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Allen and Greenough/ New Latin Grammar

The Musical Accent

611. That part of the measure which receives the stress of voice (the musical accent) is called the Thesis; the unaccented part is called the Arsis. 1

a. The stress of voice laid upon the Thesis is called the Ictus (beat). It is marked thus: [acutemacr] ˘ ˘.

b. The ending of a word within a measure is called Cæsura. When this coincides with a rhetorical pause, it is called the Cæsura of the verse, and is of main importance as affecting the melody or rhythm.

c. The coincidence of the end of a word with that of a measure is called Diæresis.

XML File

The Thesis signifies properly the putting down ( θέσις , from τίθημι , put , place ) of the foot in beating time, in the march or dance (“downward beat”), and the Arsis the raising ( ἄρσις , from ἀείρω , raise ) of the foot (“upward beat”). By the Latin grammarians these terms were made to mean, respectively, the ending and the beginning of a measure. By a misunderstanding which has prevailed till recently, since the time of Bentley, their true signification has been reversed. They will here be used in accordance with their ancient meaning, as has now become more common. This metrical accent, recurring at regular intervals of time, is what constitutes the essence of the rhythm of poetry as distinguished from prose, and should be constantly kept in mind. The error mentioned arose from applying to trochaic and dactylic verse a definition which was true only of iambic or anapæstic.