Rhythms of Ancient Poetry (4)
A medieval saying in verse runs:
Three quarrels rage when Mr Wealthy meets his fate:
Hell wants his soul; the relatives his rich estate;
while worms dispute which body parts to masticate!
That is my translation of three Latin hexameter lines:
𝐷𝑢𝑚 𝑚𝑜𝑟𝑖𝑡𝑢𝑟 𝑑𝑖𝑣𝑒𝑠, 𝑚𝑜𝑥 𝑐𝑟𝑒𝑠𝑐𝑢𝑛𝑡 𝑡𝑟𝑒𝑠 𝑖𝑏𝑖 𝑙𝑖𝑡𝑒𝑠:
𝐷𝑒𝑚𝑜𝑛 𝑣𝑢𝑙𝑡 𝑎𝑛𝑖𝑚𝑎𝑚, 𝑐𝑜𝑛𝑠𝑎𝑛𝑔𝑢𝑖𝑛𝑒𝑖 𝑞𝑢𝑜𝑞𝑢𝑒 𝑔𝑎𝑧𝑎𝑚;
𝑣𝑒𝑟𝑚𝑖𝑏𝑢𝑠 𝑖𝑛 𝑡𝑒𝑟𝑟𝑎 𝑐𝑟𝑒𝑠𝑐𝑖𝑡 𝑝𝑟𝑜 𝑐𝑜𝑟𝑝𝑜𝑟𝑒 𝑔𝑢𝑒𝑟𝑟𝑎.
The composer has created internal rhymes with the endings: so 𝑑𝑖𝑣𝑒𝑠/𝑙𝑖𝑡𝑒𝑠, 𝑎𝑛𝑖𝑚𝑎𝑚/𝑔𝑎𝑧𝑎𝑚, 𝑡𝑒𝑟𝑟𝑎/𝑔𝑢𝑒𝑟𝑟𝑎. One might compare Lear's line in The Owl and the Pussycat - "they took some honey and plenty of money / wrapped up in a five pound note". This kind of line was called 'Leonine verse'.
A Latin poet in Virgil's mold would frown on a verse ending consisting of two two-syllable words (𝑖𝑏𝑖 𝑙𝑖𝑡𝑒𝑠, 𝑞𝑢𝑜𝑞𝑢𝑒 𝑔𝑎𝑧𝑎𝑚). For reasons of euphony, classical poets of serious verse sought to end hexameters with a metrical phrase that has the rhythm and stress of ‘strawberry jam-pot’. With two two-syllable words, that fluent rhythm would give way to a jerkier one with three stresses (as in “now, never stumble”).
Classical Latin doesn’t know the words 𝐷𝑒𝑚𝑜𝑛 and 𝑔𝑢𝑒𝑟𝑟𝑎 either. A poet might have used 𝑂𝑟𝑐𝑢𝑠, Hell, and 𝑝𝑟𝑜𝑒𝑙𝑖𝑎, battle, instead. So if one wants to classicize the aphorism, a reformed version without internal rhyme might run:
𝐷𝑢𝑚 𝑚𝑜𝑟𝑖𝑡𝑢𝑟 𝑑𝑖𝑣𝑒𝑠, 𝑡𝑟𝑒𝑠 𝑙𝑖𝑡𝑒𝑠 𝑖𝑙𝑖𝑐𝑜 𝑐𝑟𝑒𝑠𝑐𝑢𝑛𝑡: 𝑂𝑟𝑐𝑢𝑠 𝑣𝑢𝑙𝑡 𝑎𝑛𝑖𝑚𝑎𝑚, 𝑡𝑢𝑚 𝑟𝑒𝑚 𝑛𝑎𝑡𝑢𝑠𝑞𝑢𝑒 𝑛𝑒𝑝𝑜𝑠𝑞𝑢𝑒; 𝑃𝑟𝑜𝑒𝑙𝑖𝑎𝑞𝑢𝑒 𝑖𝑛 𝑡𝑒𝑟𝑟𝑎 𝑑𝑢𝑐𝑢𝑛𝑡 𝑝𝑟𝑜 𝑐𝑜𝑟𝑝𝑜𝑟𝑒 𝑣𝑒𝑟𝑚𝑒𝑠. Three quarrels rage when Mr Wealthy meets his fate: Hell wants his soul; his son and grandson his estate; while worms dispute which body parts to masticate!