A Latin maxim in iambic tetrameter by a modern writer (Ego ipse)

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Propertius
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A Latin maxim in iambic tetrameter by a modern writer (Ego ipse)

Post by Propertius »

As you may guess by my username, I am an aspiring poet. As I've been learning Latin the idea came to me to attempt to write a little bit of verse in Latin. Here's my first attempt:

Brevitas vitae est dolor,
Tam magnus ei qui vita ex,
Tam multum in perpetuo,
Obtinere desiderat.

My own translation of my own maxim in iambs:

The brevity of life's a pain,
So great to him who endlessly,
Does yearn to gain so much from life.

Only three lines came out in English of my quatrain in Latin. I suppose that happens when translating Latin verse.

Now, as for my use of grammar in my quatrain: I took the risk of putting the preposition ex after the noun it's modifying (vita). Do any Latin poets do that? Or am I wrong in doing so? I'm guessing I'm wrong since it is called a preposition, so it seems that it must always go before the noun it's modifying. But I took the risk of doing otherwise since I have not yet read any Latin poetry so I wouldn't know whether some poets do that or not, and also since, from what I hear, Latin poets break all, or at least, a lot of grammar rules.

By the way, I just thought of alternate way of writing this maxim:

Brevitas vitae est dolor,
Tam magnus ei qui agere,
Tam multum in perpetuo,
In vita hac desiderat.

The brevity of life's a pain,
So great to him who endlessly,
Does yearn to do so much in life.

If it's not allowed to flip prepositions in poetry then would this be a better way of writing my maxim? But I still want to know if Latin poets do it. And moreover, what do you all think of the content of my quatrain?

Gratias vobis ago.

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Re: A Latin maxim in iambic tetrameter by a modern writer (Ego ipse)

Post by Propertius »

I could have sworn I posted this in the composition board. Is it possible to move it there without having to erase it?

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Re: A Latin maxim in iambic tetrameter by a modern writer (Ego ipse)

Post by bedwere »

Apparently only two-syllable prepositions can be placed after the noun, not monosyllable: A Parallel of Greek and Latin Syntax: For Use in Schools By C. H. St. L. Russell 397-398

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Re: A Latin maxim in iambic tetrameter by a modern writer (Ego ipse)

Post by Propertius »

bedwere wrote: Mon Jun 01, 2020 3:24 am Apparently only two-syllable prepositions can be placed after the noun, not monosyllable: A Parallel of Greek and Latin Syntax: For Use in Schools By C. H. St. L. Russell 397-398
So how does my second version stand? Is it too chopped up? I feel that it might.

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Re: A Latin maxim in iambic tetrameter by a modern writer (Ego ipse)

Post by bedwere »

I don't see how it could be a Iambic tetrameter catalectic, but maybe that wasn't your intent.

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Re: A Latin maxim in iambic tetrameter by a modern writer (Ego ipse)

Post by Propertius »

bedwere wrote: Mon Jun 01, 2020 4:01 pm I don't see how it could be a Iambic tetrameter catalectic, but maybe that wasn't your intent.
Aren't there eight syllables in each line? And by chopped up I meant that words that should come later come earlier like agere. I put it in the second line when it should be together with desiderat. In perpetuo with tam multum also seems somewhat out of place being together.

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Re: A Latin maxim in iambic tetrameter by a modern writer (Ego ipse)

Post by bedwere »

I should learn more about it, but an iamb consists of a short syllable followed by a long syllable. It seems to me that Brevitās is u u -, while you need the second syllable to be long.

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Re: A Latin maxim in iambic tetrameter by a modern writer (Ego ipse)

Post by Aetos »

Properti,
Have a look at this site:
https://suberic.net/~marc/schnur.html
This can give you a little guidance on composing Latin poetry, at least in hexameter and pentameter. When reading spoken verse (aside from dactylic hexameter and elegiac stanzas)you can probably get away with using the normal word accent to establish some sort of rhythm, but you will still need to compose your verse using words that will give the syllable lengths required by the rules and rhythm for the metre you intend to use, whether it be dactylic hexameter or Phalaecian hendecasyllables or iambic senarii. That's what makes composing Latin poetry such a challenge. To give you some encouragement, though, there was a gentleman by the name of Thomas Saunders Evans who, given a line of English, could compose an hexameter on the spot (in both Latin and Greek)! I'm content to just be able to read it metrically.

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Re: A Latin maxim in iambic tetrameter by a modern writer (Ego ipse)

Post by Propertius »

Aetos wrote: Mon Jun 01, 2020 10:37 pm Properti,
Have a look at this site:
https://suberic.net/~marc/schnur.html
This can give you a little guidance on composing Latin poetry, at least in hexameter and pentameter. When reading spoken verse (aside from dactylic hexameter and elegiac stanzas)you can probably get away with using the normal word accent to establish some sort of rhythm, but you will still need to compose your verse using words that will give the syllable lengths required by the rules and rhythm for the metre you intend to use, whether it be dactylic hexameter or Phalaecian hendecasyllables or iambic senarii. That's what makes composing Latin poetry such a challenge. To give you some encouragement, though, there was a gentleman by the name of Thomas Saunders Evans who, given a line of English, could compose an hexameter on the spot (in both Latin and Greek)! I'm content to just be able to read it metrically.
So you're saying that I can't get away with filling the syllable of a metric foot that's not the required syllable for said part of a metric foot? Does it really have to strictly be, say, for example iambs, short syllable followed by a long syllable? I assumed you could get away with that since even Shakespeare in English poetry didn't strictly write his lines in iambs. Sometimes you'll find a trochee amidst his iambs or even a pyrrhic. Do all Latin poets really strictly fill their lines with the exact syllables for each metric foot? If so, writing Latin poetry so much more challenging than English poetry.

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Re: A Latin maxim in iambic tetrameter by a modern writer (Ego ipse)

Post by Aetos »

I'll have time to expand on this a little later, but for now I'd suggest having a look at Allen & Greenough's section on Prosody to get an idea of the rules for each metre. It starts at section 602:
http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/tex ... ythp%3D602

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Re: A Latin maxim in iambic tetrameter by a modern writer (Ego ipse)

Post by Aetos »

Propertius wrote: Tue Jun 02, 2020 7:19 am So you're saying that I can't get away with filling the syllable of a metric foot that's not the required syllable for said part of a metric foot? Does it really have to strictly be, say, for example iambs, short syllable followed by a long syllable?
As you're now discovering going through the Prosody Section of A&G, the answer to the first question is that certain substitutions are allowed according to particular metre you're using, e.g. in dactylic hexameter, you can substitute a long syllable for two short syllables (contraction), thereby creating a spondee. You cannot, however, substitute two short syllables for a long syllable (resolution). Now in an anapaestic dimeter, you can resolve all but the last syllable of the first metron (the fourth syllable). Seneca, although using this metrical scheme, would not allow four successive short syllables so as to avoid a dactyl-anapaest sequence, but he could still have dactyl-spondee, spondee-anapaest, spondee-spondee, anapaest-anapaest, and anapaest-spondee. (This last sentence is more or less a paraphrase from Tarrant's introduction to Thyestes (p. 32); I can't really take credit for the analysis)This is what I mean by having to follow rules for a particular metrical scheme.

Your second question: does an iamb always have to have a short syllable followed by a long syllable? To be an iamb - yes. In Iambic verse, there may be schemes that allow for substitution, either by contraction or resolution or an anceps (doubtful) syllable, in which case if you say take the iamb and resolve the long syllable into two short syllables, you no longer have an iamb, you have a tribrach, or say at the beginning of the line you have an anceps - here you can have either a short or a long syllable, so if you make that syllable long, you no longer have an iamb. You have a spondee.

Each metrical scheme follows the general rules of prosody as well as specific rules for its own structure. The basic idea is that you're trying to establish a rhythm that's appropriate to the nature of the poem. Is the poem reflective (elegiac stanza), is it fast moving (dactylic), is it ponderous, sad (spondaic), is it processional, triumphal (anapaestic)? Is it going to be spoken or sung? These are some of the considerations when deciding on a particular metre. Reading Catullus and Horace will provide you with some good examples of metrical schemes that you haven't seen yet. I know you've read some Vergil, so you're familiar with the dactylic hexameter form. Catullus and Horace will expose you to many more.

Here's a link to a site which has scanned versions of much of Greek and Latin poetry:
http://hypotactic.com/
I'm not enough of an expert to see if there are any errors, but the poems I've read through didn't have any glaring errors that I could spot. The way to use this site is to do your own scansion, and then compare it with what you see there. To hear what it should sound like, you can try to find some quality recordings. I particulary like Katharina Volk's readings. Here's one for Thyestes:
https://soundcloud.com/search?q=Thyestes
The first part starts with the Messenger's speech in Act IV "o Phoebe patiens (line 776 in my version)which is spoken verse, then the Chorus' reply, starting at line 789 "Quo, terrarum superumque…" . The messenger's speech is in iambic trimeter, the Chorus is in anapaestic dimeter, so you get to hear two different metrical rhythms in one go.
Good luck!

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