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What stylistic features should you be looking out for when analysing Latin poetry?

In the A-level Latin verse paper, you will have to write elongated answers analysing the style, form and content of passages of seen Latin poetry. This advanced level of literary analysis can be daunting at first, so I have compiled a list of the basic things to look at when you are confronted by an anlysis question such as this.

Conjunctions? -- The use of conjuctions can often be telling as to what the poet is trying to do with his verse. The repeated use of que and et (polysyndeton) often slows the poetry down, whilst the omission of conjunctions (asyndeton) speeds it up. 

Form -- When analysing Latin verse, it is important to remember what it is -- poetry with a meter. For A-level, this will usually be the dactyllic hexameter of epic (used by Ovid and Virgil), in which the line has six metrical feet, which can be either spondees ( _ _) or dactyls (_uu). Latin poets are often very clever with their manipulation of meter, using it to reflect the tone or meaning of the line. Fast-paced dactyllic lines often create an upbeat tempo, whilst slow-moving spondaic lines can give the poetry a downbeat tone. If you are able to make a point in which you explain how the meter of a line corresponds to what the poet is trying to say in it, you will be rewarded highly.

Sounds -- It is always a good idea to read out any passage of Latin verse in your head to see if the poet is trying to do anything clever with the sounds of his words. Though Latin poetry rarely ever rhymes in the same way as English poetry, one should look out for things like assonance (the correspondance of vowel sounds) and alliteration (the repeated use of the same letter at the start of different words). A knowledge of the phonetic alphabet is helpful when it comes to describing sounds. As with all of these techniques, candidates will be rewarded the most if they can relate the poet's use of sound to the content of his poetry.

Word Positioning -- Exploring the poet's positioning of diffeerent words can be a very easy way to make stylistic points when analysing Latin verse. Words positioned as the first word of the line or the last are emphasised the most. Enjambement (when a sentence runs from one line to the next) can often emphasise a word or phrase. Look out for clever patterns in word positioning, which Latin poets often use to emphasise bits of their work: a chiasmus is when corresponding words mirror when another in an ABCBA  form; a golden line is a line which runs adjective (a) -- adjective (b) -- verb (V) -- noun (A) -- noun (B), in an abVAB formation.

This list is by no means conclusive, but I hope it is a start!

Ben P. IB Latin tutor, 13 plus  Latin tutor, GCSE Latin tutor, A Leve...

8 months ago

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