contributor.author: Stephen D'Evelyn

title.none: Norberg, Medieval Latin Versification (Stephen D'Evelyn)

identifier.other: baj9928.0411.009 04.11.09

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Stephen D'Evelyn, Brown University, Stephen_DEvelyn@brown.edu

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2004

identifier.citation: Norberg, Dag. Ziolkowski, Jan, ed., Roti, Grant C., and Jacqueline de la Chapelle Skubly, transs. An Introduction to the Study of Medieval Latin Versification. Washington D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2004. Pp. xxiv, 217. ISBN: $30.00 0-8132-1336-3.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 04.11.09

Norberg, Dag. Ziolkowski, Jan, ed., Roti, Grant C., and Jacqueline de la Chapelle Skubly, transs. An Introduction to the Study of Medieval Latin Versification. Washington D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2004. Pp. xxiv, 217. ISBN: $30.00 0-8132-1336-3.

Reviewed by:

Stephen D'Evelyn
Brown University
Stephen_DEvelyn@brown.edu

Many scholars and students may have used and encountered the research of Dag Norberg without knowing it. His ingeniously flexible and strong system for analyzing and diagramming the meter of Medieval Latin poetry has become the industry standard, used in such essential editions as Benedikt Vollmann's Carmina Burana or Jan Ziolkowski's Cambridge Songs. Yet Dag Norberg's book contains many other observations and discussions as well, all of which add up to an invaluable contribution to the knowledge of poetry, musicology, and medieval culture.

Dag Norberg was one of the great scholars of European culture of the last century. From 1928-1948 he studied then taught at the University of Upsula, and from 1948-1974 he served as Professor at the University of Stockholm. His many publications ranged from two works on Gregory the Great's Registrum to studies of the syntax of Late and Medieval Latin and of Medieval Latin poetry. Through meticulous and wide-ranging reading, Norberg was able to rescue many later and Medieval Latin texts from presuppositions and prejudices of Classicists. He also prepared critical editions of Gregory the Great's Registrum and of Paulinus of Nola's works. And Norberg's study, Introduction a l'etude de La versification Latine Medievale has been the most thorough and authoritative resource for the study of metrics in Medieval Latin poetry since it was published in 1958. There has been no real alternative to Norberg's study of Medieval Latin meter, either. So the appearance in 2004 of An Introduction to the Study of Medieval Latin Versification, an English translation by Grant C. Roti and Jacqueline de la Chapelle Skubly, edited with an introduction by Jan Ziolkowski, is doubly exciting.

This translation brings into English a work of immense learning. It will make the artistry of Medieval Latin meter accessible to a much wider audience, not only in the obvious way that a work rendered in English for the first time does, but also in its particular virtues of precision, nuance, and fluency. Very occasionally the translators use the definite article where it might not be expected in English, e.g. "the classical quantitative verse" (183). On balance, however, this does not read like a translation at all and Norberg's original thought is clear and rings true.

The book is arranged in nine chapters. They begin with discussions of the workings of Medieval Latin meter, with the first three chapters being devoted to "Prosody and Accentuation" (1-22), "Synaeresis, Diacresis, Syncope, Prosthesis, Elision, and Hiatus" (23-30), and "Assonance, Rhyme, and Alliteration" (31-47). Next come two chapters that generally can be viewed as discussing larger literary designs and patterns, "Acrostics, Carmina Figurata, and Other Poetic Devices" (48-57), and "Metrical Versification" (58-80). Finally come discussions of meter and poetry and music, "The Beginnings of Rhythmic Versification: Rhythmic Versification and Metrical Poetry" (81-129), "Rhythmic versification and Music" (130-155), and "Sequences, Tropes, Motets, Rondeaux" (156-179). Here Norberg approaches the delicate questions of words and music with characteristic insight. Finally comes a Conclusion (180-186). The translators have added a Glossary of Terms (187-90) not found in Norberg's original. They also have supplied translations for the quotations that appeared only in French, German, Greek, as well as for many Latin passages. What is more, as Jan Ziolkowski aptly puts it, Norberg's style can be described as "conversing rather than lecturing" (xiii). The result is an invitingly friendly volume.

This book was a companion to Norberg's study La Poesie Latine rythmique du Haut Moyen Age (1954). Ziolkowski observes in the introduction that the book "offers balanced attention to both the enduring influence of the Classics as purveyed through the schools and the impact of vernacular languages and cultures." (xiii). In this way, it is a very full introduction to the poetry of the Latin Middle Ages. Norberg's book, however, goes beyond introduction. For example, in the sections dedicated to particular musical forms, he explores the more advanced problems of the relation of text and music.

The scheme for describing Medieval Latin stress meter for which Norberg first became known to me, is succinctly and clearly explained in the "Forward to the French Edition." In discussing the stresses on particular words and groups of words, Norberg indicates primary and secondary stresses, which give his discussions a higher degree of sensitivity than the common scheme for quantitative meter does in which syllables are merely either long or short does. In describing lines of poetry, Norberg gives the number of syllables for a line and symbolizes the end of the line with the abbreviation 'p' for a final cadence before a caesura or the end of a line which is 'paroxytone' (the word has an accent on the penultimate syllable) and the abbreviation 'pp' for a final cadence that is 'proparoxytone' (the word has an accent on the antepenultimate syllable).

In the body of the book, Norberg draws upon an amazingly wide range of reading in discussing the versecraft of the Latin Middle Ages. His general approach is to observe and allow for the great variety of verse forms and of accentual patterns found in the Middle Ages. In the first chapter, he discusses this sort of variety as it occurs on the atomic level, as it were, of single words themselves. Norberg shows how some of the ways words were accented in Medieval Latin poetry were due to how Latin was spoken at the end of Antiquity, and how various unusual accentings of words in Classical Latin rippled through the greater geographical and temporal expanse of the Latin Middle Ages.

The author goes on to explore how vowels contract in the meters of Medieval Latin. From these observations on the sounds of syllables, flows the discussion of the systematic uses of assonance and, of rhyme which followed historically. Rhyme is one of the substantial Medieval innovations in the Latin literary tradition.

Norberg gives a painstakingly thorough account of quantitative meters in the Middle Ages, and this sets the stage for the greatest single contribution of the book, a discussion of Medieval Latin stress meter. The transition in the book's chapters echoes the historical change that Norberg outlines, in which the accent of spoken Latin had started to feature stressed syllables so that by St Augustine's day one could no longer tell the difference between long and short spoken syllables. Seen in this light, quantitative meters in the Middle Ages were archaizing and stress meters were not solely the product of a loss of knowledge. This perspective is true to Norberg's insistence on historical fairness, and his survey of stress meters is so thorough and wide that the reader is further convinced of the legitimacy and the excellence of many who wrote in this stressed style of their day.

Historical fairness also informs the study of music and meter. The earliest stressed poem in Latin, St. Augustine's long poem Psalmus contra partem Donati, seems to owe its meter to songs used by Donatist bishops to promote their heresy in Augustine's native North Africa. Norberg points out that none of these psalms has survived, and so we must be content with the possibility.

In the chapter on "Sequences, Tropes, Motets, Rondeaux," Norberg explores first the poetry-in-prose written during the Middle Ages on the model of the Psalms and canticles in the Bible. The three forms given special attention in this chapter all bear relation to this sort of poetry-in-prose. Norberg gives the most common account of the origin of the sequence form, as described by Notker Balbalus in the 9th century. Notker relates that he composed words to help him remember the complex melody of the final syllable of the word "alleluia" sung after the Gradual at Mass. From the beginning of the Middle Ages, the 'alleluia' was sung by both choir and a soloist in a call-and-response pattern that has been shown to have had widespread use in Germanic and Celtic cultures as well as in the Latin tradition. The soloist would sing 'alleluia' which was echoed by the choir but with the addition of a long flourish on the final syllable 'a'. The soloist would then sing a verse normally taken from the Psalms. Finally the choir responded with 'alleluia' adorned with its flourish. Notker tells us that his teacher instructed him to match each word with a note, and in this regard Norberg observes sequences are related to the poetry-in-prose that precede them in his discussion. Here we have come far from accentual and quantitative meters, and it is characteristic of Norberg's even-handedness that he treats these newer verse-forms with equal care and sensitivity, for example rescuing the text of a sequence written at Notker's monastery of St. Gall in the tenth century, from an earlier editor who had failed to reckon with the melodic structure and had therefore laid out the words in a way that obscured the pattern of end-rhyme which at the time of the sequence's composition was starting to be a feature of verse written at St. Gall. This is a good example of how historical reality confirms Norberg's interpretations of poetry. Characteristic too is how the author manages to survey the varieties of sequence composition with an eye to their syllabic, metrical, and melodic balance, and at the same time highlights extraordinary examples, sometimes saving them from mistreatment by previous editors, so that the reader is given both a solid overview of the genre and its history and a feeling for the particular achievements of Medieval poets and composers.

These strengths are also to be seen in the chapter's other three sections on tropes, motets, and rondeaux. There is no clear definition given for a trope, other than to say that it is a piece inserted in the normal liturgy, but the reader sees in Norberg's examples a variety of lyrical texts that resemble sequences insofar as some seem to have originated with the ornamentation of the final vowel of some frequently-used liturgical text, (although others are independent and self-contained and are inserted before major liturgical texts), and they exhibit a wide variety and flexibility of form. Some tropes were even sung simultaneously with major liturgical texts. Here again we find Norberg's ear for the extraordinary.

Rounding out this chapter is a study of motets and rondeaux. Motets share with some tropes the defining feature of two or even more sets of words sung simultaneously. Composing such sets of words presented the challenge of consistently matching patterns of syllable stress and taking advantage of assonances while trying to avoid dissonance. Dance-songs or rondeaux which were most often sung by soloists and groups alternating verses, have a similar sort of complexity insofar as they involve several parts. Norberg asserts that Latin dance songs depended upon poetry in the vulgar languages. It would have required an updating of Norberg's book, which otherwise seems largely unnecessary, despite achievements in specific areas mentioned by Jan Ziolkowski in the Introduction, to take into account scholarship written after Norberg's book appeared, which has shown greater interdependence between the languages and lyrics of the Church and the fair-ground than had been assumed. These later findings of greater interdependence of traditions in fact confirms Norberg's general point of allowing for the great variety of verse forms and performance circumstances.

In the section on dance songs, Norberg does not discuss the meters of rondeaux, whose accentual structure can make these songs sound monotonous to an ear expecting classical quantitative meter, especially when they are read out loud without their melodies. This does not detract, however, from the larger point of the broad similarities both in composition and in performance among sequences, motets, and rondeaux, all of which have forms of alternating between soloist and group and show a taste both for poetic balance and for the interplay among different melodic phrases and different texts.

Finally in his Conclusion, Norberg discusses how in the eleventh-century Medieval Latin literature saw some of its most brilliant poetry, and at the same time the imitation of classical lyric meters fell away. Poets in the Middle Ages had manages to create new forms that were just as compelling as the ancient ones. Da Norberg's study is not just an introduction, but also a history of versification in the Latin Middle Ages, and without making progress seem inevitable, he shows how there really is a history to be told in which artistic innovation flourished and poets were able to draw on diverse traditions in language that was often strong and flexible, and poetic. Norberg summarizes his discoveries, including the thesis that medieval poets read ancient quantitative verse respecting the ordinary accents as if the verse were prose and observing the lengths of lines, and then imitated the rhythmic pattern obtained in this way, without caring about the quantity. Poets sometimes also just counted the number of stresses in the lines of a lyric that was originally composed according to quantitative meter, and imitated this pattern, thus allowing for the addition of syllables to fit a melody.

Just as this process of transforming the ancient tradition was driven by the importance of singing, Norberg shows how the composition of new lyrical forms in the Latin Middle Ages was often guided by singing Lyric poetry started to assume shapes and to have qualities and attributes--the widespread use of rhyme or of multiple voices and viewpoints--that it would carry on into the Renaissance and beyond. Norberg's book is an introduction not just to Medieval Latin versification, but to the dignity and ingenuity of literary artists in the Latin Middle Ages, and this new translation will introduce a wide range of readers to a new view of a period that in poetry as in other areas was not in the middle as much as on the leading edge.