The scripts of all Greek plays from pre-Christian antiquity were composed and performed in verse. In all these plays, the most common verse form, and the default one for dialogue, is iambic trimeter. Since the scripts of Menander’s plays do not include choral songs, there is no indication that he composed lyrics for choral performance. Even in his dialogues, however, Menander displays less metrical variety than earlier comic playwrights. After the iambic trimeter, his most common choice was trochaic tetrameter, a meter often associated with emotionally charged scenes, and then more exotic meters but rarely. As it happens, the recovered parts of the script of Epitrepontes do not include any scenes with these less common meters, so here we present only the iambic trimeter.

  • While a particular verse is composed of syllables of words, the lines in the abstract can be thought of as patterns of three types of ‘position’: long (−), short (∪) and anceps (χ). An “anceps” (Latin “two-headed”) position admits either a long or a short syllable.
  • The Greek iamb consists of two positions: a short (light) syllable followed by a long (heavy syllable): ∪ − 
  • The Greek iambic metron consists of two iambs, with the first syllable of the metron anceps: χ − ∪ −
  • A line of Greek iambic trimeter consists of three metra (the last syllable of any line of Greek verse is “indifferent” (anceps + it must be the end of a word), designated with an “i” here: χ − ∪ − | χ − ∪ − | χ − ∪ i
  • Comedy in general, including Menander, further allows for two short (light) syllables to substitute in positions allotted to a long (heavy) syllable.

Reading Menander’s Greek aloud brings alive the vigor in his use of the rhythm of iambic trimeter, even when characters seem to be speaking normally and even when it takes multiple characters to deliver a single line. Those interested in learning in more detail about Menander’s use of meter are encouraged to read the excellent introduction to the topic in E.W. Handley’s edition of the Dyskolos (Harvard 1965, pp. 56-73).

Suggested Citation

Marie Plunkett, Menander: Epitrepontes (The Arbitration). Carlisle, Pennsylvania: Dickinson College Commentaries, 2022. ISBN: 978-1-947822-19-1