Arsis and thesis

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Note grouping. A=Arsis, T=Thesis.[1] About this sound Play 
Binary and ternary rhythms and meter are said to originate in human movement.[1] Inh.=Inhalation, Exh.=Exhalation.

In music and prosody, arsis and thesis refer to the stronger and weaker parts of a musical measure or poetic foot. Arsis and thesis were the raising and lowering of the foot in beating of time, or the raising and lowering of the voice in pitch or stress. Accordingly, in music and in Greek scansion arsis is an unaccented note (upbeat),[2] but in Latin and modern poetry it is the stressed syllable (ictus).[3]

Latin and English poetry[edit]

In Latin (and Greek) dactylic hexameter, the strong part of a foot is the first syllable — always long — and the weak part is what comes after — two short syllables (dactyl: long—short—short) or one long syllable (spondee: long—long). Because Classical poetry was not based on stress, the arsis is often not stressed; only consistent length distinguishes it.

  • Arma virumque canō, Trōiae quī prīmus ab ōrīs...
    Of arms and a man I sing, who first from the shores of Troy... — Aeneid 1.1
Ar — ma vi rum — que ca nō — Trō iae — quī prī — mus ab ō — rīs
arsis — thesis arsis — thesis arsis — thesis arsis — thesis arsis — thesis arsis — thesis

In English, poetry is based on stress, and therefore arsis and thesis refer to the accented and unaccented parts of a foot.


Ancient Greek ἄρσις ársis "lifting, removal, raising of foot in beating of time",[4] from αἴρω aírō or ἀείρω aeírō "I lift".[5] The i in aírō is a form of the present tense suffix y, which switched places with the r by metathesis.

Ancient Greek θέσις thésis "setting, placing, composition",[6] from τίθημι títhēmi (from root θε/θη, the/thē, with reduplication) "I put, set, place".[7]


  1. ^ a b Thurmond, James Morgan (1982). Note Grouping, p.29. ISBN 0-942782-00-3.
  2. ^ "arsis". Merriam-Webster Dictionary. .
  3. ^ "arsis". Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. September 2005.  (Subscription or UK public library membership required.) (subscription required)
  4. ^ ἄρσις. Liddell, Henry George; Scott, Robert; A Greek–English Lexicon at the Perseus Project.
  5. ^ ἀείρω in Liddell and Scott.
  6. ^ θέσις in Liddell and Scott.
  7. ^ τίθημι in Liddell and Scott.