The Lengthening of Short Final Syllables in Virgil |
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Latin Text

The Lengthening of Short Final Syllables in Virgil

On occasions, Virgil permits himself a certain licence in his metrication, when he lengthens syllables at the end of words which would normally be short both by nature and by position. Ancient authorities commentating on these irregularities explain them either by focusing on their position in the verse, or by suggesting that Virgil’s usage in these instances reflects that these syllables had been long in quantity in earlier periods of Latin poetry. With regard to the first of these tentative explanations, it is indeed the case that in all the instances where Virgil permits himself this licence, the syllables which are lengthened in this way are in arsis, that is, they fall on the last syllable of words which occur in the first part of the foot, and therefore coincide with the ictus, or the metrical beat.

45 instances of this irregular lengthening of short final syllables are found in Virgil’s works. These are divided below into certain groupings, most of which reflect different parts of speech or letter endings. In each case the whole verse is shown, and the affected syllable is underlined.

A. Lengthening of the first ‘que’ at the beginning of verses:

i) Eurique Zephyrique tonat domus: omnia plenis. (Georgics I. l.371)

ii) liminaque laurusque dei, totusque moveri. (Aeneid III. l.91)

B. Lengthening of a syllable immediately before a Greek word:

i) ille, latus niveum molli fultus hyacintho, (Eclogues 6. l.53)

ii) Graius homo, infectos linquens profugus hymenaeos. (A. X. l.720)

(See also E. iii. b. and F. iii. below)

C. Lengthening of final syllables ending in ‘r’:

i) Nouns: Masculines ending in ‘or’, ‘er’, or ‘ur’:

a) Omnia vincit Amor; et nos cedamus Amori. (E. 10. l.69)

b) Aequus uterque labor, aeque iuvenemque magistri (G. III. l.118)

c) nam duo sunt genera: hic melior, insignis et ore (G. IV. 92)

d) luctus, ubique pavor, et plurima mortis imago. (A. II. l.369)

e) et Capys, et Numitor, et qui te nomine reddet (A. VI. l.768)

f) considant, si tantus amor, et moenia condant (A. XI. l.323)

g) quippe dolor, omnis stetit imo vulnere sanguis. (A. XII. l.422)

h) et Messapus equum domitor, et fortis Asilas (A. XII. l.550)

i) Desine plura, puer, et quod nunc instat agamus:(E. 9. l.66)

j) ostentans artemque pater arcumque sonantem. (A. V. l.521)

k) congredior. Fer sacra, pater, et concipe foedus. (A. XII. l.13)

l) si qui ebur, aut mixta rubent ubi lilia multa (A. XII. l.68)

ii) Inflections of Verbs ending in ‘r’:

a) altius ingreditur et mollia crura reponit; (G. III. l.76)

b) Tum sic Mercurium adloquitur, ac talia mandat: (A. IV. l.222)

c) Olli serva datur, operum haud ignara Minervae, (A. V. l.284)

d) nostrorum obruimur, oriturque miserrima caedes (A. II. l.411)

D. Lengthening of final syllables ending in ‘s’.

i) Nouns:

a) per terram, et versa pulvis inscribitur hasta. (A. I. l.478)

b) invalidus, etiamque tremens, etiam inscius aevi. (G. III. l.189)

c) Non te nullius exercent numinis irae; (G. IV. l.453)

d) Emicat Euryalus, et munere victor amici (A. V. l.337)

e) fatalesque manus, infensa Etruria Turno: (A. XII. l.232)

f) sicula magna Iovis, antiquo robore quercus (G. III. l.332)

g) pectoribus inhians spirantia consulit exta. (A. IV. l.64)

ii) Verbs:

a) terga fatigamus hasta; nec tarda senectus (A. IX. l.610)

E. Words ending in ‘t’: Third Person Singular of Verbs:

i) Imperfect Indicative Active (-at):

a) Tityrus hunc aberat. Ipsae te, Tityre, pinus, (E. 1. l.39)

b) nusquam amittebat, oculosque sub astra tenebat. (A. V. l.853)

c) regibus omen erat, hoc illis curia templum, (A. VII. l.174)

d) per mediam qua spina dabat, hastamque receptat (A. X. l.383)

e) Hic hasta Aeneae stabat, huc impetus illam (A. XII. l.772)

ii) Present Indicative Active and Imperfect Subjunctive Active (-et):

a) qui teneant, nam inculta videt, hominesque feraene, (A. I. l.308)

b) Pergama cum peteret inconcessosque hymenaeos, (A. I. l.651)

iii) Present, Future, and Perfect Indicative Active (-it):

a) versibus ille facit; aut, si non possumus omnes, (E. 7. l.23)

b) sceptra Palatini sedemque petit Evandri. (A. IX. l.9)

c) tela manusque sinit. Hinc Pallas instat et urget, (A. X. l.433)

d) ipse, ubi tempus erit, omnes in fonte lavabo. (E. 3. l.97)

e) te sine, frater, erit? O quae satis ima dehiscat (A. 12. l.883)

f) at rudis enituit impulso vomere campus. (G. II. l.211)

g) Alcides subiit, haec illum regia cepit. (A. VIII. l.363)

F. Stand alone instances. The following exceptional instances of the lengthening of the final syllable of a word are also found:

i) pingue super oleum fundens ardentibus extis. (A. VI. l.254)

ii) cum muros arcemque procul ac rara domorum (A. VIII. l.98)

iii) nam tibi, Thymbre, caput Evandrius abstitit ensis; (A. X. l.394).

Conclusion. It can be seen clearly from the above instances that Virgil never allows himself the licence to lengthen a vowel that would normally be short unless the word concerned is in arsis, and, indeed, seldom where the lengthened syllable is not immediately followed by a main caesura, i.e. a slight break in the line. Of the above instances, it is only in 7 cases that the lengthened syllable is not followed by the main caesura. These are the first four, where it could not be applicable in any case; and D. i. g; E. i. b, and F. i. So in the overwhelming majority of cases the lengthening of a final short syllable only occurs when the word concerned is in arsis and comes immediately before the line’s main caesura. Another possibly relevant factor is that in the case of 17 of the above instances the short syllable ends in ‘r’. If ‘r’ is considered as a trilled consonant, it can be ‘dwelt upon’ in pronunciation, so as to lengthen the preceding vowel.

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