The Rhythms of Latin Poetry: Hexameter





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Published on Dec 19, 2007

This is a reading of a short passage from Vergil's Aeneid (book 6, lines 836-853) in the restored classical pronunciation of Latin. This involves features such as phonemic vowel length distinctions, consistently hard C, semi-vocalic V, diphtongal AE, aspirated (as opposed to fricative) PH, and so on. With this video, I hope to illustrate how antique Latin poetry (hexameter in this case) is defined by the rhythm arising from a regular alternation between long and short syllables. In the subtitles, I have marked the syllable quantities by means of musical notation: quarter notes denote long syllables, and short syllables are marked with eighth notes.

The height of the notes corresponds roughly to the level of stress. In connection with this, I want to discuss the concept of *ictus*, which I regard to be the beat or pulse of the verse, arising from the regular occurance of a metrically prominent part of the verse feet; in the case of the hexameter, this is the consistently long first syllable of every dactyl. Note that by this definition, the ictus is *perceived* rather than *performed*. However, when Latin poetry is read today, it is often the case that the ictus is expressed by means of stress, which subordinates or totally replaces the natural word accents. This is, I believe, mainly because of a marked difficulty for modern speakers to keep the concept of stress separate from that of metrical length, i.e. to not inadvertently lengthen all stressed syllables while shortening non-stressed, as well as a general unfamiliarity with perceiving metrical length devoid of stress.

This is the main purpose of this video: to illustrate an ictus independent of articulatory stress, but instead expressed by various forms of *bodily movements*. See the article "Latin Verse-Ictus and Multimodal Entrainment" by Robert P. Sonkowsky and Franz Halberg at for an in depth discussion on the nature of the Latin ictus.


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