Verse element

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As a verse element , metric element or simply element ( Latin elementum or locus "place") in the quantifying metrics of antiquity, the parts of an (abstract) metric scheme realized in the (concrete) verse by syllables . The relationship between element and possible realizations is called response . Example: The elementum biceps (noted as ◡◡ ) "responds" with length (-) and double abbreviation (◡◡) and is "realized" in the concrete verse, for example, by a length. This ambiguity of metric elements can also be referred to as metric ambivalence .

The following verse elements are distinguished:

Latin name symbol description
elementum breve is always realized by a short syllable
elementum longum - usually a long syllable, but can also be split into two short syllables ( resolution , length splitting)
elementum biceps ◡◡ preferably two short syllables, can also be realized with a long syllable ( contraction , contraction)
◡◡ preferably one long syllable, can also be realized with two short syllables
elementum anceps × can be realized by a short, a long or two short syllables
elementum indifferens ◠̣ a single syllable, short or long

In German one speaks simply of abbreviation for elementum brevis and length for elementum longus . Elementum anceps (German also anceps ) can be described as an ambivalent element , Elementum indifferens as an indifferent element . Usually no distinction is made between anceps and indifferent and the symbol × then denotes a single, long or short syllable.


The difference between syllable and element can be illustrated using the example of the dactylic hexameter . Its metric scheme can be noted as follows:

- ◡◡  | - ◡◡  | - ◡◡  | - ◡◡  | - ◡◡  | - ×

The verse scheme consists of six feet with 12 elements. In the ideal form, in which each dactyl is realized by a long syllable followed by two short syllables (-◡◡), the verse would have 17 syllables and the sequence of quantities would be with a long syllable in the last foot:

—◡◡ | —◡◡ | —◡◡ | —◡◡ | —◡◡ | ——

An example of this can be found in Virgil

qu̱adrupeda̱nte putre̱m sonitu̱ quatit u̱ngula ca̱mpu̱m

Slightly shorter with 16 syllables:

—◡◡ | —◡◡ | —— | —◡◡ | —◡◡ | ——

Example also from Virgil:

a̱lba ligu̱stra cadu̱nt, va̱ccinia ni̱gra legu̱ntu̱r

13 syllables:

—— | —— | —— | —— | —◡◡ | ——

Example again from the Aeneid :

i̱ba̱nt o̱bscu̱ri̱ so̱la̱ su̱b no̱cte per u̱mbra̱m

And with a minimum of 12 syllables and the sequence of quantities

—— | —— | —— | —— | —— | ——

an example from Ennius

i̱ntro̱du̱cu̱ntu̱r le̱ga̱te̱s Mi̱ntu̱rne̱nse̱s

As you can see from the examples above, it is easy to distinguish

  • between syllable and verse element and
  • between verse scheme, ideal realization and concrete realization in verse.

In the replication of ancient metrics in modern languages, especially in German, the distinction is of less importance, however, since here the accent takes on the role of the syllable length and the replication was mostly based on the ideal form, i.e., for example, a dactyl usually simulated by a stressed syllable followed by two unstressed syllables.


Individual evidence

  1. Latin anceps "ambiguous", "undecided"; German also anzeps
  2. Depending on the author and context, there are (mostly minor) differences in the details of the hexameter scheme. The one used here is a simplified form.
  3. Virgil Aeneid 8,596
  4. Virgil Eklogen 2:18
  5. Virgil Aeneid 6,268
  6. Ennius Annales 623