Homer’s Text and Language

  Use the following persistent identifier: http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hul.ebook:CHS_Nagy.Homers_Text_and_Language.2004.

8. An Etymology for the Dactylic Hexameter*

8§7 By “enjambment” I mean a syntactical runover from one verse to the next. By (1) “caesura” and (2) “diaeresis” I mean a word-break that is found respectively (1) within a foot and (2) between one foot and the next one. The “foot” in the dactylic hexameter is a quantitative sequence of one heavy syllable (–) followed by two light syllables ( ), with the option of substituting – for .

8§12 A related question concerns the concept of the colon as demarcated by caesuras and diaereses. According to the colon-theory of Hermann Fränkel (1955), the hexameter is actually built by cola, with each hexameter comprised of four cola demarcated by an “A/B/C” pattern of word-breaking (four kinds of A, two kinds each of B and C):

|| || || || || || || || x
  A1   A2   A3   A4       B1   B2     C1     C2          

Something essential is missing in this picture. There is a “#” to be placed immediately after “x” (= the last syllable of the line, of indeterminate syllabic quantity). It is easy to forget that the metrical boundaries of these “cola” in the hexameter are not only (1) “||” = caesura or diaeresis but also (2) “#” = the boundary for the end of the verse, which of course becomes ipso facto the boundary for the beginning of the next verse. The sequence of boundaries is …A…B…C…#…A…B…C…#…A…B…C…# etc.

8§13 There is a vital distinction to be made here: whereas both “||” (= A or B or C) and “#” can be markers of an optional pause in the syntax of the hexameter, only “#” may be described as the marker of an obligatory pause in the meter of the hexameter. In sum, the term “metrical pause” is appropriate only for verse-end, but it is inappropriate for a caesura (Fränkel’s A1, A2, A4, B1, B2, C1) or for a diaeresis (A3, C2).

8§14 There are further qualifications to be made as we follow through on the {147|148} assumption that syntactical pause causes metrical pause. Having addressed the basic question concerning syntactical pause as marked by a caesura or a diaeresis, we may proceed to some related questions concerning syntactical non-pause as marked by enjambment. Are we to consider the phenomenon of enjambment, especially the kind that is “necessary” from a syntactical point of view, to be a metrical irregularity? Since there is no syntactical pause in cases of “necessary” enjambment, are we to assume that there is no metrical pause in such cases? Further, are we to assume that syntactical non-pause at verse-end actually causes metrical non-pause?

8§18 Such examples of syntactical pauses at “||” and of syntactical non-pauses at “#” point to a major problem with Fränkel’s concept of the four-colon hexameter as the primary shaper of Homeric diction. Although his “A/B/C” system of caesurae and diaereses provides an elegant taxonomy for patterns of word-breaking within the metrical framework of the dactylic hexameter, it does not account for the actual mechanics of formulaic composition, which extend beyond that framework. Rather, it merely describes the surface conditions of word-placement within the hexameter.

8§27 The alternative model that I offer, however, is not “monogenetic.” It is {152|153} not even “genetic,” as I noted earlier, inasmuch as it combines a synchronic perspective with the diachronic. Applying as a metaphor the word monophuḗs ‘single’ in the botanical sense of describing a tree or herb with a single stem (Theophrastus Historia Plantarum 2.6.9, Dioscorides 4.114), I propose “monophysis” as a term for describing the synchronic reality of the hexameter as a singular and unitary metrical frame, in contrast to Gentili’s “polygenesis.” On the other hand, “polygenesis” is an apt term for explaining the diachronic reality represented by the vast variety of formulas, in all their different shapes and sizes, that are all ultimately accommodated by the unifying framework of the hexameter.

8§28 With these observations in mind, I arrive at the question: is there an etymology for the dactylic hexameter? My use of the word “etymology” in the wording of the question makes the answer difficult. This is appropriate, since the problem of the hexameter is complex and resists facile solutions. The search for etymologies entails the laborious process of linguistic reconstruction, demanding the rigorous application of all levels of linguistics—morphology and syntax as well as phonology. It also demands a combination of synchronic and diachronic perspectives. To explain the “origins” of hexameter by looking only at metrics and not at formulaics is the equivalent of arriving at an etymology by looking only at phonology and not at morphology and syntax. To ignore the synchronic point of view in the analysis of meter and formula is the equivalent of treating language merely as a mass of data, not as an integral system.

8§29 The “etymology” that I proposed for hexameter in the Appendix of my 1990 book involves both metrics and formulaics, both the synchronic and the diachronic perspectives. I offer here only a brief sketch of some of the essentials: [45]

1. The hexameter can be reconstructed as a single metrical frame, cognate with an Aeolic meter attested in the poetics of Alcaeus:

x x – – x

From a synchronic view of Aeolic metrics, this meter is not a distich. From a diachronic point of view, however, we may say that it evolved out of phraseology that could also produce, in other situations, metrical distichs. From a synchronic view of Homeric metrics, the hexameter is not a distich, either. [
46] The common cultural perception of the hexameter in the historical context of the Classical period and later makes the unity of this meter {153|154} unambiguously clear: the “hexameter” is exactly what the name says it is, a rhythmical frame that is measured in six parts—a hexametros tonos (Herodotus 1.47.2, 1.62.4, 5.60; cf. 5.61.1; iambic trimeter is a trimetros tonos: 1.174.5). The same perception could apply to the Aeolic meter from which I derive the hexameter. [47]


8§31 Testimonia concerning the observance of pause at verse-end (nos. 1, 3–5 after Daitz 1991):

1. Cicero De oratore 1.61.26l: … et coniectis in os calculis, summa voce versus multos uno spiritu pronuntiare consuescebat ‘… and with pebbles inserted into his mouth, he [Demosthenes] grew accustomed to declaim, at the top of his lungs, many verses on a single breath’ (tr. Daitz).

8§32 Cf. Daitz p. 152, who argues that the regime of declaiming more than one verse in one breath implies that the normal practice was to declaim one verse with each breath.

2. In addition to the examples adduced by Daitz, we may note the following context of the Greek word stikhos, parallel to Latin versus, in Plutarch’s Life of Demosthenes, where the same regime is described and where the source is said to be Demetrius of Phalerum (FGH 228 F 17), who reportedly heard Demosthenes himself tell about this regime:

τοῖς δὲ σωματικοῖς ἐλαττώμασι τοιαύτην ἐπῆγεν ἄσκησιν, ὡς ὁ Φαληρεὺς Δημήτριος [FGH 228 F 17] ἱστορεῖ, λέγων αὐτοῦ Δημοσθένους ἀκοῦσαι πρεσβύτου γεγονότος· τὴν μὲν γὰρ ἀσάφειαν καὶ τραυλότητα τῆς γλώττης ἐκβιάζεσθαι καὶ διαρθροῦν εἰς τὸ στόμα ψήφους λαμβάνοντα καὶ ῥήσεις ἅμα λέγοντα, τὴν δὲ φωνὴν γυμνάζειν ἐν τοῖς δρόμοις καὶ ταῖς πρὸς τὰ σιμ’ ἀναβάσεσι διαλεγόμενον καὶ λόγους τινὰς ἢ στίχους ἅμα τῷ πνεύματι πυκνουμένῳ προφερόμενον·

Plutarch Life of Demosthenes 11.1.1ff

For his physical disabilities he conducted the following regimen, as reported by Demetrius of Phalerum [FGH 228 F 17], who says that {155|156} he heard it from Demosthenes himself, who was by now an old man: that he [= Demosthenes] got under control and corrected, by way of physical training, the slur and lisp in his speech by putting pebbles into his mouth while delivering speeches, and that he exercised his voice by running and by going uphill while delivering verses within one concentrated breath.

3. Cicero Orator 9.4.108: ex hoc genere illud est Crassi: “missos faciant patronos; ipsi prodeant”—nisi intervallo dixisset “ipsi prodeant,” sensisset profecto se fudisse senarium. ‘An example of this type may be cited from Crassus: “missos… prodeant.” If he had not paused before (the words) “ipsi prodeant,” he would have immediately recognized that he had produced a senarius’ (trans. Cunningham).

8§33 Cf. Daitz p. 154n9: “The clear implication of this passage is that the only element which identified Crassus’ words as prose rather than poetry was the internal pause (intervallum) he had made at sense boundary. Hence we may conclude that in Cicero’s time, poetry was normally not recited with internal pause at sense boundary.”

4. Quintilian 9.4.93: … in fine pro longa accipi brevem, quia videtur aliquid vacantis temporis ex eo quod insequitur accedere ‘a concluding short syllable is usually regarded as equivalent to a long because the time-length which it lacks appears to be supplied from that which follows’ (trans. Butler). Cf. Daitz 1991:152.

5. Quintilian 9.4.108: Sed hic est illud “inane” quod dixi: paulum enim morae damus inter ultimum atque proximum verbum (turpe duceret), et “turpe” illud intervallo quodam producimus ‘This example also illustrates the “inane” I spoke of above, since we put a brief pause between the last two words (turpe duceret) and lengthen the last syllable of “turpe” by a kind of pause or delay in utterance’ (trans. Cunningham). Cf. Daitz p. 154n8. {156|157}


[ back ] * The original version of this essay is N 1998d.

[ back ] 1. Watkins 1995:21.

[ back ] 2. Watkins 1995:21.

[ back ] 3. Parry 1971 = MHV; Lord 1960. For bibliography on Parry’s and Lord’s definitions of “formula” and “theme,” see N 1996c:102–103.

[ back ] 4. N 1974; summarized in N 1979b:614–618; 1996c:100–103.

[ back ] 5. Watkins 1995:21, referring to West 1982:29–56.

[ back ] 6. Watkins 1995:21.

[ back ] 7. Berg 1978, Tichy 1981a and 1981b. See Magnelli 1996 for a brief survey of the explanatory models offered by Berg, Tichy, West, and myself. The list of other views that Magnelli surveys includes those of Campanile, Cantilena, Fernández Delgado, Gentili, Hoekstra, Hoenigswald, Horrocks, Itsumi, Ivanov, Jahn, Janko, Latacz, Peabody, Ritoók, Ruijgh, Sicking, Visser, and Vigorita.

[ back ] 8. My solution as published in N 1974 is supplemented in a later work, N 1979b, which offers a new dimension to the earlier solution.

[ back ] 9. See especially Magnelli 1996:123 on Berg’s model.

[ back ] 10. N 1979b:617, reexamined in N 1996c:102.

[ back ] 11. Watkins 1995:16–19 and 19–21 respectively.

[ back ] 12. Watkins 1995:21.

[ back ] 13. On theme and thematics, see already N 1974:229–261.

[ back ] 14. Daitz 1991. See now N 2000e.

[ back ] 15. Again, N 2000e.

[ back ] 16. Allen 1973:113 quoting Kirk 1962:60.

[ back ] 17. Allen 1973:113, with bibliography.

[ back ] 18. Lejeune 1955:259, 299, summarized by West 1982:9.

[ back ] 19. West 1982:9.

[ back ] 20. Cf. West 1982:36, with a map of “sense-pauses” marked by caesura, diaeresis, and verse-end in the hexameter.

[ back ] 21. N 2000e.

[ back ] 22. See N 1974:120–135, with striking examples from lyric meters.

[ back ] 23. For a particularly useful sketch, see Bakker 1997a:149–155.

[ back ] 24. N 2000e.

[ back ] 25. Cf. Daitz 1991:152. Cf. also Higbie 1990:28 and 59n1 on non-elision between verses in Homeric diction.

[ back ] 26. On the possibility that it was Aristarchus who initiated the new editorial policy of omitting verse-final movable ν, see S. West 1967:17, with further references. I think it is relevant that Aristarchus was relatively uninterested in the performance traditions of Homeric poetry, preferring instead to edit the Homeric paradosis as if it were a text originally written by Homer: see PP 130, 150–152.

[ back ] 27. Daitz 1991:155.

[ back ] 28. The stance of Aristarchus, as outlined at n. 26 above, helps explain the attitude of the later scholar Nicanor (fragments edited by Friedländer 1850), whose system for punctuating the Homeric text rules out the factor of performance. Cf. Daitz 1991:150, who shows that the various “morae” that Nicanor posits at syntactical pauses, especially at syntactical pauses marked by a caesura or a diaeresis, make it impossible for a performer / reader to maintain the rhythm of the hexameter. On Nicanor’s system of morae, reflecting purely syntactical considerations rather than any sort of performative pause, see Blank 1983.

[ back ] 29. Rossi 1996:313. See Magnelli 1996:123–124 for a survey of other theories shaped by this view. An extreme example is Hoekstra 1981:33–53.

[ back ] 30. N 1996c:103.

[ back ] 31. N 1974:145. It goes without saying that meter, in any given historical situation, may even be extraneous to formula. For an extreme example, we may consider situations where the system of metrics is borrowed by one language from another: cf. Allen 1973:15.

[ back ] 32. For an illuminating discussion entitled “From Rhythm to Meter,” see Bakker 1997a:146–155.

[ back ] 33. N 1974:140–149.

[ back ] 34. Rossi 1996:313–314.

[ back ] 35. I also object to the way in which my model is described by Gentili 1977 = 1996:35: his use of the word priorità (he says that one cannot establish “priority” between formula and meter) blurs the distinctions that I make between diachronic and synchronic perspectives.

[ back ] 36. Rossi 1996:314.

[ back ] 37. Gentili 1977 = 1996:31–32.

[ back ] 38. Gentili 1977 = 1996:31n56, citing West 1973:169n10.

[ back ] 39. Gentili 1977 = 1996:31–33; cf. Giannini 1977 = Gentili 1996:42.

[ back ] 40. West 1996:236.

[ back ] 41. Watkins 1995:21. The two-colon model is evident from the discussion in West 1982:35–39.

[ back ] 42. N 1979b, especially p. 627.

[ back ] 43. PH 439–464 is the Appendix. The electronic publication of these printed pages is an improved version of this Appendix, because several typographical errors have been corrected: http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hul.ebook:CHS_Nagy.Pindars_Homer.1990. There is also a printed publication that incorporates these corrections and that recapitulates the results of all my work on formula and meter in epic and in choral lyric, N 1996c. For the record, I list here the corrigenda for the printed version of my Appendix to Pindar’s Homer: p. 452 line 17, “D+D” not “B+D”; p. 459n108 line 2/ 1st metrical string, – – x – – – not – x – – – (x = “anceps”); p. 459n108 line 2 / 2nd metrical string, – – n – – – not – n – – – (n = “anceps” or “biceps”/“macron”); p. 459n108 line 5, delete “IV 202,”; p. 459n108 line 6 / 2nd metrical string, – – x – – – not – x – – –; p. 459n108 line 9 / last metrical string, the initial o should be x; p. 463 line 13, delete the initial –; p. 463n123 line 2, ἁλμυρὸν not ἅλμυρον; p. 463n123 line 3, ἁλμυρὸς not ἁλμυρος; pp. 463n123 line 5, “ὕδωρ displaces πόντος” not “πόντος displaces ὕδωρ”; p. 464 line 1, “~*” not “*~.”

[ back ] 44. Gentili 1977 = 1996:34.

[ back ] 45. Besides the Appendix of PH = N 1990a, and the electronic version as cited at note 43, I offer an overall exposition in N 1996c.

[ back ] 46. Still, the hexameter synchronically matches the length of a distich formally, esthetically, and even cognitively. See Bakker 1997a:148, who suggests that the hexameter, in terms of cognitive psychology, “cannot be an original discourse unit: it is simply too long to be grasped in its entirety by the poet’s and listener’s consciousness.”

[ back ] 47. On the evolution of the “Aeolic” base (= x x) into the first “foot” (= – – or – ) of the hexameter, see the updated formulation in N 1996c:90.

[ back ] 48. On the “tricolon crescendo” effect of the pattern #___A4____C1_____#, see Bakker 1997a:150–151.

[ back ] 49. On the application of the term “dactylic expansion” to the phenomenon exemplified by cognate phraseology shaped C1___# (shorter phrase) and B1______# (longer phrase), see N 1996c:83–85. The objections of Gentili 1977 = 1996:35–36 to my earlier analysis of “dactylic expansion” in N 1974:68–71 do not take into account the combination of synchronic and diachronic perspectives that I had applied to that phenomenon.

[ back ] 50. There is an extensive study of such patterns in N 1996c.

[ back ] 51. This is one of the basic arguments in N 1974, with detailed documentation; for a survey of examples, see N 1996c:93–94.

[ back ] 52. This point is missed by Hoekstra 1981:33–53 and others.

[ back ] 53. PP 70–86; further arguments in HQ.

[ back ] 54. Lord 1960.

[ back ] 55. Cf. HQ Ch.2 and Ch.3.