Reading Catullus 85 out loud (in Latin)
June 23, 2013 8:42 PM   Subscribe

Help me remember how to read Catullus 85 ("Odi et amo ...") out loud in Latin.

Like many people who took Latin in high-school (decades ago for me), I remember the famous Catullus 85:

Odi et amo. Quare id faciam, fortasse requiris?
Nescio, sed fieri sentio, et excrucior.

I vaguely recall that, when reading this poem out loud, some scasion rule dictates that, when one word ends with a vowel and is followed by a word that begins with a vowel, the two are combined. So reading this poem out loud would sound like:

Odet amo. Quarid faciam, fortasse requiris?
Nescio, sed fieri sentiet excrucior.

Is this right? Am I just making this up (entirely possible). I know it's an odd question, but I can't find any help on Google, so if any of you Latin scholars could set me straight ...

posted by DevonKappa to Writing & Language (4 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Are you used to church or classical pronunciation?

I would expect "Odiet" but it's been a decade and a half for me, too.

There are readings of Latin available online, and since Catullus 85 is so popular and short, plenty of them; there's a listing of sites with readings .

This site has 85, but I couldn't make the podcast play properly.
posted by nat at 9:18 PM on June 23, 2013

You're totally right, and the term you're looking for is elision. A brief google turns up a simple guide to elision using Catullus & Virgil as examples here, but if you dig around more using that term & scansion (fyi, in case that wasn't just a typo in your question) I'm sure you'll find more & better.

(Bonus: hunt up some recordings of William Burroughs reading Catullus!)
posted by tapir-whorf at 9:19 PM on June 23, 2013 [3 favorites]

Yes, you are remembering correctly, and as tapir-whorf said, the technical term here is "elision." The other thing to remember when reading aloud Latin poetry is that the rhythm is quantitative, not stress-based in English, that is, based on patterns of long and short syllables. A long (heavy) syllable takes roughly twice as long to say as a short (light) syllable.

The meter of this poem is called the elegiac couplet. It is based upon the dactyl (a foot of one long, then two short syllables) and the spondee (two long syllables). It consists of one line of dactylic hexameter (four feet of either dactyls or spondees, then one dactyl, then (more or less) a spondee. The second line is a pentameter line: two dactyls or spondees, a single long syllable and then a pause (caesura, 'cutting' -- be sure to stop there when reading, notated ||), then two dactyls and another long syllable.

The poem is scanned with foot breaks (| denotes a foot break):

od' et a|mo. quar' | id faci|am for|tasse re|quiris. (DSDSDS)
nescio, | sed fier|i || senti' et | excruci|or. (DD long || DD long)

Each foot should take approximately (don't kill it by being too too mechanical) the same amount of time to read. Some teachers recommend stressing the beginning of each foot as a pedagogical aid, but that does great violence to the Latin in some cases (e.g., "o" in amo and the "i" in fieri); better to use the natural stress of Latin but nonetheless hear a little beat (the Romans called it ictus) at the beginnings of the feet.

Elision -- yes, generally when one word ends with a vowel (or a vowel plus the letter "m," because the Romans pronounced that as a nasalized vowel) and the next word begins with a vowel (or an h followed by a vowel, because Greek, to be short), the first vowel is generally elided. What this meant in Roman practice is not completely agreed upon, whether the vowel was dropped entirely (od' et) or just given less weight, but generally in classroom practice and most readers' pronunciations, the vowel will be dropped entirely. You will not go wrong with doing so.
posted by lysimache at 10:16 PM on June 23, 2013 [6 favorites]

Thanks, everyone! That was really helpful, and just what I was looking for. I'm sure my former Latin teacher would be happy that I still remember the poem after all these years. I don't know if she'd be quite so pleased that I remember the poem she wrote on the blackboard one April 1st:

Caesar adsum jam forte
"Passus sum" sed Antoni

She let us sweat for 15 minutes trying to translate this at our desks before she said "Read it out loud . . . in English . . . with a Cockney accent . . . " ;)
posted by DevonKappa at 6:40 AM on June 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

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