do they limit themselves to acknowledge their existence and their formal shape? (This leads fluidly to the question of whether considering the semantics of meter is a specifically modern interest.)

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Re: Meter in Tragedy (Split from topic "Let's Read: AJAX")

Post by Hylander » Mon Jun 13, 2016 12:23 pm

These posts have been very helpful to me in sorting out the mass of information in books like West and Dale. I read through Ajax last fall when the first Ajax thread started, and I'm going through it again now in an effort to solidify my tenuous grasp. These posts have really brought the melic passages to life for me. My earlier post in this thread, which I think got mwh going, represented the sum total of my naive understanding of the metrics. I'm immensely thankful for mwh's explanations. I have some questions which I'll post later.

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Re: Meter in Tragedy (Split from topic "Let's Read: AJAX")

Post by Paul Derouda » Mon Jun 13, 2016 2:59 pm

This has been immensely helpful for me too; I've been reading the play again paying attention to the meter, and it's a lot easier now to read the commentary that assumes quite a lot of knowledge. I'll post some questions once I've digested more.

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Re: Meter in Tragedy (Split from topic "Let's Read: AJAX")

Post by mwh » Thu Jun 16, 2016 8:27 pm

anphph wrote:This, followed up by your discussion of meter, led me to a side question (hopefully not too off topic — if so, I'll start another thread): are there any ancient writers/grammarians who discuss the presence and use of meter? (So, to simplify, «Dochmiacs always mark a tragedy’s emotive climax.») Or do they limit themselves to acknowledge their existence and their formal shape? (This leads fluidly to the question of whether considering the semantics of meter is a specifically modern interest.)
Sorry for the delay in answering.

There are metrical treatises from later antiquity, which use much the same battery of names for particular sequences that are still used today and perform arid exercises in metrical transmutations (e.g. transforming one meter into another by shuffling the elements around), but they’re concerned only with outward metrical form, not with dynamic structure and not at all with questions of semantics. For dochmiacs, for instance, we have only inadequate descriptions and mechanical analyses of its unique “slanting” form (u——u— = iamb + cretic or bacchius + iamb?, that sort of thing). To discover that they mark a tragedy’s emotive climax we have to read the tragedies themselves and observe the circumstances in which they're used.

Modern handbooks on ancient Greek meter, especially those in French, German, and English, are mostly in the same purely descriptive tradition.

For more interesting stuff we have to go further back and beyond the bare metrical data embodied in what we see on the page.

One of the earliest and most important characters is Damon (neither Matt nor Salvatore), whom we know of through Plato in the Republic, and a few terms, e.g. enhoplian, derive from him. These faint traces have been milked for all they are worth, and more, by scholars such as Bruno Gentili. (I spent an impoverished and glorious year at his institute in Urbino, but resisted becoming one of his discipuli.) The word enhoplian itself indicates martial associations, and such “ethical” connotations were attached to various rhythms and more significantly to various musical tunings—diachronic, enharmonic, chromatic, each entailing differing intervals on the “tetrachord,” the basic building block of Greek music (a set of four notes, the outer two a fourth apart and the inner intervals determining the “tonos”). We have a variety of ancient treatises on this sort of thing. We also have a handful but only a handful of texts accompanied by musical notation, mostly very fragmentary and problematic and all of them post-classical. A fundamental metrical-rhythmical-musical concept in theory and practice alike was "arsis," up-beat, so that’s another performance factor, but one of limited usefulness, especially since what was originally called arsis was later called thesis, inverting the application of the terms and effectively rendering them beyond rehabilitation.

So there was much discussion of what we might call the semantics of music and rhythm, but most of it's lost. The biggest name here, at least for me, is Aristoxenus, whom I’ve mentioned before—he’d have succeeded Aristotle as head of the Lyceum if Theophrastus hadn’t been favored instead. Substantial parts of his work on music theory (“harmonics”) survive, but only small fragments of his ground-breaking Rhythmics, in which he comprehensively explored the relationship between το ρυθμιζομενον, “the thing being rhythmized,” i.e. language, inherently elastic, and the rhythm in which it's actualized, the ταξις χρονων, the organization of times or relative durations. We might think of that as meter, but meter is merely the patterning of longs and shorts, whereas rhythmics is a far more sophisticated field of enquiry. Our understanding of ancient Greek meter would be transformed if we had his work.

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Re: Meter in Tragedy (Split from topic "Let's Read: AJAX")

Post by anphph » Fri Jun 17, 2016 8:55 am

All of this is utterly fascinating. Thank you very much.
whereas rhythmics is a far more sophisticated field of enquiry.
So rhythmics in this widened sense implies, I'm guessing, dramatic pauses made by the rhapsode, singing faster (what we would call tempo), and so on? And his treatise was supposed to have dealt with all of that? What a utter shame that it was lost. I'll take a look at the fragments, although seeing by your answer I don't imagine much at all has survived.

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Re: Meter in Tragedy (Split from topic "Let's Read: AJAX")

Post by mwh » Sat Jun 18, 2016 7:30 pm

It’s more a matter of perceptual time relationships. Good hunting! For biblio see Wiki. Andrew Barker is the most useful authority on the musical treatises. Unfortunately there’s no good study of the Rhythmics.

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Re: Meter in Tragedy (Split from topic "Let's Read: AJAX")

Post by mwh » Sun Jun 19, 2016 5:25 am

Backing up a bit, or has everyone now gone beyond this point? Anyway, hard on the heels of the chorus’ triadic song (172-200), quite remarkably, we get another snatch of choral song (221-232), precipitated by Tecmessa’s springing the “intolerable” yet “inescapable” news of Ajax’ madness and bloody slaughter. This is largely in lyric iambics, a form of meter much more elevated and excited than regular spoken iambics. The chorus are highly disturbed (as who wouldn’t be?), and they show it, metrically as well as textually.

221 οιαν εδηλωσας ανδρος αιθονος: x—u—.—u—x—u—|| (The opening anceps is long, the anceps in the last metron is short, as also in the upcoming antistrophe; I notate them as anceps to show the abstract iambic schema.) On the page, this could be a regular spoken trimeter, except for one thing: in a regular trimeter the second metron too would start with an anceps, but here (as indicated by the dot, standard notation) the relevant syllable is or appears to be missing. This is “syncopation.” It’s usually thought that in performance one of the adjacent longs was prolonged in order to regularize the rhythm; see the little exchange with Joel earlier in this thread. Presumably it was reflected in the dance movements too. It occurs mainly in lyric iambo-trochaic.

Other notabilia in these largely iambic lyrics. The second verse, αγγελιαν ατλατον ουδε φευκταν (—uu—x—u—u—.—, note ατλητον and φευκτην w/ doric alpha) shows a couple of features worth noting. Basically it’s another iambic trimeter, but
(1) the beginning of the first metron shows a small variation: not x—u— but —uu— (known as a “choriamb,” notated cho), and
(2) the final metron is not x—u—|| but u——||, with apparent syncopation in the final foot. (The first syllable now has to be short, to avoid an iambic line ending in three longs.) The sequence u——| is routinely clausular in any meter; it’s known as a “pendant” close, as distinct from a “blunt” one (… u—|). We have it again ending other lines here, αεξει, περιφαντος ἁνηρ (ὁ-ἀνηρ crasis), συγκατακτάς, and the iambic stanza-end βοτηρας ἱππονώμας (x—u—u—.—|||).

The choriambic opening of the 2nd verse prepares the way for the dactylic sequence of the 3rd, which starts the same way but continues with the double-shorts (των μεγαλων Δαναων ύπο κληζομέναν —uu—uu—|uu—uu—|, as if dactylic hexameter with no spondees). So here, and in the next line too, we can see how the choriamb (—uu—) can mediate between iambic (x—u—…) and dactylic (—uu—uu...); and choriambs themselves can form a chain: —uu——uu— as spasmodically in 226-31 (or was there syncopation of double-shorts??—a heretical thought, but how can we know?). We can’t discern any special significance to the various sequences used, but we might be able to glimpse something of the ode's progressive development. The ode began iambic and it ends iambic, pendant, as if setting the seal on its fundamentally iambic nature.

This is probably far too much detail, but the things I’ve mentioned can be applied to most dramatic lyric.

Tecmessa continues with her anapests (233-244, a single period). The lexical register of anapests is intermediate between that of spoken iambics and lyric iambics (e.g. only mildly highflown compounds such as πλευροκοπῶν, αργιποδας, ἱπποδετην), as well as being rhythmically quite distinct.
Then (244-56) the chorus repeat the metrical structure of their song. So we have a strophic pair, strophe and antistrophe, in accordance with convention, cf. 172-81 ~ 182-91. The responsion is exact, extending to the syncopations and long or short anceps. (The text has to fiddled with at one or two points to achieve the requisite responsion, but textual corruption is undoubtedly to blame.) Usually a strophe and antistrophe have nothing intervening between them, but they can be separated (as here by Tec’s anaps), sometimes widely.
So this whole dialog scene between Tecmessa and the chorus is in anapests apart from the twin bursts of song from the chorus as they react to bad news.

If ever you see a strophe and want to figure out the meter but aren’t sure of all the quantities, pair it with the antistrophe. They should match up, syllable for syllable.

Tecmessa’s response brings the dialogue down to the ordinary spoken dialogue meter (ia.trim.), because—in a pattern that will be repeated—the chorus idiotically take Ajax’ return to sanity as good news, signaling a return to normality. It’s a typically Sophoclean irony, metrically achieved.

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Re: Meter in Tragedy (Split from topic "Let's Read: AJAX")

Post by Hylander » Sun Jun 19, 2016 2:03 pm

If I don't comment, don't think it's because I'm not reading. Though maybe "idiotically" is a little harsh.

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Re: Meter in Tragedy (Split from topic "Let's Read: AJAX")

Post by mwh » Sun Jun 19, 2016 11:27 pm

“idiotically” was a last-moment substitution for “mistakenly” as I was posting. But they are very slow-witted not to catch on to what Tecmessa has just said. Of course they are preoccupied with what it all means to them as Ajax’s men, so it’s dramatically plausible as well as dramaturgically convenient. Choruses can be very dim at times, when it suits.

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Re: Meter in Tragedy (Split from topic "Let's Read: AJAX")

Post by mwh » Sun Jun 19, 2016 11:44 pm

263-429
So now we’re in regular spoken iambic dialog. Tecmessa and chorus, the chorus-leader (κορυφαιος/coryphaeus) representing the chorus in the iambics. A quasi-messenger speech by Tecmessa (284-330) gives an account of Ajax’ actions both during his madness (his killing spree, cf. the prolog) and on his painful return to sanity (306 ἔμφρων μόλις πως). Partaking of neither food nor drink (cf. Achilles in Iliad), it’s clear to her that he has some κακον action in mind—323-326 are chillingly ominous.

We are now prepared for Ajax’ entry from the skene, deferred by Tecmessa’s entry rather than his at 201. But he is heard before he is seen: three griefstricken cries of anguish, breaking the meter (ιω μοι μοι 333, again 336, ιω παι παι 339), u———, expressively heavy. An iambic couplet calling on Teucer (342f.) are his first articulate words, still off-stage. (This of course paves the way for Teucer’s eventual appearance.)
[Minor edit. The last of his cries, ιω παι παι, is not wholly inarticulate. I take it to be addressed to Eurysaces his infant son, whom as a good family man, like Hector, he is anxious to impart final words to (530-564). But his follow-up call on Teucer are his first trimeters. He is still focussed on his son, whom he wants to entrust to Teucer's interim care, 562-4.]

At last he's revealed to view (347/8), rolled out seated (cf. 326 θακεῖ) on the εκκυκλημα, the “roll-out-thing,” one of the very few theatrical devices, designed to bring an interior into view. (I’d assume he then stands and the eccyclema is rolled back in, but tragedy like modern opera never acknowledges the use of mechanical devices and the staging is problematic.) He speaks no iambics, but greets the chorus of his Salaminian seamen in the most impassioned of all meters, dochmiacs. This is extraordinary.

In fact this is the start of a very elaborately structured set of lyrics by Ajax: a strophic pair (str. 348-53, ant. 356-61), another strophic pair (str. 364-76 interrupted by 368-71, ant. 379-91 interrupted by 383-6), and yet another strophic pair (str. 394-409, ant. 412-27), the longest of the lot. Each pair is metrically different. These lyrics are the emotive high-point of the play. There’s a second high-point to come at the discovery of Ajax’ body (more dochmiacs, this time by the chorus, strophic pair 879-90 ~ 925-36). It would be interesting to chart the emotional course of the play by means of a graph; it would contrast strongly with all other tragedies.

More on Ajax’s agonized lyrics (348-427) next time, perhaps. I adore dochmiacs.
Last edited by mwh on Mon Jun 20, 2016 7:37 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Meter in Tragedy (Split from topic "Let's Read: AJAX")

Post by Paul Derouda » Mon Jun 20, 2016 7:35 pm

I've been studying your remarks about the meter attentively. Your posts are very exhaustive without being too detailed, and if I still don't have any question it's because you manage to make this difficult subject eminently clear, and also because I'm still digesting it all.

About the ekkyklema (we can start a new thread about the stagecraft of tragedy, if this risks getting too far off subject): Do I understand correctly that the audience recognizes that a person who is brought in on the ekkyklema is to imagined sitting/standing inside a building? That he/she is not in the same space as the others? Are the others supposed to see the person on the ekkyklema? (Who is the authority to be read for an introduction on stagecraft? Oliver Taplin?)

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Re: Meter in Tragedy (Split from topic "Let's Read: AJAX")

Post by mwh » Mon Jun 20, 2016 8:56 pm

Thanks Paul. It’s good to know Hylander is not the only one still looking at these posts. They’re far from “exhaustive,” mind—but I was afraid they might be too exhausting. I mean to be briefer, but it’s hard, when metrical usage in tragedy is so complex and signifies so much.

Yes the ekkuklema serves to bring an interior into view, but only notionally: the doors are opened (literally I suppose, unless it was just a curtain) and the actor/character is wheeled out on a dolly contraption to engage in dialogue with those already on stage. It’s always the skene, the stage building at center rear of the stage which here represents Ajax’ tent/σκηνη, from and into which characters enter and exit unless they’re coming/going from/to somewhere other than inside (Teucer, Menelaus etc.), in which case they use the left or right παροδος (side-route, first used for the chorus’ entry), depending on where. Yes Taplin’s Stagecraft is good and illuminating on all this, though not the last word.

But much is in doubt. Here for instance how and when is the ekkuklema withdrawn? I imagine immediately after delivering Ajax, but that may not be the orthodox view. (I don’t know, but it’s not Taplin’s view unless I misremember.) I find it hard to think that he just stays seated on this wheeled vehicle while he sings his arias and all the way through the episode till the stage is vacated at 596. But separation of Ajax from the stage action does seem to be implied in the dialogue, e.g. 579-81 where he orders the skene (there called his δωμα) closed up again. So yes he occupies his own space, notionally his tent, though the boundary is permeable. (E.g. Eurysaces—a dummy, unless entirely imaginary—is lifted “up” to him, 545, notionally handed to him inside the tent but actually on stage in full view.) It’s tricky, and we mustn’t underestimate theatrical convention. There’s nothing realistic about Greek tragedy, it’s all heavily stylized, action and language alike. And some of the spectators were quite a long way off, without binoculars or close-up screens.

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Re: Meter in Tragedy (Split from topic "Let's Read: AJAX")

Post by Timothée » Mon Jun 20, 2016 9:50 pm

I, too, have been reading all of your posts with great interest and delight, although I have reacted only by smiling to myself with all the insight I got, not really wanting to litter the threads with my posts. Thank you. It's a great privilege for Textkit that you share your knowledge with us, seeing all this effort.

Next I'm sure I should buy West's Greek Metre, even though it would seem to be horribly expensive. I haven't got the foggiest idea how I shall manage with that, but it's the go-to book, that much is clear.

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Re: Meter in Tragedy (Split from topic "Let's Read: AJAX")

Post by mwh » Mon Jun 20, 2016 11:08 pm

Timothée, thanks. There’s also West’s Introduction to Greek Metre, an abridgement of the bigger book, which is probably more approachable (I haven’t seen it) and should give you everything you want to know. But I see that’s a bit pricey too.

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Re: Meter in Tragedy (Split from topic "Let's Read: AJAX")

Post by mwh » Mon Jun 20, 2016 11:42 pm

348-427, Ajax’s melics etc.

See the end of the previous meter post for the structural outline.

Ajax, played by the one singing actor, hails not Tecmessa (who’s just a woman, after all) but his Salaminian comrades who constitute the chorus.

ιω φιλοι ναυβαται, …. So far this looks (on paper) as if it’s lyric iambics, x—u—.—u—, but it quickly reveals itself to be a series of dochmiacs, prefaced by the anguished cry ἰώ (a dochmiac manqué, so to speak):

φιλοι ναυβαται, |
μονοι εμων φιλων, |
μονοι ετ’ εμμενον-
τες | ορθῳ νομῳ, || (348-53)

u——u—| uuu—u—| uuu—u—u|——u—||

The dochmiac (notated δ) is a peculiarly tragic meter. It hardly occurs outside of tragedy, but is used in every single tragedy that we know of. Its irregular rhythm is unique. And it’s a multiform.
Here we see its two commonest incarnations:
u——u— and uuu—u—,
which between them account for more than half (but not a whole lot more than half) of the hundreds of surviving dochmiacs.

If for convenience we take the dochmiac’s basic form as u——u— and the other forms as variations of that, we can describe most of its multiple forms in terms of resolutions (uu for —) and substitutions (— for u, sometimes called “drag”). So here the 2nd and 3rd dochmiacs start with the second position resolved, uuu not u—.
The most extreme forms, not exemplified here, are ————— (— for u in 1st and 4th positions) and uuuuuuuu (all three longs resolved). Euripides has some continuous strings of the maximally resolved form.
It all looks very confusing, but in practice dochmiacs are fairly easy to recognize.
That’s mainly (not only) because dochmiacs come in series, and tend to be separated at least by word-end and often by stronger articulation. It’s not invariable, but a strong tendency.
Here for instance both φιλοι ναυβαται and μονοι εμων φιλων are self-contained phrases. (We saw this phenomenon with anapests too.)
The last two,
μονοι ετ’ εμμενον-
τες | ορθῳ νομῳ,
appear to violate the principle, but what we have in evidence here is a phenomenon sometimes called “dovetailing” (a metaphor from carpentry), fastening the two period-ending dochmiacs together by having the penultimate one run over into the final one by a single syllable.
(Dovetailing is a common practice in Aeolic versification too; and we saw a similar phenomenon in the close of anapestic periods also.)

If at this point we take a look at the antistrophe (356ff.), we find the responsion is exact at the outset but then becomes a little looser:
Where the strophe had
(u—)| u——u—| uuu—u—| uuu—u—u|——u—||
the antistrophe has
ιω|
γενος ναιας |
αρωγον τεχνας, |
αλιον ος επεβας |
ελισσων πλαταν, ||
(u—)| u——u— | u——u— | uuuuuu— | u——u— ||
Differences from the strophe: no resolution in the second δ (one in str.), one more resolution in the third (two rather than one), and no dovetailing of the last two. But they’re unmistakably dochmiacs, and the differences are slight. Dochmiacs in responsion usually show even less difference that this, and rarely more. It never ceases to amaze me that poets could achieve such responsional exactitude without sacrificing textual clarity.

And the str./ant. correspondence is not just metrical. In both stanzas Ajax is apostrophizing his loyal seamen—in this maximally animated form—before proceeding to make his plea to them. (This is prayer formula: precisely identify your addressee, then proceed to an imperative. In both stanzas the imperative duly follows.)

More dochmiacs in the second strophic pair at 364-6 ~ 379-81, a very straightforward set (despite textual variants):
1 ὁρᾳς τον θρασυν,
2 τον ευκαρδιαν,
3 τον εν δαιοις
4 ατρεστον μαχαις,
5 εν αφοβοις με θηρ-
6 σι δεινον χερας· ||
~
1 ιω πανθ’ ὁρων, (ιω παντα δρων Valckenaer)
2 ἁπαντων τ’ αει (ἁπαντ’ αιων, Lloyd-Jones)
3 κακων οργανον,
4 τεκνον Λαρτιου,
5 κακοπινεστατον(-)
6 τ’ αλημα στρατου· ||

||| u——u— | u——u— | u——u—| u——u— | uuu—u— u——u— ||

Here the responsion between strophe and antistrophe is exact! Not all dochmiacs are quite so neat and tidy, but they always sort themselves out clearly.
In dochmiac responsion, as in Greek meter generally, it’s the syllable weights(quantities) that matter, not the accentual patterns, which have little or no metrical relevance.
Here Ajax’s dochmiacs in the strophe describe himself, in the antistrophe Odysseus.

So that’s how dochmiacs work.

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Re: Meter in Tragedy (Split from topic "Let's Read: AJAX")

Post by anphph » Tue Jun 21, 2016 4:42 pm

mwh wrote:Thanks Paul. It’s good to know Hylander is not the only one still looking at these posts.
By no means. In fact, I take up Timothée's words for myself:
Timothée wrote:I, too, have been reading all of your posts with great interest and delight, although I have reacted only by smiling to myself with all the insight I got, not really wanting to litter the threads with my posts. Thank you. It's a great privilege for Textkit that you share your knowledge with us, seeing all this effort.
I have even printed a number of your posts in sequence and read them outside of the computer's distracting medium. This is all far more than I ever got in any class on Greek tragedy.

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Re: Meter in Tragedy (Split from topic "Let's Read: AJAX")

Post by mwh » Wed Jun 22, 2016 1:47 am

348-429 contd.

Ajax’ lyrics are punctuated by iambics from chorus and Tecmessa. The organization is very formal.

First strophic pair. See previous post. After Ajax’ dochmiacs in both str. and ant. the chorus has a distich (a pair of trimeters). In the str. one (354f.) they address Tecmessa (as if A.’s mental state is too bad for them to respond directly to him: αφροντιστως εχει), in the ant. one (362f.) they now address A., reacting to his plea for them to kill him.

Second strophic pair (στρ./αντ. β) is a bit more complex. A. has not one but two lyric outbursts in str. and ant.
The first of them (364-7 ~ 379-82) is in dochmiacs (see previous post), the second (372-7 ~ 387-91) in a mixture of lyric dactylic and iambic rhythms, mainly iambo-choriambic. We met choriambic metra mixed in with iambic in the choral lyrics of 221-32 ~ 244-56.

The spoken iambic trimeters by Tec. & chor. are an integral part of the formal responsional structure.
In the strophe we have:
Aj. 6 dochs. + one ia.tr.
Tec. 1 ia.tr. — Aj. 1 ia.tr.+cry — Τec. 1 ia.tr.
Aj. lyric (see above)
Chor. 2 ia.tr.
In the antistrophe we have:
Exactly the same except that Tec. and Chor. change places.
Pretty neat, no?

That A. expresses himself both in lyrics and in iambic trimeters is an indication of great emotional tension. Dochmiacs are unrestrained, ia.trims relatively restrained; they're at opposite ends of the scale (though ia.trims. have a fairly wide range, with Ajax's here at the upper end of it). In his dochmiacs in the strophe (364-6) he contrasts his great Iliadic self with his present humiliated condition. Then his ia.tr. (ωμοι γελωτος· οιον υβρισθην αρα 367) shows him trying to pull himself together.
Similarly in the antistrophe his corresponding ia.tr. (η που πολυν γελωθ’ υφ’ηδονης αγεις, to Odysseus, 382) also stresses the mockery he imagines his disgrace incurs. [But we know from the prologue that in fact Od. does no such thing.]
Likewise with his second ia.tr. 369 ~ 384, this one followed by αιαι αιαι ~ ιω μοι μοι: he’s unable to sustain the restraint, unable to keep himself down at the ia.tr. level. It doesn’t surprise when he then again gives in to lyrics and embarks on a

Third strophic pair (394-411 ~ 412-29). In flamboyant lyrics Ajax expresses and explains his wish to die: how can he go on living, dishonored so? His sentiments and his reasoning could have been rendered in iambic trimeters, if he were not too worked up to lay it all out more calmly. As it is, his language and his meter are pitched at the height of intensity—the paradoxical opening apostrophes of ιω σκοτος εμον φαος, ερεβος ω φαεννοτατον (~ ιω ποροι ἁλιρροθοι, παρἁλα τ’ αντρα …), the urgent repeated imperative/prayer ελεσθ’ ελεσθε μ’ … (~ πολυν πολυν με … with matching repetition), etc. etc.

The meter itself has a searing insistency. It starts off with the irrepressible ιω (as in the first strophic pair and the antistrophe of the second), then a set of three resolved dochmiacs of the same kind we met more sporadically in the previous two strophic pairs:
||uuu—u—||uuu—u—uuu—u—||, with exact responsion in the antistrophe.
Then it moves into ||u—u—u——u—||, repeated (ελεσθ’ ελεσθε μ’ οικητορα || ελεσθε μ’· ουτε γαρ θεων γενος || in str.). This would be analyzed as an iambic metron + dochmiac, but in context we could see it as a dochmiac with a couple of false starts (much like the opening ιω).

Then a new but kindred sequence (——uu—) which swings into sustained iambic rhythm heavily dragged at the end:
str. ουθ’ αμεριων ετ’ αξιος βλεπειν τιν’ εις ονησιν ανθρωπων.||
||——uu—u—u—|u—u—u—u———|| (again with exact responsion).
All the putatively anceps syllables are light.

A segment of this sequence follows, and is repeated: || αλλα μ’ ἁ Διος || αλκίμα θεος || in str., ~ || ω Σκαμανδριοι | γειτονες ροαι | in ant.:
||—u—u—||—u—u—||.
This |—u—u—|, which initially we might register as a partial echo of the preceding light iambics, is a well attested variant of the dochmiac. (It has its own name, the hypodochmius.) So it leads easily on to a regular dochmiac with dragged finish, i.e. uuu(?)———||. (Text corrupt, but the dragged close is clear: αικιζει ~ Αργειοις.) Aptly, with these three longs comes the end of the sentence in str., the end of an apostrophe in ant., just as sentence-end followed the u——— close of the iambic sequence above. These are the major periods.

A series of no fewer than five hypodochmiacs follows, strongly marked in str. (ποῖ τις ουν φύγῃ; | ποῖ μολων μενῶ;| …), each one metrically independent of its neighbors. They are like hammer blows. These repeats of |—u—u—| are succeeded in turn by what could be seen as expanded versions of the same, taking iambic form (407-9 ~ 425-7):
——u—x—u—||
——u—u—u—
which run without a break into the clausula,
u—uu——|||, a well known closing sequence.
Ajax’ sets of lyrics thus end τανῦν δ’ ἄτιμος ωδε προκειμαι, once more stressing his loss of honor.

I should say that this approach to the metrics, tracking the metrical development of an ode as it progressively unfolds, is a little unorthodox, though fully consistent (I think) with more conventional analyses which often content themselves with affixing disparate labels to the various bits without interrelating them or paying any attention to what follows what. Nonetheless, we really need the music to validate (or not) the impressions we form on the basis of the purely metrical sequences.
Also, I hardly need to say that the meter and the words should never be divorced from each other. They go hand in hand.

Two trimeters—Tecmessa in str., chorus in ant. (“I can neither stop you, nor let you go on with your words”!)—bring this entire massive tripartite responsional structure (348-429) to its final end. Whew! It leaves us gasping, and appalled. Whatever will come next? And we’re still nothing like halfway through the play.

But there will be no more lyrics, except by the chorus.

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Re: Meter in Tragedy (Split from topic "Let's Read: AJAX")

Post by cb » Wed Jun 22, 2016 7:27 am

hi, this is a super interesting and useful thread. i just wanted to add -- since the earlier question about the link between the formal structures of the play and performance reminded me of it -- that there's a great (even if quite conjectural) explanation of how sophoclean tragedy evolved to have such a complex structure in martin west's "studies in aeschylus". it makes it easier to see the wood for the trees when you see how sophoclean structures developed from a (conjecturally) much simpler structure.

west proposes, in addition to the formal structure inherited from Aristotle, a dynamic structure for analysing tragedies – there's:

- a "charging" phase, like charging a battery, where the anxiety or peril gradually becomes more acute and concrete, and then
- a "discharging phase" where the peril is announced, and the emotions or recriminations flow (pgs 4-7).

in sophocles this plays out through many structures over the course of the play, but (although the pre-aeschylus stages are conjectural) it may well have come from a much simpler structure:

A. pre-aeschylus

west conjectures that in pre-thespis tragedy, the:

- "charging" phase was just the parodos, and
- the "discharging" phase was the rest: originally this was a stasimon, exhibition (e.g. of a corpse) and exodus.

thespis then, when he introduced an actor, tacked on at the front of the "discharging" phase (i.e. before the stasimon) an episode with the single actor, to announce the occurrence of the peril.

already at this pre-aeschylus stage, what's particularly unique about tragedy is the parodos and exodos – most other types of archaic choral song don't have these. west conjectures the reason that tragedy had them was that tragedies were taken around from deme to deme and the chorus entered and exited the dramatic area singing, with a stasimon in the middle. this may have been because tragedies back then weren't always done in customised dramatic spaces, but e.g. in the athenian agora (all this from pg 21).

B. early aeschylus

aeschylus then introduces, as well as a second actor, a great deal of new structures in the "charging" phase (whereas the "discharging" phase more closely follows the pre-aeschylus structure), and so in the "charging" phase you get a longer transition from vague anxiety and foreboding of peril, through multiple structures up to the crystallisation of the peril or anxiety:

- before the parodos you sometimes get a prologue (interestingly, in the tragedies without a prologue the chorus always enters to anapaests: west notices a pattern in the number of anapaestic metra and also the placement of the catalectic metra in these parodoi, some plays (including also sophocles' ajax) having about 70-75 anapaest metra, others having about 40 or so more, and the catalectic metra often falling at certain places. west conjectures that each anapaestic metron represents a double-step, a catalectic metron represents a halt, and the basic structure is this: there are about 30 metra for the chorus to enter the dramatic space, and about 40 metra for a circle lap of the orchestra (some plays like ajax having one lap and so having in the region of 75 anapaestic metra total, others like agamemnon having 2 laps and so having in the region of 115 anapaestic metra). in the plays where there is no anapaestic entrance and where the chorus is not in the orchestra from the beginning, there is always a prologue – west's conjecture is that the chorus enters while the prologue is going on
- a new episode (with actor A) + stasimon after the parodos
- another new episode (with both actors A and B), and an epirrhematic trizygy

then you get a new stasimon joining the "charging" and "discharging" phases.

all of this leads to a much bigger build up before the "discharging" phase plays out (compared to the pre-aeschylus structure, where the parodos was the sole vehicle of the "charging" phase), but with the usual pre-aeschylean structure for the "discharging" phase (announcement of the peril through the thespis-introduced episode, stasimon, exhibition, amoebaean lyrics + exodus)

C. later aeschylus and sophocles

many innovations made during this period:

- all plays now have prologues
- the charging phase can have even more than 2 episode + stasimon sequences (agamemnon has 4)
- many of these structures remain apparent in Sophocles, although he innovates in many ways, e.g. by having heroes who try to change the course of events unrolling around them, by having longer prologues with more exchange of dialogue, the parodos becomes more like a stasimon
- sophocles' ajax, like its hero, is archaic in some ways compared to the other sophoclean tragedies: it keeps the role of the parodos for marching in the chorus, it has a epirrhematic trizygy after ajax appears (348-429), etc.
- etc. etc., many other innovations introduced by sophocles, worth reading pages 23 and ff.

cheers, chad

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Re: Meter in Tragedy (Split from topic "Let's Read: AJAX")

Post by ailuros » Wed Jun 22, 2016 11:22 am

to add to others, yes, this information is wonderful. thank you, mwh! i'm reading, learning, and printing these out for what i know will be many future references thereto.

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Re: Meter in Tragedy (Split from topic "Let's Read: AJAX")

Post by mwh » Wed Jun 22, 2016 7:31 pm

Hi Chad,
Yes anyone interested in tracing the history and prehistory of tragedy should read West, however idiosyncratic he is. In these posts (which I’m glad to know are being found useful) I’ve been focussing mainly on what we have in Sophocles, so this makes a nice complement. Comparisons with Aeschylus do suggest that the Ajax may be the earliest of Sophocles’ surviving plays (though there will have been other earlier ones now lost; he had more than a hundred produced). It has three actors like Aeschylus’ later ones (according to Aristotle it was Sophocles who introduced the third actor, Aeschylus having introduced the second), but there’s no three-way dialogue, only duologue (not counting the chorus), and the structure of the Ajax has greater affinity with Aeschylus than does the rest of Sophocles’ surviving output. But it’s always dangerous to assume linear development, as the case of the Supplices dramatically shows. (It was always thought to be the earliest extant tragedy until a papyrus scrap turned up that up-ended the supposition.)

Aristotle analyzed tragedies in terms of δεσις and λυσις (tying and untying)—the same basic idea as charging and discharging, but somewhat differently applied. In most tragedies the λυσις occupies only the final part of the play, whereas in the Ajax, with its exceptionally early tragic climax, it takes up more than two-thirds of it.

In referring to the epirrhematic trizygy (a term I avoided using and explicating) of 348-429 as “this massive tripartite responsional structure” I could have added “and intricate” to “massive.” :D

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Re: Meter in Tragedy (Split from topic "Let's Read: AJAX")

Post by mwh » Tue Jul 19, 2016 4:13 am

430-595 All iambic trimeter, divided between speeches and dialogue, but with some noteworthy features.

After Ajax’ and Tecmessa’s great speeches (430-80, 485-524) they swing into stichomythia, alternating trimeters, as we had at 38-50, 74-88. This relatively brief stretch, concerning Ajax’s wish to see his son Eurysaces, extends from 529 to 540, at which point Tecmessa takes a pair of lines to summon him. After Ajax’ extended address to him (550-75, bookended by 545-9 and 578-82) the dialogue between Tec. and Aj. resumes (585-95), but now Tec’s anxiety is such that the formal stichomythic structure breaks down. They start with one line apiece, then two, but then, upon Ajax’ declaring that he no longer owes anything to the gods, the pace of the dialogue quickens as it breaks into antilabe/αντιλαβη, where a single line is split between two (or more) characters. This is common in comedy (Old and New alike, hence in Plautus too), but is put to more restricted and specialized use in tragedy, the more austere genre. Stichomythia on speed, as it were.

Here just four intense lines, all kicked off by Tecmessa (591a ευφημα φώνει, in shocked response to Ajax’ declaration) and brusquely taken over by Ajax at the caesura point, deaf to her pleas (591b τοις ακουουσιν λεγε); his ηθος is not to be softened (594-5).

We hit another outbreak of antilabe later in the play, when the chorus confirms to the long-awaited Teucer that Ajax is dead (979, 981-5). There just the same caesura-split pattern: chorus/Teucer, until Teucer gets a firmer grip on himself and despatches them to bring Ajax (i.e. his body) post-haste. Such patches of antilabe mark high agitation on the part of one or both of the speakers, but manage to stay at the level of iambic trimeter. All the formal features of tragedy are finely calibrated.

When the scene ends, with Ajax clearly set on his predetermined suicide, it’s high time for a choral ode.

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Re: Meter in Tragedy (Split from topic "Let's Read: AJAX")

Post by mwh » Tue Jul 26, 2016 4:30 am

I don’t know if anyone’s still reading the Ajax, so unless there’s discussion I’ll make this my last post here.

596-645. “First stasimon” i.e. the first choral ode since the parodos (134-262 etc.). This method of analysis, dividing the play into alternating “episodes” and choral odes, is a bit artificial, since it disregards Ajax’s elaborate lyrics at 348-427. But at 595, as at 134, the chorus have the place to themselves. This is a major demarcation.

Two strophic pairs, both in basically aeolo-choriambic aka aeolic meters, cf. on 172-200. Many tragic odes are in this kind of meter. It derives ultimately from the versification of the Lesbian poets (Sappho and Alcaeus) but just as with dactylo-epitrite the tragic poets model their use of it more on the panhellenic “Dorian” poets, especially Pindar (who was not Dorian at all, but composed in the conventional language of “literary doric,” taken over in further watered-down form by the Athenian dramatists).

In Sophocles and Euripides some form of aeolo-choriambic is more or less the default kind of meter for choral odes; much less common in Aeschylus. Between longs come either shorts or double shorts, in set sequences.
A typical aeolo-choriambic line is
xx—uu—u— (a “glyconic”).
The first two positions constitute the “aeolic base.” While technically anceps, at least one of them (usually the first) will be long, very often both. Responsion between strophe and antistrophe tends to be strict, so that if an anceps is long in the strophe it will normally be long in the antistrophe too.
Some other aeolo-choriambic lines have only a single opening anceps, or none.

Aeolo-choriambic has no particular affective properties, and accommodates a wide variety of moods. It’s often light and cheerful (e.g. used for wedding songs), but by no means always. The present ode is the opposite of cheerful. The Salaminian chorus reflect on the dismal situation, stressing their closeness to the afflicted Ajax.

The ode progresses for the most part in a fairly unremarkable way. I’ll pick out a few points with more general application.
στρ.~αντ.α starts
(str.) ω κλεινα Σαλαμις συ μεν που | ναιεις ἁλιπλαγκτος, ευδαιμων,|
~ (ant) και μοι δυσθεραπευτος Αιας | ξυνεστιν εφεδρος, ωμοι μοι, |, i.e.
—x—uu—u—
—|x—uu—u———|
i.e. a “glyconic” (—x—uu—u—) dovetailed to a lengthened version of the same. The two glyconics are tied together by the one-syllable overlap (μεν-που being effectively a single word, ~ Αιας).
The heavy 3-longs ending presumably/possibly brings the verse to a close.

The next verse, πασιν περιφαντος αιει·|| ~ θειᾳ μανιᾳ ξυναυλος·||,
x—uu—u——||
is like the preceding one minus its first and last syllables. We can be sure the pendant ending marks verse-end, because (i) there’s hiatus in the strophe (αιει· || εγω …) and (ii) there's “brevis in longo” in the antistrophe (ξυναυλος· || ὃν …). Either of these phenomena guarantees “pause” i.e. verse-end.
(M.L.West cutely coined the name “hagesichorean” for this colon, from Alcman’s Ἁγησιχόρα μεν αὕτα “This is Hagesichora.”)

And so on it goes. At the end the meter is suddenly enlivened by bursts of consecutive shorts:
str. ετι με ποτ’ ανυσειν| τον αποτροπον| ἀιδηλον ᾼδαν.|||
~ ant. αφιλα παρ’ αφιλοις| επεσ’ επεσε| μελεοις Ατρειδαις.|||
uuuuuu—|uuuuu|uu—u——|||
It seems they’ve worked themselves up into a tizzy.

The second strophic pair is on the same lines. and picks up many of the sequences of the previous pair.
628-33 ~ 640-5 is a good if very simple illustration of interrelationships and development. The meter of these lines is
———uu——uu——||
———uu——uu—u——|
———uu——|
———uu——||
———uu—|u—u——|||
All ancipitia long and all lines ending pendant: this is not a happy song! All lines relentlessly uniform until after the choriamb, 2nd line an expansion of the preceding one, 3rd cuts out the second choriamb, 4th repeats 3rd, 5th iambically extended to close. (In this final line note word-end directly after the choriamb in both str. and ant., forestalling any sense of the clausular u——of the previous lines.)

What will happen now? Enter a messenger with news of Ajax’ suicide? Enter Teucer with a further attempt at dissuasion? Enter Odysseus likewise? I don't think anyone would anticipate what actually comes next. Sophocles pulls the rug out from under what had seemed the settled course of the play.

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Re: Meter in Tragedy (Split from topic "Let's Read: AJAX")

Post by RandyGibbons » Fri Aug 31, 2018 9:45 pm

P.S. Avoid Jebb’s metrical analyses.
I'm late to this post. I just wanted to say that about three years ago I took a graduate seminar on Sophocles, including Ajax, at Bryn Mawr, and just about the first think the professor said (and I imagine she's about as good as anyone out there on the subject) was just what Michael said here.

We had a lot of fun as a group trying to read the choral passages out loud and metrically, with discussion, but I think the general consensus was that it was pretty hopeless. It's one thing to understand intellectually the outstanding explanations of Michael here and his predecessors like West, another thing to honestly think you "feel" it in front of the mirror.

Michael (or others who may have taught tragedy at the graduate level), I'm curious what your experiences in the classroom have been.

RG

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