Judging by this question on rhyming in classical poetry, it seems that rhyme did not make its way to Latin poetry in the classical era. As far as I know, even hymns intended for singing (like Carmen saeculare) were not rhymed. However, rhyming is very common in various songs (and perhaps poetry as well?) in ecclesiastic Latin. When did rhyme enter Latin poetry or song? I assume it was gradual, but I don't even have a big picture or an idea of any major milestones in this respect. For example, what was the first clearly rhymed piece of Latin poetry?

(I'm not sure if this turned out as clear as I hoped. Please ask if this feels too broad or needs clarification.)

  • Two Lives, of Saint Mildryth, and of S. Etfridus, ascribed to Goscelin, have rhymed couplets in rhythmic prose. ?900.
    – Hugh
    Commented Oct 16, 2017 at 4:48

2 Answers 2


The best explanation that I know of is given in Ad Infinitum: A Biography of Latin (Nicholas Ostler, Harper Collins, London, 2007, p.182 et seqq.).

Ostler's opinion is that Arabic verse probably had a crucial influence on Western verse in the matter of rhyme, writing that "only in the eleventh and twelfth centuries did Latin — and other— verses begin to be fully and systematically rhymed at the end of lines . . . . so that the poetry with rhythmical stress that had begun in Augustine's time came into its final state".

There was, it seems, earlier Latin rhyming poetry, but not composed with the same rigour as began to be applied in the 11th/12th centuries, for which Ostler goes on to give examples. Dora Pym and Nancy Silver (Alive on Men's Lips, Centaur, 1964) give the anonymous texts of a 'Pilgrim Hymn' and a 'Love Song', each from the tenth century, which illustrate this lack of rigour a little more fully.

By the thirteenth century, examples of the more rigorous style alluded to by Ostler become easier to find, including the longish hymn Dies Irae attributed to Thomas of Celano and the Golden Sequence of Stephen Langton (d. 1228).


What is missing from any answer is the vernacular verse (such as Greek miroloi; spontaneous verse lamentation) which was not written down.
In classical drama link-words (especially in stichomythia) cued the players, so that they knew when it was their turn to speak and which line followed. The earliest rhyme may have developed from this.

The anonymous Christmas Sequence, by Notker Balbulus (840-912) ends every line in 'a' or nasal 'a'.

Hodie sacrata / Maris stella / Est enixa /Novae salutis gaudia
Quem tremunt barathra. / Mors cruenta / Paver ipsa /A quo peribit mortua,
Gemit capta pestis antiqua; Coluber lividus perdit spolia; ...

There are two Lives of Saints (Legenda de Sancto Etfrido (7th C.), and also one of the English princess saints (?Mildred) mentioned by Rollason) which may be earlier; and have major sections written in rhymed rhythmic prose: to be chanted antiphonally. Rhyme reminds the chanter of the correct phrase (mnemonic); and the completion of the couplet is clear for the next singer (cue). Both these Lives were revised by the Ramsey reformers(960+) so can't be dated earlier. Merwald's Dream (from S. Etfrid; BL Harley 2253):

Nox praeteritur, dum me sompno
datum in strato tenero
::::videbar michi videre
duos canes
teterrimos et immanes
::::me per iugulum arripere

  • 1
    Thanks! Although it's a bit of a hack, you can indent a line by adding  s before it if you want.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Commented Oct 16, 2017 at 13:48

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