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Saturnius Versus

“Saturnian verse.” The earliest (native) verse of the ancient Italians, of which at the present time only fragments exist in the shape of religious songs and ritualistic formulas, is accentual rather than quantitative in its metrical character, and is hardly to be reduced to a definite system. The verse, however, in general (numerus Italicus) seems to be based upon a series of four theses, sometimes separate but usually combined in twos and threes. The following prayer to Mars (Cato , R. R. 141) is an example:
Márs páter té précor | quáesóque úti síes | vólens própítiús.

Of these early rhythms, the so-called “Saturnian verse” is the most regular, as it is the one of which we have the greatest number of existing examples. It consists of two parts, each containing three theses. As to its exact character there are three theories: (a) the Accentual Theory; (b) the Quantitative Theory; and (c) the Modified Accentual Theory.

a) Accentual Theory.—This regards the Saturnian line as divided into two halves, the first having three theses and the second either three or two. If only two, the second half of the line usually has an introductory unaccented syllable (Anacrusis). The quantity of the syllables plays no part in the scansion of the verse. Examples are the following:
Quóius fórma virtútei || parísuma fúit

Dábunt málum Metélli || Naévió poétae.

b) Quantitative Theory.—This regards the Saturnian as a trochaic senarius with Anacrusis and a caesura after the third arsis or (rarely) after the third thesis. Short syllables may be lengthened by the ictus or metrical accent, and hiatus is allowed everywhere, being most common in the caesura. Examples are the following:
Eorúm sectám sequóntur || múlti mórtáles

Cornéliús Lucíus || Scípió Barbátus

Quoius fórma vírtutei || parísumá fúit.

Scholars differ greatly in their explanation of the verse in applying the quantitative theory, some using protraction freely, others rejecting the diastolé or lengthening of short vowels. The former regard the normal number of feet in each hemistich as four, e. g.
Dabúnt malúm Metéllí || Naévió poétae—

thus assimilating this scheme to that of the numerus Italicus in general as described above.

c) Modified Accentual Theory.—This regards the number of theses in the first hemistich as three, and that in the second hemistich as two, with the accent falling at the beginning of each line. The number of syllables in the first hemistich is normally seven, in the second six, admitting, however, an extra short syllable where the ordinary pronunciation would suppress or slur it. A final short vowel is elided; otherwise partial (semi-) hiatus is allowed, and at the caesura a full hiatus. After the first two feet there is an alternation between words accented on the first and those accented on the second syllable. Examples are:
Dábunt málum Metélli | Naévio poétae

Prima incédit Céreris | Prosérpina púer.

The name “Saturnian” is applied to the verse either because much used in the early harvest songs in honour of Saturn or from the general meaning of “ancient” attached to the adjective Saturnius. (Cf. Verg. Ecl. iv. 6; and Nettleship, Lectures and Essays, i. pp. 55-57). Bentley regarded the verse as Greek in its origin, but the general opinion now held makes it indigenous to Italy; Hermann viewing it as Etruscan rather than Italian, but with no good reason. It is, in fact, a measure that finds its counterpart in the early literature of other Indo-European peoples, in the Spanish epic of the Cid, and in the Nibelungenlied; while every one is familiar with Macaulay's identification of it with the nursery line—
The queen was in her parlour || eating bread and honey.

The Saturnian verse was used by the poet Naevius in writing his epic on the Punic War (Bellum Punicum), and by Livius Andronicus in his Latin version of the Odyssey. See Livius; Naevius.

Reference may be made to the following works: Hermann, Doctrina Metr. iii. 9; Bernhardy, Röm. Lit. pp. 70 foll.; Klotz, Altrömische Metrik (1890); Lindsay, The Latin Language, pp. 128 (note), 132, 159 (1894); id. in the American Journal of Philology, vol. xiv.; Teuffel in Jahn's Jahrbücher, lxvii. pp. 281 foll.; Westphal, Allgemeine Metrik, pp. 251-256 (1865); Spengel in Philologus, xxiii. pp. 81-113; Bücheler in Jahn's Jahrbücher, lxxvii. p. 61; Streuber, De Inscriptionibus Quae ad Numerum Saturnium Referuntur (Zürich, 1845); Ritschl, Saturniae Poeseos Reliquiae (Bonn, 1854); Allen, Early Latin, pp. 12, 13 (1880); and Gildersleeve and Lodge, Lat. Grammar, pp. 462, 463 (1894). Weise in a treatise published at Quedlinburg (1839) tries to show traces of the Saturnian in Plautus. For the identity between the Saturnian and the Old German epic line, see the monograph by Bartsch (Leipzig, 1867).

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