“I was wondering how to combine my two interests: Classical studies and computer science. I realised that digital resources and methods have not yet been widely used in the study of metre in Greek poetry.”
This is how doctoral student Erik Henriksson got started with his dissertation project. Henriksson has worked at the National Library of Finland as an information systems specialist and has a Master’s degree in Greek language and literature. In 2015, he received one of the four Digital Humanities doctoral education grants offered by the Faculty of Arts.
Working on a new tool
Poetic metre means the structure of words and syllables in a poem’s verses.
“There is a great deal of research on metre in Greek poetry, but every researcher starts by compiling a new dataset. Publications show the statistics and conclusions, but the underlying data are unavailable," explains Henriksson.
“I want to create a tool that researchers could use to store and freely publish their metric data. One of the features is a metre-recognising algorithm. It would be very important to link it to an existing database. My project is open-source, so anyone can work on it."
Almost all Greek literature from the Classical period exists in digital formats. For example, the University of Helsinki holds a licence for a database with 99% of all Classical Greek literature. However, data mining is not allowed in this database.
“Luckily there are tools which make it fairly easy to digitise Greek text, so I have been able to do it myself. There are also open databases of papyrus texts and Greek inscriptions as well as published literature,” Henriksson states.
Erik Henriksson’s tool is nearly complete and can already be used to collect data.
“My research material currently consists of approximately 1,500 metric annotations collected ‘semi-automatically'."
As he accrues more material, the doctoral student will also be able to address his research problems fully.
“My research focuses on the shifts that occurred in Classical Greek metre. My material lets me study how the shifts in Greek phonetics during the Hellenistic and Roman periods influenced poetic metre.”