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.
Dactyl means ‘finger’ in Greek.
Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Reading & Writing.