BMCR 2000.01.30

Prosodie und Metrik der Römer. Trans. from Italian by Bruno W. Häuptli. Teubner-Studienbücher

, Prosodie und Metrik der Römer. Trans. from Italian by Bruno W. Häuptli. Teubner-Studienbücher. Stuttgart and Leipzig: Teubner, 1999. xii, 183. DM 46 / SFr 41.

While Anglo-American students of Latin metre may still consult D. S. Raven’s book (reprinted by Bristol Classical Press in 1998),1 a German introduction to the subject, geared to the needs of undergraduates, had been sorely missed for quite some time now. This is all the more true as the currently-used course books by F. Crusius & H. Rubenbauer, H. Drexler, and J. W. Halporn & M. Ostwald,2 all written in the 50s and 60s, despite some strong points are widely considered to be unwieldy and out-of-date (Crusius & Rubenbauer), or unduly curt and simplifying (Halporn & Ostwald), or idiosyncratic and controversial (Drexler). Hence the German translation of Sandro Boldrini’s (equals B.) 1992-book La prosodia e la metrica dei Romani raised great expectations. Considering that present-day students of metre are normally faced with the view that the study of Latin metre is at best highly demanding, at worst boring, superfluous or straightforwardly absurd (a point noted by B. in his preface, p. v), a skillful and lucid presentation of the complex material was very much hoped for, especially as the reader is led to believe in the translator’s foreword that this book will meet the requirements of those entirely new to the subject (p. vi). This is why one of my main criteria of this review will be whether or not this work actually facilitates first-time access to Latin metre.

The book’s macrostructure is tripartite: Sprache und Dichtung (pp. 3-27), Prosodie (pp. 31-65) and Metrik (pp. 69-162), each of which is divided into subchapters. The volume is concluded by a comprehensive bibliography (pp. 163-182) — updated to include German editions of important standard works — and by a short index of topics (p. 183).

In the first part B. treats the fundamentals of Latin language, which are of such importance to poetry; this includes questions of accent and stress (ch. 1), the quantity of vowels and syllables (ch. 2, 3), the correct way of expressing them (ch. 5), as well as the nature of Latin verse (ch. 4, 6). This first part, which step by step explains the various phenomena and concepts, is marked by great clarity, even if more space could have been given to doxography. Thus B., for instance, is content to point out that from the beginning of the third century BC the Romans used an accent, be it called melodic, musical or chromatic, by which a stressed syllable was distinguished from the others by means of higher pitch (p. 3). A more explicit discussion of the alternative position which assumes an intensive (or dynamic or expiratory) Latin word-accent would surely have been desirable, a point already made by E. J. Kenney in his recent review of B.’s chapter on metre in the new Einleitung in die lateinische Philologie. 3

That the Romans read “Verse genau so wie Prosa” (p. 22), because they were able to distinguish naturally the ordered sequences of syllable-quantities which are characteristic of Latin poetry, can fortunately be regarded as the current communis opinio. It has rightly superseded the idea (fashionable for decades) that the Romans emphasized certain verse-elements by means of a specific ictus. B. leaves no room for doubt here: “Der vokalische Iktus, ob man ihn musikalisch oder intensiv verstehen will, hat in der Dichtung nie existiert.” (p. 23) Nothing remains to be added save, perhaps, a reference to the excellent article (not in B.’s bibliography) by W. Stroh on the ictus fictus. 4

The second part of B.’s work is devoted to prosody. The first two chapters deal with a series of prosodic phenomena which are especially characteristic of the archaic period: the instability, for instance, of some final phonemes (- e, – s, – d), the gemination of consonants at word-end (- (c)c, – (r)r, – (s)s) (7.1-7.2), as well as the so-called law of iambic shortening ( correptio iambica), the basics and deployments of which in language and poetry are the focus of chapter 8. Here B. emphasizes that the possibility of measuring an iambic sequence (short-long) as double-short (i.e. pyrrhic) is a phenomenon of every-day language, which can also make an impact on verse. This applies in particular to those metres the elements of which either demand or easily permit bisyllabic realisation. B. also plausibly argues that iambic shortening does not imply a real shortening of the long syllable. Rather, the iambic group of syllables retained its proper quantities, while in certain cases being heard and measured as a unity. There follow further phenomena of prosody, starting with the different treatment of muta cum liquida (9.1) then discussing the tendency of the Latin language to shorten vowel before vowel (9.2) or to melt into a unit adjacent vowels within a word via synizesis (9.3) and ending with those features regulating the collision of two phonemes in final or initial position, respectively: synaloephe / elision (9.4), prodelision / aphaeresis (9.5) and hiatus (9.6). When discussing the last of these phenomena B. is again eager to stress its embeddedness in every-day language and hints at the possibility of the poets deploying hiatus in order to bring out artistic nuances and subtleties. He very nicely demonstrates how beyond the relative rarity of hiatus which guarantees it a certain amount of attention the hiatus (commonly branded as logical or simple hiatus) could be used to achieve a number of stylistic and / or rhythmical effects. The final chapter (10) of the second part mainly contains an alphabetical list of the various final syllables of polysyllaba (10.2), complemented by a synopsis of the most common monosyllaba (10.3). In each case the quantities are listed, sometimes with reference to their variants in the classical and archaic period. Needless to say, this compilation is extremely helpful, especially because B.’s arrangement is very user-friendly. On the whole, the second part is distinguished for its clarity, precision, and wealth of detail. If I have a complaint it concerns the presentation of the material: concentration on the prosody of the classical period, supplemented by an overview-appendix on the archaic peculiarities (such as iambic shortening, measuring – ar, – er, – or,at, – et, – it and original double consonance in final position as long, s -aphaeresis, e -apocope), might well have been preferable. This is because a parallel discussion risks quickly becoming confusing. In addition, one might wonder whether by discussing the archaic period first and, in case of iambic shortening, very elaborately, too much space and emphasis has been devoted to this epoch and to its poets, whose works only make for a limited part of the total poetic oeuvre that has come down to us.

Some trifles. p. 37: I am wondering which examples the author has in mind when, talking about gemination of final – s in the archaic period, he points to a few other cases, “wo – ss ursprünglich war”. After all, Indoeuropean — if this is what the author means — had no – ss. – p. 46: At least potentially misleading is B.’s statement concerning the fact that iambic shortening was no longer in use after the process of (real) shortening of final syllables had come to an end (p. 45): “… dass bei Wörtern wie tibi, male, quasi u. ä., und ebenso in Wörtern wie homo, volo, scio u. ä., sich die Kürze der Endsilbe durchsetzte, wobei die ursprüngliche jambische Quantität manchmal auch in klassischer Zeit beibehalten wurde”. While male, quasi, ego or modo, for instance, were indeed always taken to be pyrrhic in classical times, this measurement is only a possibility later on in the case of tibi or, for example homo, volo, scio, as B. himself concedes (pp. 61-3). – p. 50: B. points out that one has to measure “archaisch immer (my italics) in den Formen des Perfekts von esse: fui, fuimus (with long u, my addition) (neben fui, fuimus) usw. (with short u, my addition)”. This is unclear, although, of course, it is correct that in the poetry of the archaic period we often find perfect tense forms not being shortened. Generally, I think the list of exceptions of the vocalis ante vocalem corripitur rule should have been arranged not according to vowels but according to phenomena. Thus similar phenomena like audierunt, audieram etc. (with long i), or institui, pluit etc. (with long u), or ei, eidem etc., and huic, cui etc. (with long e or long u, respectively) would not have been listed separately and, in addition, could be more easily remembered. – Finally, the term “mehrsilbig” is used inconsistently, both for bisyllabic words and for actual polysyllaba, i.e. words consisting of three or more syllables.

In the third part of his book B. turns to the individual verses used in Latin poetry, first devoting three chapters to questions as various as the structures and patterns of Latin verse (11), the performance of spoken and sung passages in the Roman theatre (12), as well as the rules governing the formation of metrical elements in certain types of verse (13). While it is not surprising to find in such an introductory section an overview of the symbols by which the ideal models ( schemata) of individual verses are arrived at or hints at the structure and rhythmical pattern of various metres, it is slightly unusual to encounter at this point a list of “laws” which rule the formation of specific verses, only common in the restricted area of early Roman drama. Naturally B. here, as elsewhere, turns out to be a connoisseur of Latin poetry, especially Plautus and Terence. His lucid and succinct mode of presentation as well as the prudent selection of the examples command respect. Moreover, anyone seriously interested in, for instance, iambic or trochaic passages in drama will be happy to resort to this compilation in case of uncertainty as to the kind and place of elements containing double-short, not least because the author once again makes lucid the connections between language and poetry. It has, however, to be asked whether a discussion of these rules (13.1: Ritschl, 13.2: Hermann-Lachmann, 13.3: “Lizenzstellen”, 13.4: Fraenkel-Thierfelder-Skutsch, 13.5: Jacobsohn) ought not to have been relegated to the preliminaries and / or to the explanatory notes on those verses to which they mainly apply (such as iambics and trochees). After all, B. is doing just that when it comes to other laws like those by Bentley-Luchs or Meyer. In other words: can it be assumed that a student of Latin metre as yet lacking profound knowledge of iambic-trochaic or bacchiac-cretic verses is capable of following B.’s detailed and sophisticated presentation? In addition, the value of these “rules” is dubious. It is indeed difficult to imagine that Plautus, Ennius or Terence wrote their verses strictly adhering to these principles, or that they would alter the verses they have written to conform to them. In view of this, a statement such as that violations of those rules are “ein Anzeichen von Textverderbnis”, or that they suggest “eine andere metrische Deutung” (e.g., p. 77) must be treated with scepticism.

The rest of the work is devoted to individual metres. Following a first chapter on Saturnian verse (14), in which B. gives a model synopsis of its manifold literary manifestations, there is a discussion of dactylic (15), iambic (16), trochaic (17), anapaestic (18), cretic (19), bacchiac (20), reizian (21), ionic (22) and aeolic (23) verses as well as the strophes and asynarteta derived from those verses. The following remarks pick out individual points on those metres, without any pretensions of completeness.

As one might expect, the section on dactylic verse (15) is dominated by the hexameter. The author places particular emphasis on the stylistic function of caesura(e) and / or diaeresis, which is very impressively illustrated by some examples. Similarly welcome is his point that at times the critic is forced to weigh up various possibilities of making a division, and even after having settled on a specific interpretation s/he must constantly be aware that this is only one of several options (p. 95). This procedure — which unfortunately all too often falls into oblivion in the classroom — is, to be sure, another very effective means of counteracting the widespread misconception that Latin poetry is nothing but sheer technique. On the contrary, it strikingly reveals the complexity and refinement of poetic texts as artistic constructs. As far as the metrical scheme of the hexameter is concerned, it would perhaps have been more precise to include the (even though rarely employed) possibility of replacing the dactyl with a spondee in the fifth foot, which is only mentioned in the explanatory text, instead of representing it as purely dactylic. Similarly, it is doubtful whether the spondaic alternative is in fact always motivated by stylistic reasons or by the endeavour to produce specific sound effects (p. 91). Some brief remarks on the pentameter, the elegiac distichon and the acatalectic tetrameter as representatives of other dactylic verse-types conclude this generally successful chapter.

In the two subsequent chapters B. deals with the most common manifestations of iambic and trochaic verse (ia: dipodia quaternarius / dimeter, senarius / trimeter / scazon, septenarius, octonarius; tr: dipodia, tripodia, quaternarius, septenarius, octonarius). The author discusses individual range and mode of application, the position of caesurae and diaereses, characteristics of verse-end, notably the avoidance of a double sequence short-long, as well as questions of colometry, especially with regard to dipodia and octonarii. While in the case of iambics and trochees the well-known additional rules (Bentley-Luchs’s law and Meyer’s law) are mentioned, in the discussion of iambic trimeter a reference is missing to “Porson’s law”, according to which the fifth foot, if spondaic, must not be split by caesura, which in Senecan tragedy, for instance, is strictly observed. In general, one might argue that from a practical viewpoint it would have been advantageous to distinguish consistently between iambics and trochees based on Greek verse rules (i. e. on metra) from the Roman ones based on verse-feet. In this way B. could have avoided statements which are potentially confusing to beginners, like “Sind jambische Septenare nach Metren gegliedert …, sollte man eher von katalektischem jambischem Tetrameter reden” (p. 108). Similarly, B. talks about the catalectic trochaic septenarius instead of tetrameter (p. 115), as well as of the anapaestic dipodia and quaternarius instead of mono- and dimeter (p. 119). Also, such a separate treatment would not necessarily evoke the (wrong) impression that we are dealing with two fundamentally different kinds of verse, because, for example, “iambic dimeter” can certainly also occur within a series of “iambic quaternarii“. Finally, as far as the schematic ideal models of the verses are concerned, readers are likely to be slightly irritated by the presentation of the fifth element of the scazon as elementum anceps (i.e., according to B., an element which can be formed out of one short or long or two short syllables) (p. 106), although anapaest in the third foot is never found. Similarly, in catalectic iambic tetrameter (p. 108), as well as in trochaic tripodia or ithyphallic (p. 112), the ” theseis” never consist of double-short. So, considering B.’s professed allegiance to the method of P. Maas (p. vi), which sets out to describe the phenomena found in our evidence and not to muse on the way in which a certain metrical unit theoretically can be realized, it might be more consonant with this aim either to replace in the metrical scheme the symbol x denoting an elementum anceps with another symbol or to add an explanatory note that the elementa ancipitia (i.e. elements 1, 5, 9 and 13 of the iambic tetrameter, as well as elements 2 and 4 of the ithyphallic) here are always formed by a single syllable — a procedure followed up by B., for instance, for the Priapeus (p. 144).

The objections raised earlier against B.’s construction of metrical schemes of dactyls, iambics and trochees also apply to his presentation of cretic and aeolic verse. Thus, for example, when illustrating cretic dipodia the elements 2 and 5 (p. 124) are rendered as short, i.e. “pure” cretics (similarly with the cretic quaternarius, the elements 5 and 8 [p. 125]), although B. at the same time points out that sometimes they can also be treated as long (and very rarely even as double-short, thus as real elementa ancipitia, my addition), as the examples adduced by B. confirm. Conversely, B.’s remark is correct that, for instance, elements 1 and 2 of the Phalaecian hendecasyllable (p. 147), which in the metrical scheme are represented as elementa ancipitia, are so-called elementa ancipitia monosyllabica (as opposed to elementa ancipitia bisyllabica), i. e. that they are always formed by a single syllable (similarly for both the Alcaic enneasyllable and hendecasyllable [p. 152-3], in whose metrical schemes each element 1 is denoted as elementum anceps). On the whole the book would have profited if B. had taken greater care to make the presentation of single schemata more consistent. This would have resulted in greater correctness, and the material would have become easier to digest for beginners, allegedly the target audience of this book. Given these addressees it is of secondary importance whether one opts for the construction of ideal models, “die fähig sind, alle Varianten und Erwartungen zu umfassen, auf die sich der Vers bezieht” (p. 69), or for the description of all extant literary testimonies, or for a focus on the most common manifestation of a verse while listing variants separately. The main point is that the chosen method should be followed with consistency.

But enough of details. Generally, it should be noted that the presentation of single verses is limited to its most important representatives and applications. The later development of certain metres is not included. Thus the poets from the second century onwards are never mentioned. As much as this weighting is justified, since it cannot be denied that the metrical variety in Roman poetry of those periods is on the decline, a glimpse forward to the way in which later poets (for instance Ausonius, Prudentius, Claudianus, Martianus Capella, Boethius) treat, change and toy with the verses used by their predecessors can be illuminating. Similarly, the book does not consider Latin rhythmical poetry, which competed with quantity-based poetry after the fourth century AD. Also no mention is made of prose-rhythm or cursus. Finally, a proper glossary would have been helpful, for the reader frequently encounters terms only en passant and in unexpected places (for instance hemiepes in the discussion of the Diphilius (p. 144), but not of the dactylic pentameter). Some terms are not explained at all (for instance catalexis, enjambement, asynarteton, caesura, diaeresis, synaphea and so forth; the last three are only set out in notes added by the translator (p. 71-2)).

At the end of the day the question remains to be answered whether B.’s book aptly closes the initially mentioned gap for a “Leitfaden der römischen Metrik, der … Lehrern und Studenten als leicht fassliche Einführung dienen könnte”, as the translator (!) writes in his preface (p. vi). I am sceptical here since in various ways the work is not unproblematic in terms of presentation. Whether B.’s Latin metre actually replaces earlier introductions will depend on how individual users view the strengths and weaknesses of those books, and how those volumes chime with individual readers’ previous knowledge and objectives. Without doubt, the more advanced student of metre will find a lot to learn from in B.’s rich and thoughtful study, which gains persuasive momentum from the precise translation by B. W. Häuptli. In particular, the translator is to be thanked for having given the book a clear and easy-to-follow over-all structure, one which makes the German translation much more usable than the Italian original. Perhaps, I speculate, B. was less intent on writing a nice and handy course-book than “den jüngeren und weniger jungen Wissenschaftlern ein grundlegendes Element zum Verständnis und zur Deutung der lateinischen Dichtung ins Bewusstsein [zu] rufen” (p. v). This he has achieved in an impressive manner.

The standard of proof-reading is generally high, though occasional misprints do occur. I supply the following list which — with no claims to exhaustiveness — especially takes into account errors in metrical schemes and misleading references, while leaving aside German type-errors, words or periods missing or other printing inconsistencies: list of abbreviations: confusion of Archilochean verse (= ar v) and Archilochius (= cho 2c); also the abbreviation c for ‘catalectic’ and ‘colon’ is inconvenient; p. 14: translation of Cic. orat. 159: “Bei insanus sprechen wir den ersten Buchstaben kurz aus …” instead of “Bei indoctus sprechen wir den ersten Buchstaben kurz aus …”; p. 122: Plaut. Bacch. 1185a-1186 instead of Plaut. Bacch. 1085a-1086; p. 129: “… meist in Verbindung mit ba” instead of “… meist in Verbindung mit ba c“; p. 160: distichon consisting of ia t and ia d : element 9 represented as elementum breve instead of as elementum anceps; in addition, element 11 (= elementum breve) is missing.


1. D. S. Raven, Latin Metre, London 1998 (first 1965).

2. F. Crusius, Römische Metrik. Eine Einführung. Neu bearbeitet von Hans Rubenbauer, München 1992 (4th repr.; first 1955); H. Drexler, Einführung in die römische Metrik, Darmstadt 1993 (first 1967); J. W. Halporn & M. Ostwald. Lateinische Metrik, Göttingen 1994 (first 1962).

3. E. J. Kenney, PHILOLOGIA PERENNIS (?), rev. F. Graf (ed.): Einleitung in die lateinische Philologie (Einleitung in die Altertumswissenschaft), Stuttgart / Leipzig 1997, CR 49 (1999), 142-3.

4. W. Stroh, “Arsis und Thesis, oder: Wie hat man lateinische Verse gesprochen?”, in M. von Albrecht & W. Schubert (eds.), Musik und Dichtung. Neue Forschungsbeiträge, Viktor Pöschl zum 80. Geburtstag gewidmet, Frankfurt am Main / Bern / New York / Paris 1990, pp. 87-116.