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Alliteration

Alliteration is the repetition of the same letter or sound, either intentionally or unconsciously introduced to please the ear or to give additional emphasis to the words by making the sound more forceful. When used to any great extent, it is generally characteristic of a primitive literary taste, and is found in verse and prose that have not yet received their final polish. In AngloSaxon poetry it is one of the chief means of marking the metrical character of the lines, the important words being distinguished by likeness of sound, as in the following from the Phoenix:
“Ne Forestes Fnaest, ne Fyres blaest,
Ne Haegles Hryre, ne Hrymes dryre,
Ne Sunnan haetu, ne Sincald,” etc.

In Greek, alliteration, like assonance and rhyme, plays no important part, because the earliest Greek verse that we possess represents a stage of development in the art of poetry when such crude devices had already been discarded. Only in some few striking passages does alliteration still appear to be a conscious device of the poet, as in the famous line of Sophocles (Oed. Tyr. 371), when Oedipus taunts Tiresias with his blindness:
τυφλὸς τά τ̓ ὠ_τα τόν τε νου_ν τά τ̓ ὄμματ̓ εἰ_.

But in Latin of all periods it is an important element of composition and style, less, however, in the Augustan writers than in their predecessors and successors. Ennius has some extraordinary alliterations, the most absurd being his “O Tite tute Tati, tibi tanta tyranne tulisti!

found among the fragments of his Annales. Plautus uses alliteration with comic effect. Lucretius has a definite system, using p and m to denote effort, as “magnos manibus divellere montis(i. 201) ; while v denotes pity or sorrow, as in the famous line, with its wailing sound, “Viva videns vivo sepeliri viscera busto(v 993) .

See the articles Onomatopoeia; Rhyme; and on the general subject, Buchhold, De Paromoeoseos apud Veterum Romanorum Poett. Usu (Leipzig, 1883); Ebrard, Allit. in d. Lat. Sprache (Bayreuth, 1882); Boetticher, De Allitterationis apud Romanos Vi et Usu (Berlin, 1884); Raebel, De Usu Adnominationis apud Rom. Poett. Com. (Halle, 1887); Munro, Introduct. to Lucretius (Camb. 1886); Cruttwell, Hist. of Roman Literature (1886), pp. 238-239.

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