I offer this work to the public with a certain amount of trepidation. The Gospels are part of a set of holy books, inspired by God Himself, and to do anything at all with such a text involves a certain amount of risk-taking. To turn a text into verse involves, inevitably, changing the text, so as to fit in with the meter chosen and the rhyme system adopted. I have tried to keep as close as possible to the text, looking at the modern as well as the King James versions, and in some cases taking the Italian translation (one modern, one “old”) as basis. I have not consulted the original Greek, as my school Greek (which was anyhow classical and not New Testament Greek) has mostly evaporated from my brain with the long passage of time. At times I have added things that I thought the actors in the dramas described might have said or done, always trying to stay consistent with the text from which I was working. Such “additions” I have been obliged to make, in order to keep to the rules of prosody that I had adopted.
Since the meters I have used are from classical times, I thought it would be useful to give a brief description of them, followed by suggestions as to how the suggested text should be read aloud so as to have maximum effect.
I shall start with some definitions:
(1) A foot, or metrical foot, describes the unit or units out of which the metrical structure is put together. The use of the word foot to describe a sequence of syllables comes from classical times when poetry, music and dance were considered to be practically one and the same discipline!
(2) Spondee. This is a foot consisting of two long or two stressed syllables
(3) Trochee. This is a foot consisting of one long and one short, or of one stressed and one unstressed syllables.
(4) Dactyl. This consists of one long and two short, or of one stressed and two unstressed syllables.
(5) Anapest. This consists of two short and one long or of two unstressed and one stressed syllables. This is the reversal of a dactyl.
(6) Elongated anapest. This consists of two short and two long or of two unstressed and two stressed syllables. I have only found examples of this foot in Hungarian poetry.
(7) Tetrameter. This is a line consisting of four feet. These will always be anapests in what follows, sometimes the normal anapests, sometimes the elongated ones. In some cases I have mixed the two kinds!
(8) Hexameter. This is a line consisting of six feet. The first four can be dactyls or spondees, the fifth one must be a dactyl, the sixth one can be either a spondee or a trochee. In my hexameters I have tried to keep the first five feet always as dactyls, thus making the text flow better.
Here are some examples of tetrameters from the text. Here is one with four elongated anapests, unstressed being denoted by the symbol “v” and stressed by the symbol “è” :
/ v v è è / v v è è / v v è è / v v è è /
But they knew no rules for building, so the towers started tilting
Here is a tetrameter with four normal anapests:
/ v v è / v v è / v v è / v v è /
Then at twelve of the clock the whole sky went all dark
Here is an example of a hexameter with five dactyls and a trochee:
è v v è v v è v v è v v è v v è v
Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem went for to follow these orders
It is of course easy to exaggerate the scanning of the metric. This would make the reading artificial rather than flowing. A good compromise can be found between reading the text as prose, or putting a little scanning into the reading, but without spoiling the meaningful unfolding of what the text is trying to convey.
It is quite possible that stories of a heroic nature, as were told in classical times, were still current at the time Jesus was alive. These stories would be told in classical meters, possibly as they were easier to remember when told in this way. So quite possibly Jesus, maybe as a child, might have heard stories told to him by the adults who cared for Him, in the very meters I have used for conveying the messages contained in the Gospel of Luke. So it might not be such an “outlandish” thing to do, to put a Gospel in such classical verse form!
Zoltan P. Dienes
Wolfville, NS Canada
© 2002 by Zoltan P. Dienes. All Rights Reserved