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Irrational Feet

e. Feet with these apparent quantities do not always occupy equal time, but may be contracted or prolonged to suit the series in which they occur. They are then called irrational, because the thesis and arsis do not have their normal ratio.1 Such are:—

Irrational Spondee: (in place of a Trochee) [acutemacr] > (in place of an Iambus) > [acutemacr]

Cyclic Dactyl (in place of a Trochee):

Cyclic Anapæst (in place of an Iambus):

The apparent dactyl > [acutebreve] ˘, as a substitute for an iambus, and the apparent anapæst [acutebreve] ˘ >, as a substitute for a trochee, occur frequently in the dramatic writers.

Note.--Narrative poetry was written for rhythmical recitation, or chant, with instrumental accompaniment; and Lyrical poetry for rhythmical melody, or singing. It must be borne in mind that in ancient music—which in this differs widely from modern—the rhythm of the melody was identical with the rhythm of the text. The lyric poetry was to be sung; the poet was musician and composer, as well as author. To this day a poet is said conventionally to “sing.”

Thus a correct understanding of the rhythmical structure of the verse gives us the time, though not the tune, to which it was actually sung. The exact time, however, as indicated by the succession of long and short syllables, was varied according to certain laws of so-called “Rhythmic,” as will be explained below. In reading ancient verse it is necessary to bear in mind not only the variations in the relative length of syllables, but the occasional pause necessary to fill out the measure; and to remember that the rhythmical accent is the only one of importance, though the words should be distinguished carefully, and the sense preserved. Poetry should not be scanned, but read metrically.

1 It seems probable that both thesis and arsis of an irrational foot were affected by the necessity of preserving the rhythmical time of the foot.

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