Comparative Studies in Greek and Indic Meter

1. The Common Heritage of Greek and Indic Meter: A Survey

With the ultimate aim of comparing the metrical contexts of Greek κλέοc ἄφθιτον and Indic śráva(s) ákṣitam, we must start by reviewing the conventions of Greek and Indic meter which have been recognized as cognate by Meillet and his followers. [1] My approach will be to consider first those of the conventions which are directly comparable. From there I will move on to latent comparanda, indicating what seems to have remained the same and what has become different as a result of change. In certain respects, Greek meter might have undergone some changes which are resisted by Indic meter, or vice versa. Moreover, I should note straightaway that formal difference between the two does not necessarily mean that one withstood change while the other did not. There may well be instances where both have undergone change, but in different directions. Then too, change can also be parallel. In short, we have to reckon with the factors of: (1) common archaism, (2) archaism vs. innovation, (3) diverse innovation, (4) common innovation. [2] For the moment, then, I will confine myself to features which are overtly comparable. The descriptions {27|28} in the following list apply to Greek and Indic meter simultaneously:

The rhythm of the meters operates on the principle of opposing long (–) vs. short () syllables.

A long/short vowel followed by one consonant counts as a long/short syllable, regardless of word-boundary.

A long/short vowel followed by two consonants counts as a long syllable, regardless of wordboundary.

A long vowel at the end of one word may be shortened when it is directly followed by another vowel at the beginning of the next word.

The meters are isosyllabic, in that there must be the same number of syllables in every instance of a given type of verse. The most common Vedic verse-types consist of 12, 11, 10, or 8 syllables (= dodeca-, hendeca-, deca-, or octosyllables), for each of which there is a Greek equivalent. The dodecasyllables and hendecasyllables are called trimeters and the octosyllables, dimeters. (In Greek, there is a marked erosion of isosyllabism in many meters, {28|29} resulting mainly from the process of substituting a long for two shorts. Isosyllabism persists, however, in such primitive Aeolic meters as the Sapphic hendecasyllable.)

The last syllable of a verse is optionally long or short (⏓).

Extreme rhythmical regularity in the Indic verse is a sign of relatively late composition. [23] In the most archaic phases of Rig-Vedic composition, as I have already emphasized, sporadic rhythmical irregularity is sanctioned even in the closing of the verse. In the opening, moreover, the most archaic versification signals not just sporadic irregularity but absolute freedom in the rhythm, and this freedom is the rule rather than the exception. Besides internal evidence for the archaism of rhythmical freedom in the opening, there is also the external evidence of comparative metrics. Lack of a regular pattern of rhythm in the opening is a regular feature of the Slavic meters cognate with the Vedic, [24] as also of some Greek meters such as the choriambic {35|36} dimeter. [25] The comparative approach, in short, suggests that freedom in the rhythm of the opening is a feature inherited from the archetypal Indo-European poetic language. The Greek poetic evidence is valuable because it attests not only the pristine state of the opening but also the progressions away from this state. [26] These progressions, such as the one from irregular to regular Glyconic

⏓ ⏓ ⏓ ⏓
⏓ ⏓ –

involve the gradual restriction of the original freedom in the opening. The lineal direction is from line-final toward line-initial—a direction which we may describe pictorially as heading from ‘right’ to ‘left’. [
27] Using such internal evidence in conjunction with the comparative approach, we may imagine three stages in the evolution of the opening: (1) absolute freedom from regular patterns of rhythm; (2) tendency of some patterns to outnumber others in frequency of occurrence; tendency diminishes from ‘right’ towards ‘left’; (3) regularization of such tendencies. [28]


[ back ] 1. See Meillet 1923, Jakobson 1952, Watkins 1963; for a convenient précis, see Schmitt 1967: 307-313.

[ back ] 2. For an application of these factors in linguistic reconstruction, see Householder and Nagy 1972:778-790 (= 1973:58-70).

[ back ] 3. See Nagy 1970 passim.

[ back ] 4. In Indic meter, catalexis may not be synchronic: see pp. 285-287.

[ back ] 5. I have chosen the term ‘closing’ in preference to ‘cadence’. Although the latter has been in vogue among students of Indic and Greek meter (e.g., Arnold 1905 and Dale 1969 respectively), it is subject to misinterpretation.

[ back ] 6. For specifics on these Greek and Indic octosyllables, see pp. 31, 35f, 37f.

[ back ] 7. Watkins 1963:203-206.

[ back ] 8. See Watkins 1963:206; also pp. 35f below.

[ back ] 9. For the analytical value of this distinction between constant and tendency, see Jakobson 1952 passim.

[ back ] 10. Cf. Watkins 1963:208.

[ back ] 11. For a convenient summary of statistics and other data, see Arnold 1905:152-160.

[ back ] 12. Cf. Watkins 1963 passim.

[ back ] 13. Meillet 1923:45f.

[ back ] 14. Cf. Arnold 1905:183-185.

[ back ] 15. Cf. Watkins 1963:200f.

[ back ] 16. Cf. Meillet 1923:46.

[ back ] 17. See pp. 30f, 37.

[ back ] 18. Jakobson 1952:63.

[ back ] 19. Cf. Watkins 1963:209f.

[ back ] 20. See p. 294.

[ back ] 21. For statistics and other data, see Arnold 1905:152-160.

[ back ] 22. See pp. 42f.

[ back ] 23. Cf. Arnold 1905 passim.

[ back ] 24. Jakobson 1952:63.

[ back ] 25. Watkins 1963:196.

[ back ] 26. Watkins 1963:206.

[ back ] 27. Cf. p. 30.

[ back ] 28. One such tendency will figure prominently in the succeeding discussions, Part II: the selection of long over short in syllable 4 of the Rig-Vedic octosyllable.