I've just begun to learn scansion, and I'm using the Aeneid to practice - sadly, I'm stuck on line two ("Italiam, fato profugus, Laviniaque venit"). To make a long story short, I ended up looking up the solution, and it turns out that the last 'i' in Lavinia doesn't count as a vowel: "Ītălĭ|ām fāt|ō prŏfŭg|ūs Lāv|īniăquĕ| vēnĭt" Why is this? Is this consonantal 'i', and if that's the case, why? I was taught that an 'i' after a consonant was usually a vowel.


1 Answer 1


This is a tricky one, when you're just starting out with scansion! You're right that Lāvīnia would normally be four syllables: Lā-vī-ni-a.

However, there's a process in poetry known as synizesis (from the Greek συνίζησις), where two vowels next to each other can turn into a diphthong when the meter requires it. It's not especially common, but has a long and illustrious pedigree: the very first line of the Iliad has an (εω) that need to be pronounced as a single syllable. (In the same foot as this ia, actually—I'd never noticed that before.)

So in this instance, synizesis turns the word into Lā-vīn-ja, three syllables, for the sake of the meter. You won't run into this very often, but it's a good tool to keep in mind when a line just won't quite scan. This isn't the only time you'll see it in Vergil!

  • That makes sense. This can happen, you're saying, with any two vowels that aren't diphthongs? Also, why is the 'i' in 'venit' short? I thought that the last foot was always a spondee in Dactylic Hexameter.
    – Eli
    Aug 20, 2023 at 14:49
  • @Eli Regarding venit, I'd recommend asking that as another question, because it deserves more than just a comment! But yes, it can theoretically happen with any vowels; some combinations are much more frequent than others, and synizesis is rare enough that I'm guessing some pairs are entirely unattested, but I'm not aware of any combinations being actually forbidden.
    – Draconis
    Aug 20, 2023 at 15:58

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