Quantitative meter is based on various patterns of long and short syllables. The number of syllables in each word depends on the number of vowels and diphthongs (two vowels pronounced as one -- e.g., ae). Words are divided into syllables according to the following rules:
1. If a vowel or diphthong is followed by a single consonant, that consonant is taken with the next syllable, and the first syllable is called open (e.g., o-cu-li has three open syllables).
2. If the vowel or diphthong is followed by two or more consonants, division takes place between the consonants, and the syllable is closed (e.g., in in-tem-pes-ti-vi the first three syllables are closed, the last two open).
EXCEPTION: If the first consonant is a mute (b, p, d, t, g, or c) and the second consonant is a liquid (l or r) or a nasal (m or n), the division may be made either before the first consonant (in which case the syllable is open) or after it (in which case the syllable is closed), e.g.: pa-tri or pat-ri.
NOTE: x (= cs) and z (= ds) count as two consonants and qu as one; h is not considered a consonant and has no power to close a syllable.
The same rules apply at the end of a word, e.g.:
e-ra-t il-le (note that the second vowel is open)
If a word ending with a vowel or m is followed by a word beginning with a vowel or h, the first of the adjacent syllables is suppressed (elision), e.g.: multum ille et = mult_ill_et. But if the second word is es or est the process is reversed (prodelision), e.g.:
illa est = illa_st
quantum est = quantum_st
A syllable is long if:
1. it contains a long vowel or diphthong;
In the metrical schemata given before each metrum, the long mark is placed over the second vowel of the diphthong.
2. it is closed.
The last syllable in a verse may be either long or short, but by convention is usually counted and marked as long.
x anceps (short or long)
Boethius uses the following metrical patterns (or "feet"):
Iamb u -
Trochee - u
Anapest u u -
Dactyl - u u
Spondee - -
Ionic u u - -
Choriamb - u u -
Bacchiac u - -
Tribrach u u u
Cretic - u -
But since a long syllable is regarded as the equivalent of two shorts, substitutions are allowed in some meters (e.g., for an anapest [uu-], Boethius may substitute a dactyl [-uu] or a spondee [--]).
Many metrical patterns are constructed of units called metra ("measures"), and can be described according to the number of metra as monometers, dimeters, trimeters, etc. In some cases (dactyls, spondees, choriambs) the metron is identical with the foot, but in others (iambs, trochees, anapests), it is comprised of two feet. Thus, dactylic hexameter consists of 6 dactylic (or spondaic) feet, but iambic trimeter consists of 6 iambic feet (= 3 metra).
In some meters word break occurs regularly at fixed points in the verse. Word division coinciding with a break between feet or metra is called a diaeresis (||); a division not coinciding with a metrical break between feet is called a caesura (^). The line-segments between caesurae or diaereseis are called cola ("limbs"). Some cola of this kind are used as independent metrical units. For example, a dactylic hexameter often contains caesura after the first long syllable of the third foot and/or diaeresis between the fourth and fifth foot, thus:
- u u - u u - ^ u u - u u || - u u - -.
This verse contains 3 cola:
The first, - u u - u u -, is called a hemiepes.
The third, - u u - -, is called an adonic.
Other cola are not so clearly related to longer metrical units -- for example, the Aeolic cola, which were taken over from Aeolic Greek lyric poetry. These cola are not divisible into feet or metra, but can be expanded internally and externally by the use of other metrical units. The standard Aeolic cola are:
x x - u u - u - glyconic
x x - u u - - pherecratic
x x - u u - u - - hipponactean.
Discussion of individual meters is given in the commentary. For a general survey of Latin metrics, see T.G. Rosenmeyer, Martin Ostwald, and James Halporn, The Meters of Greek and Latin Poetry, 2nd ed., (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1980).