Latin Hexameter poetry, like Greek, is quantity based. When we consider the rhythm, we have ictus at the beginning of each of the six feet. However Latin is also a stress-based language which fact naturally adds another dimension to the poetry.

While tempting and not uncommon, the notion that the natural accent/stress was simply neglected and left the stage to the ictus alone (that is, always reciting stress on the ictus), the convincing evidence is rather that the natural stress/accent of the words was retained in poetry recitation.

The evidence is that Latin Hexameter poets deliberately created "harmony" (i.e., the coincidence between the ictus and the natural stress) in the last two feet. It was also maintained that the composers generally tried to avoid harmony in other feet, especially in the second and the third (maybe except Catullus that might have sought harmony in the fourth foot) - but, as the paper shows, the evidence for such argument is not strong.

However, apart from fixing the last two feet, it might be the case that sometimes the poets did deliberately used the stress (with or without relation to the ictus) to create an extra effect. For example, A. W. H. Adkins suggests that verse of Lucretius Propter egestatem linguae et rerum novitatem (DRN, 1.139) which deals with the difficulties of wring Greek Philosophy in Latin verse, was very carefully crafted in a manner that it contains 7 trochees (stress-based; and assuming secondary stress in the first syllable in 4-syllables-words where the third is heavy; and et without stress) in order to illustrate the conflict and the between the stress and the meter.

Though naturally hard to prove, Are there any other suggested uses of stress in Latin Poetry?

1 Answer 1


This is a provisional answer that provides one source.

Andrew S. Becker's article Rhythm in a Sinuous Stanza: The Anatomy and Acoustic Contour of the Latin Alcaic provides an interesting take on the tension between the "latent ictus" and the voiced stress in the Horatian Alcaic.

The point being argued there, to the extent I understand, is somewhat subtle: Latin poets indeed took care of the natural accent in writing verse so accent mattered in their poetry; however, we should be rather careful, in assuming the poets used the matter for rhetorical/sense reasons. in other words that: "sound need not be subordinate to meaning".

Let me quote the concluding paragraph of this article:

There are storied cases of rhetorical or mimetic rhythm, such as Sisyphus’ tumbling stone at Odyssey 11.598 or the great wave at Aeneid 1.105, but their very rarity and obviousness mark them as unusual, even in poets most concerned with the sounds of their poems.(59) Such sound effects could become cloying and distracting—they could “ruin a fine tenor voice / For effects that bring down the house” (W. H. Auden, “In Praise of Limestone”).(60) If the importance of rhythm is reduced to the patent affect, then what of all the other lines? Those thousands of poetic lines, shaped and crafted with care by Latin poets—though not sonically instrumental in making “sense”—can still delight, arrest, and impel the reader’s ear. We do injustice in assuming that only lines that are demonstrably rhetorical are rhythmically or metrically important. We can take comfort in the knowledge that poets ancient and modern have put their creative energy into the acoustic contour of their lines, and our attention, whether enhanced or not by cognitive gratification, gives due heed to that energy.(61).

Another suggested (not sure by whom) example in Aeneid 1.53 luctantēs ventōs tempestātēsque sonōrās

The line has five spondees, which is the maximum usually allowed in a hexameter (the 5th foot is only rarely a spondee). Moreover, there is conflict of ictus (word stress) and accent (verse stress) in every word except sonōrās. The slow, rough rhythm adds to the picture of the struggling winds.

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