BMCR 2020.05.18

Conspectus metrorum: guía práctica de los versos latinos

Jesús Luque Moreno, Conspectus metrorum: guía práctica de los versos latinos. . Granada: Editorial Universidad de Granada, 2018. 1046 p.. ISBN 9788433863492 $50.00.

Latin verse allegedly found its origin in different traditions. On the one hand, 3rd century BCE poets composed in the native Saturnian verse; on the other hand, and starting with Ennius’ Annales, Greek quantitative verse (a ‘second Homer’, Ennius introduced the dactylic hexameter in Latin poetry) was remodeled into appropriate Latin equivalents. Adapting the Greek metrical models was a challenge for the early Latin poets, a challenge which Ennius chose to meet applying various phonostylistics effects in the extant lines of his work (“O Tite tute Tati tibi tanta tyranne tulisti!”, “Machina multa minax minitatur maxima muros”, “At tuba terribili sonitu taratantara dixit”, “Saxo cere- comminuit –brum”). Over time, and despite truly impressive adaptations like Ovid’s, Latin (syllable-)quantitative meter gave way to syllable-accentual meter, thus transmitting a heritage to later generations of poets in the various European languages.[1]

Description, categorization, and analysis of the Latin verses is the aim of Luque Moreno’s Conspectus Metrorum (pp. 9-12). The work’s title, as well as its subtitle (Guía Práctica de los Versos Latinos) do not completely cover this work’s scope, and Luque Moreno’s ‘practical guide’ offers so much more than mere description, categorization, and analysis that I feel obliged to first explain the Conspectus’ objectives and organization before turning to an overview of its content, its value as an incentive for future research, and its intended readership.[2]

Luque Moreno’s Conspectus, organized in numbered paragraphs (§1-1257),[3] actually contains three books in the following order:

1. A glossary of metrical phrases (with an introduction to the issues pertaining to prosody), their distribution over Latin literary and documentary texts, and a
repertorium (in alphabetical order) of all authors of Latin metrical texts (including emperors, the poets of theAnthologia and authors known only through testimonia, pp. 13-420, §1-800).

2. The actual conspectus metrorum (pp. 421-546, §801-812) on the works of seven (lyric) poets, and three authors of drama (together, 1. and 2. form the Parte primera: Las formas). This book on Forms is made accessible through a bibliography (pp. 923-963), three indices (on metrical shapes [pp. 965-1006], authors [pp. 1007-1016], and symbols and abbreviations [pp. 1017-1027]), and a table of contents (pp. 1029-1038).

3. A separate book on a ‘possible program’ for the study and analysis of metrical shapes (labeled ‘Parte segunda: El studio de las formas’, pp. 549-921, §813-1257). Luque Moreno suggests a complete and holistic treatment of Latin meter in order to further the understanding of prosody’s relevance and the development of Latin versification, and to explore meter’s literary function in accordance with the various levels of analysis, and the way Latin’s metrical system evolved into the rhythmical reality of the middle ages and beyond. Luque tentatively presents 52 ‘sections’ (Temas), divided into four ‘units’ (‘La base prosódica’, ‘Principios generals de métrica’, ‘Aplicaciones’, ‘Las formas métricas’). All temas are further subdivided, and many come with additional bibliography expanding on the bibliography to 1 (pp. 923-963). Next, Luque Moreno delves deeper into five ‘points of special interest’, reflecting personal preferences: levels of analysis of versified language, units of analysis in the metrical-rhythmical system, the dactylic hexameter, the phalacean hendecasyllable, and the verses of Seneca tragicus. This separate book on analysis may be accessed via the table of contents on pp. 1039-1046.

At the heart of Luque Moreno’s book is the Conspectus Metrorum (pp. 421-546), a full repertorium of the metrical shapes used in the extant poems by the (lyrical) poets Catullus, Horace, Terentius Maurus, Ausonius, Prudentius, Claudianus, and Boethius, and in the dramatic works of Plautus, Terence, and Seneca. Due to their invariable and repetitive character, poems composed in dactylic hexameter and elegiac couplet are not included in the conspectus.

The 400+ pages leading up to the conspectus, consist of an introduction and three chapters. The technical introduction (Premisas) describes the general principles of rhythm, meter, and music, as well as the various levels of rhythmical analysis, like the syllable, the foot, the metron, the colon, and the periodos. The first chapter (‘A’) presents the various Greek traditions (notably aeolic [syllable-quantitative] and ionic [pure-quantitative]), next to the autochthonous meters. A comprehensive list of metrical shapes and their denominations (including the Greek and Latin sources from antiquity introducing the names and origins of the shapes) is expanded with remarks on the ‘new forms’ like the cola libera, and unusual shapes like the carmina figurata and the products of procreatio metrorum. After dealing with metrical levels higher than the verse (the strophe and the system), Luque Moreno presents the systemization of metrical shapes according to Diomedes’ De versuum generibus (pp. 151-163) and Servius’ De centum metris (163-178). The next chapter (‘B’) recapitulates the metrical shapes with regard to the different genres in which they are used, starting from popular verse, via epigram and the verses of drama, to inscriptions and fragmentary texts. The following chapter (‘C’) offers a chronological overview, from the carmina antiquissima to the death of Eugene of Toledo (657 CE), of all the different metrical shapes used. Luque Moreno progresses one century after the next, but at times further subdivides, as in the Época de Augusto and the Anthologia. In the final section of this chapter, he explores the legacy of Latin verse after the prosodic restructuring of the dynamic accent, both the artificial syllable-quantitative verse, and the newly developed syllable-accentual verse.

The final part, el estudio de las formas, is Luque Moreno’s personal legacy. In a detailed provisional survey (pp. 549-606), Luque Moreno designs an outline for the systematic analysis of all the different aspects of Latin verse: technical, applied, and esthetic, many of which have already been discussed earlier. In the introduction, Luque Moreno stresses what is required for the study of forms: proper understanding of the units of meter, and the conditions of their realization. His ‘possible program’ first focuses on prosody and the syllable, then on the general principles of Latin meter. As the next step, he proposes to investigate the proper representation and pronunciation of Latin verse.[4] The final part of the program is devoted to an overview of the metrical forms (including the forms of metrical prose) from antiquity to the renaissance. The second section of el estudio de las formas contains five further chapters on special points of interest for the author, in which he summarizes and presents the fruits of a long and productive career devoted to the study of Latin prosody, spanning the years 1974 to 2017.[5]

All in all, Conspectus Metrorum is a work that offers indispensable overviews and valuable insights, but the question remains what to recommend to whom. In my view, scholars of specific authors of Latin metrical text and genres will fruitfully consult §464-776 and §802-812. Those interested in metrical shapes will find §96-453 and the index of metrical shapes (pp. 965-1006) useful. Numerous metrical shapes are described and discussed with regard to their origin, their name (both in Greek, Latin, and in modern scholarship), frequency, relation to other shapes, and impact in performance. Students of ancient manuals on prosody and documentary texts will appreciate the lavishly quoted authors, such as Caesius Bassus, Aftonios, and Sacerdos, but profound knowledge of (post)classical Latin and ancient Greek is required, as all quotations come without translation. Though scholars of Greek and Latin meter may well disagree with some of Luque Moreno’s premisas (on Indo-European verse, for example [§5-18], or the Doric tradition [§27]), or the reliance on theories of metrical extension and expansion (§76-77),[6] they will nonetheless find a consistent treatment of meter’s diachronic development in accordance with the views of the Latin metricians. Several sections of the book are aimed at the general classical student population, and function as a true ‘practical guide’: especially those on later, syllable-accentual composition (§777-800) and on the units of analysis in the rhythmical-metrical system (§905-940). A detailed look at the index of metrical shapes would not harm the general classical student population either. Those interested in the harvest of Luque Moreno’s career are encouraged to study paragraphs 941-1058, on the dactylic hexameter. The ‘possible program’ (§819-874) is of interest for every scholar of metrics: it is not only a useful reminder for anyone working on a structured approach of prosody, the program also suggests numerous topics for future research. The book’s working language should not deter anyone: boosting one’s Spanish is a small investment with regard to the usefulness of the ‘practical guide’ on offer.

Finally, some words on the production of Conspectus Metrorum. There are remarkably few typos: I noticed a few in the Latin quotations and there is a space too many every here and there, especially in the headings of sections and subsections. The reasonably priced book itself is sturdy and designed for heavy use: having been read from cover to cover, my paperback edition is still holding up well.


[1] The written versions of Latin (syllable-)quantitative poems remained to be studied and analyzed, together with the scholarly remarks from contemporary metricians, both on the theory and the practice of Greek and Latin metrical composition and performance.

[2] The issue of readership has already been raised in a review by Antoine Foucher (Myrtia 34 [2019], pp. 227-234). I fall in with the observations made by Foucher, but will add a few of my own.

[3] Only the index of authors (pp. 1007-1016) refers to the numbered paragraphs.

[4] Cf. the audio CD accompanying Clive Brooks ’Reading Latin Poetry Aloud: A Practical Guide to Two Thousand Years of Verse, Cambridge 2007.

[5] It is no surprise to find many references to his own publications here (the bibliography lists 107); on the other hand, readers may miss titles of French works and of recent cross-linguistic studies on rhythm, mainly in English.

[6] Luque Moreno accepts that Latin versification was derived from Greek verse, while both Greek and Latin versification descend from Indo-European verse. For Greek meters like the hexameter, however, Indo-European descent is not obvious nor unanimously accepted. The Doric tradition, combining characteristics from both Aeolic and Ionic meter (cf. M. West, Greek Metre, Oxford 1982: 46) is discussed separately based on its identifying mark of strophes and antistrophes, typified as ‘complejas arquitecturas creadas para una ocasión concreta dentro del ámbito del canto coral’. In his presentation of theories of metrical expansion and extension, Luque Moreno does not bring in the issue of differences in rhythmical realization when discussing metrical forms with identical surface structures.