sed leve pondus erat nec quod cognoscere possent
Solis equi, solitaque iugum gravitate carebat
(Ovid Metamorphoses book 2)

At first I thought it might be like this, as my first explorations of Ovid seem to show that a -que word is often used as a caesura (i.e. the que comes in the second half - here with elision of course).

 – ⏑  ⏑/–    ⏑ ⏑/ – ‖   –/–    ⏑ ⏑/– ⏑  ⏑/–  ⏑
Solis equi, solitaque iugum gravitate carebat;

... but in these cases (i.e. a caesura before -que), this then inevitably puts a lot of semantic emphasis on the previous word, here solita, "habitual". That seems to be OK, you can probably have the adjective "habitual" hanging in the air the space of a caesura...

But looking at it again, I am wondering: maybe it should be:

 – ⏑  ⏑/– ‖  ⏑ ⏑/ –     –/–    ⏑ ⏑/– ⏑  ⏑/–  ⏑
Solis equi, solitaque iugum gravitate carebat;

... obviously Ovid himself has (maybe!) put a comma there (or someone has, in this Oxford Classical Texts edition)... and the sense groups seem to make more sense. But on the other hand, this makes the second half of the line a real mouthful: not impossible to say, but a bit "heavy", sort of inelegant. I am doing a lot of reading out loud as I get to grips with Ovid.

More generally, how often do unusual caesurae in fact occur? In Ovid, for example. Where do these commas come from? Are they Ovid's? If so, does a comma usually coincide with the caesura?

PS I'm not entirely sure about iugum: maybe this consists of 3 vowels, in fact. That would make all the feet into dactyls (apart from the final one), but wouldn't change the question.

  • 2
    There's no ellision in solitaque iugum. The i of iugum is consonantal. The first 3 feet of the line are dactyls.
    – cnread
    Commented Aug 4, 2021 at 16:14
  • All commas in Latin texts are inserted by modern editors; commas, and other modern puctuatation marks, hadn't been invented yet in classical times.
    – TKR
    Commented Aug 4, 2021 at 18:58
  • @TKR Thanks for answering that point Commented Aug 4, 2021 at 19:11

3 Answers 3


There are really two senses of "caesura", one of them objectively definable, the other not so much.

Most basically, a caesura is defined simply as any word break in the line that occurs within a foot, rather than at a foot boundary. (The opposite of a caesura is a diaeresis, which is a word break that corresponds to a foot boundary.) In this sense any line will obviously be likely to contain multiple caesurae. In the line you cite, none of the word breaks corresponds to a foot boundary, so there's actually a caesura between every word and the word that follows:

sōlĭs | ĕquī | sŏlĭtāquĕ | iŭgūm | grăvĭtātĕ | cărēbat

In dactylic hexameter, sometimes a caesura occurs after the first syllable of a dactyl or spondee (as after equi in this line), sometimes after the second syllable of a dactyl (as after solis). The first kind is called a "masculine caesura" or "strong caesura", the second a "feminine caesura" or "weak caesura".

However, when people talk about "the caesura" in a line, what they mean is the so-called "principal caesura". This means whichever of the caesurae is felt to represent the most substantial "break" in the line, in terms of meaning or syntax (hopefully both will coincide, but that's not always the case). This can get a bit more subjective since readers can disagree on where they feel a line most naturally divides into two units.

In the case you're asking about, I think it's actually pretty clear:

sed leve pondus erat || nec quod cognoscere possent
solis equi, || solitaque iugum gravitate carebat

The main syntactic division in the second line is between two independent clauses, where the modern editor has inserted a comma. It's very hard to argue that any of the other caesurae in the line represent in any sense a bigger break than that.

It's true that most principal caesurae fall in the third or fourth foot, but that shouldn't lead you to think that a Roman reading a line of hexameter would always have looked for a natural break or pause somewhere in those two feet. Sometimes there just isn't one; that's part of the rhythmic variety of Latin poetry.

Whether marking the principal caesura in a line is in any way a useful exercise is debatable. Personally, I don't see that doing so tells you anything about the line that you didn't know before (and when teaching meter, I mostly ignore the caesura), but others may feel differently.

  • Thanks, this really clarifies a lot! Also, in terms of the speaking of the second line, to me (admittedly I am not an Ancient Roman, and de gustibus...) I find it more acceptable to have to deal with the rather lengthy phrase solitaque iugum gravitate carebat, as a "unit", than have solitaque "hanging", and a dactyl split between two shorts. Commented Aug 4, 2021 at 19:34
  • "a caesura is defined simply as ANY word break in the line that occurs within a foot, rather than at a foot boundary". This is wrong: a caesura is a word ending that occurs in CERTAIN locations of the verse (after the third, fifth, seventh or eighth elementum or after the first short of the sixth element made bisyllabically)
    – qwertxyz
    Commented Aug 4, 2021 at 19:47
  • 1
    @qwertxyz I'm not sure what you mean by elementum -- are you basically saying that only word breaks in the second, third or fourth feet count as caesurae? If so, I haven't seen it defined like that, though I see why one might given that those tend to be where "stronger" breaks in the line happen.
    – TKR
    Commented Aug 4, 2021 at 19:58
  • In metric terminology, elementum means the minimum unit of the ideal model of the verse. The hexameter, for example, is made up of twelve elementa: longum (made only by a long syllable), biceps (made by a long syllable or two short syllables), longum, biceps, longum, biceps, longum, biceps, longum , biceps (but almost always made by two short syllables), longum and indifferens (made indifferently from long or short syllable). The five caesuras of the hexameter occur in the locations I have indicated. The terminology you use (foot; syllable of a dactyl or spondee) is obsolete and misleading
    – qwertxyz
    Commented Aug 4, 2021 at 20:19
  • 1
    @qwertxyz Hopefully we can agree that it is one terminology currently in use, and that approaches that are useful for lyric meters are not necessarily equally useful for the epic hexameter, especially for beginners.
    – TKR
    Commented Aug 4, 2021 at 21:02

As a supplement to qwertxyz's answer, which gives the correct scansion, I'll note that this line fits into the scheme described in D.S. Raven, Latin metre §66:

The 'weak' third foot caesura is far less common in Latin than in Greek ... [I]n the most developed type of hexameter verse ... it is nearly always combined with 'strong' caesura in the fourth foot at least ... and usually also with 'strong' caesura in the second foot...

The relevant parts of the example provided (Aeneid 1.87) correspond closely to your line (except that the second foot is spondaic instead of dactylic):

insequitur | clamorque | virum | stridorque rudentum

  • Thanks. Bit over my head: I don't really know what a "weak" caesura is, and when this says "combined", does this mean "in the same line", i.e. multiple caesurae in the same line? Suppose I'd better buy the book. Commented Aug 4, 2021 at 18:35

Here is the correct prosodic scan of this holodactylic verse:

sṓlĭs ĕquī́, | sŏlĭtā́quĕ || iŭgū́m | grăvĭtā́tĕ cărḗbat
  • Thanks. This is quite a surprise for me: that you can have a caesura between the 2 short syllables of a dactyl. I'm assuming that any commas don't seem to relate much to the placing of the caesura. I suppose I'd better buy a book to understand some less predictable aspects of scansion. Commented Aug 4, 2021 at 18:29
  • 1
    Why are you placing the principal caesura after solitaque? The main syntactic break in the line is after equi.
    – TKR
    Commented Aug 4, 2021 at 18:47
  • @TKR ... in view of your rep, and your dissenting opinion, any chance you could add an answer yourself? Unfortunately I haven't read D.S. Raven, or indeed anything, so am in positione nulla to contribute to any discussion. Commented Aug 4, 2021 at 18:53
  • 2
    @mikerodent Personally I tend to think the idea of a principal caesura isn't a very useful one. Yes, you can define "caesura" as "word break that doesn't map onto a foot boundary" and you can then debate which of the caesurae in a line is the "principal" one in terms of syntax or meaning, but what does that tell you about the line that you didn't know before?
    – TKR
    Commented Aug 4, 2021 at 18:57
  • @TKR As I say, I'm a complete neophyte here. In a previous question someone said that usually scansion of a line is fairly obvious (it also helps if you know that the i in words like iugum is/can be consonantal). When I'm reading out loud the question of whether solitaque, or indeed solita-, is left hanging in the air when some sort of pause happens, does pose a problem for me... currently. I'm still trying to digest this idea of a caesura between the two shorts of a dactyl. A priori, that feels strange. But maybe I haven't understood what a caesura actually is... indeed! Commented Aug 4, 2021 at 19:04

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