Meter in Plautus' Aulularia

There are three different modes of performance in Plautus:

1. The parts recited without musical accompaniment, written in
iambic senarii, the Roman equivalent to the Greek iambic trimeter.

2. The recitatives, for which there was musical accompaniment, consisting of longer iambic and trochaic meters:
trochaic septenarii (the equivalent to the Greek trochaic tetrameter catalectic), trochaic octonarius, iambic octonarius.

3. The
mutatis modis cantica, songs composed in a variety of meters. This is a more original development of Roman comedy, since there were no songs in Greek New Comedy, but only musical interludes between acts.

The follow schema shows the alternation of these different modes in the Aulularia:

1-119 iambic senarii (spoken monologue and dialogue)

120-160 song in multiple meters

161-279 recitative in trochaic septenarii

280-405 iambic senarii (spoken monologue and dialogue)

406-446 song in various iambic and trochaic meters

447-474 recitative in trochaic septenarii

475-586 iambic senarii (spoken monologue and dialogue)

587-660 recitative in trochaic septenarii

661-712 iambic senarii (spoken monologue and dialogue)

713-730 song in anapestic and trochaic septenarii

731-823 recitative mostly in trochaic and iambic septenarii

824-831 song in trochaic meters

Principles of Quantitative Meter

1. Qualitative meter is based on the alternation of stressed and unstressed syllables. This was the basis for indigenous Roman poetry, such as the Saturnian meter; but when the Romans encountered Greek literature, they quickly adopted their quantiative meter, which is based on alternation of long and short syllables. Nevertheless, word accent (stress) continued to play a role in Roman poetry, such as that of Plautus.

Long and short syllables. A syllable is short if the quantity of the vowel in the syllable is short and it is not followed by two consonants. A syllable is long if the quantity of the vowel in the syllable is long, if it is a diphthong, or if the vowel is followed by two consonants.
Thus, the "i" in "sagitta" is short, but the syllable is long because the "i" is followed by two consonants. A short final syllable can be lengthened by the consonant of a following word: in the phrase "venit taurus," the final syllable in "venit" is lenghtened by the initial "t" of "taurus." Some consonant combinations do not necessarily have this effect. Combinations of a stop (p,b,c,g,t,d) and a liquid (l, r) do not always cause a syllable to be lengthened, but they can. Also, final "m," "n," and "s" are very soft sounds in Plautus and do not always lengthen a preceding syllable.

Elision. When a word ends in a vowel and is followed by a word beginning with a vowel, the two syllables smush into a single syllable sound. In scanning poetry, the first syllable of such a combination is simply ignored. Since "m," "n," and "s" were such soft sounds in Plautus, syllables ending with them could also be elided when followed by a word beginning with a vowel. Also, the letter "h" at the beginning of a word does not count as a consonant because it was such a soft sound.

Another kind of elision, called "prodelision" is found in Plautus. In this instance a syllable ending with "m" or "s" is combined with a succeeding syllable in the following way: "captus est" becomes "captust." or "captum est" becomes "captumst."

Under certain circumstances combinations that would normally be elided are not, resulting in a "gap" called "hiatus." These occur usually at a strong sense pause (caesura or diaeresis) or when there is a change of speaker in the middle of a line.

Related to elision is synezesis, the combination of two successive vowel sounds into a single long syllable, especially within the same word: "eandem," proounounced as a two-syllable word, or "meis," pronounced as a monosyllable.

Caesura and Diaeresis. Roman and Greek meters typically had a sense pause in the middle of each line somewhere. When the pause falls between words, but in the middle of a metrical foot, it is called caesura, "a cutting." In the iambic senarius, a caesura usually falls in the middle of the third or fourth iamb.

nequís mirétur quí sim // paúcis éloquár

Less commonly, a sense pause occurs between two metrical feet, and this is called a diaeresis, "tearing apart."


5. Brevis brevians. One of the ways in which word accent affected Roman prosody was in the metrical "law" of brevis brievians: "a short shortening." According to this law, a short penult (next to last syllable) receiving the word accent would cause a final long syllable to be shortened. Therefore "male" or "bene" would normally be scanned as an iamb, but often becomes two shorts in Plautus.

Substitutions of shorts and longs. In many cases, it is possible to substitute two shorts for a single long syllable. This commonly occurs in the dacytlic hexameter, in which a spondee (two longs) is equivalent to a dactyl (long short short). Thus, an iamb (short long) can be replaced by a tribrach (short short short). However, in Plautus, the initial short of an iamb can be replaced by a long anywhere in the line except the last. By substitution, it is possible to have a procleusmatic (four shorts in a row) take the place of a single iamb. Such substitutions can also occur in trochaic and other kinds of meters. However, a true iamb (short long) can never occur in a trochaic line, nor a true trochee (long short) in an iambic one.

7. Ictus and Accent. Scholars often speak of the"ictus" of a metrical foot, a slight emphasis that falls on a certain syllable to help define its shape. For an iambic meter, the ictus falls on the long syllable. When the long syllable of an iamb is resolved into two shorts, the ictus will fall on the first of the two shorts. This system is independent of the word accent system in Latin, although frequently the two coincide. Whether or not this metrical stress existed, the graphic representation of an ictus is an easy way to indicate the proper scansion of a line of text and it is employed here for that purpose. Here are the usual ictus placements for other meters:

trochee: (lóng short) néc dem/árchus
cretic: (lóng short long) péssul(i) heus/ péssuli
bacchiac: (short lóng long) gradúm pre/ferám pro/gredíri
anapest: (short short lóng) quia mí/ miseró/

Iambic Senarii, Iambic Septenarii and Iambic Octonarii
1. iambic senarii: "six iambs" an iamb consists of a short then a long syllable. The Greek iambic trimeter consisted of three "metra" of two iambs each, in which the rules governing the first and second iamb of each pair were different. The Roman version is called iambic senarius because it had looser rules than its Greek predecessor. Iambic pentameter (based on word accent) is a very common meter in English:

The lády dóth protést too múch, methínks.

The first line of the Auluaria is a good example of iambic senarius:

ne quís mirétur quí sim // paúcis éloquár

The accent marks here indicate the second syllable of the iamb, not the accented syllable; but note that there is significant overlap between this iambic "ictus" and normal word accent. Note that in this line there are exactly 12 syllables, but some of the iambs consist of two longs, rather than short long: all the syllables of "miretur" are long, the "i" by nature, the "u" by position. Also the last syllable of "paucis" is long.

The Iambi Septenarius is seven and a half iambic feet, usually with a diaeresis after the fourth foot. The Iambic Octonarius is eight full iambic feet, often a diaresis after the fourth foot.

2. trochaic septenarii: "seven trochees" a trochee consists of a long syllable followed by a short. The trochaic septenarius consists of seven and a half trochees. There is greater coincidence of ictus and normal word accent in this meter than in any other, so it is one of the the easiest for us English-speakers to read. Here is an English example:

Ín the Spríng a yoúng man's fáncy líghtly túrns to thoúghts of lóve.

Trochaic octonarii have eight full iabmic feet.

3. cantica meters used in the Aulularia are as follows:

The most important meters of plautine song are those using cretics (long short long) and bacchiacs (short long long)