Wednesday, August 21, 2019
Can you ever make a correction? Can you kill the snake not scotch it? How to say Parthenope!
In his review of the Northwestern-Newberry Edition THE WRITINGS OF HERMAN MELVILLE in the June 2019 LEVIATHAN on p. 110 John Bryant instructed his readers on basic pronunciation:
"Parthenope (pronounced PAR-thin-OH-pee) is now the newly sanctioned title for what we have in the past referred to as Melville’s Burgundy Club Sketches.”
Yes, Parthenope is Melville’s final title for the Gentian-Grandvin material, but Parthenope is NOT to be pronounced PAR-thin-OH-pee.”
The most famous use of the word in poetry during the 19th century was surely the last line of William Wordsworth’s sonnet on Sir Walter Scott’s departure for Naples (in the hope that his health would benefit):
Ye winds of ocean, and the midland sea,
Wafting your Charge to soft Parthenope!”
My copy of Wordsworth’s poems (the same edition Melville used) is packed away in its penultimate home (to introduce a term used below), but I will retrieve it and check this quotation before sending the volume to the Berkshire Athenaeum, its ultimate home for my books and papers. Melville knew that poem and he uses “Parthenope” in a line:
“Neapolitans, ay, ’tis the soul of the shell
Intoning your Naples, Parthenope’s bell.
The rhythm in both Wordsworth and Melville demands that we say “par-THIN-oh-pee.”
It would be extraordinarily awkward if LEVIATHAN were responsible for pushing Melville lovers toward a mispronunciation of a “newly sanctioned title” of an important part of Melville’s works.
John Walker in A Critical Pronouncing Dictionary, and Expositor of the English Language (Philadelphia: E. H. Butler, 1848) has a section on Greek and Latin Proper Names, p. 51. There he specifies which words are to be pronounced with emphasis on the penultimate syllable and which are to be pronounced with the emphasis on the ante-penultimate syllable:
That linguistic phenomenon is exemplified in a good many poems in the 19th century and violated in none.
One possible exception is a fake Walt Whitman poem on Henry Ward Beecher’s 1875 trial for adultery with Elizabeth Tilton. The poem can hardly be called a parody of Whitman, it is so inept, but it was printed in a great many newspapers, apparently following its first appearance in the Brooklyn Argus.
This wretched poem appeared in papers all over the country--such as the Troy, Kansas Chief and the Sacramento, California Bee. I would not argue very strongly that the writer was pronouncing Parthenope correctly or incorrectly.
William [yes, William] Southey in his poem dated 18 November 1831, two weeks after the Barham sailed for Italy, looks forward to Scott’s return to Scotland, his health restored in Naples:
Then, gallant ship! ere long exultant bear
From soft Parthenope’s reviving air
The Bard to Caledonia’s joyful shore.--
I don’t yet have the day on which Wordsworth wrote his sonnet on the departure of Sir Walter Scott. I wonder if he or William Southey first used “soft.”
Punch has this in a poem in 1855: “Alas! for the cities of glory / That gem blue Parthenope’s bay, / Alas! for the pride of their story, / Alas! for the pomp of decay.”
A poet named Bailey in “Au Revoir” in 1890 has this: “Oft from the east, as morning’s dawn / Falls soft and calm across the sea, / I’d mark the sumbeam on the lawn. / And think of fair Parthenope.”
All the really poetic uses of Parthenope I have found clearly use the antepenultimate pronunciation. Is there a way of getting word out to readers of LEVIATHAN that what Bryant recommends is not the correct pronunciation. Granted, you can get his wrong pronunciation from the Internet, but we need to go by the practice Melville was familiar with and the emphasis he actually used. Melville said par-THIN-oh-pee, and so should we.