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How to Read Ovid’s Meter (a Guide to Prosody)

by Andrew H.

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2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 Latin poetry is written within the confines of meter. Ovid’s Metamorphoses is no exception. Because Latin poetry was performed aloud, meter conveys emotion and life through the sounds of the text. The Metamorphoses is composed in Dactylic Hexameter. This type of meter must have six feet in each line of Latin. A foot is a certain number of syllables, which can be either long or short. In the case of the Metamorphoses, a foot can be either a dactyl or a spondee. A dactyl is 3 syllables total: the first is long, the next two are short. A spondee is 2 syllables: both are long.

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 The breakdown of each line can be any combination of dactyls and spondees, provided there are only six total. It is customary though for lines to be heavily dominated by dactyls, as the meters name suggests; however, authors use spondees to dramatize emotion and simply because the words they are using demand it. Syllables and the vowels contained in them can be either long or short. Long vowels are those that are long by nature or long by position. Diphthongs (ae, au, ei, eu, oe, ui) are long by nature. Vowels can be turned long by position if it is directly followed by two or more consonants, double consonants, the letter x, or z. There are, of course, certain exceptions to these rules.

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 Scansion is the process of marking syllables either long or short to figure out the composition of dactyls and spondees in a line. Long vowels are marked with a dash (-) and short vowels are marked with a u-shape (u). Breaks between feet can be marked with a line (|) for clarity to see more easily the breakdown of the line. One last complication in Latin scansion is elision. When a word ends with a vowel or a vowel then the letter m, and the next word in the line begins with a vowel or the letter h and then a vowel, the first syllable elides into the second. This means the first syllable is not pronounced or scanned and the second becomes long. Hiatus refers to when elision could occur but does not. This is rare, but usually comes at a break in the line to add emphasis.

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 Below are a two lines scanned as an example. Notice the elision marked by a slash (\) in 344. Also note that both lines end with a dactyl followed by a spondee, this is formulaic and more than likely the way most lines will end. Lines will always end with a spondee, and when they end with two spondees, they are said to be spondaic lines.

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0  –   u u| – uu|-       –   |     –     – |    –   u u |  –   –

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 caerula Līriopē, quam quondam flūmine curvō (3.342)

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9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0  –     u u | – – | \  –    u u|-    –  |  –   u  u  |  –  –

10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 vim tulit. ēnīxa est uterō pulcherrima plēnō (3.344)

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Source: https://iris.haverford.edu/echo/how-to-read-ovids-meter-a-guide-to-prosody/