Alcmanian verse

Alcmanian verse refers to the dactylic tetrameter in Greek and Latin poetry.[1]

Dactylic tetrameter in AlcmanEdit

Ancient metricians called the dactylic tetrameter the Alcmanic because of its use by the Archaic Greek poet Alcman, as in fragment 27 PMG:

Μῶσ᾽ ἄγε Καλλιόπα θύγατερ Διὸς
ἄρχ᾽ ἐρατῶν ϝεπέων, ἐπὶ δ᾽ ἵμερον
ὕμνωι καὶ χαρίεντα τίθη χορόν.


This length is scanned like the first four feet of the dactylic hexameter (giving rise to the name dactylic tetrameter a priore). Thus, a spondee substitutes for a dactyl in the third line, but the lines end with dactyls (not spondees).

The Alcmanian stropheEdit

Horace composed some poems in the Alcmanian strophe or Alcmanian system, a couplet consisting of a dactylic hexameter followed by a dactylic tetrameter a posteriore (so called because it ends with a spondee, thus resembling the last four feet of the hexameter). Examples are Odes I.7 and I.28, and Epode 12 ("Quid tibi vis, mulier nigris dignissima barris? / munera quid mihi quidve tabellas").

Later Latin poets use the dactylic tetrameter a priore as the second verse of the Alcmanian strophe. For example, Boethius' Consolation of Philosophy I.m.3:

Tunc me discussa liquerunt nocte tenebrae

     Luminibusque prior rediit vigor.
Ut, cum praecipiti glomerantur nubila coro
     Nimbosisque polus stetit imbribus,
Sol latet ac nondum caelo venientibus astris,
     Desuper in terram nox funditur;
Hanc si Threicio Boreas emissus ab antro
     Verberet et clausum reseret diem,
Emicat et subito vibratus lumine Phoebus

     Mirantes oculos radiis ferit.

(Ausonius uses couplets of a dactylic tetrameter a priore followed by a hemiepes in Parentalia 27, "Te quoque Dryadiam materteram / flebilibus modulis.")

In modern poetryEdit

The term "Alcmanian" is sometimes applied to modern English dactylic tetrameters (e.g. Robert Southey's "Soldier's Wife": "Wild-visaged Wanderer, ah, for thy heavy chance!"), or to poems (e.g. in German) that strictly imitate Horace's meters.


  1. ^ Cuddon, John Anthony (1998). A Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory. Wiley. p. 18. ISBN 9780631202714.