Figures Of Speech

A figure of speech is an expression in which the normal use of words is varied for some rhetorical effect. Some figures, such as simile and metaphor, occur often and require no explanation; of the many others, three are common in Latin poetry.

Gçôl Hendiadys is the use of two words connected by a conjunction (in v_J English, and) to express a single complex idea. Often, two substantives are so joined instead of one substantive and an adjective or attributive genitive, for example, by length of time and siege (= by a long siege). When hendiadys occurs in a Latin author, the two elements are usually combined into a single phrase in translation.

Tells et luce coruscus aena. Vergil Aeneid 2.470

Shining with the bronze gleam of [his] weapons, (lit., Shining with respect to [his] weapons and [their] bronze light.)

Metonymy is the substitution of one word for another to which it stands in some close relation. In the sentence In his despair, the Latin professor took to the bottle, it is obvious that the unfortunate pedagogue did not consume a bottle, but rather what can be inside bottles, viz alcohol. Metonymy always depends on associations that are commonly made, for example, alcohol and bottles.

An example of metonymy in Latin can sometimes be kept in translation. In arma virumque cand (Vergil Aeneid 1.1), arma (arms, weapons) is used for wars, because the two are normally associated. The figure of speech may be kept in English and the words may be translated I sing of arms and the man

However, in mutato volui castra movere tord (lit., I wanted to move camp, with [my] bed having been changed (Propertius Elegies 4.8.28)), torus is used for what Propertius associated with a bed, viz a sex partner. A narrow translation could suggest that he wanted to change beds in a literal sense; to avoid this, the translation should be I wanted to change my partner and move camp.

Synecdoche is the use of a part for the whole, or the whole for a part. If the cry goes out on a ship "All hands on deck!", those on board are expected to present not just their hands but themselves in totd. It is sometimes necessary to abandon the figure in translation.

Puppem conscendit Arion. Ovid Fasti 2.95

Arion boarded a ship (lit., a poop; the name of a part of a ship (an enclosed structure at the stern of the ship above the main deck) is used for the ship itself).

Scansion is the analysis of how Latin poetry is constructed, and to scan a line is to divide it into its metrical units. Because of the differences between English and Latin verse, scansion is by no means easy for a beginner to grasp. However, mastery of its principles through deliberate application and practice is the key to appreciation of the rhythmic beauty of Latin poetry.

English poetry is constructed in lines of stressed syllables arranged in certain patterns; there can be the additional feature of rhyme. As an example, consider the following stanza from Latin scholar A. E. Housmans The Oracles, where lines of seven and five stressed syllables alternate, combined with a rhyming pattern of abab.

'Tis mute, the word they went to hear on high Dodona mountain When winds were in the oakenshaws and all the cauldrons tolled,

And mute's the midland navel-stone beside the singing fountain, And echoes list to silence now where gods told lies of old.

Classical Latin poetry was composed in an entirely different way; patterns of stressed syllables were of secondary importance, and rhyme was never used. In spite of this, the structure of Latin verse was much more formal and prescribed than that of English.

The basic unit of Latin verse was a syllable's length. Each syllable of a Latin word was regarded as either long or short according to fixed rules. Poets used different arrangements of long and short syllables, depending on the type of poetry they were composing. A particular arrangement is called a meter, but before these metrical varieties are described, it is necessary to specify what constitutes a syllable in Latin and to consider the rules governing its length.

The Syllable

A syllable contains one and only one vowel or diphthong (two vowels pronounced as one, like ae in saevus). It may also contain one or more consonants: e, heu, and stat are all monosyllabic words. In order to scan a line of Latin poetry, that is, to analyze the meter in which it is composed, it is necessary not only to mark the syllables of each word as long or short, but also to indicate where one syllable ends and the next begins, as follows.

C In words of more than one syllable, a single consonant belongs to the following vowel, except that a final consonant belongs to the preceding vowel: a-mi-cus. The consonant or consonants before the first vowel of a word belong to that vowel: vi-vd, sta-tim, proe-li-um. C If two or more consonants occur together within a word, the syllable is divided immediately before the last consonant: as-pe-ra, dig-nus, pulch-rum. However, note the following.

a Compound words are divided between their parts: con-spectus (not cons-pectus).

b The letter h is completely disregarded: e-le-phan-tus. C The combination qu counts as one consonant and is not divided: se-qui-tur.

D The letters x and z count as double consonants and are resolved into their constituent elements, c + s and d + s, respectively: axis = ac-sis.

e Special rules apply if the second consonant of a two-consonant group is 1 or r; see below.

The Length of a Syllable

When words have been divided into their constituent syllables, the syllables are marked as long or short. A macron, or bar ("), above a vowel or diphthong indicates that its syllable is long; a micron, or half-moon ("), indicates that the syllable is short.

G A syllable is long if... f It contains a long vowel or diphthong: a-mo, a-ci-es (the final vowels in both words are long), or G It ends in two consonants: a-mant, or h It ends in a consonant and is followed by a syllable that begins with a consonant: ab-sum. The second syllable may even belong to the next word: mu-riis novus.

<[ A syllable is short if... 1 It contains a short vowel and does not end in a consonant: a-mant, or j It contains a short vowel and is the final syllable of a word ending in a single consonant: mo-net (to count as short in verse, such a syllable must be followed by a word beginning with a vowel or h: monet amicus (see h above)), or k It contains a short vowel and is the final syllable of a prefix that is followed by a syllable beginning with a vowel; ab-it. The syllable division is determined by rule a above.

C If the second consonant of a two-consonant group is I or r, the preceding syllable, if it contains a short vowel, can be long or short, as indicated by the syllable division: ap-ri or a-pri.

A long syllable does not necessarily contain a long vowel or diphthong. Under either g or h above, the vowel itself may be short (and be pronounced as short), even though its syllable is long.

If the rules above seem complicated at this point, learn the following rule of thumb.

A syllable is long if it contains a long vowel or diphthong, or if its vowel is followed by two (or more) consonants, of which the second is not 1 or r (h is not counted, qu counts as one consonant, and x and z count as two). Other syllables are short, except that if a short vowel is followed by two consonants of which the second is I or r, the syllable may be either long or short, at the poet's option.

It is important to remember the difference between the length of vowels and the length of syllables. Every vowel in a Latin word had a fixed pronunciation, which was either long or short; the difference was the same as that between the o sounds in English note (long) and not (short). This information is given in works of reference by placing a macron over long vowels; short vowels are left unmarked except where ambiguity is possible, and in such cases they are marked with a micron.* Vowel length was an integral part of the Latin language, and if a foreigner pronounced a long vowel as short or vice versa, he ran the risk of not being understood; for example, to confuse occido (I kill) with occidd (I die) could have had serious consequences.

Syllable length is the fundamental element of Latin poetry. It is based not only on vowel length, but also on the consonants following vowels. To mark long and short syllables, scholars have, unfortunately, used the same signs (macrons and microns) as for vowels. This can be confusing unless it is remembered that, while all short syllables, by definition, contain a short vowel, the same is not true of long syllables. A long vowel can, by itself, make a syllable long, but a short vowel followed by two consonants also has this effect. In the latter case, however, the short vowel remains short in pronunciation; monent has a metrical value of monent, but a Roman would have pronounced both vowels as short.

*This system is followed in the Oxford Latin Dictionary, as well as in the Glossary and examples in this book. It ignores the problem of so-called hidden quantity, that is, a vowel followed by two consonants. The length of such a vowel cannot always be determined and is, in any case, of no importance to scanning Latin verse.


Elision (from elido -ere to eject) occurs when a vowel/diphthong at the end of a word is followed by a word beginning with a vowel/diphthong; the former is ejected, that is, it is not pronounced and does not count metrically. Elided vowels are enclosed in parentheses for purposes of scansion. The following examples are taken from Vergil unless otherwise indicated. Since punctuation has no significance in scansion, it is not indicated.

siste gradum tequ(e) aspectu ne subtrahe nostro Aeneid 6.465

errabat silv(a) in magna quam Troius heros Aeneid 6.451

at cantu commot(ae) Erebi de sedibus imis Georgics 4.471

Since h does not count metrically, elision also occurs when a word beginning with h is preceded by a word ending in a vowel/diphthong.

nesciaqu(e) humanis precibus mansuescere corda Georgics 4.470

Further, elision occurs even with words ending in a vowel plus m. This reflects the weak pronunciation of final m in Latin.

talibus Aeneas ardent(em) et torva tuentem Aeneid 6.467

These last two features are combined in the following line.

magnanim(um) heroum pueri innuptaeque puellae Georgics 4.476

Hiatus (absence of elision) occurs, but is rare. The purpose of elision is to facilitate pronunciation by eliminating the slight pause necessary when pronouncing two adjacent vowels (compare tequ(e) aspectu with teque aspectu). Elision does not, however, take place inside words or between lines.

Metrical Feet

A metrical foot is a combination of two or more long or short syllables. A regular succession of metrical feet is called a meter. The most common metrical feet are the following.

Feet of Two Syllables Trochee

Feet of Three Syllables Dactyl —

Anapest Tribrach

Foot of Four Syllables Choriamb

In scanning a line, all syllables are first marked as long or short by applying the rules given above. The length of a vowel followed by a single consonant within a word determines the length of its syllable; in cases of doubt, a dictionary and/or grammar should be consulted.

foedera terque firagdr stagnis auditus Avernls Georgia 4.493

Assuming that we know the meter in which the poem is written (all works of Vergil are in hexameters), we apply the metrical scheme, given in "Meters" below, for that meter and mark the division between feet with a vertical bar.

foedera | terque fra|gor stag|nls au|ditus A|vernis

Care must be taken to mark elided vowels if any occur. These can then be ignored.

redditaqu(e) Eurydice superas veniebat ad auras Georgics 4.486

reddita|qu(e) Eurydi|ce supe|ras veni|ebat ad | auras

Caesura and Diaeresis

For purposes of overall rhythm in some meters, poets arranged the words of a line so that there was a break between words inside a particular foot. This is called a caesura (lit., cutting) and is marked with a double vertical bar.

foedera| terque fra|gor || stag|nis au|ditus A|vernls

A diaeresis (lit., splitting) occurs where there is a break between words at the end of a foot. This too is marked with a double vertical bar. For an example of diaeresis, see "Pentameter" below.

In the majority of meters, there is only one mandatory caesura or diaeresis, and it is this that is marked. Because a caesura occurs inside a foot and a diaeresis at the end of a foot, they cannot be confused despite being indicated by the same sign.


Only the meters that occur in this book are described below.

In every meter, it is assumed that all long syllables require equal time to articulate, and that the same is true for all short syllables, but this is, at best, a very rough approximation of the real time needed in normal pronunciation.

In some meters described below (for example, the hexameter and pentameter, except for the final foot of each), all short syllables are presumed to take exactly half the time required to pronounce a long syllable. Consequently, in certain feet, a dactyl can be replaced with a spondee (-).

In other meters (for example, the iambic senarius), long and short syllables are interchangeable, and so an iamb can be replaced by a spondee (—) in certain feet.

One feature common to all meters is that the last syllable of the final foot can be either long or short.

Individual meters are used either by themselves (for example, the hen-decasylkble and iambic senarius) or in combination (for example, the Sapphic stanza). Some meters are employed in both ways; for instance, the hexameter is used alone and as the first line in the elegiac couplet and the first Archilochian.

When two meters are combined in a poem, one is distinguished from the other by being indented. An example is the elegiac couplet.

Me miserum, quanti montes volvuntur aquarum! (hexameter) iam iam tacturos sidera summa putes. (pentameter)

Ovid Tristia i.2.ig(.

In a three-meter combination, the second and third meters are successively indented; see the Alcaic stanza below.

In some meters (for example, the various Asclepiads), the length of each syllable except the last is prescribed, while in others (for example, the iambic senarius), there is considerable freedom.

As indicated below, certain meters were associated with particular genres of poetry. All examples are taken from the selections in this book.



The hexameter is used for epic, pastoral, satire, and certain other poetic genres. It is the meter of the selections from Ennius, Lucretius, Catullus (Carmina 64), Vergil, Horace (Sermones and Epistulae), Ovid (Metamorphoses), Manilius, Lucan, Valerius Flaccus, Statius, Silius Itali-cus, and Juvenal.

The hexameter has six feet. The first four may be either dactyls or spondees, the fifth is a dactyl, and the sixth is a trochee or spondee.

To give the hexameter a more rhythmic effect, a caesura occurs either after the first syllable of the third foot or after the first syllables of the second and fourth feet.

spárgéré | quádrüpé|düm || néc | votis | néctéré | vota

Indómí|tós || In| córdé gé|réns || Árí|ádná fó|r5rés

Catullus Carmina 64.54

Elegiac couplet

In an elegiac couplet, a hexameter is followed by a pentameter. Used for love poetry, epigrams, and occasional poetry, this is the meter of the selections from Verse Epitaphs c, Catulus, Catullus (Carmina 84, 85, and 101), Propertius, Tibullus, Lygdamus, Ovid (Amdres, Ars amatdria, Fasti, and Tristia), Martial (Epigrammata 4.8 and poems under the titles "Some Odd Characters" and "Wisecracks"), and Claudian,

A pentameter consists of two halves of two and a half feet each; between the two there is a break between words, which is called a diaeresis—not a caesura—because it occurs at the end of a metrical unit, not inside it.

An example of an elegiac couplet follows.

dant veni|am || ri|dentque mo |ram || capit| ille co|rdnam (hexameter) quae pos|sit cri|nes || Phoebe de|cere tu|os (pentameter)

Ovid Fasti 2.i05f.

The pentameter is always used to form an elegiac couplet; it is never used alone.

An elegiac couplet normally forms a self-contained sense unit and is usually followed by a mark of punctuation indicating this.

M 3 Hendecasyllable

A hendecasyllable (from Greek hendeka eleven) is a line of eleven syllables and is used in occasional poetry. It is the meter of the selections from Catullus (Carmina 2, 3, 5, 7, and 13) and Martial (Epigrammata 10.47 and 12.18). Its metrical pattern follows.

dona|runt Vene|res Cu|pidi|nesque Catullus Carmina 13.12

A caesura sometimes occurs after the fifth syllable, but practice varies.

Alcaic stanza

Named for the early Greek poet Alcaeus, the Alcaic stanza was brought into Latin by Horace, who used it for lyric poems on a variety of topics, usually of a serious nature. It is the meter of Horace Odes 2.14.

An Alcaic stanza consists of four lines with three different meters. The first two lines have the following metrical pattern.

Each line normally begins with a single long syllable (an exception is Horace Odes 2.14.6, where the initial syllable is short). Diaeresis occurs after the fifth syllable.

The third line, which also begins with a single long syllable, has the following pattern.

The fourth line has the following pattern.

The third and fourth lines have neither caesura nor diaeresis.

con|pescit j unda j| scilicet j omnibus qul|cumque | terrae || munere | vescimur e|navi|ganda | sive | reges siv(e) ino|pes erijmus cojloni Horace Odes 2.i4.9ff.

M5J Sapphic stanza

The Sapphic stanza, named for the most famous woman poet of antiquity, Sappho, is a lyric meter used for love poetry, as well as for poetry on other topics. It is the meter of Catullus Carmina 51 and Horace Odes 1.38.

A Sapphic stanza consists of four lines with two different meters. The first three lines have the following metrical pattern.

There is usually a caesura after the fifth syllable.

The fourth line, which does not have a caesura or diaeresis, has the following pattern.

lingua | sed tor|pet || tenu|is sub | artus flamma) dema|nat || sonijtu su|opte tinti/nant au/res j/ gemi/na te/guntur lumina / nocte Catullus Carmina 51.9ff.

m6J First Archilochian

The first Archilochian, employed by Horace in Odes 4.7, is a couplet consisting of a hexameter and a shorter verse (technically known as a lesser Archilochian).

—ww | —ww | —ww | —ww | —ww | —w (hexameter; the caesura occurs as indicated above) —ww | —ww | w (lesser Archilochian)

Gratia | cum Nym|phls || gemi|nisque so|roribus | audet ducere | nuda chojros Horace Odes 4.7.5f.

Trochaic septenarius

A trochaic septenarius (also called trochaic tetrameter catalectic) is a line of seven trochees (-~) with the addition of an extra syllable at the end; trochees in the even-numbered feet can be replaced by spondees. It is the meter of the Pervigilium Veneris. Its basic pattern follows.

There is a diaeresis after the fourth foot, as indicated, ipsa I nymphás | diva | lücó || iüssít | Iré | myrté|ó

Pervigilium Veneris 28 Some variations on this pattern occur in the Pervigilium Veneris.

M 8 Iambic senarius

The iambic senarius was the meter commonly used in drarna for dialogue (here in Plautus (Mostellaria), Terence (Andria 196-198), and Publilius Syrus), but it also occurs elsewhere, for example, in Phaedrus' Fabulae and in epitaphs (see Verse Epitaphs b). Its basic pattern follows.

A caesura is usual in the third foot, but is sometimes postponed to the fourth foot. Considerable variation is allowed in the first five feet, where a foot may have www 0r — or —w or —ww or ww— or wwww, née vë|rï sïmï|lë lôquë|rë || nêc | vërûm | frutëx

Plautus Mostellâria 13

pôstqu(am) in|tërfë|clt || sïc|lôcù|tùs trâ|dîtur

Phaedrus Fâbulae 4.4.6

M 9 Iambic octonarius

The iambic octonarius occurs in Terence (Andria 185-195 and 199-202). Its basic pattern follows.

A caesura is usual in the fifth foot. The same variations occur in the first seven feet as in the iambic senarius.

sibi | dar(i) u|xorem | ferunt Terence Andria 191

Limping iambic

The limping iambic is used for occasional poetry, as in Catullus (Carmina 8 and 39) and Persius (prologue). It is an iambic senarius, but with a trochee or spondee (--) as the sixth foot. Because the final foot interrupts the iambic rhythm, the line is said to limp. Its basic pattern follows.

Most variations allowed in the iambic senarius can occur in the first three feet of the limping iambic, aut Trans |pada| nus || ut | meos | quoqu(e) atjtingam

Catullus Carmina 39,13

Asclepiad Meters

The four meters that follow consist of a number of choriambic feet preceded by a spondee (—) and followed by an iamb (-"-). Since the second syllable of the iamb is the last syllable in the line, the final foot may also be Each choriambic foot except the last is followed by a diaeresis.

These meters were used by Horace in his lyric poetry and by Seneca in the choral odes of his tragedies. Three metrical patterns are used, differing in the number of choriambic feet they contain.

a One choriambic (there is no diaeresis)

b Two choriambics (the first is followed by a diaeresis)


c Three choriambics (the first and second are followed by a diaeresis)

Mil First Asclepiad* (Seneca Troades 371-408)

The first Asclepiad consists solely of pattern b.

Immlxltus nebulis II cessit in alera Seneca Troades 380

Second Asclepiad (Horace Odes 1.24)

The second Asclepiad is a stanza of four lines, of which the first three are pattern b and the fourth is pattern a.

ergo | Quintilium || perpetuus | sopor urget | cui Pudor et || Iustitiae | soror Incor|rupta Fides || nudaque Ve|ritas quand(o) ul|l(um) inveniet | parem Horace Odes i.24.5ff.

M13 Fourth Asclepiad (Horace Odes 3.9 and 4.3)

The fourth Asclepiad is a couplet consisting of patterns a and b.

cervl|ci iuvenis | dabat Persa|rum vigui || rege bea|tior Horace Odes 3.9.3f.

MT4} Fifth Asclepiad (Horace Odes 1.11) The fifth Asclepiad consists solely of pattern c.

aetas | carpe diem || quam minimum || credula pos|tero

Horace Odes 1.11.8

*1he numbers given to the Asclepiad meters are those of Nisbet and Hubbard in their commentaries on Horaces Odes. The third Asclepiad is not represented in this book.

<1 Explanations and more literal interpretations are given in parentheses. Words that have no specific equivalent in the Latin original but that must be supplied in English are enclosed in square brackets. C Translations are as literal as possible and are not to be taken as models of English style or as reflecting the style of the original Latin.

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