06 January 2008

APA Sunday, Jan 6th — Winding Down

In addition to the receptions the evenings are filled with meetings of various specialized organizations. I spent some time last night at a reading session for the Society for the Oral Reading of Greek and Latin Literature. Most of the time was spent on Latin, and in a desperate attempt to get to Greek I tried to get people interested in one of Palladas' grumpy elegiacs. Alas, though comfortable with public speaking, public reciting makes me nervous. And I badly overemphasized a semantic range of one of Palladas' words in my disordered mental state. On the plus side, several of the attendees were very fluent reciters of Ovid. This is motivating.

Linguistics II

One of the organizers of this session was Benjamin Fortson, IV, and I had to restrain myself from full-on fanboy mode and gush about his Indo-European book at him. The first talk from Tim Barnes on a common epithet formula for Nestor, amassed evidence suggesting the word γερήνιος isn't a toponym at all but a non-Ionic (and non-Aeolic) by-form related to γέρων (old man). The rest of the track was on Italic languages, hardly my speciality. I got to hear le sauvage noble talk about Paelignian, after he was humorously introduced as one of the "last native speakers of Oscan" (or something like that). I do expect van den Berg's talk about the semantic range of malignitas to be useful to me in the future — far in the future, given the rate at which I'm reacquainting myself with Latin these days.


Several of these talks were very literary in nature, and I'll pass over them.

R. Blankenborg's talk, however, Tuning in: Tracing the Rhythmical Phrase in Homer, made me rather cranky. Most unwelcome to me are (1) the reintroduction of the terminology of thesis and arsis and (2) the analysis of the Homeric hexameter in terms of feet. From his hand-out, "Meter is about the balance within the individual foot." He made the not (to me) controversial assertion that any given thesis (argh!) is measured against the arsis, not against other theses. That is, the hexameter isn't stuck on a fixed tempo. He then went on to say that the arsis necessarily has less duration than the thesis:

μῆνιν ἄειδε > (synaphaea) μῆ.νι.να.
duration of μῆ must be longer than νι.να.

This struck me as typologically unlikely, and I asked him to clarify if he was saying this duration difference was phonetic or a recitation artifact. He said it was the later. Unfortunately this still seems to fly in the face of several Homeric practices. First, sometimes Homer will play some surprising stunts in the princeps (= thesis) position, with the result that a short, open vowel is scanned heavy. This same sort of behavior is not deployed in the biceps (= arsis). Paraphrasing West, a contracted biceps must come by it's length more honestly. I personally would expect the licenses and restrictions to be reversed under Blankenborg's metrical regime.

Finally, if I understand him correctly (our speakers had no mics, very annoying) he seems to be saying that an intonation unit (a phrase) crossing the metrical line will not be modified by crossing the line, that is, phrase structure wins out over metrical segmentation. This would make the hexameter unique among Greek stichic meters. We know in the iambics of Attic drama certain kinds of trickiness are avoided when you get close to metrical line end, which is often taken to signify a slower speaking speed, in which stunts are harder to get away with, near the metrical line end. Indeed, a weak metrical line end would take the Hexameter out of Indo-European poetics altogether, where it is precisely the line end which is most highly regulated.

On the other hand, what he said about rhythmical prominence seems potentially more productive. In particular, the idea that there are pre-pausal metrical habits (sort of like the clausulae of prose, I suppose). He believes pre-pausal word ends should be shaped like an anapest (uu- or --) and end on a princeps (thesis) position. This seems reasonable, and I'll be watching for that when next I read Homer.


The last session I went to was on comics and the classics. Frank Miller got two papers, one of course on 300, but evidently Thermopylae also figures in one of the Sin City story-lines. I was happy to see Neil Gaiman (Sandman #30, August) get a paper. I never know what to say about classics reception.


I have yet more poems I want to work on for Aoidoi.org.

I cannot justify the cost of attending the APA every year, but I wouldn't be surprised if I make it a few more times.


Nicholas said...

Thanks for all the notes on the conference. I wish I could have heard some of those talks.

I'm not sure how big the reading session was, but did you happen to meet Dr Neil Coffee? I'm assuming that he was there: orality is one of his passions. He would be a Latinist.

Thanks again, N.

Wm said...

I was a bit overloaded with names, so I'm afraid I can't say for certain. However, if I'd seen that name on a name-tag I would probably remember it.