Although we now approach ancient texts primarily through the written word, they were originally meant for performance. Poetry in particular was probably chanted or sung, as we know from the use of words relating to music in the opening lines of poems and poetic collections. Nowhere is this performance context more clear than in the use of meter in ancient poetry. Although the untrained viewer can’t see this meter in an ancient text (unlike, for example, the musical notation on modern sheet music), once you know how to scan well, you can quickly begin to recite texts as they were meant to be heard.
The nice thing about scansion is that it’s in many ways easier than other tasks beginning language students have to perform. In this first post, I’ll introduce the two major Latin meters: dactylic hexameter and pentameter. Continue reading