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Roman comedy is represented by two Latin playwrights, Plautus (writing between c.205 and 184 BC) and Terence (writing c.166-160 BC). The works of other playwrights such as Livius Andronicus, Naevius and Ennius are now lost except for a few lines quoted in other authors. 20 plays of Plautus survive complete, and 6 of Terence.
Various metres are used in the plays. As far as is known, the iambic senarii were spoken without music; trochaic septenarii (and also iambic septenarii and trochaic and iambic octonarii) were chanted or recited (or possibly sung) to the sound of a pair of pipes known as tībiae (the equivalent of the Greek aulos), played by a tībīcen ("piper"); and other metres were sung, possibly in an operatic style, to the same tibiae. In Plautus about 37% of lines are unaccompanied iambic senarii, but in Terence more than half of the verses are senarii. Plautus's plays therefore had a greater amount of musical accompaniment than Terence's. Another difference between the playwrights was that polymetric songs (using metres other than iambic and trochaic) are frequent in Plautus (about 14% of the plays), but hardly used at all by Terence.
The different metres lend themselves to different moods: calm, energetic, comic, mocking, high-flown, grandiose, humorous, and so on. Certain metres are also associated with different kinds of characters; for example, old men frequently use the iambic senarius, while the iambic septenarius is often used in scenes when a prostitute is on the stage.
A publicly available database by Timothy J. Moore at the Washington University in St. Louis (see External links below) usefully identifies the metre of every line of the two poets (based on the work of Cesare Questa and Wallace Lindsay) and detailed statistics for the use of the various metres. From this database it is apparent that by far the commonest metres are the following two:
The following iambic and trochaic lines are less common:
The following are found only in Plautus:
The following are used for songs, and are found mainly in Plautus:
In the above schemata, the symbol "–" represents a long element or longum, "u" a short element or breve, and "x" an anceps, an element that can be either long or short. Note that the schemata above are the basic patterns, and do not take into account the variations which may occur, for example the substitution of two short syllables for a long one, or vice versa. These are explained in greater detail below.
Together, the metres listed above account for all but about 1% of the 27,228 lines of the two poets.
These metres are used in different proportions by the two playwrights. In Plautus, 47% of the lines are iambic, 43% trochaic, and 10% in other metres (mostly anapaestic, bacchiac, and cretic). In Terence, 75% of the lines are iambic, 24% trochaic, and only 1% in other metres (bacchiac and cretic).
In Plautus, 37% of the lines are unaccompanied iambic senarii, but in Terence 56%. More than 4% of Plautus's lines are anapaestic, but this metre is not used at all in Terence. The trochaic septenarius is much commoner in Plautus (41%) than in Terence (22%). The trochaic octonarius is slightly more frequent in Terence (1.5%) than in Plautus (0.6%).
A change of metre in Plautus often accompanies the exit or entrance of a character, and thus frames a scene. At other times it indicates a change of pace, such as when Amphitruo's slave Sosia suddenly changes from iambic octonarii to a more excited cretic metre when he begins to describe a battle. In Terence different metres accompany different characters: for example, in each of Terence's plays, the woman loved by a young man uses iambic septenarii; in the Heauton Timorumenos, Eunuchus, and Phormio, one of the two young men is associated with trochaics, the other with iambics. Thus there can be frequent changes of metre within a single scene.
About 15% of Plautus's plays on average consists of polymetric cantica (songs in a mixture of metres). In these, the most common metres are the bacchius (x – – ) and cretic (– x –), together with anapaests (u u –), but sometimes with other metres mixed in. One play (Miles) has no polymetric cantica, but Casina has four. Because of metrical ambiguities, the analysis of the metres of cantica can be disputed.
It has been noted that in both playwrights, but especially in Plautus, the use of different metres tends to form a pattern, which Moore refers to as the "ABC succession". Often a play can be divided into sections, which follow the pattern: A = iambic senarii, B = other metres, C = trochaic septenarii. In Plautus's Menaechmi, for example, the first four sections follow the ABC scheme, and only the 5th is different; thus the whole scheme is ABC, ABC, ABC, ABC, ACBCBC. In his Pseudolus, in the same way, the ABC pattern is used four times, followed by a final scene of 91 lines in other metres, making ABC, ABC, ABC, ABC, B. However, not all plays follow this scheme. For example, in Terence's Adelphoe, the pattern is ABCBAB, ABC, BCACB, AC, ABABC. In general it appears that Terence changes mode more frequently than Plautus. Four of Plautus's plays (Cistellaria, Stichus, Epidicus, and Persa) open directly with music, omitting the customary expository speech in unaccompanied iambic senarii.
The B-sections of the plays tend to be songs in which the characters express their mood or character, or sing of love. The C-sections (in trochaic septenarii) tend to be associated with advancement of the plot. "The beginning of the first long series of trochaic septenarii usually marks a moment at which, after exposition and presentation of character, the plot begins to proceed in earnest." (Moore) When a playwright moves directly from A to C, it often marks urgency or an especially significant moment in the plot.
The prosody and grammar of Plautus and Terence differ slightly from that of later poets such as Virgil and Ovid, and they tend to follow the rhythms of spoken Latin rather than literary rules. One such difference is the phenomenon of brevis brevians or "iambic shortening", in which an iambic rhythm (u –) can change to a pyrrhic (u u), provided that the long syllable is unstressed and does not coincide with a long element in the metre. (The meaning of brevis brevians is "a short syllable which shortens (a following long one)".)
For example, apúd me "at my house", in its normal pronunciation where púd is accented, will be scanned (u – –) as expected, but apŭd mé "at my house" (with emphasis on mé) is scanned (u u –).
In some examples, a stressed syllable immediately follows the iamb: Iovĭs iússu, volŏ scíre, minŭs qu(am) úllus, volŭptás mea; in others, the stressed syllable is further away: quíd ĕst? quid métuis?, hábĕs quod fácias, tíb(i) hŏc praecípio, háud mală (e)st múlier.
As a rule, brevis brevians is commonly found when a long element is resolved into two short ones; it is also common in the double short element in an anapaest (u u –), as in vidĕn hanc?. Less frequently, it is found in the second and third syllables of the sequence u u u –, as in nullá mihĭ rés or út egŏ núnc. It cannot be found when the long syllable of the iamb coincides with a long element of the metre, as in si amant (u u –) (anapaests) or in quia cúltr(um) habés; cocúm decét (uu – u – u – u –) (iambics).
It has been speculated that a condition for brevis brevians is that the first syllable of the sequence u – should not have full stress, but that rather, in a phrase such as volŏ scíre, the first word must become de-stressed before the brevis brevians can take place.
Although iambic shortening is common in iambo-trochaic metres and anapaests, it is almost never found in cretics or bacchiacs.
Elision (the removal or partial removal of a final vowel when the next word starts with a vowel or h) is "far more frequent and various in Plautus and Terence than in other Latin verse-writers". For example, the trochaic septenarii lines which follow:
are pronounced approximately as:
Note that a final syllable ending in -m (such as in hominem or umquam) will also be elided. Long open monosyllables such as de, quae, hi, dum, quom, rem are sometimes totally elided, and sometimes merely shortened.
How exactly an elision was pronounced is unknown. It is possible that a short vowel was completely omitted. When a long vowel was involved, however, it is probable that an element of it could still be heard, for example in the following line, where complete omission might cause ambiguity:
Sometimes in Plautus (but not in Terence) there can be a hiatus (i.e. no elision) between vowels at the break between the two halves of a verse, that is after the fifth element of a senarius or the 8th element of a septenarius. There can also be brevis in longo at this point. But frequently at the break there is no hiatus but an elision. Elision can also take place when there is a change of speaker in the middle of a line.
Prodelision (the removal of the first vowel of est or es) is also common, for example pugnatumst for pugnatum est and ituru'st for iturus est.
Quite commonly in Plautus the two adjacent vowels in words such as eosdem, ni(h)il, eum, eo, huius, eius, cuius, mi(h)i, meas, tuom were merged into one syllable by a process known as synizesis. However, if it suited the metre, they could also be kept separate.
Plautus also made use of alternative forms, such as sim/siem, dem/duim, surpio/surripio, dixti/dixisti, malim/mavelim, ille/illĭc, me/med, te/ted, hau/haud, when it suited his metre. In words ending in -us, such as fluctibu(s), the -s could be omitted.
Words of the rhythm | u u u x |, such as malitia or facilius, appear usually to have been stressed on the first syllable in both poets.
A mute plus liquid consonant (e.g. tr in patrem) did not make the previous syllable long in Plautus or Terence. Some words ending in -e, such as nempe, unde could be pronounced nemp’, und’ before a consonant.
The pronoun hic "this man", which was later pronounced hicc, was still pronounced with a single c in Plautus. The combinations hic quidem and si quidem can be pronounced with a short vowel in the first syllable, i.e. either | u u – | or | – u – |.
There is some controversy among scholars over whether Greek and Latin verse had a regular "beat" (ictus) like modern western music. On one side, supporting the idea of ictus, are scholars such as W. Sidney Allen, Lionel Pearson, and from an earlier generation E.H. Sturtevant and Wallace Lindsay. Sturtevant writes: "It is scarcely possible any longer to doubt that accent was an important feature of early dramatic verse; the quantitative nature of the measures was carefully preserved, but at the same time accent was constantly taken into account."
However, many scholars, such as Paul Maas, Cesare Questa, and Wolfgang de Melo argue that there was no beat or "ictus"; in their view, rhythm is "simply the regulated sequence of short and long syllables". Similarly, Benjamin Fortson writes: "The theory that there was a verse-ictus, never universally accepted, has by now been thoroughly discredited." Gratwick, in his edition of the Menaechmi, takes an intermediate position, rejecting "both the Anglo-German view that the lines are isochronous with a regular metrical beat attached to every longum, and the Franco-Italian view that there is no ictus at all in such verses".
One fact which is generally agreed on is that in iambic and trochaic metres, there was usually a fairly strong agreement between where the ictus is assumed to be and the accent of the words. Thus in iambics a word-accent is generally heard on the 2nd, 4th, 6th and 8th elements of the line:
Whereas in trochaics, the accent is usually heard on the 1st, 3rd, 5th, and 7th elements:
Thus even though both lines begin with a series of long syllables, it is immediately obvious on reading them that the first is iambic and second trochaic. Those who argue that there is no ictus say that, given that there is generally a word-break (caesura) after the 5th element of the iambic senarius, the word accents tend to fall naturally on the second and fourth elements rather than on the anceps elements. In the final metron, there is often a clash between ictus and accent. Gratwick's view is that so far from attempting to make the word accent match the ictus, Roman writers often deliberately tried to avoid such coincidence, especially at the beginning and end of the line, to avoid monotony.
Another question is whether, if there was a perceptible beat, it was heard at regular intervals as in modern western music, or irregularly. Gratwick argues that the ictus was not isochronous, but that the timing depended on whether the anceps syllables were long or short. Not all scholars agree with this, however; Pearson, in his edition of Aristoxenus's treatise on rhythm, argues that it was possible or likely that in an iambic line the length of the syllables was adjusted to make the bars of equal length.
Another point of interest is whether, if there was a beat, there was one beat per foot or one every metron (group of two feet); and if it was one per metron, on which of the two long elements was it heard? As far as Ancient Greek poetry was concerned, "Ancient discussions of the trochaic tetrameter and similar metres repeatedly refer to one percussio per metron" (Moore). Whether this also applied to Latin, where for example Horace describes the senarius as having six beats per line (senos ictus), is unclear. Should the following trochaic septenarius be read with eight beats, for example?
Or is it better to read it with four beats, as follows?
After examining the evidence Moore comes to the conclusion that in Roman comedy, the pipe-player (tibicen) "provided some emphasis to all strong elements, maintaining the sense of feet, but that the "beats" on the odd-numbered feet were stronger." Similarly Gratwick, although marking all the ictus-syllabus with sublinear dots, recommends that the 1st, 3rd, and 5th ictus-positions be given a stronger sound when reading a line, unless occupied by a definitely unstressed syllable, in which case the natural word-stress should be preferred.
Various illustrations from the time of the Roman empire show a tibicen wearing a sort of clapper, called a scabillum, on one foot. One such mosaic, showing a tibicen accompanying a dancer, is illustrated in Moore's book Music in Roman Comedy. Cicero mentions the word in connection with a mime performance. However, there is no evidence that such a clapper was used to accompany Roman comedies.
Following the example of Gratwick in his edition of the Menaechmi edition, and Barsby in his edition of Terence's Eunuchus, the position of the strong element in each foot in the iambo-trochaic metres is marked in this article, but with an accent rather than a sublinear dot. It is argued that this can help the reader with syllable division, the recognition of elisions, and division into feet. An example is the following iambic septenarius (Terence Phormio 820), where the three elisions (s(um), ses(e), fratr(i)), the brevis brevians (utŭt), and the pronunciation of meae as one syllable by synizesis make the rhythm of the line difficult for the untrained reader unless the ictus is marked:
But though such markings may help with scansion and the rhythm with which the line should be read, these days it is not generally thought that the accent was heard on those syllables if there was a clash between the ictus and the natural accent of the word. Where the word accent is at odds with the ictus, it is more natural to follow the accent (just as is the case when reading Virgil). Occasionally, however, an apparent clash between ictus and accent may indicate the actual pronunciation; for example, it is believed that the phrase volŭptás mea "my darling" was pronounced with the accent on -tas. Similarly, vae miseró mihi "o wretched me!" appears to have been pronounced with the accent on -ro.
Used for the prologues of plays and for the more serious speeches, the iambic senarius (ia6) is the commonest metre in Roman comedy and is the only metre which was unaccompanied by music. It is commoner in Terence than in Plautus.
The Latin line is based on the Greek iambic trimeter, which goes as follows (in the notation used here, – is a long syllable, u a short one, and x an anceps, that is, either long or short):
The Latin equivalent of this is slightly different and has anceps syllables in place of the first and second shorts:
However, the various anceps syllables in the line are not equal. Those in the 3rd and 7th positions are long (or double short) in about 60% of lines; those in 1st and 5th positions are long in 80% of lines; and the one in the 9th position is long in 90% of lines. Therefore, what was a short syllable in Greek (i.e. positions 3 and 5) is more often than not long in Latin, but less likely to be long than what was an anceps in the Greek line.
As well as | – – | and | u – |, the group | x – | can be replaced by a dactyl | – uu | or by an anapaest | uu – |, except in the last two positions in the line. In the scansions below, a double short syllable replacing a long one is marked "uu". As a rule, in iambics, the dactyl is much commoner than the anapaest, and the reverse is true in trochaics; that is to say, it is much commoner for a longum syllable to be replaced by two short syllables than for an anceps to be replaced. The final element of the line is always a single syllable, either long or brevis in longo.
In most (but not all) iambic senarius lines there is a word-break or caesura after the fifth element, corresponding to the dieresis in the centre of the trochaic septenarius. However, as can be seen from the examples below, there is usually no break in the sense at this point. The main effect of this break is that the fourth element of the line usually coincides with the word-accent.
The iambic senarius is often used for exposition and explaining a situation, for example in the prologue of almost every play, such as Plautus's Amphitruo:
| – – – – | – – – uu | – – u – | | – uu – – | u – – – | – – u – | | – – u – | – – – – | – – u – | | – – – uu | – – – – | uu – u – | | – – uu – | – – – – | – – u – |
The iambic senarius is also used for dialogue, especially when old men are speaking (6235 out of 7659 lines spoken by old men, that is more than 80% of their dialogue, are in this metre). An example is the following extract from Terence's Andria (35-39) spoken by the old man Simo to his freedman Sosia:
| uu – – – | – – u – | – – u – | | u – – – | – – – uu | – – u – | | – – – – | u – – – | – – u – | | – uu – – | – – – – | u – u – | | – uu – – | – uu – – | – – u – |
Very frequently in a senarius, there will be a caesura (word-break) after the 5th element. Because Latin words are accented on the penultimate syllable if this is long, this will automatically put a stress on the 4th element. Occasionally, however, a non-monosyllabic word with unstressed final syllable will end a metron, like amans in the line below. If so, by a rule called "Meyer's Law", the preceding anceps will usually be a short syllable. The effect of this rule is that the 3rd element of the metron is usually either stressed or long, but not both. In this way the basic | x – u – | rhythm of the Ancient Greek iambic trimeter remains clear:
| – – u – | – – – uu | – – u – |
Sometimes, however, it seems that the poet will deliberately break Meyer's Law in the second metron to express a strong emotion, as in the word vēmenter "very greatly" in the following line, where the strong stress as well as the unexpected length on the normally weak 3rd position serve to emphasise the word:
| u – – – | – – – – | – – u – |
It is common for violations of Meyer's law in the second metron to be followed by a four-syllable word (like desídero above) or a monosyllable plus three-syllable (such as si díxerit); so that even though there is a clash between ictus and accent in the second metron, coincidence is restored in the third. Similarly in the line quoted below, the long word legionibus, with its coincidence of ictus and accent, filling the third metron, makes up for the fact that the word-accent of praefectust clashes with the ictus:
When Meyer's law is violated in the first metron, the following element is usually a monosyllable, maintaining the usual caesura:
Another law affecting the iambic senarius is "Luchs' Law", sometimes known as "Bentley-Luchs' Law". This states that when an unstressed word-end coincides with the second element of the last metron, as with humano below, the first element should normally be long (or double short), not short:
It is argued that the rationale behind this law is that an iambic word at the beginning of the third metron might give the false impression that the line had come to an end. The rule inevitably means that the word-accent will be heard on the first element of the metron (i.e. contrary to the presumed ictus); but apparently in the last metron rhythmical considerations were more important than stress.
This law does not apply to the first metron of a line, so in the following line, the word păter, which breaks the rule, is acceptable:
The situation rarely arises in the second metron, because most lines have a caesura (word-break) after the fifth element.
Sometimes there is even a brevis in longo (short syllable standing for a long one), as if it were the end of a line, even when there is no break in sense:
A locus Jacobsohnianus is also sometimes found in trochaic septenarii five elements before the end of the line. Usually, just as with a real line end, the element immediately preceding the locus Jacobsohnianus is short.
The character of this metre is different from the iambic senarius or trochaic septenarius. In Plautus there almost always a break (diaeresis) in the middle of the line. Unless the diaeresis (central break) is omitted, then by Meyer's law there is always a short syllable in the penultimate place before the break. At the end of the line there is always a stress on the penultimate element.
Although not so frequent as the senarius, the iambic septenarius (ia7) is also reasonably common in Roman comedy. Certain characters and plays use this metre more than others; in Plautus' Pseudolus, for example, there are only ten lines of iambic septenarius, occurring in sections of one or two lines; but in Rudens there are 204 lines, in Miles Gloriosus 211, and in Asinaria 322. In Amphitruo this metre does not occur at all.
The iambic septenarius is sometimes known as the "laughing metre". A typical use is the light-hearted banter of the two cunning slaves, Leonida and Libanus, in Plautus's Aulularia, when ribbing each other. Here Leonida speaks:
| uu – – – | – – u – || – – – – | – – – | ia7 | – uu – – | – – u – || – – u uu | – – – | | – uu – – | – uu u – || uu – – – | u – – | | uu – – – | – – u – || uu – u – | – uu – | | uu – – – | – – u – || u – – – | – – – | | uu – u – | – – u – || – – uu – | u – – | | uu – u – | – – u – || – – – – | u – – | | – – – – | – – u – || u – – – | – – – |
In Terence this metre is often used by love-struck young men, as in the following exchange (Heautontimorumenos 679-89) between the young man Clinia and the cunning slave, Syrus:
| – uu u – | – – u – || – – u – | u – – | ia7 | – – u – | u – u – || – – – uu | u – – | | – – u – | – – u – || – – u – | – – – | | – – u – | – – u – || – – u – | u – – | | – – u – | – – u – || u – u – | u – – | | – – u – | – – u – || – – – – | – uu – | | – – – – | – – u – || – – – – | u – – | | – uu – uu | – uu u – || – – u – | u – – | | – – – – | u uu u – || u – u – | – – – | | uu – – – | – – u – || uu – – uu | – – – | | u – – uu | – – u – || – – – – | u – – |
In Plautus, there is usually a clean break between the two halves of the line, and this is often true of Terence too. However, sometimes Terence smooths over the break with an elision, or even omits the break altogether.
| x – x – | x – u – || x – x – | x – u – | | x – x – | x – x – | x – x – | x – u – |
The iambic octonarius has two kinds, one with a break in the middle of the line, as the first pattern above. But often, instead of a mid-line break, there is a caesura or word-break 7 elements before the end of the line, so that apart from the extra syllable at the beginning, this kind somewhat resembles a trochaic septenarius.
When the break is in the middle of the line, there may be brevis in longo (a short syllable standing for a long element) at that point, as in the word ingerĕ in the first of the two lines below:
| – – u – | u – u – || uu – u – | – – u – | ia8 | – – u – | – – u – | – – uu – | – – u – |
Often the iambic octonarius and the trochaic septenarius are mixed in the same passage, although the trochaic septenarius, being shorter, is a faster metre and is often associated with onward movement of the plot.
The iambic octonarius is used more often by Terence (885 lines) than by Plautus (382 lines). In Terence's Eunuchus, this metre is particularly associated with one of the two brothers, Chaerea, who has 88 lines in this metre. The following passage from Terence's Adelphoe ("The Brothers") is sung by another of two brothers, Ctesipho, as he enters the stage:
| – – – uu | u – u – || uu uu – uu | u – u – | ia8 | – uu – – | – – u – || – – – uu | – uu u – | | – – – – | – uu u – || – – – uu | – – u – | | – uu – uu | – – – – || – – – – | uu – u – | | uu – – – | u – u – | u uu – – | uu – u – | | – uu – – | u – u – | – – u – | uu – u – |
The iambic octonarius apparently was often used in Roman tragedy for messenger speeches, and in Plautus it is often used by slave messengers, as in this account of the aftermath of a battle in Plautus's Amphitruo (256-261) sung by the slave Sosia. In this style the lines run smoothly on, without any central dieresis:
| – – u – | – – – – | – uu – – | – – u – | ia8 | – – – uu | – – – – | – – – – | – – u – | | – – u – | – – – – | u – u – | – – u – | | – uu – – | u – u – | – – – – | – – u – | | – – – – | u – uu – | – uu u – | – – u – | | – uu u – | u – u uu | u – – – | – – u – |
The second most common metre in Roman comedy in terms of lines (or the commonest, in terms of the number of words) is the trochaic septenarius (tr7). Like the other long iambic and trochaic lines, it is believed to have been chanted to the music of the tibiae (double pipes). There is usually a diaeresis in the centre of the line, and there may sometimes also be a hiatus (lack of elision) or brevis in longo (a short syllable made long by position) at this point. Trochaic lines generally start with a word which is stressed on the first syllable, making it clear that the line has a trochaic not an iambic rhythm.
According to an ancient metrical theory, the Greek version of this metre (trochaic tetrameter catalectic) was composed of an iambic trimeter with a cretic foot (– u –) added at the beginning. This seems to be true of the Latin trochaic septenarius too: the word break (dieresis or caesura) is in the same place seven elements before the end of the line, and Meyer's law and the locus Jacobsohnianus apply in the same way to both lines.
In the following passage the god Mercury, disguised as the slave Sosia, is preventing the real Sosia from entering his own house:
| uu u – – | – – – – || – u – uu| – u – | | – u – – | uu u – – || – uu – – | – u – | | – – – – | – u – – || – – – – | – u – | | – – – – | – – – – || – u – – | – u – | | – uu – – | – – – – || – – – – | – u – | | – uu – uu| – – uu – || uu – – – | – u – | | – – – u | uu – uu – || – u – – | – u – | | uu u uu u | uu – – – || – u – – | – u – |
In the centre of the trochaic septenarius line (corresponding to the caesura in the iambic senarius) there is usually a word-break, and in Plautus (though not in Terence) there is sometimes a hiatus (lack of elision) at this point, as in the second line below:
| uu – – u | – u – – || uu – uu – | – u – | | – u – – | – u – – || – u – – | – u – |
However, there is frequently an elision at this point, and just as in the Greek equivalent of this metre, (the trochaic tetrameter catalectic), some lines have no word-break at the centre point, for example the first and third below:
:| uu – – u | – – – u | – u – uu | – u – | :| uu u – u | – u – – || – u – – | – u – | :| – – – – | uu u – u | uu – uu – | – u – |
The same tendencies which apply to the alternating anceps syllables in an iambic senarius also apply in a similar way to a trochaic septenarius, namely that those elements that are always short in Greek (the 1st, 3rd, and 5th anceps syllables) are long in about 60% of lines; while those which are anceps in Greek (namely the 2nd, 4th and 6th anceps in the trochaic septenarius) are long in about 80% to 90% of lines. Meyer's Law and Luchs' Law also operate in the same places, counting from the end of the line backwards, as in the senarius.
Much less frequent is the trochaic octonarius (tr8), which is found in both poets. It is mostly very sporadically used with just a line or two here or there in the midst of other metres. The following four-line stretch comes from Plautus' Pseudolus (161-164), where a pimp is giving instructions to three slave-girls:
In the above quotation there is a contrast between the anapaestic first two lines, where the double short syllables suggest bustle and hurry, and the last two lines, where the repeated trochaic rhythm emphasises how everything has got to be when it is ready.
Sometimes both in this metre and in the trochaic septenarius the verses split into four equal parts (the so-called "square" verse), as in the last line above.
In Terence lines of trochaic octonarii (interspersed with trochaic septenarii) tend to occur in clusters at moments of great emotional intensity, such as at Hecyra 516-34.
A common pattern in both poets, but especially in Terence, is for trochaic octonarii to be followed first by one or two lines of trochaic septenarii, then by one or more iambic octonarii. This tr8-tr7-ia8 pattern occurs 48 times in Terence, and 6 times in Plautus.
In the examples seen so far the same metre is used for several lines at a time; but a glance at Moore’s database shows that iambic and trochaic lines are often mixed together, as in the passage below from Terence’s Phormio (485-492), which Moore discusses in an article. In these lines the young man Phaedria pleads with the slave-owner Dorio for more time to raise the money to buy his girlfriend; Phaedria’s cousin Antipho and the slave Geta secretly listen in on the conversation.
Here the iambic octonarius and iambic senarius are used when Dorio is denying Phaedria’s request. When he seems willing to listen and the plot seems to be moving forward, the trochaic septenarius is used. The aside by the eavesdropping Antipho and his slave Geta (in italics below) is in the distinctive iambic septenarius. It is possible that in the line with ia6 the music stopped altogether for a few moments:
| – u – | | – – u – | – – u – || u – – – | u – u – | ia8 | – – – – | uu – – – || – – uu – | – u – | tr7 | – – – – | – u – – || – u – uu | – u – | tr7 | – uu – – | – – uu – || – u – – | – u – | tr7 | – – – – | – uu – – | – – u – | ia6 | uu – – – | – – – – | u – uu uu | u uu – | ia7 | – – uu – | – uu u – | u – u – | – – u – | ia8
Anapaestic metres are used frequently by Plautus (about 4.5% of all his lines), but are not found in Terence. They are based on the foot | u u – |; two feet make a metron or "dipody". The frequent substitution of dactyls (– u u) or spondees (– –) for anapaests (u u –), and the frequent use of brevis brevians and synizesis are typical of anapaestic metres.
Anapaestic lines are usually based on the dimeter or quaternarius, that is a length of two metra, or four feet. According to the ancient grammarian Marius Victorinus, it is characteristic of anapaestic poetry that there is usually a word-break at the end of every metron or dipody; in Seneca's plays this is always the case. In Plautus it is mostly true, but there are exceptions.
In Greek anapaestic poetry it is generally assumed that the verse-ictus was heard on the second half of the foot. However, in Plautus, except in the second half of the anapaestic septenarius, the word-stress generally comes on the first half of each foot. For those scholars who believe there was no ictus in ancient poetry, this presents no problem; the fact that each metron usually ends with a word-break automatically means that the stress will be heard on the early part of the feet. But for those that support the idea of ictus, it does present a problem. As Lindsay puts it, "It seems difficult to believe that the same poet, who in other metres so successfully reconciles accent with ictus, should tolerate lines like:
Other Roman writers who wrote anapaests, such as Seneca and Boethius, also regularly placed the word-accent on the beginning of each foot. Whether Roman poets wrote anapaests without regard for ictus, or whether the Roman anapaest differed from the Greek in that the ictus came on the beginning of each foot, as in the trochaic metre, is unclear. For this reason, the ictus has not been marked in the samples below. Certainly, some half lines (such as | u u – u u – | u u – – – |) are identical in the trochaic and the anapaestic metres; and the tendency to form "square" verses is another point in common with the trochaic metre.
This metre is used only by Plautus. It is a catalectic metre in which the last foot is shortened to a single long element. The basic scheme is theoretically:
The anapaestic foot | u u – | is frequently replaced by a spondee | – – | or a dactyl | – u u |. In the first half of the line, as in the anapaestic octonarius, the word-accent generally comes on the beginning of each foot. However, in the second half the stress tends to swing the other way, with the accent on the second half of each foot.
Apart from a long stretch of 82 lines in Miles Gloriosus, this metre is usually used sparingly, often with just a line or two mixed with other anapaestic metres. Frequently those who speak in this metre are old men or women. Here is a passage from the Bacchides (1160–65) where two old men, Nicobulus and Philoxenus, are talking:
Concerning the longest passage of anapaestic septenarii (Miles Gloriosus 1011-93), Moore notes the close resemblance between the metre in this passage and trochaic septenarii. The German classicist Marcus Deufert notes that the style of writing in these lines is different from the usual anapaests, in that it is more regular and there are more long syllables. He draws the conclusion that the lines from Miles Gloriosus were recited in the same way as trochaic septenarii, while other anapaestic passages (which usually contain an admixture of other metres) were sung.
Again, substitution of dactyl | – u u | or spondee | – – | for anapaest | u u – | is very common. As in a trochaic line, the word-accent comes regularly on the first syllable of each foot, and unlike in the septenarius, this is true of both halves of the line.
In the following extract from Plautus's Pseudolus (133-7), the pimp Ballio summons his slaves outside to give them instructions to prepare the house for his birthday:
After these five lines of anapaests, Ballio reverts to a mixture of trochaic and iambic lines for the rest of his speech.
The ictus marks above are placed in accordance with the word-accents, rather than on the second half of each foot as is sometimes done.
Anapaestic metra are often used in a long series or "system" where the division into lines is not always clear and may sometimes differ in different manuscript copies. Usually, however, the metra come in pairs, and in Plautus there is usually a word break at the end of the pair, but not always in the middle.
An example is the following from the Bacchides, where the old man Philobulus comes on stage and sings as follows (the first two lines are anapaestic septenarii):
Since the short lines above come in couplets, some editors such as Lindsay (Oxford Classical Text) write them as single long lines of octonarii or septenarii.
The bacchiac (x – –) and cretic (– x –) metres (together with anapaests) are used in polymetric cantica (songs). They are mostly found in Plautus and are rare in Terence, who has only 4 lines of bacchiacs (Andria 481-84) and 15 of cretics (Andria 625-38, Adelphi 610-17).
According to Eduard Fraenkel these two metres are "incomparably suited to the Latin language". They differ from anapaests in that popular pronunciations such as brevis brevians and synizesis are avoided.
A law called Spengel and Meyer's law (similar to Meyer's law in the iambic senarius) applies to bacchiacs and cretics, namely that a polysyllabic word may not end on the 5th or 11th element of a bacchiac or on the 3rd or 9th element of a cretic unless the preceding anceps is short. To put it more simply, the elements marked x in bold in the patterns below cannot be both long and stressed:
In bacchiacs the word-accent quite often comes after the short syllable (ecástor sin' ómni: u – – u – –), rather than before it, as it tends to with cretics (máximā cópiā: – u – – u –); some editors, therefore, mark these elements as an ictus.
The bacchiac quaternarius (ba4) is the commonest bacchiac metre. The usual form of the foot is | u – – | or | – – – |, but variations such as | u – uu | and | uu – – | are also found. Sometimes other similar metres are mixed in. There is generally no word break (diaeresis) in the middle of the line.
The bacchiac is used both for humorous songs and for tragic. In the following passage from the Bacchides the prostitute Bacchis and her sister mock the two old men Philoxenus and Nicobulus who have knocked on their door, calling them "sheep":
The tenth and twelfth lines above illustrate the "syncopated" bacchiac rhythm, where one syllable is omitted from the foot. When this happens, there is generally a word-break after the syncopated foot.
Bacchiac rhythms can also be used for serious, contemplative songs, such as Alcumena's lament on the sudden departure of her husband in Plautus's Amphitruo 633ff, which begins:
It will be noted that in the above quotation there is always a word-break at the end of each metron, so that there is usually a word-stress on the penultimate element of each metron.
This particular metre (the senarius) is very rare, occurring only in this passage. Note that the words in aetat(e) hominum are analysed by Questa as a colon reizianum, rather than a bacchiac with a hiatus after aetate.
The cretic metre consists of feet usually of the form | – x – |, although occasionally | uu u – | or | – u uu | can be found. Occasionally, as in lines 5 and 6 of the extract below, feet of other metres are mixed in, such as trochaic. In the quaternarius, there is usually a diaeresis (break) in the middle of the line, although elision may also be found at this point.
The cretic metre seems to have a more epic or tragic quality than the bacchiac. In the following passage, after a long description of preparations for a battle in stately iambic octonarii, the slave Sosia suddenly breaks into cretic quaternarii to describe the excitement of the battle itself (Amphitruo 219-247). The cretic passage begins as follows (note that the fourth and fifth lines contain trochaic elements):
A line with both resolutions (uu u – and – u uu) is Amphitruo 235:
The above tragic aria was presumably sung at a slow tempo. At other times, however, the cretic metre indicates a faster tempo than the iambics it follows, as with the battle description above, or the scene discussed by Moore (p. 332) from Plautus's Pseudolus 920ff, where Pseudolus tries to get Simia to speed up his walking, by changing from iambics to cretics:
Two lines later Simio changes the metre back into iambics to slow the pace:
The following metres used mainly by Plautus may also be mentioned.
The colon reizianum, named after the 18th-century classicist Friedrich Reiz /raɪts/ (1733–90) of Leipzig University, is a short piece of iambic metre of the following form:
The first anceps is almost always long; any of the first four elements (especially the first and third) can be replaced by two short syllables. Sometimes the colon reizianum is used on its own (e.g. Casina 721-28), but more often as the second half of a line in another metre, especially the versus reizianus (see below).
The versus reizianus (reiz) consists of an iambic quaternarius followed by a colon reizianum. But the iambic dimeter is unusual in that it often begins with a double short syllable, which gives it a certain vigour:
Usually the versus reizianus is used singly or as a couplet in the midst of other metres, but there is one long stretch of 32 lines in Aulularia (415-446) entirely in this metre. In the following extract, the miserly old man Euclio has just chased the hired cook Congrio out of his house:
The wilamowitzianus (wil), named after the German classicist Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorf, is a short line of the following shape, ending in a choriamb (note that the two anceps syllables are never both short):
It is used in about 51 lines of Plautus and 5 of Terence, as in the following exchange from Bacchides between the two young men Pistoclerus and Mnesilochus:
Sometimes a wilamowitzianus is followed by a colon (part line) in cretic metre, as the following exchange between the fisherman Gripus and the slave Trachalio in Plautus's Rudens: