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In scansion, a vowel is long by position if there are two or more consonants between it and the next vowel. Can a vowel be long by position if it ends a line and there is no next vowel? E.g. is the "E" in "REX" long if it is the last syllable in a line? I am particularly concerned with the case for dactylic hexameter if it makes a difference for the answer to the question.

  • Welcome to the site! Very interesting question. First, I think you mean "if there are two or more consonants". Secondly, I think the question that must be answered first is this: can a syllable in ancipital position (denoted by a cross: "can be either long or short") be long or short at all? Or does it have no decided length? – Cerberus Sep 1 '16 at 3:08
  • In general, though, what makes a syllable long is either a long vowel, or closure by means of a consonant. When you see rex et, the syllables are rek-set, and that's why the first syllable is long. In cor et, the syllables are co-ret; and the o itself is short, so the first syllable is short, because it is open and it doesn't contain a long vowel. Because rex can never use all of its ending consonants, it must always contain a long syllable. – Cerberus Sep 1 '16 at 3:14
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In scansion, a vowel is long by position if there are more than two consonants between it and the next vowel.

This is the usual way of putting it, but it's inacccurate/misleading in a couple of ways.

First, it's not really the vowel that is long by position; it's the syllable that is long, or in a different terminology, "heavy". (Linguists these days speak of "light" and "heavy" syllables, to avoid possible confusion with "long" and "short" vowels.)

Second and relatedly, the reason that a vowel followed by two or more consonants is "long by position" is really that in such a case, the syllable ends with a consonant, and is therefore heavy: e.g. a word like centum gets syllabified cen-tum, and any syllable that ends with a consonant (like cen) is heavy, i.e. can fill a "long" verse position.

What this all leads to is that it doesn't matter whether the word is at the end of a line or not: a word like rex will always form a heavy syllable, so will always count as metrically long.

(That said, since you're asking about dactylic hexameter: in that meter, any syllable, light or heavy, can stand at the end of a line, so in that context, everything I said above actually doesn't matter. Even a syllable with a short vowel and no final consonant can stand at the end of a hexameter line.)

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    ...And additionally, "rex" had an actually long vowel, so the syllable would be heavy even without the final consonants. – Asteroides Sep 1 '16 at 3:50
  • Do you mean that a syllable ending in a (single) consonant is always heavy? I wouldn't scan so at the end of a word if the next one starts with a vowel. Consider the (mock-up) pentameter: Illud abest mihi nunc excruciorque ab eo. Or would you say that the second and third syllables are lu and da instead of lud and a (and similarly in ab eo)? Rex has a double consonant so it's different. – Joonas Ilmavirta Sep 1 '16 at 8:24
  • The last syllable of a verse is ALWAYS metrically long. This is true not only for hexameter, but for all metres. – fdb Sep 1 '16 at 9:02
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    @JoonasIlmavirta In such cases, syllabification in verse crosses word boundaries. So yes: il-lu-da-best. – TKR Sep 1 '16 at 16:54
  • @fdb That was actually the way I initially phrased it. But since the long/short contrast is neutralized in that position, I wonder if there's any good basis for calling such syllables "long" (rather than simply saying that the meter allows any syllable to stand in that position). – TKR Sep 1 '16 at 17:00

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