Teaching Latin meter through medieval invective

Here’s an idea for making Latin prosody more popular. Instead of scanning (working out the metrical pattern of a line of Latin verse) dull or hackneyed Latin verses, why not practice marking out long and short vowels on invectives and offensive verses. One example from the 10th century suggests near-contemporary Latin texts may have been more attractive than Horace, Virgil or Ovid. In a manuscript produced in England towards the middle of the 10th century, a student entered three verses thought to be John Scotus Eriugena’s mock epitaph for Hincmar (806-882), archbishop of Reims. Instead of a eulogy typical of epitaphs, the text denounces Hincmar as a dangerous thief. It has been suggested that Eriugena wrote the epitaph in response to Hincmar’s accusations against one of the former’s patrons, Hincmar of Laon, who had reportedly referred to Eriugena, a Scot, as a writer of barbaric Latin:

British Library, Harley MS 2688, f. 18v

Hic iacet [H]incmarus cleptes vehementer avarus
Sordidus instabilis madescit rore pericli
Hoc solum fecit nobile, quod periit.

Here lies Hincmar, a violently covetous thief.
Squalid and inconstant, he becomes wet with the dew of danger.
He did only one noble thing: he died.

The text is remarkable in that the scribe marked the long and short syllables, strongly suggesting that the scribe was a student practicing Latin scansion. The scribe used a macron ¯ to indicate a long syllable and ˘ to indicate a short syllable. Anyone familiar with Latin prosody can see that the notation of syllable length on these two hexameter verses is no way different from that which Latinists use today.



One thought on “Teaching Latin meter through medieval invective

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  1. Interesting! But I’m a little puzzled. Were there two different Hincmars? (Hincmari?) And are you saying that this very manuscript was where scansion marks were invented, or simply that it’s a long continuing tradition?


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