VI. THE LATER CENTURIES

THE lyric metres of drama and of other fifth-century poetry (especially Pindar) represent Greek metre at its most elaborate and difficult. Once one has achieved some understanding of them, the metrical practice of the following thousand years is comparatively simple to understand. Few new metres appear, and those that do are easily related to existing categories. In general the picture is one of simplification and narrowing. Some forms of metre become stereotyped, while others, such as dactylic lyric and dochmiac, fall into disuse.1 Altogether lyric metres play less of a role: poetic literature is increasingly dominated by the three main stichic metres, the dactylic hexameter, the elegiac couplet, and to a lesser extent the iambic trimeter. Here the metrician's interest focuses on the technical refinement which the best of the later poets display.

Considering the length of the period under review, one is struck by the general stability of the scene and the paucity of real innovation. But as the centuries rolled by, a fundamental change in the Greek language began to take effect. This was the change in the nature of the word accent. In classical Greek it was a tonal or pitch accent, a feature inherited from IndoEuropean. Each word (except for most of the appositives) contained one syllable that enjoyed special prominence, and this prominence was expressed not by stress but by enunciation on a higher note than neighbouring unaccented syllables. The tonal accent had no effect on the metre.2 But from the Hellenistic period onward the accent gradually acquired an element of stress, and this led to a tendency to make accented syllables longer and unaccented syllables shorter. The traditional clear opposition between long and short syllables began to break down in the spoken language, and by about the third

____________________
1
Outside drama, dochmiacs recur only in the Grenfell Erotic Fragment (CA 177), a melodramatic aria of the Hellenistic period. There are four or five short dactylic pieces from various periods.
2
With the doubtful exception of one or two isolated and anomalous passages in drama where short and mostly accented syllables stand in princeps positions. The accent did influence the melodic line in astrophic song (cf. p. 66).

-68-

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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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