Homer busts a dactyl


My pal Jeffrey K asked me about the Odyssey post: “Did Homer write it or rap it?” I said, “Both! He had to keep to a meter.”

The blind Greek poet Homer wrote and recited or sang the Odyssey. Rap music is sung poetry, or at least it’s spoken over a musical beat. In both cases the poetry needs to stick to a meter.

A meter is the rhythm of a poem. Each line of a poem gets a precise amount of syllables. Homer’s epics are written and recited in dactylic hexameter. Hexameter means six ‘feet’ in each line. Each foot is a dactyl: one long and 2 short syllables. Boom-diddy. Boom-diddy, boom-diddy, boom-diddy, boom-diddy, boom-diddy, boom-diddy is kind of repetitive so Homer mixed it up by sometimes making the last foot 2 long syllables or sitting a long word over 2 feet or replacing the 2 short syllables with a long one.

The poet is the only person who needs to know this technical stuff. When you read or hear a good poem you’re aware that it’s satisfying to listen to. When you read classic poetry you’re aware of a rhythm that lures you into that world. A rapper recites a poem and emphasizes different syllables to play with or against the accompanying music, but the poem still sticks to a meter, its rhythm.

Poetry raises language from a means of communicating to an art form.

Why am I telling you this? Because if you’re going to write poetry in dactylic hexameter, it’ll be nearly impossible to do without vowels. You need vowels to extend a syllable. You need vowels to divide a word into syllables. And the Phoenician abjad didn’t have vowels.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dactylic_hexameter
https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/rhythm
Dactyl means ‘finger’ in Greek.
https://video.search.yahoo.com/yhs/search?fr=yhs-trp-001&ei=UTF-8&hsimp=yhs-001&hspart=trp&p=rapper%27s+delight+lyrics&type=Y143_F163_201897_121020#id=1&vid=d7b5953b49a56c301fdde7d113c23d0b&action=click

Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Reading & Writing.

3 responses to “Homer busts a dactyl

  1. So interesting! Since I don’t know Greek, for me, the word ‘dactyl’ was always associated with a flying dinosaur rather than ‘finger’. You also reminded me of the prodigious memory capacity of the ancients. Tragically, since becoming overly dependent on tech, we’ve gradually allowed our own capacity to become nearly vestigial.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, I think ‘pterodactyl’ means feather-fingers because there’s no Greek word for ‘flying dinosaur.’ At least, that’s my theory. I may be horribly wrong. I depend on my Greek-scholar pals to explain all this stuff to me.

      Like

  2. Pingback: Homer starts the Vowel Movement | John Manders' Blog

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s