In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Latin Poetic Meter

  • Introduction
  • Linguistic Studies Relevant to Meter
  • Ictus and Accent
  • Bibliographical Surveys
  • Saturnian and Other Early Verse
  • Dactylic Hexameter and Elegiac Couplet: The Epic
  • Martial and Statius
  • Metaliterary Play on Meter
  • Some Miscellaneous Meters
  • Ancient Metrical Theory
  • Postclassical, Late Antiquity, and Beyond
  • Particular Aspects of Early Dramatic Versification

Classics Latin Poetic Meter
Llewelyn Morgan, Peter Brown
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 July 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 July 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0257


This article focuses on more recent publications (the material under Bibliographical Surveys will provide excellent guidance on specific aspects of the subject). It is thus, perforce, highly selective, aiming merely to define the discipline in its current state and advertise the range of analytical approaches to which Roman metrical practice responds. It places the more technical scholarship alongside the more interpretative (and much of this material is clearly hard to define as one or the other), as this traditional dichotomy is both hard to maintain as a classifying principle and positively unhelpful: meter is always an integral part of a poetic composition, always a part of that text’s interpretation. This article is restricted to poetic meter and does not address prose rhythm.

General Overviews

Roman meter of the Classical period (or at least all that is fully understood) is quantitative in nature, meaning that the metrical schemes are based on the regulation of the length and number of syllables. All introductory and general accounts of Roman meter will begin by explaining the essential rules of ancient versification: the definition of syllables, their classification as long and short (or heavy and light); the foot and metron (dipody), and the metrical pauses known as caesura and diaeresis; along with fundamental principles of prosody (the relation of abstract meter to the actual language of verse) such as elision, hiatus, and ancipitia (positions that may be filled by syllables of either quantity). Halporn, et al. 1980; Nougaret 1948; Raven 1965; Crusius and Rubenbauer 1997; and Zgoll 2012 all offer accessible general accounts of the field; Boldrini 1999 and Drexler 1967 are respected general accounts but less immediately accessible for beginners.

  • Boldrini, Sandro. 1999. Prosodie und Metrik der Römer. Stuttgart: Teubner.

    DOI: 10.1515/9783110953336

    Sections on the essential character of the Latin language (including a minority view on the nature of the Latin accent), issues of prosody (with a special focus on pre-Classical verse), and a description of meters, again with an emphasis on drama, but it assumes too much in the way of basic knowledge of metrics to be a true introduction.

  • Crusius, Friedrich, and Hans Rubenbauer. 1997. Römische Metrik: Eine Einführung. Hildesheim, Germany: Georg Olms.

    A concise introduction, providing essential information on prosody, the structures of Latin verse, the individual meters and metrical systems used by Latin poets, and the development of accentual verse in late Antiquity.

  • Drexler, Hans. 1967. Einführung in die römische Metrik. Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft.

    Introduction to Roman meter, though a challenging one that assumes a certain level of preexisting knowledge. It tackles essential concepts of meter and the various meters, with special attention to the range of verse structures favored in each form. Drexler’s strong position on the matter of verse ictus is not underplayed.

  • Halporn, James W., Martin Ostwald, and Thomas G. Rosenmeyer. 1980. The meters of Greek and Latin poetry. Norman: Univ. of Oklahoma Press.

    A succinct study, but the second half, by Halporn and Ostwald (a translation of their Lateinische Metrik [Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1962]), is a useful basic introduction, covering essential concepts and the individual meters, with a glossary of technical terms and list of meters.

  • Nougaret, Louis. 1948. Traité de métrique latine classique. Paris: C. Klincksieck.

    Elegant and accessible introduction to the discipline, defining basic concepts of meter and prosody and describing the meters with reference to and illustration from poetry.

  • Raven, David S. 1965. Latin metre: An introduction. London: Faber and Faber.

    Accessible, clearly presented primer of Roman meter, covering fundamental concepts and detailed analysis of meters in use, with useful appendixes for the names of metrical forms, for metrical terms, and for the meters employed by the main authors.

  • Zgoll, Christian. 2012. Römische Prosodie und Metrik: Ein Studienbuch mit Audiodateien. Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft.

    Accessibly presented and easily navigable introduction to prosody and meter, containing an account of general principles of Latin prosody and versification, followed by a clear description of the various metrical forms, illustrated with examples from Roman poetry.

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