Latin Poetry Rhythms – Dactylic Hexameter

Here is a “standard” line of Dactylic Hexameter, which happens to be one of the most recognizable openings; Virgil’s Aeneid (1.1):

arma virumque canō // Trōiae quī prīmus ab ōrīs

Here is one variation from Ovid’s Metomorphoses (4.56) with pauses in the 2nd and 4th feet (a diaeresis* and strong caesura, respectively):

altera / quās oriēns habuit // praelāta puellīs**


* A diaeresis doesn’t necessarily signal a pause, however, given the natural accentuation of the words that follow, it is appropriate (see next note)

**Notice how the natural pronunciation of “Oriens” and “HAbuit” match the audio.  There is a tendency to recite Hexameter by accenting the first syllable of each foot…bad bad bad!  This difference is between ictus and accent.  Following that (silly) practice, you would get something like “ALtera QUAS oriENS habuIT praeLAta puELis.”  Would you sit through a few hundred lines of that?  Neither would I.


Here is another example from the next line of the same poem.  The principal caesura is found in the 4th foot only, without a pause in the 2nd:

contiguās tenuēre domōs // ubi dīcitur altam


Let’s switch back Virgil’s Aeneid (1.2) to see what can happen with a Strong Caesura in the 2nd AND 4th foot:

Ītaliam // fātō profugus // Lāvīniaque vēnit


Note a couple lines later (1.4) how a Strong Caesura in the 2nd foot only keeps the sense of the phrase:

vī superum // saevae memorem Iūnōnius ob īram


Let’s wrap things up with the first four lines of the Aeneid, shall we?

arma virumque canō // Trōiae quī prīmus ab ōrīs
Ītaliam // fātō profugus // Lāvīniaque vēnit
lītora / multum ille et terrīs // iactātus et altō
vī superum // saevae memorem Iūnōnis ob īram

2 thoughts on “Latin Poetry Rhythms – Dactylic Hexameter

  1. Pingback: Rhythmic Fluency | Magister P.

  2. Pingback: Lost in the Shuffle: Rhythmic Fluency | Magister P.

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