Ed. by Mark Walker
Pineapple Publications (2015) p/b 195pp £4.99 (ISBN 978095474343)
In 1850 the editors of Sabrinae Corolla gloomily observed, of verse composition, that these were studia quae veremur ne in dies obsolescant. They were premature, and 50 or more years later no less a scholar than Wilamowitz commended the English for keeping up a practice which was dying out in Germany. And he could have pointed to distinguished practitioners: Benjamin Hall Kennedy, H.A.J. Munro, Sir Richard Jebb, Gilbert Murray, and many others of high scholarly achievement. Even up to the 1960s a group of Oxford classical scholars (including Bowra, Denniston and Platnauer) were able to publish Some (and then More) Oxford Compositions, which included prose and verse, in both languages, of very high quality.
The up-to-date book under notice here, edited by W., confines itself to Latin verse, mainly in hexameters and elegiacs; but many other metres (especially hendecasyllables) also make appearances, some of them not remotely classical, and in one case incorporating ten different metres; translations or English originals are provided. It is clear that many of the thirty-seven authors are inexperienced composers, and the reviewer merely observes, without particularising, that he encountered examples of false quantities, inaccurate prosody (even including a seven-foot hexameter!), incorrect grammar, unhappy word order, voces nihili, and metrical practices which showed a fine disregard of classical usage—which makes one wonder how firm and searching was the editorial hand. (Of course, it may be retorted that ‘classical usage’ is not necessary: just so, but without it composition becomes almost too easy, and the results might strike oddly on the eyes of an ‘ancient’ Roman.) But enthusiasm there is in plenty, and Jonathan Meyer’s offerings, were it not for excessive use of elision (including of cretics) could be warmly commended; David Money, too, was among others who presented enjoyable work.
Readers will make up their own minds about the various ‘technopaegnia’ such as alliterative hexameters, haikus, ‘Alcmanian strophe’, rhythmic iambic or trochaic, free verse, goliardics, quincouplets, and the aforementioned polymetric (as well as sotadeans, and, bravely, galliambics) which are presented.
Although the editor offers a short bibliography, some important, and highly relevant, items are missing: C.G.Gepp’s Latin Elegiac Verse (1912), M. Platnauer’s Latin Elegiac Verse (1952), Ainger and Wintle’s English-Latin Gradus (1905), S.E. Winbolt’s Latin Hexameter Verse (reprint, 2011) and C.D. Yonge’s (Latin-English) Gradus ad Parnassum (6th edition,1858). (W. lists ‘Carey’s Gradus ad Parnassum’, but is incorrect in saying that there is no other.) Anyone seriously intending to take up the highly demanding, but also highly rewarding, practice of Latin verse composition should arm him(her)self with these, though one or two of them may prove elusive; and there is much to be learnt from the many available second-hand copies of compositions by such experts (in addition to those mentioned above) as Archer-Hind and Shilleto, or in compilations such as Some Cambridge Compositions.
It is W.’s hope ‘that the flame which once seemed all but extinguished is burning just a little brighter now’: the reviewer naturally concurs, while hoping that an editio altera correctior will follow.