II. PROSODY

A. LONG AND SHORT PHONEMES

GREEK metre is based on the measurement of syllables. Their number is measured, and to a large extent also their individual 'quantity', their relative duration. In this chapter we consider how syllabic quantity is determined.

The individual sound-units into which the words of a given language may be analysed are called phonemes. These divide broadly into vowels and consonants. Within these categories various subdivisions can be made, not all of which are relevant to our purpose. The most important distinctions that concern us are those between long and short vowels, between stop and continuant consonants, and between pre- and post-vocalic consonants.

In the classical Greek vowel system there was a clear-cut distinction between long and short vowels. ε and ο are short vowels (their long equivalents being normally written ει and ου in literary texts, cf. p. 21); η and ω are long, as are all diphthongs; the three remaining vowels, α ι υ, are short in some words and long in others, and one has to learn which are which. One ought to learn the quantities of the vowels when one learns a word. For those who have not done this, no comprehensive rules can be given, but the following practical hints will be helpful:

Vowels bearing a circumflex accent can only be long.

If a word has an acute accent on the antepenultimate syllable, or a circumflex on the penultimate, the vowel of the last syllable must be short, unless it is αι or οι. For example: ἄλγεα (-α + ̆), μη + ̑νιν (ι + ̆). (Note that at the moment we are speaking of the length of vowels, not of syllables: the difference is important.)

Vowels arising from contraction must be long, e.g. ἐτῑ + ́μᾱ (from -αε), Δῑ + ́ϕιλος (from Διι-), dative μήτι + ̄ (-ιι).

____________________
I am indebted to Dr J. H. W. Penney for help with the formulation of sections A and B of this chapter.

-10-

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Introduction to Greek Metre
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface v
  • Contents vii
  • Metrical Symbols ix
  • Abbreviations for Text Collections xi
  • I. the Nature of Greek Metre 1
  • Ii. Prosody 10
  • Iii. the Standard Stichic Metres 19
  • Iv. the Lyric Poets 31
  • V. the Lyric Metres of Drama 48
  • Vi. the Later Centuries 68
  • Glossary-Index 85
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