In July 1845, British curiosity-seekers headed to London’s Egyptian Hall to try out the novelty of the summer. For the price of one shilling, they could stand in front of a wooden bureau, pull a lever, and look behind a panel where six drums, bristling with metal spokes, revolved. At the end of its “grinding,” what it produced was not a numeric computation or a row of fruit symbols, but something quite different: a polished line of Latin poetry.
This strange gadget, a Victorian ancestor of the computer, was called the Eureka.
The Eureka was the brainchild, and obsession, of a man in southwest England named John Clark. The eccentric Clark was a cousin of Cyrus and James Clark, founders of the Clarks shoes empire (which went on to popularize the Desert Bootin the 1950s and is still going strong). Clark built the Eureka at a time when such devices were all the rage. As literature scholar Jason David Hall explains in an academic article on the Eureka, the machine joined other proto-computers like thePolyharmonicon, a machine that composed polkas, and the Euphonia, which “spoke” when a person played an attached keyboard.
But a Latin hexameter verse—that was something else. The hexameter is the meter of ancient epic, of the poets Ovid and Virgil. Each line has six metrical units called feet. A foot can be either a spondee—two long syllables—or a dactyl, a long syllable followed by two short ones. However, the fifth foot of the line is almost always a dactyl, and the sixth is usually a spondee. So there are strict rules for writing poetry in Latin hexameter that make it akin to following a mathematical formula.
Read more here: www.atlasobscura.com/articles/the-strange-victorian-computer-that-generated-latin-verse