Poetry: the use of an inflected language

The adjective is the enemy of the noun.
Voltaire attrib.

This may be true if one is writing in one of the Western European languages. When Latin was pidginised, the adjective was downgraded, as happens in a non-inflected tongue. With no inflections, the adjective must go next to its noun and become merely epithetical, attributive, or in the end inimical.

But in Latin, adjectives can frisk around the sentence, coming later as an afterthought, or earlier in order to tease or tantalise or mislead. They can predict, or pretend, coming way ahead of their noun to keep the listeners guessing—or momentarily deceive them. Above all, adjectives predicate rather than attacking or diminishing.

Tityre, tu patulae recubans sub tegmine fagi
        silvestrem tenui musam meditaris avena…

Would anyone say that patulae is the enemy of fagi, creating as it does an atmosphere of feminine spreadingness, hinting at a tree, then, when the tree is named, embowering Tityrus in a greenery of performative word order? Would we rather be without silvestrem and tenui? Does Mark Twain’s injunction, ‘When you catch an adjective, kill it’ apply to this?

It is something not translatable into English; and students need to know that this anticipation of the noun is not an inconvenient quirk, or an accident caused by the need to write in a certain metre: it is the essence of Latin poetry, revelled in and exploited by Virgil and Horace, and at a more cursory level by Ovid.

Hexameters:
       ecce autem complexa pedes in limine coniunx
haerebat, parvumque patri tendebat Iulum…

stupet inscius alto
       accipiens sonitum saxi de vertice pastor.

Fourth Asclepiad:
        quis multa gracilis te puer in rosa
        perfusus liquidis urget odoribus
            grato, Pyrrha, sub antro?
cui flavam religas comam…?

Sapphic:
       si tener pleno cadit haedus anno,
       larga nec desunt Veneris sodali
       vina craterae, vetus ara multo
             fumat odore…

Sapphic—with performative word order:
mitte sectari rosa quo locorum
             sera moretur.

Next post: Golden lines, and others.

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