Rhythmic Fluency (2021 Reboot)

Looking for something you saw here a while ago? Try these older links with nerd-level poetry stuff. Otherwise, you’ll find excerpts from Magister P’s Poetry Practice, listing the basics of how Latin rhythm works. I suggest heading over to the audio page to have a listen, especially if you don’t have the book. Ultimately, everything on this page is to help you read and listen to the poetry of ecce, poēmata discipulīs! with ease.

I – Words
Latin words are made up of either long or short parts known as “syllables,” but we’re just gonna call them “parts,” and these parts represent rhythms. When we say a rhythm is long, we mean that it lasts about twice the length of anything short. We’re talking about time. For example, “discipulās” takes longer to say than “nōn.” The rhythm of “discipulās” is long short short long.

I.
Long vowels are long rhythms, always. Shocking, right?! The line you sometimes see above vowels is called a “macron.” Vowels with macrons are long, taking about twice as long to say than vowels without them. So, if you see/hear a long vowel, that part of the word has a long rhythm. These are the long vowels:

  • ā, ē, ī, ō, ū, ȳ

All of these words have one long rhythm:

  • ā
  • Cūr?
  • ē
  • nōn
  • nōs
  • Ō
  • rhō
  • scīs
  • trēs
  • vīs

All of these words have a long long rhythm:

  • vīdī
  • vērē
  • ūllō
  • ōhē!
  • ōdī

II.
Some Latin words with long rhythms don’t have long vowels, but have two consonants right next to each other. Here are just a few of the combinations you’ll find:

  • ct, lt, mn, nc, nd, nt, ns, nt, sc, ss, st

All of these words have one long rhythm:

  • est
  • nunc
  • post
  • sunt
  • vult

III.
Some Latin words with long rhythms have a combination of long vowels and two consonants right next to each other. All of these words have a long long rhythm:

  • classēs
  • dīcunt
  • discō
  • immō
  • lectō

II – Phrases
Things can happen when words combine into phrases. Sometimes there’s nothing special, and the two words are just pronounced one right after the other. Other times, the ends of words get swallowed up by the start of the next one, called “elision” (see below). Everything you’ve learned and practiced with individual words still applies, such as words with two consonants right next to each other have a long rhythm, like “nunc.” However, when a word ends in a consonant, and the next word begins with one, that phrase also has a long rhythm, even if its short on its own. For example, “sum” has a short rhythm. However, when you combine it with a word that begins with a consonant, like “sum nōn,” that whole phrase has a long long rhythm. The first word in each phrase below has a long short rhythm on its own. However, when combined, the whole phrase has a long long long rhythm. The two consonants between words are shown in bold:

  • classem post
  • dantur nunc
  • dīcam trēs
  • fīnit nōn
  • librum vult

Elision
I.
Similar to how we say “don’t” instead of “do not,” certain words combine into one rhythm in Latin poetry. This is called “elision,” and words are said to “elide.” However, we’re just gonna say that rhythms “drop out.” Any time one word ends in a vowel, and the next word begins with one, the first one drops out. You skip the first sound, and pronounce as if one word. All of these phrases have a long short short rhythm, and the first vowel sound between words drops out:

  • aisne? + amat = “aisnamat”
  • immō + erit = “immerit”
  • lectō + ego = “lectego” 

All of these phrases have a long long long rhythm:

  • audī + ēheu! = “audēheu!”
  • cūrō + illae = “cūrillae”
  • lēgī + omnēs = “lēgomnēs”
  • illā + ōhē! = “illōhē!”
  • ūllō + index = “ūllindex”

II.
Words that end in “m” also drop that part out:

  • hexametrum + illud = “hexametrillud”
  • legendum + animālibus = “legendanimālibus”
  • secundum + illae = “secundillae”
  • Latīnam + audīsne = “Latīnaudīsne”
  • numquam + illās = “numquillās” 

III.
We usually drop the first vowel, but when the second word is “est,” we drop its “e:”

  • tantum + est = “tantumst”
  • legendum + est = “legendumst”
  • pausa + est = “pausast”
  • nimia + est = “nimiast”
  • librō + est = “librōst”

IV.
The letter “h” is often not pronounced:

  • mē + ha = “ma
  • Latīnam + ha = “Latīna
  • dē + ia = “dēia”
  • est + ha = “esta

III – Patterns 1st Half
There are many different patterns of Latin poetry. One of them is called “dactylic hexameter.” All of the poems in ecce, poēmata discipulīs! are written in that pattern, which gets its name from two rhythmic groups. The long short short rhythms are known as “dactyls,” and long long rhythms are known as “spondees.” Dactylic hexameter has six groups of dactyls or spondees, and there are variations of the groupings based on two main parts we’ll call “1st half” and “2nd half.” Here are three common ways the 1st half starts:

  • long short short long long long
  • long short short long short short long
  • long long long short short long

Patterns 2nd Half
The 2nd half of the dactylic hexameter pattern follows all of the same rhythms as the 1st half, except for one big difference: the final rhythm of the pattern can be either long or short. Why? Well, it’s the end of the line of poetry, and there will be some space between reciting the next line of poetry anyway, so it doesn’t really matter. You’ll sometimes see that last rhythm listed as “X,” but we’ll have some fun and use “BOOM!” Here are three common ways the 2nd half ends:

  • long long short short long short short long BOOM
  • short short long long long short short long BOOM
  • short short long short short long short short long BOOM

3 thoughts on “Rhythmic Fluency (2021 Reboot)

  1. Pingback: Pīsō Ille Poētulus: Published | Magister P.

  2. Pingback: Rhythmic Fluency and Latin Poetry

  3. Pingback: How Simple Is This Text? | Magister P.

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