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What Is a Saturnian?

A. Leverkuhn
A. Leverkuhn

The Saturnian is an obsolete form of Latin poetry that was most used prior to the classical era. It was eventually eclipsed by classic Greek meters for poetry. As a poetic meter, Saturnian is relatively complex. It requires a specific set of heavily stressed and lightly stressed syllables in a concrete arrangement that provides a certain number of sounds and stresses.

Among historic meters for poetry, Saturnian is often called an element of Latin prosody. Experts further identify two different systems that could apply to this type of poetry. The first is called accentual verse. Accentual verse is a type of verse that relies on a specific number of accented syllables.

Woman standing behind a stack of books
Woman standing behind a stack of books

In addition to accentual verse, experts also sometimes associate Saturnian with quantitative verse. This is a type of verse that corresponds to Greek and Roman poetic forms. In quantitative verse, a line of poetry is made up of a certain number of feet or collections of syllables. Accents and stresses do not determine the length of the line.

Like other forms of quantitative verse, Saturnian had long fallen out of use by the time that modern English language poetry developed. Since English is a language that some describe as highly accentual, other modern forms are much more commonly used. These include iambic pentameter, which has dominated some forms of English language poetry and drama from Elizabethan times through the present.

As the actual origins of this type of classic or pre-classic poetry are fairly obscure, some experts have theorized about much earlier uses of the form that go back to prior Indo-European or Proto-Indo-European roots. For example, some see a Celtic influence in the Roman version of Saturnian. Others point out that the classical symbols used to construct the meter are not dissimilar from some signs and symbols used commonly in astrology, a practice widely popular in pre-classic times.

Some experts would point out further that the name Saturnian could theoretically be used to link to this type of poetic meter or structure with a certain numerical or planetary numerology. Many pre-Roman traditions had been developed around Saturn and its role within the planetary system. A further study of the origins of Saturnian might turn up associations with other elements of early civilizations, and more technical approaches to language based on these associations.

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