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Meters of the Poems

Page history last edited by PBworks 13 years, 11 months ago

In English poetry metrical patterns are based on which syllables in a word are stressed, or said more emphatically. In Latin poetry, however, the metrical patterns are based on the length of the syllables in the Latin words, not on their stress. While the stress accent played some role in how Latin poetry sounded, the length of the syllables determined the particular meter being used in a given poem. For this reason the meters are called quantitative meters, that is, they are based on the length or quantity of the syllables. The student or teacher should consult the prosody or versifi cation section in a basic Latin grammar or text for rules about determining syllable length, and, more generally, for rules about figuring out Latin meter.


The metrical patterns consist of arrangements of short syllables (∪) and long syllables (—). A syllable marked (X) is called anceps (“doubleheaded”) and can be long or short. The final syllable of each verse is anceps. When pronounced, long syllables are said for a longer time than short ones.


The student should learn to write out the scansion, or the marking of the long and short syllables and elisions, in the poems. (Students taking the Advanced Placement Latin Exam will be required to do this on the exam.) After gaining competence in writing out the scansion, the student should become familiar with the sound of the Latin poetry. The best way to accomplish this is to write out the scansion of a particular passage, e.g., about four lines that make sense as a metrical and grammatical unit, to practice reading it with the appropriate long and short syllables, elisions etc., and then to memorize it. Having such a “chunk” of Latin in one’s head or on one’s lips is the best way to reinforce the particular metrical patterns.


The following meters occur in the poems in Writing Passion:


Dactylic Hexameter



Elegiac Couplets


Choliambic (limping iambic)




Iambic Senarius


Greater Asclepiadean


Hendecasyllabic (Phalaecean)





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