Metrical terminology

Indo-European poetry was a craft practised by professionals and handed down from one to another. The techniques of versification had to be mastered; in the case of the Irish filid we know that they progressed through a series of metres in the course of their years of training. It would not be surprising if a technical vocabulary relating to metre and versification developed among such specialists at an early date. There are in fact certain elementary parallels between Indo-Iranian and Greek terminology that suggest the existence of such a technical language at least in the Graeco-Aryan world.

In the Rigveda the verb ma 'measure' is used in connection with the composition of the poem. In the epilogue of 1. 38 there is a series of imperatives (13-15): 'Hymn Brahmanaspati with extended song .. . Measure out (mimïhi) the laudation with your mouth, sheet it like Parjanya, sing the song of eulogy! Praise the Maruts' horde!' In 8. 76. 12 the poet declares, vacam astàpadïm aham navasraktim .. . mame, 'I have measured out an eight-step, nine-cornered hymn.' This refers to the hymn's gayatrï metre, eight-syllable lines in three-line strophes that are themselves grouped in triads. 'Eight-step' does not mean 'consisting of eight steps', but 'in steps of the eight(-syllable) type', since the term padam 'footstep' denotes a whole verse, whether of eight or eleven or some other number of syllables. Compare 1. 164. 23 f., yâd gayatré âdhi gayatrâm âhitam, traistubhâd va traistubham nir-âtaksata, yâd va jâgaj jâgati âhitam padâm: yâ it tâd vidus, té amrtatvâm anasuh. gayatréna prâti mimlte arkâm, arkéna silma, traistubhena vakâm, vakéna vakâm dvipâda câtuspadâ; aksârena mimate saptâ vâmh-

That gaïyatra is laid down upon gaïyatra, or that tristubh was built from tristubh, that the jagat step is laid down on jagat— they who know this have escaped death. With the gaïyatra one measures out the stanza, with the stanza the song; with the tristubh the verse; with the two-step or four-step verse the poem. By syllable they measure out the seven tones.

In later Sanskrit both padam and paadah 'foot' are used to mean 'verse'. The usage seems to go back to Indo-Iranian times, as we find a corresponding use of pada or paSa in the Avesta. But is it mere coincidence that in Greek too 'foot', novs, is the traditional name for the smallest unit of analysis apart from the syllable? Scholars have hesitated to make the connection, because there seemed to be a divergence of meaning: the Indian term refers to a whole verse, the Greek one to a subdivision of a verse, usually of only two or three syllables. But while this use of novs is standard from Aristoxenus on, in the earliest extant example of the word in a metrical sense, at Aristophanes, Frogs 1323, it appears to refer to a whole glyconic verse, the Greek cognate of the Vedic eight-syllable pada. The only form of subdivision of verses into constituent units attested for the fifth century is into 'measures', ¡¿rpa. Thus Herodotus uses the adjectives 'six-measure' and 'three-measure' in reference to the standard epic and iambic verses. 'Measure', as we have seen above, also corresponds to a Vedic concept of versification, and the Greek noun comes from the same root as the Vedic verb.

If the earliest use of 'foot' was for a colon or verse of up to twelve syllables, what was the imagery? Indian scholars explained it from a conception of the stanza as a four-footed creature. But this does not suit the three-line stanza very well. If we look for something that may stand equally well on three feet or four, the best examples are the products of the carpenter, the three-or four-legged stool or table. The ordinary Greek word for table, rpdneZa, means 'four-footer', and comedians could make jokes about four-footed tripods and three-footed rpanelai.94 This explanation of 'foot' as a metrical term is speculative, but it would fit very neatly with the idea of the poet as a carpenter.

Once invented, the term was open to wider interpretation. Feet are good for standing on, but also for walking on, and it was easy to envisage the verse as a step in the forward progress of the poem or song. Hence besides paadah and novs we have in Vedic padam and in Greek dais. At the completion of a verse or stanza one might be thought of as making a turn, and we can find some terminology that accords with this. In RV 8. 76. 12, quoted above, the poem was described as having nine corners or turnings, because of its nine-line structures. Another Sanskrit word for a metrical clausula, or a line containing a fixed number of syllables, was vrttam, 'turn'. From the same root comes Latin uersus, 'verse', clearly a traditional term, and Greek has a semantic equivalent in arpo^r, 'strophe', literally 'turning'.

94 Epicharmus fr. 147, Aristophanes fr. 545 Kassel-Austin.

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