Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2015.09.20 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2015.09.20

Luisa Andreatta, Il verso docmiaco: fonti e interpretazioni. Bollettino dei Classici. Supplementa, 28.   Roma:  Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, 2014.  Pp. 190.  ISBN 9788821810817.  €60.00 (pb).  

Reviewed by Martin Steinrueck (

This study is characteristically Italian, a saggio knowledgeable in metrics, thorough in providing the sources, in the bibliography discussed, and in hiding cunningly what the author herself thinks. Luckily, she provides at the end a list of the metrical outcomes: six points, of which the first is the most important, i.e., that the last elementum of the dochmius (for instance ⏑ ‒ ‒ ⏑ ‒) as a surface analysis can be represented by a short syllable but is by no means indifferens (as according to Kolàr). This might seem to non-metricists to be a mouse born from a mountain of 190 pages, but what a mountain!

She starts with the history of ancient metrical theory and the etymology of the word. The discussion of the ethos arising from this rhythm’s aptness to lament (according to the scholia of Aeschylus’ Seven) and the tension („Spannung“) of dochmiac rhythm and falsely joyful themes is located in this chapter; a link to Anne-Iris Munoz’s thesis from 2010, Rythmes et dramaturgie du choeur dans les Suppliantes d’Eschyle, would have offered more insight into the problem of how to grasp the „fantasm“ of the dochmiac ethos through dramaturgic considerations. There follows a very comprehensible chapter on modern theory, perhaps the part newcomers should read first: from Seidler’s thirty-two forms of the dochmius (1811–12) to the hypodochmius of Dain (1965) and the latest ideas of Gentili/Lomiento (2003).

These multiform designs pose the question (Gentili’s and Pretagostini’s) of their equivalence in strophic responsion (against the frenzy of textual critique), but, perhaps influenced by the Lille school, where the book has been presented as a doctoral thesis in a joint venture with Trento, the author develops this into a whole little anthropological saggio (chapters III and IV) about the concept of antistrephein or responsio and points out a forgotten passage in Aristides Quintilianus 52.8 (p. 92). I am not convinced that what the imperial metrician Hephaistion renames as a system kata skhesin – a term adopted by the author as by many modern metricians – is more or less the same as the classical strophe and antistrophe: the concept of antistrephein in classical philosophy, mathematics and poetry is more than just ‘a link’. It rather seems that Hephaistion was following the trend in imperial science to create one normative system for all forms (not unlike what the anthropologists did in the 1990s with their ‘emic’ and ‘etic’) – but analytic philosophers or no-nonsense people might disagree. In chapter IV the musical or prosodic possibilities of adapting one design to another are discussed. One field however is neglected, that of the analysis of musical accent that allows us in some circumstances to say that one design probably had the same melodic contour in spite of metrical difference, as in Aesch. Ag. 1505, in the third antistrophe and its responsio in the strophe.

Chapter V is dedicated to the fifth element of what seems to oscillate between colon and metron (a colarion according to Dale), and leads to the conclusions mentioned above.

The text is fluidly written (although I think it easier to read the introduction last), and misspellings are few (‘spodeios’ p. 10, ‘organazazione’ p. 38, ‘postrema arsin’ p. 51). Anyone investigating the poetic uses and nuances of the dochmiac meter should consult this marvellous book.1


1.  Works Cited:

Dain, Alphonse. 1965. Traité de métrique grecque. Paris.
Gentili, Bruno and Liana Lomiento. 2003. Metrica e ritmica: storia delle forme poetiche nella Grecia antica. Milan.
Seidler, August. 1811-1812. De versibus dochmiacis tragicorum graecorum. Two parts. Leipzig.
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