Odyssey A 56 goes thus:

αἰεὶ δὲ μαλακοῖσι καὶ αἱμυλίοισι λόγοισιν

I find it difficult to scan this verse. The word μᾰλᾰκός has two short syllables, which must be preceded by a long one; and yet δὲ cannot possibly be long. Or can it?

In addition, the beginning of the verse, αἰεὶ, must be two long syllables, which must be followed by a long syllable, and yet it is δὲ that follows.

1 Answer 1


There is a little-known rule of epic scansion in which, optionally, a word-initial sonorant (the nasals μ ν and the liquids ρ λ) may cause a preceding short vowel to scan long. Here's another example, Odyssey 18.399:

μνηστῆρες δ᾽ ὁμάδησαν ἀνὰ μέγαρα σκιόεντα

-- where the second syllable of ἀνά scans long because of the following μ-.

The explanation for this seems to be that some such words once began with an additional s- (sm- etc.), which was later lost. But the phenomenon is not limited to words that historically had s- (and those that did do not consistently show it), so it seems to have been expanded into a license to lengthen certain syllables when metrically necessary.

  • 2
    Indeed, I had searched for s and wau in the etymology of μᾰλᾰκός but found none. I am glad to have learned of this (possibly analogical) rule! Do you happen to know of a good place online (or elsewhere) to find more information about specific rules of Homeric metre? We learned a couple of rules at university, like disappeared s/wau and disyllabic words like eu, but I don't remember whence those came.
    – Cerberus
    Mar 21, 2017 at 3:27
  • 2
    @Cerberus, there are probably better references I'm not thinking of, but here is a page you might find useful. If you want to dig deeper, M. L. West's Greek Metre is worth reading, though he devotes more space to dramatic meters than to Homer.
    – TKR
    Mar 21, 2017 at 3:42
  • Thanks, I saw West mentioned somewhere else; I'll see whether I can find it somewhere. (As you suggested, the link told me nothing new.)
    – Cerberus
    Mar 21, 2017 at 4:02

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