Alcaic stanza

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The Alcaic stanza is a Greek lyrical meter, an Aeolic verse form traditionally believed to have been invented by Alcaeus, a lyric poet from Mytilene on the island of Lesbos, about 600 BC.[1] The Alcaic stanza and the Sapphic stanza named for Alcaeus' contemporary, Sappho, are two important forms of Classical poetry.

In Sappho and Alcaeus' poetry[edit]

The Alcaic stanza as used by Sappho and Alcaeus has the scheme ( where ¯ is a longum, ˘ a breve, and × an anceps):

× ¯ ˘ ¯ × ¯ ˘ ˘ ¯ ˘ ¯ ||
× ¯ ˘ ¯ × ¯ ˘ ˘ ¯ ˘ ¯ ||
× ¯ ˘ ¯ × ¯ ˘ ¯ ¯ ||
¯ ˘ ˘ ¯ ˘ ˘ ¯ ˘ ¯ ¯ |||

In Latin poetry[edit]

One stanza consists of four lines; the first two lines are divided into two parts by a caesura after the fifth syllable. The metrical pattern of an Alcaic stanza would look like this:

_ _ u _ _ : _ u u _ u _
_ _ u _ _ : _ u u _ u _
_ _ u _ _ _ u _ _
_ u u _ u u _ u _ _

(An "_" denotes a long syllable, "u" a short one, and ":" is the caesura.)


Horace used the Alcaic stanza in his Odes, as can be seen from this example :

 _   _   u _    _ :_ u u   _ u _
Antehac nefas, depromere Caecubum
 _  _  u _ _  : _   u u _ u_
cellis avitis, dum Capitolio
 _ _ u  _ _  _   u_ _
Regina dementis ruinas
 _ u  u  _  u u_  u _ _
funus et Imperio parabat.

An English translation, which still fits the metre, is :

 _ _   u   _      _  : _  u u   _   u  _
Prior to this, 'twas | irreligious to waste
 _    _ u _   _   :   _      u    u  _ u _
Old Caecuban wine | whilst, for the Capitol
 _   _u _  _    _     u   _    _
Mad ruination plots the Queen, and
_ u  u  _ u u   _   u  _  _
Even a funeral for the Empire.

A famous example of English Alcaics is Tennyson's "Milton:"

O mighty-mouth'd inventor of harmonies,
O skill'd to sing of Time or Eternity,
     God-gifted organ-voice of England,
          Milton, a name to resound for ages!

The Alcaic stanza was adapted to use in English and French during the Renaissance. It was historically an important form in Hungarian poetry [1][2][3].

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Cuddon, John Anthony (1998). A Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory. Wiley. p. 18. ISBN 9780631202714.