previous next

Meter and form

Rauchenstein — who has done so much to promote the study of Pindar, and to whose Introduction to Pindar, read and
Approach to Pindar
meditated on many years ago, the present edition is doubtless due — after commending Pindar in the warmest terms to those who have reached the lyrical stage of life, the age of feeling and enthusiasm, gives an outline of the preliminary studies that he deems necessary, and then bids
us begin with the easier odes. Which are the easier odes? Not the shorter ones necessarily, for the fourth Pythian, the longest of all, is one of the easiest, and the fourteenth Olympian, one of the shortest, has given the commentators much trouble. The fact is, a man who has read himself into Pindar is a poor judge of the relative difficulty of the odes unless he has made actual trial in the class-room, and the experience of most lovers of Pindar has of necessity been limited, as Pindar has seldom been read in our colleges. And yet it might be safe to recommend some such course as this. For the beginning, within the range of Olympians and Pythians, O. 12, 11 (10) — the short ode for Agesidamos — then O. 3, 6, 7; P. 3, 4; for the culmination, whatever else may lie between, O. 1, 2; P. 2. This advice is based purely on the relative difficulty, but those who know Pindar will see at once that the easier odes are dactylo-epitrite, the harder odes are logaoedic or paionian. Of course it is not to be expected that the student will be satisfied with so long a course of dactylo-epitrites, but the lesson is this: If any ode of Pindar is to be studied as a work of art, it is to be approached as a work of art, and the first thing to be mastered, not theoretically, but practically, is the form. A good recitation will be found of far greater value than much discourse about the atmosphere of the epinikion. The poem must be read rhythmically over and over until it can be read fluently aloud, and this must precede the intellectual study. Then, of course, the vocabulary must be looked after, though the Pindaric vocabulary is not very troublesome; thereupon the commentary, and finally the introduction, by way of review. When the rhythm is mastered, it will be found that the way is open for the appreciation of the meaning of the poem in its parts and as a whole. The stress falls on the summits of the thought. Words are not divorced that are bound together by rhythm, no matter how widely they are separated to the eye. Key-notes make themselves heard. The welding of masses makes itself felt. The confused figures group themselves into patterns, and out of the darkness, as out of a picture of Rembrandt, the remotest forms come forth to the vision. Then it will be soon enough to bring in the historical apparatus, soon enough, if it is ever soon enough, to bring in the metaphysical analysis, the logical skeleton, which is supposed to exhibit the organism of the ode, though vertebrae and ribs and thigh-bones are often missing, to say nothing of the head.

Of course metricians are not agreed about every detail of Pindaric metre, but neither are commentators about every detail of the interpretation of the text, and the divergencies affect chiefly matters that are cognizable by the eye rather than by the ear — questions of symmetry, of the distribution of the masses. The length of the κῶλον may be a matter of vital importance to the advanced Pindaric scholar. For the beginner it is enough if he can be taught to feel how intimate is the relation between form and sense, the ἦθος of the great moods and metres.1

Some knowledge of the form, then, is a prerequisite to the artistic study of Pindar, so much at least as is necessary to make use of the metrical schemes appended to the odes.2

Lyric poetry meant among the Greeks what the words mean. It was meant to be sung to the lyre, κιθάρα, φόρμιγξ, to be

Lyric poetry, vocal.
sung and not simply recited. Instead of the lyre, the flute, or rather clarionet, sometimes served to accompany the voice; sometimes both instruments were used. The rhythmical movement of the body, the dance, completed the trinity, which could not be dissociated without loss. The Shield of Achilles in Homer,3 Il. 18. 569-572, shows the rudimentary union of voice, instrument, and dance, which survives, still rudimentary, among the people of our stock. In Greece the popular became the artistic, and passed through a long development, which cannot be exhibited here. The great musicians of the eighth century4 — Olympos, Terpandros, Thaletas — were followed in the seventh by Alkman, the Lydian, the sweet singer of Sparta, Stesichoros of Himera, “who bore upon the lyre the weight of the epos,” and these were succeeded by Simonides of Keos and Pindar, who represent the third great stage of lyric poetry proper. The Lesbian school is called melic rather than lyric, and Sappho and Alkaios are not the artistic ancestors of Pindar. Their poetry, full of passion and fire as it was, had not the sustained flight of the choral ode. It was from the poems of Stesichoros that Pindar learned how to build the fourth Pythian. The dithyramb is a thing apart.

Common to poetry, music, and dance is rhythm, which means “regular flow.” Regular flow can be recognized only

by interruptions; time unbroken is eternity; we must have groups, and these groups must be of such dimensions as to be comprehensible. Hence the definition of rhythm as χρόνων τάξις ἀφωρισμένη, “a definite arrangement of times.” The recurrence of groups was marked by the recurrence of a beat. So we have a strong time and a weak time, θέσις and ἄρσις, the sense of which terms was afterwards inverted. In these simple statements lies the whole theory of rhythm. There must be an orderly succession of groups of time, these groups must be accentuated by stress, they must have simple proportions and a moderate extent, so that the ear can recognize them, and finally they must be equal to one another. The conditions of verse-rhythm are the same as those of musical rhythm. As a rule, we have in every Greek verse a sequence of equal or equivalent feet under the domination of a regularly recurring stress.

The elements of verses are called feet, just as we call the

elements of a dance steps, and they correspond to bars in music.5

In language, as we have seen, rhythm is marked by stress of voice. The stressed part is called arsis, the unstressed thesis, the stress itself the ictus.

Rhythm when represented in language is embodied in metre. A metre is a system of syllables that stand in a determined

order. Of course only those metres are of importance that embody the principal rhythms. The unit of measure is the short syllable, u (χρόνος, mora), equal to an eighth note. The long, -, is double the short and equals a quarter note.

The classes of rhythm are based on the relation of arsis to thesis. The number is restricted by the necessity of having sim

Classes of Rhythms.
ple recognizable relations. The Greek has but three, and the third occurs very seldom in modern music.6

I. Equal Class (γένος ἴσον), in which the arsis is equal to the thesis. Represented in Pindar by the dactyl, -uu or -- (that is, -M).

II. Unequal Class (γένος διπλάσιον), in which the arsis is double of the thesis. Represented in Pindar by the trochee, -u, or by resolution, the tribrach uuu.7

III. Quinquepartite or Sescuple or Five-eighths Class (γένος ἡμιόλιον), in which the arsis is to the thesis as 3 : 2 (1 1/2 : 1). Represented in Pindar by the various forms of the paionian measure.

  • the cretic, -u-
  • the first paeon, -uuu
  • the fourth paeon, uuu-
  • the (fully) resolved cretic, uuuuu (that is, W-W)
  • the bacchius, --u or --u-8

So far we have considered the value of syllables as limited to the simple relations of the short and the long, 1/8 notes and 1/4 notes. But if we assume, as we have to assume, the equality of the bars,9 it is impossible to restrict the range of the elements to these two proportions, nor was it so re

stricted. The long syllable may be drawn out beyond its normal quantity. This is called τονή or protraction, and serves to make up for the omission of one or
more theses. When this protraction fills up a whole bar it is called συγκοπή, and the verse is a syncopated verse.
  • 3 (triseme) = uuu, dotted quarter note
  • 4 (tetraseme) = uuuu, half note

Sometimes two shorts occupy only the time of one. This

is called correption, and instead of writing u uwe write w; musically, this is like two sixteenth notes in place of an eighth note.

The final syllable of a verse is usually considered indifferent, and is marked in the schemes here employed according

Syllaba anceps.
to the metrical requirements. Within the verse a long syllable which takes the place of a short, or a short which takes the place of a long, is called irrational, and is designated by >.

An irrational or two-time trochee is one in which the value is not that of three eighth-notes, but two, and it is represented

by -u, dotted eighth and sixteenth, the proportions being not 2 + 1 eighth-notes, but 1 1/2 + 1/2. So the irrational dactyl is one in which the values are 1 1/2 + 1/2 + 1 eighth-notes. It is written -u u, dotted eighth, sixteenth, eighth.

The rhythm always begins with stress. The unstressed syllable or syllables preceding do not count as a part of the rhythm, but as an ἀνάκρουσις or signal-beat, marked off by a dotted vertical line. The value of the anacrusis must not exceed that of the regular thesis.

Missing theses at the close of a verse are made up as in music by the pause or rest. These pauses have different values. So ^ denotes a pause of one eighth note. The pause symbol with a long, triseme, or tetraseme mark above it indicates a pause of respectively two, three, or four eighth notes or morae.

One or two examples from the leading kinds of Pindaric metres will illustrate these points.

Λίσσο- μαι παῖ Ζηνός ἐ- λευθερί- ου.

If this verse is measured by the mechanical values of the syllables, we should have “ -u | -- | -uu | -uu | -

Measured by this system, we have “ 3u | -- | -uu | -uu | -^

all bars equal, the missing thesis made up by pause.

ἐνιπὰν ἀλιτόξενον.

This verse would be divided, according to the mechanical values, thus: “ u- | -uu | -u | -

with utter disregard of rhythm. It is now read “ u | 3 | -u u | - u | - ^

with anacrusis before the first foot, protraction in the first foot, irrationality in the second foot, and pause at the end.

How are we to know when to make use of these different methods of reproducing the equality of the bars? When a single long syllable comes between two trochees, -u| - |-u, it is evident that we must read -u|3|-u. We have συγκοπή. But the case is not so clear when we have such a verse as O. 9.27:ἀγγελίαν πέμψω ταύταν.” Are we to read this

  • -uu | - > | 3 | -u
  • or -uu | 3 | - > | -u
  • or -uu | - > | - > | - ^

It is clear that here as elsewhere observation must come in. We must find the great periods, which in Pindar are so clearly marked by the sense that there is little dispute about them, and then within the periods mark the κῶλα or members, and observe the regular sequences. True, such κῶλα are already laid down by the metrical scholiasts, but scholars are divided as to the value of them, and the schemes followed here rest on the observations of J. H. H. Schmidt, who has rejected the antique kolometry, and has based his results on wide induction. The details belong to the systematic study of the subject and cannot be introduced here.

The κῶλα are designated in the schemes by =, the periods by #. Within each period there is a correspondence in the number of the bars of each κῶλον, and the groupings have received different names according to the order of the recurrence. προῳδικόν and ἐπῳδικόν are respectively “prelude” and “postlude,” and stand outside of the responsions, which are usually indicated by curved lines.10

We have προῳδικά in the following:

O. 2 Ep. I 3p 32.3211
O. 9 Str. I 3p 4.4
O. 11(10) Ep. I 5p 343
O. 13 Str. I 3p 6556
Ep. I 3p 32.23
O. 14 I 3p 6.6
P. 5 Str. I 2p 3.2.3

ἐπῳδικά are far more common in Pindar.

O. 2 Str. I 3.3 2 e
Str. II 3.3 2 e
Ep. II (22)(22) 4e
O. 4 Str. I (44).4.(44).4 5e
Ep. I e
O. 5 Ep. 54.54 4e
O. 6 Ep. III 4 4.4 3 e
O. 7 Ep. II (43)2.2(43).4 e

So also O. 8, Str. III., Ep. I. II. III.; O. 9, Ep. I.; O. 10 (11), Ep. II.; O. 12, Str. I. III.; O. 13, Str. III., Ep. III.; O. 14, VI.; P. I., Ep. I.; P. 2, Ep. III.; P. 3, Str. I., Ep. I. II.; P. 4, Str. III.; P. 5, Ep. II. III.; P. 6, III.; P. 7, Str. III.; P. 9, Str. III., Ep. I. III.; P. 10, Str. I.; P. 11, Str. II., Ep. II.; P. 12, III.

A period is stichic when two or more equal κῶλα follow one after another. So:

O. 4 Str. IV 4.4
O. 6 Str. V 4 4
O. 7 Str. I 3 3
Str. VI 3 3
O. 10(11) Str. II 6.6
Str. II 4.4

It is palinodic when a group is repeated, as ab ab, e.g.

O. 1 Str. IV
O. 4 Ep. II
O. 5 Str. II
O. 9 Str. III

It is antithetic when a group is repeated in inverse order, ab ba, abccba:

O. 3 Ep. II 35.5.3
O. 8 Ep. I 5.3 3.5.3 e
O. 13 Str. I 3 p
P. 5 Str. IV 6.4 4.6
O. 6 Str. III 423.324
P. 7 Str. I 6.232.6

In the palinodic-antithetic period, palinodic groups are repeated antithetically, ab cc ab, e. g.:

O. 6 Str. I 43. 5.5 43
O. 7 Ep. II 43 2.2 43
P. 7 Ep. I 33 44 33
P. 9 Str. II 33 55 33

When the antithetic period has a solitary κω_λον in the middle it is mesodic, as aba or abcba:

O. 1 Str. II 434
Ep. I 424
O. 5 Str. I 323
O. 6 Ep. I 323
Ep. II 424
O. 7 Str. II 242
Str. V 323
Ep. III 323
O. 3 Str. I 53 5 35
Ep. I 43 2 34
O. 8 Str. II 23 3 32
P. 5 Ep. II 65256 4e
P. 7 Str. I 62326

When a μεσῳδικόν is introduced into a palinodic period it becomes palinodic-mesodic. ab ab becomes ab c ab.

On this principle are constructed such periods as:

O. 3 Str. II 24 5 24
P. 2 Str. II 634 5 634

The principal rhythms used by Pindar are the Dactylo

epitrite and the Logaoedic. There are only a few specimens of the Paeon and the Bacchius.

1. The Dactylo-epitrite measures receive the name from the combination of the dactyl, - u u, with the so-called

epitrite, - u - - , epitrite meaning 1 1/3 = 4/3, and supposed to be a rhythm in which arsis is to thesis as 4 to 3. - u - - would be divided as arsis, thesis, arsis, thesis. The name is retained for convenience' sake; the true measure is, as we have seen, 3 u | - -|.

The model dactylo-epitrite rhythm is shown in O. 3.

About half the extant odes of Pindar are composed in these rhythms, which are also called Dorian. They are elevated, well-balanced, equable, and present a marked contrast to the lively, lilting, excited logaoedic measures, and the still more stirring cretic. There is a thorough correspondence between the sense and the rhythm. The Dorian odes are much easier to follow, the development is, as a rule, much more regular, the forms are not so puzzling, even the tenses sympathize with the rhythm, and the leisurely unfolding of the imperfect is more common in the dactylo-epitrite than in the logaoedic.

2. The Logaoedic rhythm is a 3/8 rhythm, the basis of which is the trochee, but not the trochee with the ordinary ictus, -/u

This trochee has a stronger secondary ictus on the short, admits irrationality, ->, and takes as a substitute the so-called cyclical or light dactyl, -u u, in which the proportions are, as we have seen, not 2 + 1 + 1 morae, but 1 1/2 + 1/2 + 1 = 3, a dotted-eighth rhythm. The apparent jumble of dactyls and trochees, as in prose, gave rise to the name logaoedic (from λόγος and ἀοιδή). The logaoedics are much used in the lyric portion of the drama, and are familiar to all in the odes of Horace, nearly half of the Horatian varieties, and more than ninety per cent. of the odes, being logaoedic. The logaoedic rhythms are lighter, more airy, than the dactylo-epitrite. They have festal glitter rather than steady light, a rapid flitting rather than a compassed march. All fancy apart, no stronger contrasts can be felt than between the movements of the two odes on the victory of Agesidamos (O. 10 and 11). The shorter ode rocks gently through a series of antitheses. It is grave and stately, despite its short compass. Not a preliminary flourish, not an anacrusis, throughout. Contrast the dash and the whirl and the surprise of the longer ode. O. 3 and O. 1 will also serve to bring out the contrast, which does not rest on the imagination of the commentators, but on the universal feeling of our race.

3. Those who have read the Acharnians of Aristophanes are familiar with the passionate cretics that abound in that young and lusty play. The Cretic or Paionian rhythm shows itself in two of our odes, O. 2 and P. 5, both of them

counted among the more difficult Pindaric poems by reason of their extreme elasticity. But the rhythm of these odes reveals the secret of their soul, and instead of being the most difficult, they are among the most easily understood. The passionate movement betrays them. The keynote is struck at the very beginning. In O. 2, θεός, ἥρως, ἀνήρ recur with a persistency that cannot escape the most careless observer, and in P. 5 we have really nothing but a series of variations on πλοῦτος, ἀρετά, πότμος, another trinity. Passion comes out with its story; passion will not let its story rest.

In what relation do these rhythms stand to the “moods” made so familiar to us by our own poets — by Milton, who says,

“Lap me in soft Lydian airs,” who speaks of the “Dorian mood of flutes and soft recorders;” by Gray, who cries, “Awake, Aeolian lyre, awake”? These three moods are all mentioned by Pindar himself.12 O. 3 is designated as Dorian in v. 5:Δωρίῳ φωνὰν ἐναρμόξαι πεδίλῳ” . The Dorian harp of O. 1.17 is generally understood to refer to the instrument and not to the mood of the poem, which is called Aiolian in

ἐμὲ δὲ στεφανῶσαι
κεῖνον ἱππείῳ νόμῳ
Αἰοληίδι μολπᾷ

“Aiolian chords” are mentioned in P. 2.69, “the Aiolian breathings of flutes” in N. 3.79. As these poems are logaoedic and O. 3 is dactylo-epitrite, it would seem natural to identify Dorian with dactylo-epitrite and Aiolian with logaoedic, but the Lydian mood introduces a disturbing element. Lydian measures appear in O. 5.19:Λυδίοις ἀπύων ἐν αὐλοῖς” , 14, 17:Λυδίῳ ἐν τρόπῳ” , and N. 4.45:Λυδίᾳ σὺν ἁρμονίᾳ” , three odes which are essentially logaoedic, and in N. 8.15:Λυδίαν μίτραν καναχηδὰ πεποικιλμέναν” , dactylo-epitrite. But the logaoedic odes that are composed in the Lydian mood are all of very simple construction and popular character, and the only Lydian dactylo-epitrite shows marked peculiarities of periodology, so that for Pindar at least the general identification of Aiolian with logaoedic and Dorian with dactylo-epitrite may be maintained. It will suffice here to give a characteristic of these three moods — Dorian, Aiolian, and Lydian13 — after the ancient authorities, leaving the details of Greek musical composition, with its diatonic, chromatic, and enharmonic scales, to special students. This is the more permissible here because the diatonic or natural scale was the only one employed in lyric choruses.14

The Dorian mood was manly and imposing, like the Dorians themselves; not expansive nor lively, but grave and strong.

What it lacked in liveliness and variety, it made up by steadiness and impressiveness. Δώριον μέλος σεμνότατον, says Pindar himself, in a fragment. It is the mood for the tug of war, where the staying quality is priceless.

The Aiolian was said to reflect the character of the Aiolian chivalry, the high and mighty, self-asserting, deep-drinking

magnates of Thessaly, the swaggering, fighting, lovemaking, convivial countrymen of Alkaios. The Aiolian mood, like the Aiolians themselves, was joyous and full of movement, frank and fair, without lurking meanness or shyness. If the Dorian mood suited the close-locked conflict of infantry, the martial dash of the Aiolian mood made it fit for the Καστόρειον, the ἵππειος νόμος.15

The Lydian mood, originally a flute-melody, was introduced as a νόμος ἐπικήδειος or dirge, and the tender, plaintive strains

were chiefly used in lamentations for the dead. Aristotle says (Pol. 8 end) that the Lydian mood was especially adapted to boys, διὰ τὸ δύνασθαι κόσμον τ᾽ ἔχειν ἅμα καὶ παιδείαν. The simplicity of the composition, and the naturally plaintive tone of boys' voices, are reasons that lie nearer to us.

The Pindaric odes were accompanied now with the cithern, now with the flute (clarionet), now with both. In Pindar's time the instrumentation was still subordinate.

The third element of the form is the dance; song, music, dance, being the trinity. This, of course, has perished for us

beyond all recovery, and only the names στροφή, ἀντιστροφή, and ἐπῳδός remain to remind us that the rhythmical movement of the chorus added to the charm of the performance. The strophic poems of Pindar are processional, not orchestic.

1 The metrical system outlined here is no longer in use. In particular, modern scholars do not attempt to reduce Greek lyric to musical measures or bars of equal length. See the introduction to this edition for details on the approach that is now standard. --AEM

2 These metrical schemes are due to the kindness of Dr. J. H. H. SCHMIDT, and give a revision of those that appear in the first volume of his Kunstformen. For his system, see the Introduction to the Rhythmic and Metric of the Classical Languages, translated by Professor JOHN WILLIAMS WHITE. Boston: Ginn & Heath, 1878. A brief and lucid account of it is given in the Introduction to JEBB'S Oedipus Tyrannus. The summary presented here rests chiefly on what I have learned from WESTPHAL, and especially from SCHMIDT, and the phraseology is adapted from my Latin Grammar.


τοῖσιν δ᾽ ἐν μέσσοισι πάις φόρμιγγι λιγείη
ἱμερόεν κιθάριζε: λίνον δ᾽ ὑπὸ καλὸν ἄειδεν
λεπταλέη φωνῆ: τοί δὲ ῥήσσοντες ἁμαρτῆ
μολπῆ τ᾽ ἰυγμῷ τε ποσὶ σκαίροντες ἕποντο

4 For the controversy as to dates, see FLACH, Lyrik der Griech. pp. 119. 188.

5 In the modern system there are no feet, only cola. --AEM

6 Bars having five quavers are said to be used in the Combat des lutteurs, a part of Les Troyens à Carthage, by Berlioz.

7 The trochaic metron is actually -u-u or -u-x; Pindar does not use it. --AEM

8 This is usually called the palimbacchius or "reversed bacchius"; the bacchius is actually u--. Pindar does not use it. --AEM

9 It is with this assumption that the system goes wrong. See introduction. --AEM

10 In conformity with a hint from Dr. SCHMIDT himself, I have omitted in this edition the graphical designation of the responsions. It is hoped that the recurrent numbers will suffice to impress upon the student the principle of symmetry.

11 That is, the first colon of the epode has a 3-foot προῳδικόν followed by groups of 3, 2, 3, 2 feet.

12 See J. H. H. SCHMIDT, Kunstformen, IV. p. 550 foll.

13 See WESTPHAL, Metrik, I. p. 273, for the authorities.

14 See WESTPHAL, Metrik, I. p. 264.

15 πρέπει τοι πᾶσιν ἀοιδολαβράκταις Αἰολὶς ἁρμονία. — PRATINAS.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide References (14 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (13):
    • Aristotle, Politics, 8.1342b
    • Homer, Iliad, 18.569
    • Pindar, Nemean, 3
    • Pindar, Nemean, 4
    • Pindar, Nemean, 8
    • Pindar, Olympian, 1
    • Pindar, Olympian, 10
    • Pindar, Olympian, 12
    • Pindar, Olympian, 14
    • Pindar, Olympian, 3
    • Pindar, Olympian, 5
    • Pindar, Olympian, 9
    • Pindar, Pythian, 2
  • Cross-references in notes from this page (1):
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: