Thursday, August 22, 2019


       Parthenope--All together now: “Accentuate the Antepenultimate”

       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.” Now that the Library of America HERMAN MELVILLE COMPLETE POEMS is out, more people than ever will be seeing the title for the first time. Everyone always accented the syllable before the next to last syllable.

       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):

                                         “Be true,

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” this way:

“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.   I am told there is no plan to make a correction in a forthcoming issue, so I am trying to get the news out. Don't say PAR-thin-OH-pee, please.   

       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:

[Walker says in classic Greek and Roman APE and OPE endings are accented on the “Antepenultimate” syllable, and he gives Calliope, Penelope, and Parthenope among the examples.]

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. In case my image does not come through, here:

Parthenope horrida! Periscopic woe!

Succotash of social slime immense,

Dumming the argent plenilune . . . .

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.”

1792 16 Jamuary General Advertiser

Seek not the muses here! The affrighted maids

Have fled Parthenope’s polluted shades . . . .

1797 October 4 Elizabethtown NJ Journal “The New-Fallen Lamb”

A new-fallen Lamb, as Parthenope past,

       In pity she turn’d to behold,

How it shivering shrunk from the cold wint’ry blast,

       Then fell all benumb’d with the cold.

1828 Sept 6 Boston Statesman quotes from Samuel Rogers’s Italy (which HM knew) {see next item}

1828 Sept 9-Portland ME Eastern Argus quotes from Samuel Rogers’s Italy

           and on the western shore

Sleeps in a silent grove, o’erlooking three,

Beloved Parthenope [Beloved 2 syllables]

1832 March 23 Southey’s poem reprinted in the Portland ME Eastern Argus (another occurrence of word besides the one already quoted):

A Stranger, from his far and frozen clime,

Goes forth to woo thy breath, Parthenope! . . .

1832 November 24 the Baltimore Gazette reprint from the New York Evening Post an article quoting Wordsworth’s poem on Scott’s departure for Naples.

1838 August 28 the Charleston Courier, M.P. on Admiral Caraccioli:

Palermo’s palace rang with festal strains,

While lost Parthenope wore foreign chains.

1839 August 28 written for the Charleston SC Courier

While lost Parthenope wore foreign chains/ / / /

1842 February 4 NY Emancipator, poem from Blackwood’s Mag, “Blind Old Milton by William E. Aytoun:

Do the sweet breezes from the balmy West

       Still murmur through thy groves, Parthenope,

In search of odors from the orange bowers?

1842 Sept and Oct reprints of piece quoting Wordsworth poem.

1845 Dec. 5--N Y Tribune, from the French of Millevoye--

Parthenope! thou with thy bright blue wave . . . .

1852 January 21 Newark Daily Advertiser quotes from Walter Savage Landor’s Fable:

There was a diver once, whose boast

Was that he brought up treasures lost,

However dep beneath the sea,

Of glossy haired Parthenope . . . .

1855 Punch has this in a poem: “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.”

1875 January 11 the Portland Press prints an original poem “Ancient and Modern Sirens” :

Hide, hide thy gory head, Parthenope!

And each fell lurer of the sisters three . . . .

1879 March 4 Staunton VA Spectator a poem written for the paper by Thomas Hunter Farver [?] Fanver?

Or hast thou erred, oh cold Parthenope

Has love of mortal caused thy cheek to pale . . . .

1882 July 29 Washington DC Evening Star a modern translation from ancient Greek--young Anaxeos about his dog:

Parthenope, his dog, with whom in life

It was his wont to play, Anaxeos here

Hath buried . . .

1889 May 6 The Nebraska State Journal (Lincoln) prints Herman Merivale’s A Grey Day at Naples:

The lazy waters of the lifeless sea

That murmur homage to Parthenope . . . .

1890 Bailey in “Au Revoir” 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.”

1893 May 28 Chicago Inter Ocean, Ezra H. Stafford, M. D.:

Before the Achaian hero steered

  Westward beneath 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 recommended in the June 2019 issue 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. Walker in his dictionary on -ope endings was correct: accent the antepenultimate syllable.


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