Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Meter rant, cont'd.

The last post should still have been in draft mode, but I'll let it stand since people have presumably read it, and it makes sense as it goes.

The basic argument, I think, is sound: the meters of Greek and Latin poetry are a tricky business, still rife with controversy and theories and still a fertile field for further study.

A lot of good and important books were left out of the last post. The Sounds of Greek by W.B. Stanford comes to mind, though it isn't really about meter. That gives you a clue that meter alone isn't much of a study. Even when prosody is given its due attention (cf. the work of Devine & Stephens) the work is inadequate. When you talk about 'the prosody of Greek speech' which Greeks in which era speaking which dialect do you mean, and how does that impact, say, the analysis of the metrical practices of a Hellenistic poet mimicking those of an archaic model?

It's for reasons like these that I'll always remain a positivist, however dirty a word it has become in the academy. Imagine the sort of synchronistic analysis found in this area applied to numismatics: we take coins of all periods, because, afterall, COINAGE is our concern, and extrapolate a set of rules and laws, then publish countless articles about how individual coins break the rules.

The kind of rudimentary diachronic work that West did in his Greek Metre is a step in the right direction, but what's really needed is for students to look at the individual texts of individual poets.

Having done that with Nicander I learned more about meter in general than I ever had by reading manuals, but I also learned that the statistics published in every relevant source--e.g., Lingenberg's dissertation and it's followers (Kroll's RE entry, West in GM) and J.-M. Jacques--are demonstrably incorrect and that it's not accurate to classify Nicander as 'very Callimachean' as everyone does.

This isn't going anywhere ... just another rambling post.


Bret Mulligan said...

Discrepancies in metrical data are baneful. I'd like to see journals or scholars post the basic data on-line, so that others can more easily evaluate their accuracy or their evidence and the soundness of their interpretations. The snazzy charts that tend to accompany such studies are great, but the information is essentially unverifiable.

Coke said...

This is all very interesting and I am glad you are discussing these things. Do you see these variations at play in a meter as common as hexameter, or in lyric meters? Persius and Juvenal How important to general Latin or Greek meter is the penthemimeral line (I cannot STOP noticing this form of Hemameter in Vergil). I can read any given line of Vergil with great ease, and I've noticed that Juvenal (in the 10 lines I was just looking over) seems to follow the pattern a little less, although it's still there. Are you speaking of this and much more? And if much more, how much more? Besides that caesura after the hemiepes, what else is steadfast enough to be a law, but changes from author to author?
BTW, has anyone taken any time to learn sanscrit, and if so, what text has they used to learn? I have a student who is interested. I saw one text on Amazon that looked promising, but I'd like to hear some personal testimonies.

dennis said...

There are certain things that you virtually never see in a hexameter line, but then again there are places in Homer and Stesichorus where a hexameter line appears to have one syllable too many or too few.

In Homer some would say it results from the pressure of oral composition, but in Stesichorus it reveals something acceptable at an early stage which was later rejected.

But still, there are some pretty regular rules, but lots of room for variation. A lot of that stuff is minor when you try to analyze it, but significant when you read. A given author may tend to use disyllabic words in a given position, but what do you call that, and does it really affect the meter?

It makes his verse feel different though.

As for Sanskrit, the book in the Teach Yourself series was recommended by Prof. Wallace at UMass, who really knows his stuff. I've never had the time to devote any real study to it, but that's the book I plan to use.

I know he later taught a Sanskrit course using Gonda's Concise Elementary Grammar of the Sanskrit Language and Lanman's Sanskrit Reader, but I think that more out of the need for available texts.

I don't think he was terribly fond of the reader, but what can you do?

The standard grammar (the Smyth of Sanskrit) is by William Dwight Whitney.

dennis said...

Prof. Mulligan, thanks for the comment!

Somehow I missed it when I responded to Coke's comment.

When all this is through I just may post such data (though I doubt many people will care enough about Nicander to check it).

Sarah said...

Please do post any numbers you do have on Nicander's metrical use at some point, Dennis. Reporting the discrepancies you've noticed in the published data plus your own calculations, besides possible helping the rare Nicandrian (Nicandrist?), would show quite clearly your point about the state of metrical statistics today. Who knows, perhaps you will inspire others to do likewise.