I'm currently composing a Latin poem, which I'm writing in Alcmanian strophes. The dactylic tetrameter is not usually thought of as having a caesura, so my question pertains mostly to the hexameter lines.

Assuming the caesura is strong, and occurs in the third foot, how would liaison and elision affect syllable weight?

Take, for example, this made-up, nonsensical line:

cum dīcātur avis et magnum terra delētur

—— —uu —‖— —— —uu ——

Here, I would count the last syllable of avis as long, because the caesura constitutes a pause, which causes the s to appear in the coda of the previous syllable. Am I right in doing so? Was there a certain amount of freedom for a poet to count it as either short or long?

Another example, purely for illustration purposes:

hûjus mēns paraboela at sēvaerābile mundō

—— —uu —‖— —— —uu ——

Here, I'm allowing elision over the caesura. I'm certain I've come across examples of this before, but was this also subject to individual authors' choices?

If you could provide any examples with your answers, that would be greatly appreciated!

Thanks in advance!

P.S. Yes, I know the lines don't make sense. They're not meant to.

1 Answer 1


Let me discuss your second example first. If I understand it correctly, your question is: “OK, caesura can only happen at the end of a word, but is it admissible that it happens one syllable earlier, if the last vowel is effectively deleted by elision?”. The answer is yes and here is an example from Virgil:

púllulat áb radí∥c[e] aliís densíssima sílva (Verg. Georg. II 17)

Or, to be clearer, marking each foot and the length of each syllable:

pūllŭlăt │ āb rā│dī∥c[e] ălĭ│īs dēn│sīssĭmă │ sīlva

I know no particular name for this kind of elision. It isn’t very common but it’s considered regular.

On the contrary, your first example, where you ask if a caesura can lengthen a preceding closed syllable just like a consonant, is controversial. Such lengthenings do happen, e.g. in

Ēmĭcăt │ Ēury̆ă│lūs ∥ ēt │ mūnĕrĕ │ vīctŏr ă│mīci (Verg. Aen. V 337)

but they are cases of diastole, i.e. irregular lengthenings allowed as poetic licenses if no better solution can be found.

(Edit: When I first wrote this I was not aware that the word diastole is not commonly used in English when talking about metrics. However, dictionaries mention the meaning of lengthening of a vowel or syllable beyond its typical length and I think that in this context it can be used.)

As diastole tends to appear immediately before a caesura, the case has indeed been made that it is triggered by a caesura. However, a modern refutation can be found in Caesura and Syllable Lengthening in Latin Hexameter, by prof. Pedro Manuel Suárez-Martínez, Madrid 2014, available here.

Basically, avoid diastole if you can, and if you cannot, a caesura would be an extenuating circumstance, but not enough for a not-guilty verdict...

  • Thank you for your answer! I'll make sporadic use of that uncommon type of elision. I can't seem to find anything on the web that thoroughly describes the phenomenon of "diastole", so do you know of any sources that do? Furthermore, could it be that it is a case of either "brevis in longo" or "anceps"? That seems to come quite close to this phenomenon.
    – JoligeJ
    May 3 at 13:47
  • I edited my answer to clarify that diastole only means (irregular) lengthening and you will find it mentioned in any metrics manual under the latter name. Diastole is basically irregular (see here) while brevis in longo and anceps are regular phenomena and therefore different. Feel free to ask questions about them.
    – Dario
    May 7 at 21:29

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