We are currently working our way through Plautus’ Poenulus, which is a quite entertaining piece to read. I am personally very interested in Latin poetry, but in working with this piece, I have come across some elisions that surprise me. To my knowledge, these are the general rules of elision (Samson Eitrem’s Latinsk grammatikk, third edition, p. 142f):

  • When a word ends in a vowel and the next word in the same line begins with a vowel or h, the preceding vowel is elided. micante auro → micant’auro
  • When a word ends in m, which was generally weakly articulated,¹ the final syllable is lost in front of vowel or h in the next word. templum hoc → templ’oc
  • Note that es and est is subject of predelision. sata est → sata’st

In Poenulus, however, there appear to be more ways to accomplish elision than what is mentioned in the above. In line 23, the elision is done across parts of speech. This is, though, the same line (a ‘'’ denotes hiatus):

MIL: Míhi quídem͡ Herclé.'
AGO: Immó mihi͡.
MIL: ͡  Ístuc mávelím.²

In line 25, an elision is done from a diphthong to a vowel:

AGO: Ámo͡ immódesté.
MIL: Meáe͡ istuc scápulá͡e senti͡únt

And sometimes, apparently a consonantal v is elided, such as in line 35 and 61, and in 61, there appears to be an eo diphthong (!):

AGO: Iócare.͡
MIL: ͡  Vín tu͡ illam͡ hódi͡e síne dámno͡ et díspendi͡ó

AGO: Égo͡ in á͡edem͡ Venéris e͡ó,' nisí quid vís, Milphi͡ó.

So my question — then — to specify, is:

  1. Were the rules for elision generally more laxed in the days of old Latin?
  2. Could a consonantal v be elided?
  3. Were there more diphthongs during this time, or are these an example of elision that leads to diphthongisation?


¹ Though whether it should even be considered a consonant in this position, is up for debate; many will argue (with whom I agree), that it is merely a digraph for nasalised vowel, as also final -n may be.

² Another way to realise this, though, is

MIL: Mí͡hi quidem͡ Hércle.
AGO: Ímmo míhi.'
MIL: Ístuc mávelím.

  • 1
    Off the top of my head, you could elide across a final S in older Latin too, but later poets (especially the poetae novi) disliked this and thought it was bad style. – Draconis Mar 2 at 16:57
  • 2
    This is interesting. Do you have a source for this? – Canned Man Mar 2 at 17:53
  • @Draconis: I'm also curious; the sources I've looked at so far have mentioned short vowel + s in word-final position sometimes scanning as short before a consonant in Plautus, supposedly because of possible loss of /s/ in this position, but that is said to not occur before a vowel. – Asteroides Mar 10 at 2:00

Elision in Latin is a complicated topic and I only know basic information about it.

  • I think it is normal in any period to elide final -ae, as in meae, before a following vowel.

    András Cser ("Aspects of the Phonology and Morphology of Classical Latin", 2016) puts it like this:

    Word-final [aj] is elided in poetry just like any vowel (including the nasal vowels) before a vowel-initial word (p. 33)

  • The term I have seen used for syllabic compression of vowels in hiatus is "synizesis", discussed on page 20 of "A Guide to Latin Meter and Verse Composition" by David J. Califf. It is uncommon in general. It may be more frequent in earlier texts; I don't know.

Sources I've looked at say these lines are iambic senarii

I don't understand your scansion of these lines. Erin Moodie, following Lindsay 1905, indicates that most of the lines that you cite should be iambic senarii.

If that is the case, my understanding is that each of them would have to end in an iambic (short-long) foot, so I don't see how the bolded i's in sentiunt, dispendio, Milphio could be in anything but hiatus with the following vowels.

I have very little practice scanning Latin verse, but here is my attempt at the "Ego in aedem Veneris eo, nisi quid vis, Milphio" line.

ĕgo ĭn a͞e | dēm Vĕnĕ| rǐs ĕō, |nǐsǐ quīd | vīs, Mīl | phǐō

(light syllables marked with breves, heavy syllables marked with macrons, feet divided by |)

I think the two short syllables at the start of "Veneris" would stand in for one long as a form of "resolution" (the linked Wikipedia article says a dactyl can be used in place of an iamb in all but the last two feet of the verse).

For the "amo immodeste..." line, the only way I can figure out to make it scan is to treat the third syllable of "immodeste" as light. Syllables with a short vowel that in later Latin scanned as heavy because of the coda consonant /s/ could sometimes scan light in Plautus; I'm not sure of the reason why (I think I've seen accounts that treat it as a difference in syllabification, but in word-final position, a similar phenomenon is often described as evidence for loss of word-final /s/ in Plautus' accent). The whole line I think is an iambic senarius like this:

ămo īm|mŏdĕstē|. Mĕae īs|tūc scăpŭ|la͞e sēn|tǐunt

I think the line ending in "mavelim" is an iambic senarius scanned like this:

Mĭhī |quĭdem Hēr|cle. īmmō |mĭhi. īs|tūc mā|vĕlīm.

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  • Isn't it trochaeic senarius? In either case, the seventh foot is only a half-foot (limping), which I believe is an anceps as well, So you get 6 times 1 full foot followed by a 7th half-foot. Further, short–long (or long–short) is problematic to use at this period in time, as we are dealing more with stressed/unstressed rather than short/long syllables. Remember that Old Latin was quite clearly accented, and on the first syllable that is. – Canned Man Mar 9 at 22:05
  • @CannedMan: What makes you think that it is a trochaic senarius, or that there is a seventh half-foot? Plautine poetry is weight-based, and the hypothesized Old Latin first-syllable stress is thought to have shifted already to a weight-sensitive stress system by the time of Plautus (mostly like the later stress system, but supposedly with pre-antepenult stress for LLLX words). The role of stress in Plautine poetry is unclear and disputed. – Asteroides Mar 10 at 1:34

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