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A couplet (plural "couplets"; Greek "couplet" of δι- di- "two" and στίχος stich "Vers", "line") is in the Verslehre generally a couplet or a two-line Strophic .

The most widespread form of the distichon is the so-called elegiac distich or Elegeion , which consists of a dactylic hexameter (Greek “six measure”) and a pentameter (Greek “five measure”) . The shape is in Greek poetry as early as the 7th century BC. In the case of Kallinos and Archilochus and was used in ancient times for epigrams , elegies , idylls and didactic poetry . The pentameter is often, but not necessarily, provided with an indentation to distinguish it .

An example in three languages

The Greek lyric poet Simonides von Keos (* approx. 556 BC; † 469 BC) wrote the most famous elegiac distich as an epitaph in memory of the Spartans who fell in the battle of Thermopylae :

Ὦ ξεῖν ', ἀγγέλλειν Λακεδαιμονίοις ὅτι τῇδε
    κείμεθα, τοῖς κείνων ῥήμασι πειθόμενοι.

O xein ', angellein Lakedaimoniois hoti teide
    keimetha tois keinon rhemasi peithomenoi.

In the Latin translation, as read by Cicero in the first book of the Tusculanae disputationes (1, 101), it says:

Dic, hospes, Spartae nos te hic vidisse iacentēs,
    dum sanctis patriae legibus obsequimur.

Friedrich Schiller translates this distich in his elegy The Walk , 1795, composed entirely in distiches , as follows:

Wanderer, if you come to Sparta, proclaim there that you saw
    Us lying here as the law commanded.

Metric scheme

The metric scheme of the ancient elegiac distich is

- ◡◡ ˌ— ◡◡ ˌ— ◡◡ ˌ— ◡◡ ˌ — ◡◡ˌ— ×
- ◡◡ ˌ— ◡◡ ˌ— ‖ —◡◡ˌ — ◡◡ˌ ×

The elegiac distich in Latin poetry

Another example is a distich from the most famous work written entirely in distiches, the Ars amatoria ("art of love") by the Roman poet Ovid :

Parcite praecipue vitia exprobrare puellis,
    Utile quae multis dissimulasse fuit.

The a of vitia is elided . In addition to Ovid, Tibullus , Properz , Catullus and Martial should be mentioned as authors of distiches in Latin literature .

The elegiac distich in German poetry

Friedrich Rückert : Grammatical Germanness , parody in elegiac distiches (1819)

An example of the elegiac distich in German is given by the translation of Ovid's verses in addition to the Schiller's translation of the Thermopylae epigram listed above:

Above all, be careful to reprimand the girls' ailments,
    yes, it was good for some that he diligently did not see them.

The ancient dactylus (- ◡◡ ) consists of an elementum longum (-), i.e. a long syllable, and an elementum biceps ( ◡◡ ), which usually corresponds to a double abbreviation (◡◡), but often also a long syllable, whereby a Spondeus (- -) arises. In the German replica of the ancient verse foot, instead of the Spondeus, which is difficult to implement in German, the implementation of the dactylus as trochaeus (—◡) is permitted; the German dactylus is therefore noted as —◡ (◡). The metric scheme of the distich in German is therefore:

—◡ (◡) ˌ — ◡ (◡) ˌ — ◡ (◡) ˌ — ◡ (◡) ˌ — ◡◡ˌ — ◡
—◡ (◡) ˌ — ◡ (◡) ˌ— ‖ —◡◡ˌ — ◡◡ˌ—

The first attempts at a replica can be found in German baroque poetry in Fischart , Klaj and Birken , there still in syllable and rhyming form, without rhymes and accentuating then in Gottsched and Klopstock ( Die Zukunft Geliebte , Elegie ). However, German distich poetry reached its climax in the classical period, the two main representatives of which Goethe and Schiller took up this form for their epigrammatic xenias . The Xenien appeared in the Muses-Almanac for the year 1797 , which also contains Schiller's well-known memorized verse on the distich:

In the hexameter the spring's silver column rises,
    in the pentameter it falls down melodically.

A parody by Matthias Claudius reads:

In the hexameter the aesthetic bagpipe winds in;
    In the pentameter on it he lets it out again.

Most of the time, this formal recourse goes hand in hand with a conscious connection to the ancient literary models; the distich is therefore considered to be an “antiquing” form in German. Goethe's Roman elegies , which refer to the elegiac love poetry of Tibullus, Properz and Ovid and from which the following four distiches originate, are famous :

If your loved one steals a few hours of the day from me,
    she gives me hours of the night as compensation.
It is not always kissed, it is spoken sensibly.
    If she falls asleep, I lie and think a lot.
Often I've already written
    poetry in her arms and
counted the hexameter's measure, quietly, with a fingering hand, on your back. She breathes in a lovely slumber
    And her breath glows through my chest deeply.

Other well-known examples from the Weimar Classic are Goethe's Venetian Epigrams , the didactic poem The Metamorphosis of Plants and Schiller's The Walk and Nänie :

Even the beautiful must die! That conquers men and gods,
    It does not touch the brazen breast of the Stygian Zeus.

After Goethe and Schiller, Hölderlin ( Menon's complaints about Diotima , Der Wanderer , Brod and Wein ), Mörike , Geibel and August Graf von Platen are important representatives of German distich poetry .

Special forms of the elegiac distich

Special forms of the elegiac distich are the caesura rhyming Leonine distich and the chronodistich , a chronogram in the metric form of a distich.

Other forms of the distich

In addition to the very common elegiac distich from hexameter and pentameter, there are other such pairs of verses in both ancient and German poetry. These include:

The Alkman distich

In the Alkman distich, a hexameter is followed by an Alkman verse . The metric scheme:

- ◡◡ ˌ— ◡◡ ˌ— ◡◡ ˌ— ◡◡ ˌ — ◡◡ˌ—
- ◡◡ ˌ— ◡◡ ˌ — ◡◡ˌ—

An example (from Johann Heinrich Voss , An Friederich Heinrich Jacobi ):

May the stag be comfortable with the yoke, and the lion with the clippers,
    penned in with the obedient domestic cattle

The Archiloch distich

In the Archilochian distich, a hexameter is followed by a (small) Archilochian verse. The metric scheme:

- ◡◡ ˌ— ◡◡ ˌ— ◡◡ ˌ— ◡◡ ˌ — ◡◡ˌ—
—◡◡ˌ — ◡◡ˌ—

An example (from Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock, An Ebert ):

Soothing tears, nature gave you the human misery
    Weis' as companions.

In the 20th century, an example outside of the strict reference to antiquity can be found in one of the sonnets to Orpheus Rainer Maria Rilkes . The first two verses of the twentieth sonnet of the second part:

Between the stars, how far; and yet, how
    much further what one learns from here.

The asclepiadic distich

In the Asklepiadic distich, a second glycone is followed by a small Asklepiadeus . The metric scheme:

——ˌ — ◡◡ — ˌ◡
——ˌ — ◡◡— | —◡◡ — ˌ◡

In German poetry the introductory spondeus is regularly replaced by a trochee; the last syllable is always stressed. Two distichs of this kind form the fourth asclepiadic stanza ; an example of the sequential use of the distich is Ludwig Hölty's An Meine Freunde . Its final distich:

That not a drop of the soul poison ran
    out of your singing, thank God!

In contrast to the vast majority of other forms of distich, in which a longer verse is followed by a shorter verse, in Asclepiadic distich the shorter verse precedes the longer one. In some poems, Hölty also had the change of verse inserted with the longer verse, an example of this is the beginning of The Bowl of Oblivion :

A cup of the stream which oblivion
    rolls through Elysium's flowers

The Pythiambic distiches

If the hexameter is combined with an iambic second verse, one speaks of a Pythiambic distich. If the second verse is an iambic dimeter, there is a 1st Pythiambic distich:

- ◡◡ ˌ— ◡◡ ˌ— ◡◡ ˌ— ◡◡ ˌ — ◡◡ˌ—
—ˌ◡ — ˌ —ˌ◡

An example is provided by Johann Heinrich Voss' cheerfulness , whose penultimate couple reads as follows:

Away with the dark! See how the sun suddenly
    transfigured the church tower with a red evening glow!

If the second verse is an iambic trimeter, there is a second Pythiambic distich.

- ◡◡ ˌ— ◡◡ ˌ— ◡◡ ˌ— ◡◡ ˌ — ◡◡ˌ—
—ˌ◡ — ˌ —ˌ◡ — ˌ —ˌ◡

As an example, the beginning of Karl Wilhelm Ramler's To Herr Bernhard Rode :

You who cover the face of the bleeding Caesar by the dagger of your friend,
    That still lovingly punishes the murderer, in purple

The iambic distich

In the iambic distich, an iambic trimeter is followed by an iambic dimeter.

—ˌ◡ — ˌ —ˌ◡ — ˌ —ˌ◡
—ˌ◡ — ˌ —ˌ◡

Rudolf Alexander Schröder designed the dedication of his German Odes with this couple , the beginning:

Where on the way, since the rugged rocky path is covered
    with black shudders?

Bernhard von Lepel loosened up the movement of the couple through the frequent use of indentations with two weakly accented syllables, two example distiches from The Festival of the Holy Rosalie in Palermo :

Soon the people, looking for the cliff path, came up
    and found the pale bones and carried them
in a high, silver coffin in front of the cathedral's altar -
    the liberated city shouted.


  • Friedrich Beissner: History of the German Elegy. 2nd edition de Gruyter, Berlin 1965.
  • Walter Berger: Distiches. Latin epigrams as a humanistic legacy. Vienna 1994.
  • Sandro Boldrini : Prosody and Metrics of the Romans. Teubner, Stuttgart & Leipzig 1999, ISBN 3-519-07443-5 , pp. 97f.
  • Dieter Burdorf , Christoph Fasbender, Burkhard Moennighoff (Hrsg.): Metzler Lexicon literature. Terms and definitions. 3rd edition Metzler, Stuttgart 2007, ISBN 978-3-476-01612-6 , p. 161.
  • Daniel Frey: Biting tears. An investigation into elegy and epigram from the beginning up to Bertolt Brecht and Peter Huchel. Königshausen & Neumann, Würzburg 1995, ISBN 3-88479-985-1 .
  • Otto Knörrich: Lexicon of lyrical forms (= Kröner's pocket edition . Volume 479). 2nd, revised edition. Kröner, Stuttgart 2005, ISBN 3-520-47902-8 , pp. 44f.
  • Marion Lausberg: The single list. Studies on the ancient epigram. Munich 1982.
  • Burkhard Moenninghoff: Distichon. In: Klaus Weimar (Hrsg.): Reallexikon der deutschen Literaturwissenschaft . Vol. 1: A-G. De Gruyter, Berlin / New York 1997, ISBN 978-3-11-010896-5 , p. 379 f.
  • Ludwig Strauss: On the structure of the German distich. In: Trivium 6 (1948), pp. 52-83.
  • Carl Wefelmeier: Epilegomena to the elegiac distich. In: Hermes 124th Vol., H. 2 (1996), pp. 140-149.

Individual evidence

  1. Ovid Ars amatoria II, 640 f.
  2. Otto Weinreich: The Distiches of Catullus. Tubingen 1926.
  3. ^ Translation by Wilhelm Hertzberg .
  4. Schiller: The Distichon . In: Muses-Almanach for the year 1797. Cotta, Tübingen 1796, p. 67.
  5. Matthias Claudius: The famous almanac. In: Urian's message of the new enlightenment. Hamburg 1797, p. 16 .
  6. ^ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: Berlin edition. Poetic works. Berlin 1960 ff, Vol. 1, p. 169. Roman Elegies , 5th Elegy, v. 11-18, online .
  7. ^ Rudolf Alexander Schröder: Collected works in five volumes, first volume: Die Gedichte, Suhrkamp, ​​Berlin and Frankfurt am Main 1952, p. 11.
  8. ^ Bernhard von Lepel: Gedichte, Hertz, Berlin 1866, p. 182.