5 Step Method for Reading Latin Verse

Discuss meter, interpretation, and all things Latin Poetry
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doloresvariationer
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5 Step Method for Reading Latin Verse

Post by doloresvariationer »

Salvete,

I personally find word order to be the most difficult aspect of reading Latin verse, and even when I can identify the function of each word in the text, jumping around the sentence can make it much harder to remember, retain and fully understand the text.

I have devised this technique for reading Latin verse as a way to avoid two specific things: (1) I don't want to rely on English translations, explanations, or even dictionaries. This method should be able to work entirely in Latin. (2) I want to avoid the "puzzle piece" method of reading Latin, that is, finding the main verb, finding the subject, etc. until you have "pieced" together the sentence without ever having actually read it from start to finish. This method should work well with other comprehensible input methods, especially when making the jump from reading prose to verse. I'd recommend doing this in small chunks, maybe 10-25 lines at a time.

Step 1: Reorganise the verse into prose. This step is definitely most similar to the puzzle piece method, but I want the emphasis here to be which words go together (putting adjectives with their nouns, isolating ablative absolutes etc.) without overanalysing the grammar in English. It is not important at this stage to know exactly what each word means, just to know the parts of speech and gender case, etc.

Step 2: Read the prose and try to pick up as much meaning as you can. You may not get every word, but you can start to get a feel for the direction of the text.

Step 3: Get a dictionary, preferable a Latin-Latin one, preferably Forcellini, and look up all the words you don't know.

Step 4: Read again. Repeat steps 3 and 4 until you are certain you know all the words, and can read it quite fluently.

Step 5: Go back to the verse and start reading. At this point, you will not only know what each word is doing, but you will also be able to anticipate which words are coming up, and you'll be able to "see" the sentences coming together in your mind as you read. Again, repeat until you can read through it quite fluently. Some people like to read English translations before reading the Latin to be able to know the story beforehand, and this is a bit like that but entirely in Latin, with the extra grammatical understanding too.

Using this method, I hope, you would be able to get better at anticipating sentences and piecing them together in your mind, without having to leave the narrative and focus too much on grammar. Eventually, you might be more able to sight-read verse without having to reorganise it in the first place.

What do you think of this method? Would it work for you, and do you have any additions? I'd love to hear your feedback!

cb
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Re: 5 Step Method for Reading Latin Verse

Post by cb »

Hi Dolores, you could certainly do so, and there are books like the Delphini series that give running prose versions of Latin verse.

You will however be losing almost all the music and beauty. It would be like preparing a bland monotone paraphrase of a song like this:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WahWCWiwXN0

As a teaser for what you'd be missing if you re-arrange the words like this, perhaps start by reading chapter 7 of Winbolt on Vergil's verse:

https://archive.org/details/latinhexame ... 6/mode/1up

Take the first two lines of the Eclogues. I've quickly marked in colour the words that go together semantically, beautifully structured in characteristic ways across the verses:

Tityre, tu patulae | recubans sub tegmine fagi
silvestrem tenui | Musam meditaris avena;


Notice the beautiful arrangement of paired words (1) next to the caesura with (2) the verse extremities, all tied together nicely. These are tell-tale patterns, just like certain melodies in Vivaldi's music – you recognise them when you hear them (even in a song you haven't heard before).

If you re-arranged all the coloured words to go together, most of that structural music and beauty disappears.

It depends therefore on what you want out of Latin verse (or music, for that matter): to understand the semantic content with prose-like fluency, or to get a glimpse and feeling of the poet's art? I prefer to struggle for the latter: if I want prose-like fluency, I'll read prose instead.

In due course, practising verse comp helps here. The verses produced are not in any way meant to be worthy of or comparable to the real ancient literature, but you deepen your knowledge of ancient structures by trying them yourself and seeing how hard it is. They are more like drills, helping you spot beauty and music more clearly in the real thing. You can see some recent examples here (e.g. my positioning of prudens and nasus is the same structural positioning as patulae and fagi in the first line of the Eclogues quoted above – but read Vergil, not me!!):

https://antigonejournal.com/2021/05/new ... n-winners/

(I realise you take the prose version as a stepping-stone to the verse original, but that intermediates the original, just as a translation might do – I think it's better to start getting a feel for the common word order in each type of verse and poet, and "listen out" for the common patterns, rather than separate the exercise into a prose and verse sequence, which could potentially leave a trace in your appreciation of the finished work – thinking back to the intermediate prose version to work out what's going on, rather than engaging directly with the work with its complex but beautiful structure.)

Cheers, Chad

porphyrios
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Re: 5 Step Method for Reading Latin Verse

Post by porphyrios »

I'm generally sympathetic to using Latin in order to understand Latin, particularly using easier Latin to understand harder Latin. But doesn't your Step 1 presuppose already understanding the lines you're paraphrasing? Or, if you haven't understood it yet, wouldn't Step 1 involve what you call the "puzzle piece" method?

doloresvariationer
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Re: 5 Step Method for Reading Latin Verse

Post by doloresvariationer »

Chad,

Thank you for your feedback!

I completely agree, entirely relying on a prose version would absolutely miss a lot of what is best about Latin poetry. I just feel that this method might help in first coming to terms with understanding the language, so that once step 5 is reached you can focus more on the verse without being stuck on grammar or meaning. One might even be able to spot elegant metrical flourishes more quickly or easily if already acquainted with an understanding of the passage. I would hope that this method would enable one to have both prose-like fluency as well as an understanding of poetic beauty; step 5 is key.
Last edited by doloresvariationer on Mon Nov 29, 2021 9:07 am, edited 1 time in total.

doloresvariationer
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Re: 5 Step Method for Reading Latin Verse

Post by doloresvariationer »

Porphyrios,

I suppose it is the puzzle-piece method, just in the context of the rest of the method. What I don't like about it usually is the decoding of a passage without reading it again several times, and thus not really understanding what the text really means. One way in which it differs, only slightly though, is that it doesn't really matter what order the words are put in when converted into prose, and thus you don't really need to know exactly what each word is doing, just to put them in a more intuitive order so you can read it with some sort of fluency in the first place.

Thank you for your feedback!

donhamiltontx
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Re: 5 Step Method for Reading Latin Verse

Post by donhamiltontx »

cb wrote: Mon Nov 29, 2021 12:59 am As a teaser for what you'd be missing if you re-arrange the words like this, perhaps start by reading chapter 7 of Winbolt on Vergil's verse:

https://archive.org/details/latinhexame ... 6/mode/1up

Cheers, Chad
Utterly indifferent until now to the charms and pleasures of Latin verse, I welcome your introducing us to Winbolt's helping hand. Thanks.

cb
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Re: 5 Step Method for Reading Latin Verse

Post by cb »

You're welcome! Winbolt is my favourite for Vergilian verse.

For what it's worth, Rouse is my favourite for Ovidian elegiacs—once you read Rouse's analysis of Ovid's approach to rhetorical antithesis and the other matters treated in the intro of his Demonstrations (and then if you try it yourself, which is harder than it looks—I used multiple types of antithesis in the Ovidian verse composition exercise linked above, and it took quite a few hours to put together just a few short verses for this reason), something unlocks in your reading of Ovid going forward:

https://archive.org/details/demonstrati ... ew=theater

Hope you enjoy it!

Cheers, Chad

Hylander
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Re: 5 Step Method for Reading Latin Verse

Post by Hylander »

You need to get used to the patterning of nouns and adjectives in Latin verse, with seemingly extreme hyperbaton. For example, an adjective immediately before the caesura in a hexameter or elegiac pentameter will typically agree with a noun at the end of the verse. The metrical structure of the verse is the key to adjective/noun patterns.

You need to recognize and internalize these patterns. Once you do that, reading Latin verse as verse, and not as a puzzle, will become second nature. I'm not sure your five-step method is helpful in attaining that goal.
Bill Walderman

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