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Re: Results of the Double-Dactyl Competition

by Douglass Parker

Texas Classics in Action, Summer 1996

R. I. P.
Parker the poke-along,
Gathering wool on the
     Freeways of time,
Stepped off the median
Destiny's Dart couldn't
     Stop on a dime. (1)

...But I digress...

(I thought I'd get that said at the beginning. It's a condiment of sorts, to be added to the text below at the occurrence of an asterisk:*. Save space, and all that. God knows it'll be needed. [Jaded logophiles among you may insert it as taste dictates.]*.)

Remember Double-Dactyls?

In case you've forgotten, too long ago the First Annual Classical Double-Dactyl Debacle was announced. Submissions by 3 November 1995. And--oh, the shame of it!--Winners to be announced in the next issue of TCA, ca. January 1996.

I wrote that, yes, I did. Fully (if shabbily) dressed and in my right mind. And here we are, ca. June 1996, and I'm just to the announcing. Those of you who, even as I, improvise Life, will be surprised at this not at all...or at least no more than you are at anything: Life, for the improvisor, is one ceaseless succession of surprises, of numberless shapes and sizes.

It may be due to an inadequate sense of causality. When you wing to pan, relations between events tend to muzzy up somehow. The universe is made new each morning. I sow the wind, and then am genuinely astounded when whirlwinds roar up, demanding to be reaped. A good sower, I, but a maladroit reapist...


However, enough of this. Just do it, man. Time by the forelock, pas de shilly-dally, and a pox on languor. Let us be up and doing with a...

But soft you, a word before I start:

In setting up this competition, I committed a large injustice. In a rush, unable to lay my hands on my treasured copy of Anthony Hecht & John Hollander's Jiggery-Pokery (Atheneum 1966)--the seminal, in fact the editio-principal (*) text for Double-Dactyls--I distorted the beginnings of the form, totally neglecting the large share--say, half--in its origins played by a classicist: Paul Pascal, eminent Homerist, now Professor Emeritus of Classics in the University of Washington. Hecht's account (Jiggery-Pokery, pp. 14-22) makes it abundantly clear that:

Double-Dactyls were created by Anthony Hecht and Paul Pascal, then both Fellows of the American Academy in Rome, and Pascall's wife Naomi Pascal , in Rome on the far-off afternoon of 3 November 1951.

Rarely can a creative instant be so well fixed in space and time. And rarely can an account of such an instant have been so badly blorrowed--the only word for it, really--as I have done. Sincere apologies to Professor Pascal, to whom all appropriate glory, laud, and honor.

*. (I guess that qualifies as a digression. But it was vital...Oh, damn: *.)

Anyway. The Admirable Ginny netted, or webbed, the call for the competition, and by the due date--last November 3, by utter and happy coincidence the 44th anniversary of the creation *--D/Ds had appeared, if hardly in a flood, still from all over. And I mean all over: Submissions from Texas, North Carolina, Virginia. From Austria and Australia, yet. All of them illustrating the peculiar affinity which the form has for the Classics. Or the Classics have for the form. If the pickings were less than profuse, they were--as Tracy said of Hepburn--cherce.

I herewith, in running up to The Champ, present a topical anthology. In the interests of, well, neatness, I standardize the D/D's typography.

Start with C. Iulius Caesar, who occupied several. Kristine G. Wallace (Rice University, Houston) went for literary criticism--and, on the way, bore away the bell for Most Thoroughly Postponed Preposition:

Self Service
Gaius, slick stylist, he
Gallico Bello et
     Civili de
Wrote commentarii,
Propagandistic, still:
     Caesar, not me.

But the Bald One's fascination was more often his sexual, shall we say, adaptability. Gerard Hayes (State Library of Victoria, Australia) gave a touching vignette of the Imperator on bivouac:

Caesar's Camp
Caesar, bisexual,
Busily trimming the
     Wick of his lamp,
Sorts his collection of
Safe and secure in his
     Milit'ry camp.

Eva Jaksch (Austria), treated His Bi-ness as rather more outgoing, illuminating a niche of history in the bargain:

Gay Caius Julius.
Tribune sojourning a
     Long way from home,
Seeking distraction in
Earned with his service a
     Province for Rome.

These mildly scabrous entries raise, naturally enough, the question of the D/D's undoubted tendency to Lubricity: In a meta-Double-Dactyl (or Double-meta-Dactyl, as you prefer), Diane Arnson Svarlien (Georgetown College, Kentucky) opined that it might be gender-related:

"Is the Double Dactyl
an Essentially Male Genre?"
D. Arnson SVAR-li-en
Finds that this genre just
     Isn't her thing;
Is it because of its
Most of hers seem to be
     Lacking their sting?

No, I would reply; Never. Witness Ms. Jaksch above. Or the more-than-subtext of Kristine Wallace, here on the somewhat parasitical plaudits of Velleius:

Blow Job
Loyal Paterculus
Raised high Tiberius
     Conqu'ring each foe,
But he was not just a
Fawned on Sejanus with
     Flattery low.

I must admit that mere citation doesn't solve anything. My opinion on the subject--that Roman D/Ds, possibly out of subconscious fealty to that mucky master minimalist Martial, are more likely to be blue than Greek D/Ds, remains mere conjecture, unable to be proved or disproved by, say, the foray into Greek Philosophy of Chris Brunelle (UNC Chapel Hill):

Physician, Heel Thyself
Cynic Diogenes,
Barrel-fermented on
     Prandial Grog,
Pisses, and ponders: "Will
Headaches respond to the
     Hair of the dog?"

Seamy, perhaps but hardly obscene. In fact, Brunelle's poem renders the whole question moot. (2) Let me simply say that any generalizations on D/D-dirtiness requires the survey of a large sample, which can only be done upon the eagerly-awaited compilation of a Huge Authoritative Compendium, a Corpus Absolutum Poematum Duplo-Dactylicorum, as it were. By and large, the submissions were squeaky-clean. (3) That said, on we charge.

And turn to Greek Mythology. The Iliad, begun by Diane Svarlien:

Peleus' progeny
Filled up with Rage at his
     Army and king;
Now of his canine- and
     Please, goddess, sing.

The same ended, courtesy Andrew Hackard (MacArthur HS, San Antonio):

Graciously, Greciously
Thetis's Peliad
Got Hector's Trojan face
     Caught on a wheel;
Later he quietly
Suffered a fate most be-
     Fitting a heel. (4)

Hackard also encapsulates the Little Iliad--and Vergil, of course:

Xyloid equestrian
Sheltering Danaans
     In Ilion;
Later they looted Troy
Pseudoxologically (5)
Proving the truth of poor

The Odyssey, Book of the Dead, glossed by Roger Lee Robison (MacArthur HS, San Antonio):

Rock 'N' Roll
Stone-Pusher Sisyphus
Twice cheated Death, but then
     Learned who was boss:
Sentenced to Hades for
Rolled a stone uphill, just
     Gathering dross.

The same ended, by Diane Svarlien:

Wily Odysseus
Versatile traveller
     Tricker of Troy
After two decades of
Finally came home to his
     Wife and his boy.

The premise of the Argonautica challenged by Jim Baron (William & Mary, Virginia):

The Options at Iolcos
Jason the Argonaut,
Granting that royalty
     Shouldn't be crass,
'Stead of behaving so
Should have told Pelias,
     "Colchis, my ass!"

We are at length arrived at the distribution of prizes. I find it hard to impress upon you the weightiness of this task. Let me start on the periphery and work to the center. The scrolls, please:

Best 6-Syllabled Neologism: Diane Svarlien, for aviannutritive.

Most Surprising 6-Syllabled Neologism: Jim Baron, for utomordentligast. (6)

Most Ungusseted Variation on "Higgledy-Piggledy": Jim Baron, for Sheepidy-Dippidy.

Best Double-Dactyl in Latin: Andrew Hackard, for his untitled D/D on Caesar. (7)

Greatest Range of Subjects: Andrew Hackard: Antiquity from Homer to Pythagoras to Petronius.

Best Collection of Double-Dactyls: Kristine Wallace, for her sequence on Roman Historiography, from which one more sample:

Scholarly Tumidity
Snoop Suetonius,
Delved in the archives for
     Scandal most high,
Twelve Caesars' sexual
Hardly affected this
     Tranquillized guy.

Most Downright Unpleasant Double-Dactyl: Roger Lee Robison:

Enteric Water-loo
Vibrio cholerae,
Spread by excreta in
     Water supplies,
Roils the intestines with
Practice good hygiene, or
     Cork it, you guys. (8)

Proxime Accessit for BEST Double-Dactyl: Diane Svarlien for her untitled Ovidian piece that might be called:

Fun Couple
Baucis and Philemon (9)
Treated their visitors
     Just like they should;
Now in return for their
Jupiter's done all he
     Could, and they're wood.

BEST Double-Dactyl: TIE: Gerard Hayes for Caesar's Camp, and Eva Jaksch for Inheritance, both printed above.

Congratulations all around. Some attempt will be made to make an anthology of all entries and publish them, at least on the net. Winners will shortly be informed of The Considerable Prizes, which are now under debate with The Admirable Ginny--The Admirable Ginny, whose personal D/D plaint from late last Fall, on a tsurris not narrowly Classical but certainly Classic, may well end this main section, reminding us of the universal Fecundity of Art, not to forget the Art of Fecundity:

Ninth Month
Tobin the Parasite,
     Moving about,
Tumbling and cartwheeling
Why can't you just seem to
     Find the way out?

Tobin did, and is doing quite well, thank you. As may you all. Selah.

Did you notice the dwindling of the *s? Discipline, that's all one needs. But one last *: Too late for the competition, there arrived a truly amazing contribution from Bruce A. McMenomy (Bellevue, WA), a collection of 12 D/Ds that both make interesting innovations with the form and summarize the Aeneid. This performance--rather like doing Paradise Lost in limericks--deserves presentation in toto, and I hope that I can wrench sufficient space from TAG for Next Time. I myself, of course, will be doing Important Other Work at this location, on English Hendecasyllabics...or perhaps Deponents That Take The Ablative.

Saving The World is a strain, I can tell you.



(1) Not good, but I was in a hurry. The usual excuse. Return to Main Text

(2) It will also demonstrate the dangers of sloppy reading: Mindful of the Cynics' non-standard sexual proclivities, I somehow misread Antejentacular as Ante-ejacular, thus ruining one of the great hexasyllables and turning a discussion of a pre-breakfast nip into a weird program for something interruptum. (*, even for a footnote.) Return to Main Text

(3) And it's doubtless all my fault...Zeus knows I tried, by precept and example, to elicit a proper outpouring of poetic filth. But look at the submissions: X-rated? even next-to-X? Nada. And people talk about these days of decadence. I know they're just trying to cheer me up. But they might have some regard for Truth. Return to Main Text

(4) Hackard's poem raises two Questions of Form. First, the syllabification of English adverbs ending in -ally: In my opinion--not ex cathedra; I'm just sitting here resting for a bit--the -al may be elided, as it almost always is in normal pronunciation. And this should be done automatically as a matter of course, completely sans any use of apostrophes to indicate dropped syllables; as in Antiheroic'lly, the result looks barbarous, and I hereinafter avoid it above. Second, the matter of Enjambment-of the Word--the breaking of a word at the line-end (or the stretching of a word over the line-end), as in be- / fitting: Yes, it should be allowed. It usually, though not always, occurs at the breaks at lines 3/4 and 7/8, but its neatest application seems to come at 5/6 or 6/7, bootlegging in the rare heptasyllable or even beyond. If Classical warrant is needed, see Sappho's Sapphics...or Horace, Car. I.25.11. Return to Main Text

(5) Another point of form raised by the indefatigable Hackard. What is allowable in the treatment of hexasyllables--can they be cut to fit? Is it allowable to dock the first -do- from the 7-syllabled pseudodoxologically simply (gasp!) to achieve scansion? Before such opportunisitic haplography, I recoil in horror. Some things are just too sacred. Return to Main Text

(6) "Swedish word, literally 'most extraordinary' cf. 'Outta sight!'" Return to Main Text

(7) This was also the only Latin D/D submitted. The award is presented in spite of the piece's rather imperious treatment of quantity and hence accent. When it shall have arrived at sanitas, it will surely appear in a future issue of TCA. Its lustre is considerable; I mean, the hexasyllable VERcingeTOrigem carries all before it. Return to Main Text

(8) Scarcely Classical, one may say. But there are those among us who, as part of our daily living, teach such beasts as Word Power and Medical Terminology. I could have picked another of Robison's "Parasites, Pathogens, and Poisons," but I didn't wish to perpetrate such terms as "stool samples" in such a cerebral journal as this. Return to Main Text

(9) As Svarlien makes quite clear, the proper accentuation of the husband in English should be PhiLEmon. But veterans of a proper Sunday School upbringing will recall that PHIlemon is hardly unknown in this country. Return to Main Text

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Last update: May 9, 2000. This site was re-created August 1998 by Ginny Lindzey, Webmistress, Texas Classical Association. All text and graphics are copyrighted. Original photo of arch by Roger Robison. To report problems and to get permission to reprint articles, please contact Ginny at