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366. The verse in which the Homeric poems are composed—the heroic hexameter—consists of six feet, of equal length, each of which again is divided into two equal parts, viz. an accented part or arsis (on which the rhythmical beat or ictus falls), and an unaccented part or thesis. In each foot the arsis consists of one long syllable, the thesis of one long or two short syllables; except the last thesis, which consists of one syllable, either long or short.

The fifth thesis nearly always consists of two short syllables, thus producing the characteristic ˉ ˘ ˘ ˉ ˉ̆ which marks the end of each hexameter.

The last foot is probably to be regarded as a little shorter than the others, the time being filled up by the pause at the end of the verse. The effect of this shortening is heightened by the dactyl in the fifth place, since the two short syllables take the full time of half a foot.

367. Diaeresis and Caesura. Besides the recognized stops or pauses which mark the separation of sentences and clauses there is in general a slight pause or break of the voice between successive words in the same clause, sufficient to affect the rhythm of the verse. Hence the rules regarding diaeresis and caesura.

By diaeresis is meant the coincidence of the division between words with the division into feet. The commonest place of diaeresis in the hexameter is after the fourth foot.

ἡρώων αὐτοὺς δὲ ἑλώρια
τεῦχε κύνεσσιν

This is called the bucolic diaeresis.

Caesura (τομή) occurs when the pause between two words falls within a foot, so as to "cut" it into two parts. The caesura which separates the arsis from the thesis (so as to divide the foot equally) is called the strong or masculine caesura, that which falls between the two short syllables of the thesis is called the weak or feminine or trochaic caesura.

The chief points to be observed regarding caesura in the Homeric hexameter are as follows.

  1. There is nearly always a caesura in the third foot. Of the two caesuras the more frequent in this place is the trochaic (τομὴ κατὰ τρίτον τροχαῖον).

    ἄνδρα μοι ἔννεπε Μοῦσα
    πολύτροπον ὃς μάλα πολλά

    The strong caesura, or "caesura after the fifth half-foot" (τομὴ πενθημιμερής), is rather less common.

    μῆνιν ἄειδε, θεά,
    Πηληϊάδεω Ἀχιλῆος

    In the first book of the Iliad, which contains 611 lines, the trochaic caesura of the third foot occurs in 356, and the corresponding strong caesura in 247.[fn]In this calculation no lines are reckoned twice, short monosyllables being taken either with the preceding or the following wοrd, according to the sense.[/fn]

    On the other hand, there must be no diaeresis after the third foot; and in the few cases in which the third foot lies wholly in one word there is always a strong caesura in the fourth foot (τομὴ ἑφθημιμερής).

    ὅς κε θεοῖς ἐπιπείθηται
    μάλα τʼ ἔκλυον αὐτοῦ
    Ἥρη τ ἠδὲ Ποσειδάων
    καὶ Παλλὰς Ἀθήνη

    The division between an enclitic and the preceding word is not sufficient for the caesura in the third foot: hence in Od. 10.58 we should read

    αὐτὰρ ἐπεὶ σίτοιό τʼ
    ἐπασσάμεθʼ ἠδὲ ποτῆτος

    not σίτοιό τε πασσάμεθʼ (as La Roche).

    The remaining exceptions to these rules are

    Il. 1.179 οἴκαδ’ ἰὼν σὺν νηνυσί τε σῇς καὶ σοῖς ἑτάροισι

    which is an adaptation of the (probably conventional) form σὺν νηΐ τʼ ἐμῇ καὶ ἐμοῖς ἑτάροισι (Il. 1.183). We may help the rhythm by taking νηυσί τε σῇς closely together, so as to avoid the break in the middle of the line.

    Il. 3.205 ἤδη γὰρ καὶ δεῦρό ποτʼ ἤλυθε δῖος Oδυσσεύς

    Il. 10.453 οὐκέτʼ ἔπειτα σὺ πῆμά ποτʼ ἔσσεαι Ἀργείοισι

    Where ποτέ, as an enclitic, is in an unusual place in the sentence (§ 365.4), but it is perhaps in reality an emphatic "one day." Similarly, in

    Il. 3.220 φαίης κε ζάκοτόν τέ τινʼ ἔμμεναι ἄφρονά τʼ αὔτως

    τινα may be slightly emphatic. Or should we read τὸν ἔμμεναι?

    Il. 15.18 ἢ οὐ μέμνῃ ὅτε τʼ ἑκρέμω ὑψόθεν, ἕκ τε ποδοῖϊν

    We may read ὅτε τε κρέμω: but possibly the peculiar rhythm is intentional, as being adapted to the sense.

  2. Trochaic caesura of the fourth foot is very rare, and is only found under certain conditions.

    1) When the caesura is preceded by an enclitic or short monosyllable (such as μέν, δέ, etc.).

    καί κεν τοῦτʼ ἐθέλοιμι Διός γε διδόντος ἀρέσθαι

    2) When the line ends with a wοrd of four or five syllables.

    αὐτὰρ ὁ μοῦνος ἔην μετὰ πέντε κασιγνήτῃσι

    πολλὰ δʼ ἄρʼ ἔνθα καὶ ἔνθʼ ἴθυσε
    μάχη πεδίοιο

    The commonest form of this kind of caesura (especially in the Iliad) is that in which these two alleviations are both present.

    Θερσῖτʼ ἀκριτόμυθε, λιγύς περ ἐὼν ἀγορητής

    The first fifteen books of the Iliad contain eleven instances of trochaic caesura in the fourth foot, of which seven are of this form.

    In ll. 9.394 the MSS. give

    Πηλεύς θήν μοι ἔπειτα γυναῖκα
    γαμέσσεται αὐτός

    But we should doubtless read, with Aristarchus

    γυναῖκά γε μάσσεται αὐτός

    Similarly we should probably read τὰ δέ μ’ οὐκ ἄρα μέλλον ὀνήσειν (Il. 5.205, etc.), instead of ἔμελλον, and conversely θαλερὴ δʼ ἐμιαίνετο χαίτη (Il. 17.439, and ῥαφαὶ δʼ ἐλέλυντο ἱμάντων (Od. 22.186), instead of μιαίνετο, λέλυντο. In Od. 5.272 we may treat ὀψὲ δύοντα as one word in rhythm. But it is not easy to account for the rhythm in Od. 12.47 ἐπὶ δʼ οὔατ ἀλεῖψαι ἑταίρων. The result of these rules evidently is that there are two chief breaks or pauses in the verse—the caesμuτa in the third foot, and the diaeresis between the fourth and fifth—and that the forbidden divisions are the diaeresis and caesura which lie nearest to these pauses.

    Best caesura ˉ ˘͞˘ ˉ ˘͞˘ ˉ ˘ | ˘ ˉ ˘͞˘ ˉ ˘͞˘ ˉ ˉ
    Worst diaeresis ˉ ˘͞˘ ˉ ˘͞˘ ˉ ˘͞˘ | ˉ ˘͞˘ ˉ ˘͞˘ ˉ ˉ


    Best diaeresis ˉ ˘͞˘ ˉ ˘͞˘ ˉ ˘͞˘ ˉ ˘͞˘ | ˉ ˘͞˘ ˉ ˉ
    Worst caesura ˉ ˘͞˘ ˉ ˘͞˘ ˉ ˘͞˘ ˉ ˘ | ˘ ˉ ˘͞˘ ˉ ˉ

    It is also common to find a diaeresis with a slight pause after the first foot; cp. the recurring ὣς φάτο, ὣς ἔφατʼ, ὣς ὅ γε, αὐτὰρ ὁ, and forms of address, as τέκνον, δαιμόνιʼ, ὢ φίλοι, ὢ πόποι, etc. Hence the occasional hiatus in this place, as

    Il. 2.209 ἠχῇ, ὡς κτλ.

    ll. 1.333 αὐτὰρ ὁ ἔγνω ᾗσιν ἐνὶ φρεσί

368. Spondaic verses. The use of a spondee in the fifth place occurs most commonly in verses which end with a word of four or more syllables.

στέμματʼ ἔχων ἐν χερσὶν ἑκηβόλου Ἀπόλλωνος.
Ἄρεϊ δὲ ζώνην, στέρνον δὲ Ποσειδάωνι.

It is also found with words of three long syllables.

τῷ δʼ ἤδη δύο μὲν γενεαὶ μερόπων ἀνθρώπων

And once or twice when the last word is a monosyllable, as νωμῆσαι βῶν (Il. 7.238), ἑστήκει μείς (Il. 19.117).

A spondee in the fifth place ought not to end with a word. Hence we should correct the endings ἠῶ δῖαν, etc. by reading ἠόα, and δήμου φῆμις (Od. 14.239), by restoring the archaic δήμοο. In Od. 12.64 the words λὶς πέτρη at the end of the line are scanned together.

Words of three long syllables are very seldom found before the Bucolic diaeresis.

Il. 13.713 οὐ γάρ σφι σταδίῃ
μίμνε φίλον κῆρ

Od. 10.492 ψυχῇ χρησομένους

The rarity of verses with this rhythm may be judged from the fact that it is never found with the oblique cases of ἄνθρωπος (ἀνθρώπων, etc.), although these occur about 150 times, and in every other place in the verse, or with ἀλλήλων, etc., which occur about 100 times.

Suggested Citation

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