Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2010.03.41

Kiichiro Itsumi, Pindaric Metre: 'The Other Half'.   Oxford/New York:  Oxford University Press, 2009.  Pp. xix, 464.  ISBN 9780199229611.  $190.00.  

Reviewed by Andrew Kelly, University of Melbourne (

With this work Kiichiro Itsumi sets out to reconfigure the landscape of Pindaric metre. The 'other half' in his title are the non-dactylo-epitrite poems of the corpus that having long ago shed the designation logaoedic now usually go by the name of 'aeolic.' This, if it at least points to something real (asymmetric cola and sometimes actually aeolic ones), has been a very broad church for the range of metrical sequences it has had to cover. It has been a term more of convenience than of understanding. We may, Itsumi suspects, have been hoodwinked by the uniformity of the dactylo-epitrite (D/e) half into putting up with a single name for the rest.

He posits two 'metres', aeolic and freer dactylo-epitrite, which are combined in three 'styles.' In place of the familiar twins the corpus is to become a lopsided foursome. Alongside D/e Itsumi posits three classes:

Class I: Aeolic
(e.g. Olympian 9 strophe, Isthmian 7 epode)

Class II: Freer Dactylo-Epitrite
(e.g. Olympian 9 epode, Olympian 10)

Class III: Amalgamated Style
(e.g. Olympian 1 strophe, Nemean 7 epode)

There is no question that in these groupings Itsumi has put his finger onto threads of significant commonality.

The category of freer D/e may well be one of the book's most important contributions. His preliminary summary of its differences from standard D/e runs as follows (p. 23):

i) the basic phrase of double-short movement is not D (- u u - u u -) but d (- u u -);

ii) other less common phrases are extensively used;

iii) link anceps is not used so frequently as in D/e, especially within the verse, rather phrases tend to be juxtaposed without a link between them;

iv) verses in freer D/e tend to be shorter.

The scheme as a whole is subtle and multi-layered, inevitably: otherwise someone would have come up with it before. It rests on a vast enterprise of observations, comparisons and statistics generally presented with exemplary clarity. Whether or not it catches on as a way of naming, in presenting and justifying his scheme, and above all with his metrical portraits of each poem, Itsumi has opened a new window on Pindar. The work is an incomparable resource.

The book is divided into three parts. The introduction that constitutes Part I is not the gentle survey that the word often suggests but a full scale induction into his method: 108 pages, not including the substantial appendix attached to it. This, twenty-six pages long and printed in small type to discourage the faint-hearted, is a test case study of modern emendations in relation to metre of, in his notation, N6s6-7, that is, lines 6-7 of the strophes/antistrophes of Nemean 6.

Part II, much the largest, contains his analyses of what he calls the eighteen Majors, that is, the eighteen non-D/e poems long enough to provide sufficient responsions to reach plausibly reliable conclusions. Appendices to this Part treat those that are not, his four Minors and a series of longer fragments.

These metrical portraits run from anywhere between a few pages up to almost twenty. They come with seven features: a metrical scheme accompanied by the Greek text for the first strophe and epode; a roster showing which verses are secured by hiatus/brevis in longo; separate metrical discussions focusing in turn on the poem as a whole, then the strophe and epode, and then line by line. This zeroing in is a particularly effective piece of organisation. Preceding the line-by-line comment sits a discussion of any text-critical issues that interact with metrical considerations.

Apart from postponing the four minors until after the eighteen majors, the poems are presented in their traditional order rather than in one of Itsumi's exposition. This orients the work as one of reference rather than simply a study. Thus the introduction can be studied before turning to poems of current interest. Or indeed, if you are willing to take him on trust, the discussions of individual poems are quite comprehensible on their own without following the systematic justifications of the introduction. Or for a fuller engagement one can work on poems class by class. Follow that trail and the book becomes an invitation to re-experience Pindar.

Part III entitled Miscellanea is in effect a long run of appendices, namely six short essays on some key metrical phenomena and five lists tabulating statistics, both sets on features that have cropped up piecemeal though the course of the study.

Itsumi contrasts what he dubs static and dynamic approaches to the analysis of Pindaric metre. Static refers to an approach where the essential thing is to name: with little regard to context, fixed sequences are given labels drawn from the cavalcade of cola that come to us in the ancient metrical handbooks and the further proliferations of modern enumerators. This caricature is never realised absolutely, but Itsumi points to the polymetric analyses of Turyn where names drawn from unrelated types of metre can make them seem, to those of dynamic inclinations, like 'an assorted box of chocolates.' The risk in this style is that (and here Itsumi invokes A. M. Dale) it can lead to 'inorganic dissection.' On the other side dynamic analysis aspires, in a phrase Itsumi quotes from Martin West, 'to follow a train of thought.' Already suggested by the generative permutations of aeolic cola outside Pindar, this approach reads very much like structural criticism of classical music. It is effectively a narrative analysis and thereby generates a good narrative in itself (as in the appealing expositions of West and Dale), and it certainly gives the impression of deeper engagement than a point-and-name metrics. It can be seen at a glance in the schemas given by Snell in the Teubner editions where verses are set out in broken spacings to line up the 'choriambic nuclei', driving columns of affinity down through the centre of the stanza, with the other material dangling off either side, or in pits in the middle if the scheme applies, as it often does, to more than one column of aligned positions.

The static approach can seem mechanical and barren, but the unease about the dynamic alternative is that it is ad hoc, shedding only vague illumination over the generic background from which an individual occurrence emerges.

Itsumi presents himself as a sort of neo-static, albeit evidently a dynamic or organic one: his own analyses in Part II are anything but insensitive to context. Fundamental are his Rules for consistent analysis (p. 10) through which he seeks to set phrase division onto an objective basis: phrase division is to precede analysis, not be produced by it. (He prefers the term phrase to colon for Pindar, and verse to period.) He asserts the principles that phrase boundary should fall 'automatically and exclusively' between true (non-anceps) longs (... - | - ...) and before anceps flanked by longs (... - | x - ...). Based on these 'and other principles' he sets out eight rules for fixing phrase boundary. What those other principles are we are not told, and while it is not hard to think of justications for the first two principles above, it would have been better for the reader's ease of mind if these crucial pages had set out more explicitly how he decided to proceed as he did. But the proof in the end must of course be in the eating. In any case, the eight rules are to guard against the temptation to divide, on the spot as it were, to come up with comfortingly familiar sequences. So for instance, by the first principle above mid-verse phrases with pendant ending (...u - - | ...) become impossible: so a pherecratean (oo - u u - - ) will only be found at verse end. One overall result is that he is much more cautious than Snell at labeling sequences as the standard aeolic cola, even where a stanza belongs to his Class I Aeolic. Another is that his verses can end up longer and shorter than page decorum or practicality would invite: Alexandrian colometry, he suggests, was sometimes just chopping up for layout.

Itsumi characterises Pindaric metre at three successive levels: phrase, verse and 'stanza-form' (by which is meant the metrical pattern underlying the actual strophes/antistrophes or epodes in responsion within a particular poem). Phrases (cola) can be categorised as aeolic or as freer D/e. These then combine variously to produce verses that are either pure or composite aeolic or freer D/e. Aeolic verses are composite when they contain D/e phrases, most commonly the shorter d and e style phrases attached as suffix or prefix. Of the 235 verses, as Itsumi enumerates them, that make up the eighteen majors, 62 are pure aeolic, 72 composite aeolic and 101 freer D/e. As expressed on these two levels aeolic and freer D/e constitute the two 'metres' deployed in the non-D/e half of Pindar.

Then, up onto the final level, that of the stanza-form, where the two metres combine to form the three Classes. (Stanza-form not poem, since epode does not necessarily follow strophe/antistrophe; and occasionally a stanza-form is itself mixed.) The Classes can be thought of as styles: so they are numbered and tagged rather than simply named. Notably too, each Class has more or less certain instances and Class I comes with ambiguous cases (which might belong to III). With the two 'metres' feeding into the three Classes the assignment of stanza-forms to Classes is not always a straightforward affair. Itsumi sets up a roster of twenty-one factors, helpfully tabulated on a chart on p. 107, that are used to shepherd a stanza-form into the most appropriate Class. For instance, 'aeolic base of two longs' is a feature of Class I, 'longer verses' occur in Classes I and III, and 'reversed dodrans with a tribrach opening' occurs in Classes II and III. One notable factor of statistical subtlety is 'RSS,' the ratio of short to long syllables expressed as a percentage, lowest in Class I, highest in Class III. Of the twenty-one factors about half point only to one Class (and overridingly these refer to the uncontroversial Class I Aeolic) while the rest are common to two Classes (and likewise overridingly these commonalities are shared between Classes II and III.) As Classes I and II share no features in common, the question is always between membership in either I or III or II or III.

Even if it is an accurate account of the state of affairs there is something a little disconcerting about the recycling of names up through the three levels. There are aeolic verses that contain D/e phrases and stanzas of the freer D/e class that can contain aeolic verses. Presenting this system in a classroom might not be a happy chore. It's a pity we couldn't have ended up with kiichironics and itsumians.

Many readers will be comparing Itsumi's treatments in the first instance with the schemas set out by Snell in the Teubner editions. The divergence in the case of stanzas belonging to Itsumi's Class I aeolic tends naturally to be more modest as these have always been relatively unproblematic. But especially in terms of labelling it can seem as if hardly a line is unchanged. Some of the changes are of course more significant than others. Here is a sample of the difference that meets the eye:

Isthmian 7 strophe line 2

Snell: ^gl ia cr
Itsumi: tel u e e

Pythian 2 epode line 3

Snell: gl pher ia
Itsumi: gl rdod e2

Pythian 5 strophe line 11

Snell: ba cr ia
Itsumi: ^e - e3

Pythian 5 epode line 6

Snell: cho (^chodim) cr
Itsumi: d rdod e

Gone is Snell's practice of bracketing variant cola, where gl means glyconic but (gl) something resembling one in a glyconic-plausible context; or worse ((^chodim)) where an already dubious colon is supposed to be seen lurking behind further layers of perturbation. Thankfully, choriambic dimeter (oooo - u u -, rejected elsewhere by Itsumi as a bogus format1) is replaced by the Wilamowitzianum (o o - u - u u - ) or, with the base reduced or removed, the reversed dodrans (rdod) or the heptasyllable. This brings the sequence into cleaner relation with the glyconic. Itsumi prefers gl + 3 to Snell's gl ba, giving us an organically extended pendant phrase rather than suggesting a further entity has been plugged on to the end. In general Itsumi finds fewer aeolic phrases than Snell: in their place sit freer D/e phrases. Similarly, Snell's cretics, choriambs and iambs are now also covered by Maasian notation, which allows a more fluid visualisation of the play of single and double shorts and has the effect of bringing these sequences into relation with the D/e half of the corpus.

Some readers may regret that in the initial graphic layout of each of his metrical schemes Itsumi drops Snell's practice of aligning the 'choriambs.' He does in fact make frequent use of the practice in the discussions following, often combining it with a variety of alterations (as for instance by removing the resolutions) which allow it to become a supple exploratory tool. But in the first full laying out he uses space breaks to show phrase boundaries, rather than the punctuation marks performing the same task in his Greek text. There are no doubt good reasons for this abstention, but in terms of reader fatigue it seems a pity that where, especially for the simpler aeolic cases, the column of phrase labels shows such clear patterning, as for instance his O9s3-9,

gl reiz
gl reiz
gl reiz
wil reiz

the layout does not manifest this with quite the same ease of recognition. Instead the eye has to delve to see where exactly this order sits in the rows of notated positions.

On the other hand, in the frequent cases where clusters of neighbouring lines share a common character Itsumi numbers them as subsections of the stanza. This, like so many others throughout this book, is an extremely helpful feature.

Itsumi is a master at clear exposition. Where the risk with metrical studies (especially ones nearly 500 pages long!) is losing the forest for the trees, he sketches beforehand and summarises afterward; and the elaborate signposting makes it an easy work to navigate in. The reader can choose between studying the data and reasoning, or simply making off with the conclusions. The index is a little on the skimpy side. This is not a real defect in such a methodically arranged work. But on the other hand, there are so many intriguing observations along the way and it would nice if the index could be used to draw them together: entries on composition and performance would have been welcome. His use of English is very occasionally unidiomatic, but this is more than compensated for by the verve and colour of much of the writing.

The whole way through I wanted to hear Itsumi, or his understudy, reading the verses as he understands them, aloud. It may be unfair to complain that a book is not more than a book. Earlier books on metre have not spoken aloud to their readers, though they not infrequently invite them to hum English nursery rhymes or Scottish ballads. But the technological situation has evolved: a companion website, a recording available on iTunes. The elucidation of acoustic phenomena on the silent page alone has begun to seem an anomaly.

Of course there can be no question of authentic reperformance. And what we need is not the full boxed set, but exploratory demonstrations. What is at stake in one metrical analysis as against another? Is a labelled sequence to be heard and felt as an event, or is it more an historical-generative building block, or nothing but notational brevity? The difficulty in holding apart categories like these on the page plagues many metrical disagreements that are never going to be resolved in a footnote: as in note 11 on page 5 of the present work where the link anceps is either "a revolution in the history of metrical study" (Itsumi) or "merely a convenient method of notation" (West).

Itsumi frequently draws attention to points of doubt relating to the articulation of sequences: Is the final syllable of catalectic clausulae a triseme? (If so, as he is inclined to believe, then the aeolic reizianum sounded different from the freer D/e phrase x d x, both of which might transcribe as - - u u - -.) Is the double short of the resolved aeolic half-base different from the double short in the following 'choriamb?' What is the pronunciation of a long anceps as against a true long? These are uncertainties rather than pits of absolute unknowing: there would be no harm, in fact great benefit, in multiple and opposed renditions. Vocal illustration is really the only way to make clear what is and what is not at stake.

We can ask what is metre for, now? The nearest thing to an explicit comment on this is the book's very first sentence: 'Some understanding of metre is necessary for the full appreciation of poetry', which does not take us very far. If no more than an aid to textual criticism, metrical study can be left on the other side of a veil of silence. But this is clearly not the end of Itsumi's engagement. He tells us that sequential resolutions have a bright, dazzling effect. He uses words like beautiful, astonishing, sophisticated. In these he does not seem to be speaking from a cerebral realm sundered from sensory experience, or as someone for whom metre is only for the solving of metrical problems.

Long ago Paul Shorey wrote about metre and Greek verses: "If, on the other hand, one does not or cannot read them at all one is free to say what one pleases about them on paper. But what does it mean?"2 The statistical apparatus Itsumi brings so revealingly to bear refutes any recrimination of arbitrariness. But I, like my students, want to hear, and we would like to refine our own efforts against those provided by metrical experts. In and of itself this book is going to be a tremendous resource for engaging metrically with Pindar, but I wish it conducted its investigations not only in silence. Of course metricians of choral lyric face an added danger and may be well advised to keep their lips sealed in case someone asks them to dance as well.


1.   "The 'Choriambic Dimeter' of Euripides," The Classical Quarterly, New Series, Vol. 32, No. 1 (1982), pp. 59-74.
2.   "The Issue in Greek Metric," Classical Philology, Vol. 19, No. 2 (Apr., 1924), p. 172.

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