A number of Greek names encountered in hexameter follow the syllable length pattern -vv-; consider for example Penelope, Telemachos, Calliope, Terpsichore. The pattern -v-- is absent as the metric would not permit it, but I find it hard to believe that Greek names would completely avoid this pattern. This is not the only name pattern in hexameter, but just an example. There are also a number of names that do not fit, like the pattern -v- of Socrates.

What did metric constraints do to names? How did the names in poetry end up so convenient for hexameter?

I can think of a couple of options:

  1. There were a number of names, and only the ones fitting the pattern were used. This would lead to name changes in works like the Iliad which mention a huge number of names.
  2. The names were adapted to the metre. Perhaps the original forms of the names were incompatible with hexameter but they were massaged into a variant that fits. This could be supported by citing examples of such variants.
  3. The names were created for poetry in the first place. Then the names all come in a suitable pattern, but they cannot come from earlier non-hexametric myths.
  4. We just do not know why the names are so convenient metrically.

Of course, it could be any combination of these. It is possible that there is no full answer out there, so any partial insights would be welcome answers.

1 Answer 1


Some names were indeed adapted to the meter. For example, in Homer, Achilles' name can be spelled with one or two λ depending on whether a heavy or light syllable is necessary.

The first line of the Iliad spells the name as Ἀχιλῆος (genitive of Ἀχιλεύς) in order to fit a meter of uu--:

μῆνιν ἄειδε θεὰ Πηληϊάδεω Ἀχιλῆος

A few lines later (Iliad 1.7), Achilles gains a lambda and becomes Ἀχιλλεύς:

Ἀτρεΐδης τε ἄναξ ἀνδρῶν καὶ δῖος Ἀχιλλεύς.

Two more names that might be examples of this are Ναυσικάα and Ναυσίθοος from the Odyssey (6.7,17). Both have uncontracted άα and οο (normally contracted as ᾶ, ου respectively). The reason might be because Ναυσικᾶ and Ναυσίθους can't fit into dactylic hexameter.

I'm not sure what rules are used in alternating names, so I don't know how Σωκράτης might be adapted for hexameter (some other declensions of his name do seem to fit dactylic hexameter). But if Achilles's name (which fits the meter) can be changed, I would imagine that some of the names which wouldn't have otherwise fit might have been subject to prosodic license.

Different spellings for metrical purposes aren't limited to names. One example from a common noun: καρδία -u- can't fit into hexameter, unless followed by a word beginning with a vowel, and so Homer almost always spells it κραδίη uu- (alternating from Ionic καρδίη), except for one case (Iliad 2.452, reference from LSJ).

A search (on terms dact*, metr*) turns up with many more words which could manipulate the length of their vowels for metrical reasons (such as αἰθρία, ἀκάματος, ἰχθύδιον, κυάνεος). More to the point, it also gives two more proper names: Σικελία and Ὑδατοσύδνη both had their first syllable lengthened in dactylic hexameter in order to avoid a sequence of three consecutive short vowels. The sources quoted (Moschus and Callimachus respectively) are both Hellenistic-era poets.

  • 1
    Just to add that these are not arbitrary spelling variants. κραδίη and καρδίη are both legitimate forms of the zero-grade stem with syllabic r.
    – fdb
    Commented Dec 10, 2018 at 17:02
  • 1
    @fdb To make sure I'm understanding right, you're saying both of those are attested outside of metered poetry?
    – Draconis
    Commented Dec 10, 2018 at 19:27
  • In prose only the Attic καρδία is attested. But that has to do with the fact that virtually all extant prose writings are in Attic. @Draconis.
    – fdb
    Commented Dec 10, 2018 at 23:06
  • FYI, the search link isn't working for me.
    – TKR
    Commented Dec 11, 2018 at 19:26
  • @TKR I changed the link and gave information on the search
    – b a
    Commented Dec 11, 2018 at 20:12

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