Doubtful Syllables

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383. Besides the cases in which the metrical value of a syllable may be made uncertain by its place in a particular verse—i. e. by the circumstances of position, hiatus, ictus, etc.—there are many instances in which the "natural" quantity of the vowel appears to be indeterminate.

Under the heading of "doubtful vowels" should be classed, not only the words in which the same letter may stand either for a long or a short vowel, as Ἄρης, ἀνήρ, but also those in which the change is shown by the spelling, i. e. in which a short vowel interchanges with a long vowel or diphthong

νεός : νηός

ὄνομα : οὔνομα, etc.

And with these variations, again, we may place, as at least kindred phenomena, the doubtful syllables which arise from the interchange of single and double consonants.

Ὀδυσσεύς : Ὀδυσεύς

Ἀχιλλεύς : Ἀχιλεύς

As we speak of doubtful vowels, these might similarly be called "doubtful consonants."

In all such words the variation of quantity may either mean that there were two distinct forms between which the poet had a choice, or that the quantity as it existed in the spoken language was in fact intermediate. The former case would usually arise when a vowel or syllable which had come to be short in the spoken language was allowed to retain its older quantity as a poetical archaism. In the latter case the poet could give the syllable either metrical value or (as in so many instances) he might treat the syllable as ordinarily short, but capable of being lengthened by the ictus, or by the poses of the verse.

384. Doubtful vowels appear to rise chiefly in two ways

  1. By the shortening of a long vowel or diphthong before a vowel.

    ᾱ: in ἵλαὸς (ᾱ in Il. 1.583, ᾰ in Il. 9.639, 19.178).

    η: in the oblique cases of νηῦς (except the dative νηΐ) and of several nouns in -ευς, as Πηλῆος, Πηλέος; the forms ἥαται and ἕαται (ἧμαι); ἀφήῃ and ἀφέῃ (§ 80); ἠΰς and ἐΰς, ληϊστοί and λεϊστή (Il. 9.408); perhaps also in Θρήϊκες, δήϊος, ἤϊα, which shorten η when the case ending is naturally long (Θρηΐκων, δηΐων, ἠΐων, etc. scanned ˘ ˘ ˉ, unless we suppose contraction or synizesis).

    ῑ: in ἱερός, κονίη, λίην; comparatives in -ιων; patronymics, as Κρονίων; ἴομεν, ἵημι (ἀφῐ́ει, etc.), ἰαίνω; and verbs in -ιω, as τίω, ὀΐω (§ 51.1). Probably also in the abstract nouns in -ιη, the ι being treated as long in ὑπεροπλίῃ, προθυμίη, ὑποδεξίη, ἀτιμίη, ἀκομιστίη.

    ῡ: in verbs in -υω (§ 51.4).

    ω: in ἥρωος (ˉ ˘ ˘ in Od. 6.303); ἥρῳ, read ἥρωϊ (Il. 7.453).

    αι: in ἀεί for αἰεί; ἔμπαιος (ˉ ˘ ˘ in Od. 20.379), and the compound χαμαιεῦναι, χαμαιευνάδες; also verbs in -αιω, as ἀγαιόμενος and ἀγάασθε; κέραιε and κεράασθε; ναῖον and νάει, νάουσι.

    ει: in ὠκέα, βαθέης (for ὠκεῖα, βαθείης); adjectives in -ειος, as χάλκειος and χάλκεος; ῥεῖα and ῥέα; πλεῖον, etc., and πλέονες; βείομαι and βέομαι (§ 80), and many verbs in -εω (§ 51.3).

    οι: in ὀλοός and ὁλοιός; also οἶος (˘ ˘, as in Il. 13.275 οἶδ’ ἀρετὴν οἶός ἐσσι, cp. Il. 18.105; Od. 7.312, 20. 89.

    ευ: in δεύομαι and δέομαι; ἔχευα and ἔχεα; ἠλεύατο and ἀλέασθαι.

    υι: in υἱός (Il. 4.473, 5.612, etc.).

    The genitive endings -ᾱων, -εων fall under this head, if -εων represents an older Ionic -ηων.

    In some cases of this kind our texts have εἰ where it is probable that the original vowel was η; so in πλεῖος full (Attic πλέως from πλῆος), χρεῖος debt and χρειώ need (from χρη-, χρᾰ-)

    Sometimes ει has taken the place of ευ before another vowel, as in the verbs θέω, πνέω, πλέω, χέω, κλέω (§ 29.3), also in λείουσι, dative plural of λέων (λεύων or λέϝων), and perhaps in the perfect εἴωθα (cp. εὐέθωκε Hesych.), εἰοικυῖαι (Il. 18.418). Similarly ᾱ may stand for αυ, as φάεα eyes (φαυ-), ἀήρ (cp. αὔρα) and other derivatives of ἄϝημι (ἁλιᾱής, ἀκρ-ᾱής), ἀέσαμεν we slept (ἰαύω), ἀασάμην (ἀϝάτη), and probably μεμᾱότες, ἄϊον, ἀείδω, Ἄϊδος. We even find οἱ for ου (from οϝ), in οἰέτεας for ὁ-ϝετέας of like age (Il. 2.765), πνοιή for πνοϝή: cp. ὄϊες (ˉ ˘ ˘ in Od. 9.425.

    η for ευ may perhaps be seen in ἠείδης, ἠείδει (ἐ-ϝείδεας, -εε): but see the explanation suggested in § 67.3.

    Interchange of quantity is occasionally found: στέωμεν, κτέωμεν, φθέωμεν for στήομεν, etc. (§ 80); ἕως and τέως (if these forms are Homeric) for ἦος and τῆος. So the genitive ending -εω, for -ᾱο (-ηο).

  2. By compensatory lengthening, of

    ε to ει, in ξεῖνος (ξένϝος) but ξενίη, κεινός and κενός, πεῖραρ and πέρας (ἀπειρέσιος), εἴνατος, εἵνεκα

    ο to oυ, μοῦνος (but μονωθείς Il. 11.470); οὔρος (a watcher) but ὁρ-άω: οὔρεα and ὄρος (ὀρϝος?)

    ᾰ in παρέχῃ (παρ-σέχω) Od. 19.113

    ῠ in συνεχές, ll. 12.26

    Under this head we should place double forms arising by epenthesis, as ἕταρος and ἑταῖρος (for ἑταρ·ι̯ος); ἐνί, ἐν and εἰν. But ἀπερείσιος boundless should be ἀπερήσιος, from *πέρη (πέρην).

    Other variations, of which no general account can be given, are seen in Ἄρης, ἀνήρ, ἀμάω I reap (ᾱ generally in the simple verb, ᾰ in the compounds); φίλος (ῑ in φίλε κασίγνητε); ἄτῑτος and τῐτός ; ὕδωρ, ἀντικρύ; δύο and δύω, δεῦρο and (once) δεύρω, Διόνυσος and Διώνυσος. The chief cases of a doubtful vowel being long without the help of the ictus are, ἀρή, ἁλῶναι (ἁλόντε with ᾱ in Il. 5.487), πρίν, ἱμάς, πιφαύσκω.

385. Double consonants, causing doubtful syllables: chiefly

σσ, in the 1st aorist (§ 39.1), and dative plural (§ 102); also ὅσσος, μέσσος, νεμεσσάω (where σσ = τι̯), Oδυσσεύς. So for ἴσασι (ˉ ˉ ˘) we should write ἴσσασι (for ἴδ-σασι, § 7.3).

λλ, in Ἀχιλλεύς

κκ, in πελέκκῳ (κκ = κϝ?), cp. πέλεκυς

As to ππ and ττ, in ὅππως, ὅττι, etc. see § 108.2.

Suggested Citation

D.B. Monro, A Grammar of the Homeric Dialect. Carlisle, Pennsylvania: Dickinson College Commentaries, 2014. ISBN: 978-1-947822-04-7.