Alcmanian verse

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Alcmanian verse refers to the dactylic tetrameter in Greek and Latin poetry.[1]

Dactylic tetrameter in Alcman[edit]

Ancient metricians called the dactylic tetrameter the Alcmanic because of its use by the Archaic Greek poet Alcman, as in fragment 27 PMG:

Μῶσ᾽ ἄγε Καλλιόπα θύγατερ Διὸς
ἄρχ᾽ ἐρατῶν ϝεπέων, ἐπὶ δ᾽ ἵμερον
ὕμνωι καὶ χαρίεντα τίθη χορόν.


This length is scanned like the first four feet of the dactylic hexameter (giving rise to the name dactylic tetrameter a priore). Thus, a spondee substitutes for a dactyl in the third line, but the lines end with dactyls (not spondees).

The Alcmanian strophe[edit]

Horace composed some poems in the Alcmanian strophe or Alcmanian system, a couplet consisting of a dactylic hexameter followed by a dactylic tetrameter a posteriore (so called because it ends with a spondee, thus resembling the last four feet of the hexameter). Examples are Odes I.7 and I.28, and Epode 12 ("Quid tibi vis, mulier nigris dignissima barris? / munera quid mihi quidve tabellas").

Later Latin poets use the dactylic tetrameter a priore as the second verse of the Alcmanian strophe. For example, Boethius' Consolation of Philosophy I.m.3:

(Ausonius uses couplets of a dactylic tetrameter a priore followed by a hemiepes in Parentalia 27, "Te quoque Dryadiam materteram / flebilibus modulis.")

In modern poetry[edit]

The term "Alcmanian" is sometimes applied to modern English dactylic tetrameters (e.g. Robert Southey's "Soldier's Wife": "Wild-visaged Wanderer, ah, for thy heavy chance!"), or to poems (e.g. in German) that strictly imitate Horace's meters.


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