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Alliteration (Latin)

The term alliteration was invented by the Italian humanist Giovanni Pontano (1426–1503), in his dialogue Actius,[1] to describe the practice common in Virgil, Lucretius, and other Roman writers of beginning words or syllables with the same consonant or vowel. He gives examples such as Sale Saxa Sonabant "the rocks were resounding with the salt-water"[2] or Anchisen Agnovit Amicum "he recognised his friend Anchises"[3] or Multa Munita Virum Vi "defended by a great force of men".[4]

Pontano also used it to refer to repetition of letters in medial positions. Among other kinds, he mentions the frequent case when the last syllable of a word begins with the same consonant as the first syllable of the next word, as in loRicam ex aeRe Rigentem "the rigid breastplate made of bronze" (Virgil).[5] Since "x" was pronounced "cs", the phrase Sale SacSa Sonabant "the rocks were resounding with sea water" (Virgil) can also be considered an example of this kind.

Alliteration was a prominent feature of Latin literature (in contrast to Greek), especially in poetry in the 3rd to 1st centuries BC, and continued to be used by some writers even in the Middle Ages.



Scholars differ as to how alliteration should be defined. Some, such as Keith Maclennan (2017), suggest that the term alliteration should be used only of repeated sounds at the beginning of words, and assonance of sounds repeated in another context.[6] Tracy Peck (1884) also gives examples only of word-initial alliteration.

However, Pontano himself, who invented the term, used it also of the alliteration of medial consonants. The French scholars A. Cordier (1939) and Jules Marouzeau (1933) similarly define it as "the repetition, near or exact, of a phoneme or group of phonemes at the beginning of syllables (e.g. fanfare) or at the beginning of words (e.g. bel et bien) nearby one another in the utterance."[7]

The German classicist August Ferdinand Naeke (1829) also accepted internal alliteration and cited examples such as paene eFFregisti Fatue Foribus cardines "you've nearly broken the hinges of the door, you idiot!" (Plautus),[8] in which the first F, though medial, clearly contributes to the effect of the whole.

The Lucretius specialists Cyril Bailey (1947) and Margaret Deutsch (1939), on the other hand, give a slightly different definition. They define alliteration as the repetition of consonants (whether initial or medial), and assonance as the repetition of vowel sounds or of syllables.[9] From the examples Bailey gives, such as ipse, it is clear that he considered that consonants at the end of syllables and words could contribute to alliteration as well as those at the beginning.[10]

Thus when several words in a row begin with the same vowel, as in Incidit Ictus Ingens ad terram "the huge man, struck, falls to the ground" (Virgil),[11] some scholars follow Pontano in referring to it as alliteration,[12] while others such as Bailey use the term assonance.[13]

Conversely, when a medial consonant is involved, as in SaXa Sonabant, it is called "internal alliteration" by Bailey[14] but would be considered as assonance by Maclennan.

Compound alliterationEdit

Although simple alliteration involving only the initial consonants of words is very common, in Latin authors of all periods it will often be found that primary alliteration on an initial consonant is accompanied by a secondary or "minor"[15] alliteration on a medial consonant. Thus Cicero's PaTent PorTae "the gates are open"[16] as well as the primary alliteration of P has minor alliteration of T. Occasionally there are two minor consonants involved, as in LaCūS LuCoSque "lakes and groves" (Cicero)[17] or SeRPentum SPiRiS "with coils of snakes" (Virgil).[18]

In other examples, the same consonant occurs both initially and medially,[19] e.g. Cum seCuri CaudiCali (Plautus)[20] and CaeCo Carpitur (Virgil)[21] with C, or loRicam ex aeRe Rigentem (Virgil)[22] with R. Often two different consonants are involved in the same phrase, partly initial and partly medial: Magnae MeTus TuMulTus (Naevius) and ne Me TerreTe TiMenTem (Virgil)[23] with M and T; MoLLīs LaMbere fLaMMa coMas and MoLLis fLaMMa MeduLLas with M and L (Virgil);[24] and ReGi de GRaecia (Nepos),[25] ReGina GRavi (Virgil)[26] and peRGe ... diRiGe GRessum (Virgil) with R and G.[27]

Any account of alliteration in Latin must therefore take such cases into consideration. However, as Bailey warns, caution must be observed in recognising such examples, as the internal alliteration may sometimes be accidental.[28]

Alliteration and assonanceEdit

Alliteration frequently overlaps with assonance, which is defined by one dictionary as "a resemblance in the sounds of words or syllables, either between their vowels (e.g. meat, bean) or between their consonants (e.g. keep, cape)".[29] (This latter kind is also known as consonance.)

By this definition some of the examples which Naeke calls alliteration, such as fur trifurcifer "thief who wears three yokes" (Plautus),[30] neque fīctum, neque pīctum, neque scrīptum "it's never been imagined, or painted, or written" (Plautus),[31] or labōrat e dolōre "she is overcome with grief" (Terence)[32] would usually these days be referred to as assonance.[33]

Often alliteration and assonance are combined, as in sAnguine LARgo colL' ARmosque LAvant "with copious blood they wash their necks and shoulders" (Virgil),[34] where there is alliteration of L L L, but also assonance of A AR AR A.

Origins of alliterationEdit

The earliest appearance of alliteration in Latin seems to have been not in poetry but in proverbs and popular sayings, and phrases of a religious or legal character.[35] Examples of popular phrases are: Oleum et Operam perdere "to waste both oil and time", Cave Canem "beware of the dog", Vivus Vidensque "alive and well", Satis Superque "enough and more", Albus an Ater "white or black", Publica Privata "public and private", and so on. Legal and religious phrases included such as Tabulae Testesque "tablets and witnesses", Arae et Altaria "altars and shrines", Tecta Templa "houses and temples", Fortes Fideles "brave and loyal", Fusi Fugati "routed and put to flight", Fors Fortuna "Chance and Fortune". Frequently such alliterating phrases show asyndeton, i.e. the two words are placed side by side with no conjunction such as et "and".[36] Another example of this is the boast Veni Vidi Vici "I came, I saw, I conquered" attributed to Julius Caesar.[37]

It has been noted that in these phrases that if one of two alliterated words has an "a" in it, it is usually placed second: Ferro Flammaque "by sword and flame", Longe Lateque "far and wide", Colles Campique "hills and plains", Multi et Magni "many and great".[38] When the words are of unequal length, the shorter one usually precedes: Fama Fortuna "fame and fortune", Aurum Argentum "gold and silver", Cura Custodiaque "care and custody", and so on. As both Peck and Cordier noted, the Latin language naturally lends itself to such phrases, making them part of everyday speech. Some apparent examples of alliteration therefore are likely to be fortuitous, for example Jesus's saying ego sum Via et Veritas et Vita "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life" (John 14.6), which is translated from a Greek original.[39]

Alliteration in carminaEdit

Some of the early prayers (carmina) which survive, such as the one which begins as follows, are partly alliterative, but the alliteration is not maintained throughout the prayer:[40]

Mars PaTer, Te PRecor quaesoque
uti sies volens PRoPiTius
"Father Mars, I pray and beg you
that you be willing and propitious"

It contains alliterative lines such as this:

Pastores Pecuaque Salva Servassis
"that you may keep the herdsmen and the cattle safe"

However, much of the prayer is not alliterative. McGann (1958) concludes that alliteration is an important but occasional device which adds greatly to the effect of the composition, but does not perform a structural function in the carmen as a whole.

Alliteration in poetryEdit

The earliest Latin poems, unlike early Germanic and English poetry, do not have obligatory alliteration. Most of the fragments of the early accentual Saturnian poetry listed by Lindsay exhibit no alliteration, although some do, for example the following line, attributed to Naevius (c.270–c.201 BC), which has alliteration of M, P, and T:

Magnae MeTus TuMulTus PecTora Possīdit[41]
"A tumult of great fear possesses their hearts"

The epic poet Ennius (c.239–c.169 BC) made very frequent use of alliteration. In the following hexameter, the primary alliteration with T is supported by a secondary medial alliteration of R to reinforce the idea of terror and trembling:

AfRica TeRRibili TRemiT hoRRida TeRRa TumulTu[42]
"The rough land of Africa trembles with terrifying tumult."

T and R are also used in the following often-quoted line:[43]

at Tuba TeRRibili soniTu TaRaTanTaRa dixit
"but the trumpet with terrifying sound went 'taratantara!'"

To a greater extent than later poets, Ennius often uses the same alliteration throughout the line:[44]

nec Cum Capta Capi, nec Cum Combusta Cremari
"nor stay captured when captured, nor burn when set on fire"[45]

Another famous line is the following:

o TiTe, TuTe, TaTi, Tibi TanTa, Tyranne, TulisTi!
"O Titus Tatius, you yourself, o king, have brought such great (troubles) on yourself!"

This line was quoted with disapproval for its excessive alliteration in the Rhetorica ad Herennium 4.12, and some modern critics have called it "almost absurd"[46] or "embarrassing".[47]

Another Ennius example, which Austin describes as "noble",[48] is the following iambic octonarius. Here there is assonance between Magna Templa ... and -Mixta sTellis at corresponding places in the two halves of the line, combined with alliteration of C, S, and minor alliteration of L and P:

o Magna Templa Caelitum ComMixta Stellis Splendidis
"O great temples of the heaven-dwellers, mixed with splendid stars."

The comic playwright Plautus also has innumerable instances of alliteration, usually for comic effect:[49]

non Potuit Paucis Plura Plane Proloqui."[50]
"He couldn't in a few words have said more in a plain way."
te Cum seCuri CaudiCali Praeficio Provinciae[51]
"You with the axe, I'm putting you in charge of the wood-cutting province!"

The other surviving comic playwright, Terence, by contrast, used alliteration hardly at all,[52] and this is a major difference between his work and that of Plautus. Naeke, who quotes numerous examples from Plautus, can cite only a few from Terence, including the following:

Profundat, Perdat, Pereat: nihil ad me attinet![53]
"Let him squander it, lose it, and perish; I don't care!"

Cicero in his poetry has frequent examples of alliteration, but usually involving only two or three words in any one verse.[54] In the following lines, which describe the killing of Orion by the Scorpion as depicted in the stars, the primary alliteration of V V V is accompanied by minor alliteration of D, C, T, F and R:

hic Valido cupide VenanTem perculiT icTu
morTiferum in Venas fundens per Volnera Virus
"this struck him down, when he was eagerly hunting, with a powerful blow,
pouring deadly poison through the wounds into his veins"

Lucretius and Virgil also both used alliteration widely, Lucretius "with striking power in many memorable passages" (Austin). In Virgil, alliteration was "no longer an external ornament ... but an inner secret of sound, subtly employed to serve emotion".[55]

In Horace and Catullus it occurs much less frequently. Nonetheless even in Catullus there are lines such as the following with its delicate alternation of C, G, T and D sounds, which appear to imitate the shaking of a tambourine:

QuatiensQue Terga Tauri Teneris Cava Digitis
Canere haec suis adorta est Tremebunda Comitibus.[56]
"And shaking the hollow back of a bull with her tender fingers
she began to sing as follows, trembling, to her companions."

In his lament for his dead brother the chiastic alliteration F M M F is reinforced by minor alliteration of T:

accipe Fraterno Multum Manantia Fletu[57]
"Receive these gifts soaked with brotherly tears."

Ovid employs alliteration much less obviously than Lucretius and Virgil (some examples are given below). He sometimes seems to play with words, as when Apollo tells his son Phaethon:

ne DuBiTa! DaBiTur[58]
"Do not doubt! It will be given."

In Lucan alliteration is found, although not as commonly as in Virgil. His epic poem on the Civil War begins as follows, with an alliteration on C, P and V:

bella per Emathios plus Quam Civilia Campos
iusQue datum sCeleri Canimus, Populumque Potentem
in sua Victrici ConVersum Viscera dextrā
"We sing of wars worse than civil across the Emathian plains,
and of licence given to crime, and a powerful people
who turned against their own innards with victorious right hand."

Alliteration is rarely used in Juvenal and Martial, although there are occasional phrases such as Periturae ParCere Chartae ("to spare paper which is going to perish anyway") (Juvenal)[59] or the following from Martial, in which L, C, and S are interwoven:

LasCivos Leporum Cursūs Lūsūsque Leonum
"the playful races of hares and the games of lions."[60]

Alliteration in proseEdit

Although alliteration is found most often in poetry, Pontano notes that prose writers also sometimes used it, and quotes from a sentence from Cicero's treatise Brutus:[61]

nulla res magis penetrat in animos eosque Fingit Format Flectit[62]
"Nothing penetrates their minds more and moulds, forms, and persuades them".

In his speeches, Cicero uses alliteration sparingly, but effectively, as in famous suggestion to Catiline:

PaTent PorTae; Proficiscere![63]
"The gates are open; depart!"

Again using assonance as well as alliteration, in an emotional moment of indignation in the pro Sulla he says:

cum illae inFestae ac Funestae Faces ... Cum Caedes, Cum Civium Cruor, Cum Cinis patriae ... Coeperat ...[64]
"when those hostile and calamitous torches ... when slaughter, when the blood of citizens, when the ashes of our fatherland had begun..."

Near the ending of the 2nd Philippic oration Cicero uses both alliteration and assonance to add force to an unexpected metaphor. The major alliteration, on stressed initial syllables, is D P P D P; but there is also internal or minor alliteration of L D D L as well as assonance of PAR PAR:

ut aLiquanDo DoLor PoPuLi Romani Pariat quod iam Diu Parturit[65]
"so that at long last the pain of the Roman people may give birth to what it has long been in labour with!"

In another example from the same paragraph of the 2nd Philippic, with alternation of M, R, and L, Cicero says:

ut MoRiens PoPuLum RoManum LibeRum ReLinquam
"that by dying I may leave the Roman people free."

Some orators evidently used alliteration too much, however, causing the author of the Rhetorica ad Herennium (c. 80 BC) to complain about eiusdem litterae nimia assiduitas "the excessive use of the same letter".[66]

Among historians Nepos, according to Rolfe, used it "to excess".[67] The following sentence is an example:

nos eundem Potissimum Thucydidem auctorem Probamus, qui illum ait Magnesiae Morbo Mortuum Neque Negat Fuisse Famam venenum Sua Sponte SumpSiSSe, cum Se, quae Regi de Graecia opprimenda Pollicitus esset, Praestare Posse desperaret.[68]
"We approve especially of the same historian Thucydides, who says that he (Themistocles) died in Magnesia of an illness, but he does not deny that there is a rumour that he took poison of his own accord when he was despairing that he would be able to deliver what he had promised the King concerning the conquering of Greece."

Tacitus did not make great of use alliteration generally, but was fond of alliterative pairs of words such as Largitio et Luxus "generosity and extravagance" or Socordia ducum, Seditione legionum "by laziness of the generals, and insurrection of the legions".[69]

Alliteration became very frequent again in north African authors of the 2nd and 3rd century A.D.: "It occurs on almost every page of Apuleius, Fronto, and Tertullian, and is very common in Cyprian".[70]

Statistical studiesEdit

Some scholars have performed statistical studies on different poets. Clarke (1976) compared Virgil and Ovid, finding minor differences in their usage. For example, Ovid tends frequently to put alliterating words in the first half of the verse, while Virgil is more likely to put them in the second half.[71] In both poets, the most likely position for an alliterating word is after the 3rd-foot caesura, and the second most common the beginning of the verse. Often there is alliteration in both of these places at once, as in the following line of Ovid:

Vipereas carnes, Vitiorum alimenta suorum[72]
"flesh of vipers, nutrition for her vices"

Greenberg (1980), who criticises Clarke's study as statistically unsound in some respects,[73] compares Virgil and Lucretius. One of his conclusions is that Lucretius is more likely than Virgil to use three or more initially alliterating words in the same line,[74] for example:

Multa Modis Multis varia ratione Moveri[75]
"(we see) many things moving in many ways by various means"

In order to simplify their investigation, neither scholar takes internal alliteration into account, or alliterations such as incidit ictus ingens which spread over more than one line. However, Greenberg states: "There is no intrinsic reason why alliteration should be limited to the confines of a single verse or to word-initials."[76]

Certain letters are used in alliteration more frequently than others. In Virgil, according to Clarke, the commonest letters for word-initial alliteration are a, c, p, s, m, t, d, e, f, i, n, v;[77] alliteration with b is very rare.[78] However, when an alliterating word comes after a verse-break such as a caesura, the letter a is less common, coming only in 6th or 7th place.[79]

Usually a letter alliterates only with itself, but sometimes qu can alliterate with c; ph may alliterate with p; ae and au may alliterate with a; and sc, sp, st may alliterate with s.[80]

From both studies, it is clear that when only two words in a line begin with the same letter, it is difficult or impossible to identify objectively whether the alliteration is accidental or deliberate, since alliterated words occur no more often in any line than would be due to chance. To identify whether alliteration is present, more subjective criteria must be used, such as whether the two words are important for the meaning of the line. Thus although Lucretius 3.267 (et sapor et tamen) is counted as an example of alliteration by Greenberg's computer programme,[81] it is doubtful if alliteration can be made on a weak word such as et "and".

When two pairs of words alliterate in the same line, the order abab is most common, then aabb, then abba. An example of the last is the following from Virgil:[82]

Multa Vi Vulnera Miscent[83]
"they exchange wounds with much violence"

Although alliteration is common in Virgil, Ovid, and Lucretius, it is not found in every line. Overall, some 35-40% of lines in both Virgil and Ovid have no word-initial alliteration at all; in many of the remainder, the alliteration may well be accidental.[84]

Uses of alliterationEdit

Linking alliterationEdit

Frequently alliteration simply adorns and beautifies a verse, without adding any particular emphasis.[85] As Headlam (1920) notes, often the alliteration runs through a passage, linking together the various clauses, as in the opening of Aeneid 4, where the letters C, C, V, V, T, T recur repeatedly, as well as assonances such as vulnus / virtus / multus / vultus, cura / carpitur / recursat, and gentis / haerent:

at ReGina GRavi iamdudum sauCia Cura
Vulnus alit Venis et CaeCo Carpitur igni.
Multa Viri Virtus animo Multusque reCursat
gentis Honos; Haerent infixi Pectore Vultus
Verbaque nec Placidam membris dat Cura Quietem.
"But the Queen, for a long time now wounded with serious passion,
feeds the wound in her veins and is tormented by unseen fire.
The man's courage keeps occurring to her mind,
and the nobility of his race; his face and words remain fixed in her heart
and her love gives no peaceful sleep to her limbs."

In his commentary on these lines, Ingo Gildenhard suggests that in the repeated alliteration with V in three pairs of words, Virgil seems to be hinting at a thematic link between the vulnus "wound" of Dido and the virtus "manliness", vultus "face", and verba "words" of Aeneas.[86]

Synonyms and antonymsEdit

Another use for alliteration is to link together synonyms or thematically similar words:[87]

neque enim Levia aut Ludicra petuntur
praemia, sed Turni de vita et sanguine certant.[88]
"For it is not unimportant or sporting prizes which are being competed for,
but they are fighting over the life and blood of Turnus.
Vento huc Vastis et fluctibus acti[89]
"driven here by the wind and by huge waves"
o GeRmana mihi atque eadem GRatissima coniunx[90]
"O my sister, who art also my most dear wife"
PeRGe modo, et, qua te ducit via, diRiGe GRessum[91]
"Be on your way, and direct your step wherever the road takes you."

In the following example, the great quantity of blood when the two bulls fight is emphasised by the alliteration on the words largo "copious" and lavant "they wash":

cornuaque obnixi infigunt et sanguine Largo
coll' armosque Lavant, gemitu nemus omne remugit[92]
"Leaning they stab their horns and with copious blood
they wash their necks and shoulders, and the whole forest echoes with bellowing."

Alliteration can also be used in both prose and verse to emphasise an antithesis between two opposite things:[93]

non tua Dicta ... Di me terrent[94]
"it is not your words but the gods who terrify me"


Frequently both Lucretius and Virgil use alliteration onomatopoeically to paint pictures in sound. Thus alliteration with S may represent the whooshing of an arrow or a spear, the sound of waves breaking on the rocks, or the hissing of serpents:[95]

SauciuS at SerpenS SinuoSa volumina verSat
arrectiSque horret SquamiS et Sibilat ore.[96]
"But the wounded serpent writhes its sinuous coils
and bristles with raised scales and hisses with its mouth"

R, C, T, and S may call up "loud and violent sounds".[97] In the following lines the alliteration is reinforced by assonance of or, or and to, to, tu, tu:

tum vero exoritur clamor Ripaeque lacusque
Responsant Circa et Caelum TonaT omne TumulTu.[98]
"just then there arises a shout and the river banks and lakes
echo round about and the sky thunders with the tumult"

C, R, T imitate the crackling of flames in the following lines of Lucretius:

TeRRibili soniTu flamma CRepiTanTe CRemaTur[99]
"with a terrifying sound it burns up in a crackling flame"

C and T can also imitate the sounds of musical instruments, as in these lines of Lucretius:[100]

Tympana TenTa Tonant palmis et Cymbala CirCum
ConCava, rauCisonoque minantur Cornua Cantu.[101]
"Taut timbrels thunder in their hands, and hollow cymbals all around,
and horns menace with harsh-sounding bray"

In the opening of Virgil's first Eclogue, as in the line of Theocritus that it imitates, the T and P sounds have been explained as the whispering of the leaves of the tree:[102]

TiTyre, Tu PaTulae recubans sub Tegmine fagi.[103]
"Tityrus, you who are lying under the shade of a spreading beech tree."

M may represent the rolling of thunder[104] or the roaring of the sea:[105]

interea Magno Misceri Murmure pontum[106]
"meanwhile the sea began to stir with a loud roaring"

With the letters P and D Virgil can represent the sound of men running:

trePiDique PeDem PeDe ferviDus urget[107]
"he presses hotly with his foot the foot of the panicking Turnus"

The alternation of T Q C and G combined with a dactylic rhythm can imitate the tattaka tattaka or takkatak takkatak sound of a horse cantering across the plain:

porTaT eQuus CrisTāQue TeGiT Galea auRea RubRā[108]
"his horse carries him and a golden helmet with a red crest covers his head"

The letter H, which is only rarely used, can imitate the panting of a dog:

at vividus Umber Haeret Hians[109]
"but the lively Umbrian dog sticks to it panting"

In this line, describing the fate of some Lycian peasants who have been transformed into frogs, Ovid uses the alliteration (with assonance) of QUA QUA to represent their quacking, even before revealing what creatures they have been metamorphosed into:

Quamvis sint sub aQua, sub aQua maledicere temptant.[110]
"Though they be under water, under water they still try to curse her."

In the following highly alliterative line it has been suggested that Ovid is imitating the chattering sound of the local Black Sea languages:[111]

iam DiDiCi GeTiCe SarmaTiCeQue loQui.[112]
"By now I have learnt to speak in Getic and Sarmatic."

Light and liquidEdit

As Bailey points out[113] often a key word will set the alliteration in a line. Thus murmur "rumbling" will suggest the letters M and R, ventus "wind" and vis "force" will suggest V, and the letter L, the initial of lux and lumen (both meaning "light"), may represent the effects of light:[114]

Adspirant Aurae in Noctem Nec Candida Cursus
Luna Negat; spLendet tremuLo sub Lumine pontus.[115]
"The breezes breathe into the night; nor does the bright moon deny their passage;
the sea glistens beneath its trembling light."

Likewise in the following lines from book 2 of the Aeneid the L, C, and ŪC sounds of the word lūce "light" are picked out and repeated:

intonuit Laevum, et de CaeLo Lapsa per umbras
steLLa faCem dŪCens multa Cum LŪCe CuCurrit.[116]
"There was thunder on the left, and from the sky gliding through the darkness
a star, drawing a trail, ran with much light."

L can also suggest the gliding of liquid,[117] as at Lucretius 5.950, where there is secondary alliteration of R:

quibus e scibant umore fLuenta
Lubrica proLuvie LarLavere umida saxa
"from whom slippery streams flowing with moisture learnt how to wash the wet rocks with plentiful overflow"

Both ideas are combined in the following lines, also from Lucretius:

Largus item Liquidi fons Luminis, aetherius soL,
inRigat adsidue CaeLum CandoRe Recenti[118]
"Likewise, a plentiful spring of liquid light, the etherial sun,
constantly irrigates the sky with fresh brightness."

Echo alliterationEdit

Another use of alliteration in Virgil is to emphasise particular key words or names. Headlam (1921) demonstrates how when Virgil introduces a proper name he often uses echoes of the sound of that name through alliteration or assonance in nearby words, a technique he refers to as "echo alliteration":[119]

et centumgeminus Briareus ac BeLua Lernae[120]
"and hundred-handed Briareus and the beast of Lerna"
talis CASus CASSandra Canebat[121]
"Cassandra used to sing of such events."
huc, Pater o LENaee — tuis hic omnia PLENa muneribus[122]
"Come hither, Father Lenaeus – here everything is filled with your gifts."
PRiAMo ... PeRgAMa[123]
"Priam ... Pergama".

Not only proper names but also other key words can be highlighted in this way. In the passage below, the god Faunus and the wild olive tree (oleaster) both play a significant role in the story. The first of these is highlighted by the alliteration F F F; the second by assonance (-oliis oleas-). There are further echoes in the syllables ste, ter, ol and le in the second line:

Forte sacer Fauno, Foliis oleaster amaris
hic steterat, nautis olim venerabile lignum.[124]
"By chance, sacred to Faunus, a wild olive with bitter leaves
had stood here, a piece of wood once venerable for sailors."

Dramatic momentsEdit

Alliteration is frequently used in the Aeneid at moments of high drama, such as the moment that Aeneas's enemy Turnus is finally struck down by Aeneas in book 12. In this passage can be heard first the noisy STR STR imitating the sound of the spear's flight, then the vocalic alliteration of I I I as Turnus falls, and finally an assonance of PLI PLI as his knees buckle:

per medium STRidenS TRansit femur. Incidit Ictus
Ingens ad Terram duPLicaTo PoPLiTe Turnus.[125]
"Whooshing, (the spear) passes through his thigh. The huge Turnus,
struck, falls to the ground with folded knee."

Another warrior dies in book 9 of the Aeneid as follows, with primary alliteration of V V, F F, and secondary alliteration of L L and NG NG:

Volvitur ille Vomens calidum de pectore Flumen
Frigidus et Longis singultibus ilia pulsat.[126]
"He rolls over, vomiting a hot stream from his chest,
and becoming cold shakes his flanks with long gulps."

Ovid also sometimes uses alliteration to mark significant moments in the story, as when he describes Echo's transformation. Here the alliteration of F F is accompanied by an assonance of OSS ISS:

vox manet; oSSa Ferunt lapidis traxiSSe Figuram.[127]
"Her voice remains, but they say her bones took on the appearance of a stone."

When Scylla silently enters her father's bedroom and cuts off the lock of hair whose loss will destroy the city, the letter T is constantly repeated, the word facinus "crime" and fatali "fatal" are emphasised by alliteration of F, and intrat ... nata parentem are linked by the assonance of NT. Finally alliteration of S emphasises the word spoliat "robs":

...Thalamos TaciTurna paTernos
inTraT eT (heu Facinus!) FaTali naTa parenTem
crine Suum Spoliat...[128]
"Silently she enters her father's bedroom
and (alas, dreadful deed!) the daughter robs the parent
of his fatal lock"

In the following lines Ovid describes the dangerous moment in the flight of Icarus when he flies too close to the sun. Here the consonants D and C of the word audaci "daring" are echoed through two lines, before giving way to T T T:

Cum puer auDaCi Coepit gauDere volatu
DeseruitQue DuCem CaeliQue CupiDine TracTus
alTius egiT iTer.[129]
"when the boy began to take pleasure in audacious flight
and abandoned his leader, and drawn by desire for the sky
flew on a higher path."

Emotional speechEdit

Alliteration and assonance also often add emphasis to expressions of emotion, such as anger, scorn, grief, panic, and terror,[130] as in the following lines from book 2 of the Aeneid, where the ghost of Hector orders Aeneas to flee. Here alliteration is combined with assonance of Priamo ... Pergama and possent ... fuissent:

Hostis Habet muros! Ruit alto a culmine Troia.
Sat Patriae Priamoque Datum: Si Pergama Dextra
Defendi Possent, etiam hac DeFensa Fuissent.[131]
"The enemy holds the walls! Troy is falling from its high rooftops.
Enough has been given to out fatherland and to Priam; if Pergama were able to be defended
by a right hand, it would have been defended even by this one!"

In book 12 of the Aeneid Turnus's sister cries these words:

ne Me TerreTe TiMenTem!"[132]
"Do not terrify me, who am already scared!"

Aeneas taunts his enemy with alliteration of T C S and assonance of VA VAR VA AR A as follows:

verte omnis tete in facies et contrahe quidquid
siV' Animis siV' ARte VAles; opt' ARdua pennis
Astra sequi Clausumque Cavā Te Condere Terrā.[133]
"Turn yourself into any shape and draw together whatever
you can in courage or skill; choose to fly on wings into the stars on high
or bury yourself enclosed in the hollow earth!"

In his reply, Turnus combines alliteration of T D T D with assonance of FER TER FER TER:

ille caput quassans: ‘non me Tua Fervida Terrent
Dicta, Ferox; Di me Terrent et Iuppiter hostis.’[134]
"Shaking his head, he replied, 'It is not your hot words that terrify me,
fierce though you are; it is the gods who terrify me, and Jupiter my enemy!"

Decline of alliterationEdit

Tastes in alliteration gradually changed, and some writers, such as Plautus, Ennius, Lucretius, and Virgil, used it much more freely than others such as Catullus or Horace.[135] From the first century AD it became less common. The scholar Servius (c.400), who wrote a commentary on Virgil, commented on the triple alliteration of Aeneid 3.183 (casus Cassandra canebat "Cassandra used to sing of these events") and similar phrases: "This style of composition is now considered a fault, although our ancestors liked it".[136] He also disapproved of phrases such as Dorica castra (Aeneid 2.27) in which the final syllable of a word was repeated in the next word.[137]

A few years later Martianus Capella (fl. 410-20) wrote: Compositionis vitium maximum est non vitare cuiuslibet litterae assiduitatem in odium repetitam. "It is a very great fault in composition not to avoid the constant use of a letter repeated ad nauseam."[138]

Alliteration in Anglo-Latin poetryEdit

From the 7th century onwards English scholars began writing poetry in Latin, beginning with Aldhelm, Abbot of Malmesbury in Wiltshire. Imitating and perhaps even exceeding the type of alliteration familiar in Old English, poems were written such as the following, attributed to Aldhelm himself, which displays both major and minor alliteration:[139]

Turbo Terram Teretibus
Grassabatur Grandinibus
quae Catervatim Caelitus
Crebrantur Nigris Nubibus
"A whirlwind was coming over the land
with smooth hailstones,
which in throngs from the sky
are sieved by the black clouds."

Aldhelm also used alliteration in many of his hexameter lines, such as the following:[140]

LusTRat dum TeRRas obLiquo TRamiTe TiTan
"while Titan (= the sun) traverses the lands with his slanting beam"

Lapidge (1979) discusses where exactly alliteration should be sought: at the beginning of the word, on the stressed syllable, or on the verse ictus. However, these questions still remain largely unanswered.

Another highly alliterative work produced in England is the Melos Amoris ("Melody of Love") written about 1330 by the Yorkshire mystic Richard Rolle. An excerpt of this work, which is written in prose, but with some characteristics of verse, is the following:[141]

Amicam Autem Adamavi, in quam Angeli
Omnipotentis Anhelant Aspicere.
et Mirificam Mariam Misericordie Matrem
Mulcebam Michi in Mollitie Melliflua.
"But I fell in love with a Beloved, on whom the Angels
of the Omnipotent pant to gaze.
And Mary, the miraculous mother of mercy,
I was caressing to myself in honey-flowing softness."

The same author's Canticum Amoris is a shorter poem written in alliterative verse.[142] At about the same time as Richard Rolle wrote this, an Alliterative Revival also began in English poetry, and in the same part of England.



  1. ^ Pontano (1519), Actius, fol. 127b; Naeke (1829) p. 327; Rolfe (1943), p. 226.
  2. ^ Virgil, Aeneid 5.865.
  3. ^ Virgil, Aeneid 3.82.
  4. ^ Lucretius, 1.725; Pontano, Actius, fol. 128.
  5. ^ Virgil, Aeneid 8.620; Pontano, Actius, fol. 128b; Naeke (1829), pp. 331, 333f.
  6. ^ Keith Maclennan (2017), Virgil: Aeneid VIII, p. 43.
  7. ^ Rolfe (1943), p. 226; original in French.
  8. ^ Plautus, Amphitruo 1025; Naeke (1829), p. 347.
  9. ^ Bailey (1947), vol 1. p. 147.
  10. ^ Bailey (1947), vol 1. p. 149.
  11. ^ Virgil, Aeneid 12.925-6.
  12. ^ e.g. T.E. Page (1904) on Aeneid 12.925; Cordier, reported in Rolfe (1943), p. 230; Liegey (1956), p. 383; Clarke (1976).
  13. ^ e.g. R.D. Williams (1973) on Aeneid 12.925; Bailey (1947), p. 151; de Ford (1986), p. 61.
  14. ^ Bailey (1947), p. 149, 151.
  15. ^ de Ford (1986), p. 60.
  16. ^ Cicero Cat. 1.10; cf. Aeneid 2.266.
  17. ^ Cicero Verr. 2.5.188; cf. Aeneid 7.695.
  18. ^ Aeneid 12.845.
  19. ^ Bailey (1947), p. 151.
  20. ^ Pseudolus 157.
  21. ^ Aeneid 4.2
  22. ^ Aeneid 8.620.
  23. ^ Aeneid 12.875
  24. ^ Aeneid 2.680, 4.66.
  25. ^ Nepos Themistocles 10.4.
  26. ^ Aeneid 4.1
  27. ^ Aeneid 1.401
  28. ^ Bailey (1947), p. 151.
  29. ^ Chambers 21st Century Dictionary (1996).
  30. ^ Plautus, Auluraria 323; cf. Naeke (1829), p. 348
  31. ^ Plautus, Asinaria 172; Naeke (1829), p. 384.
  32. ^ Terence, Andria 265; Naeke (1829), p. 387.
  33. ^ cf. R.G. Austin (ed.) Virgil: Aeneid 2 on line 107 (ict) and 282 (ōr).
  34. ^ Aeneid 12.721-2.
  35. ^ Peck (1884), p. 60.
  36. ^ Peck (1884), p. 62.
  37. ^ Suetonius "Life of Julius Caesar" 37; Peck (1884) p. 61.
  38. ^ Peck (1884), p. 64.
  39. ^ Peck (1884), p. 61; Rolfe (1943), p. 229.
  40. ^ McGann (1958), p. 303.
  41. ^ Lindsay (1893), p. 155.
  42. ^ Cited by Peck (1884), p. 60.
  43. ^ Peck (1884), p. 60.
  44. ^ Bailey (1947), p. 148.
  45. ^ Macrobius Saturnalia 6.60, translated R.A. Kastner (2011) (Loeb).
  46. ^ Bailey (1947), vol 1, p. 148.
  47. ^ Austin (1970), p. 132.
  48. ^ Austin (1970), p. 132.
  49. ^ Bailey (1947), vol. 1, p. 147.
  50. ^ Plautus, Menaechmi, 252.
  51. ^ Plautus, Pseudolus, 157.
  52. ^ Bailey (1947), p. 147.
  53. ^ Terence, Adelphi 131.
  54. ^ Bailey (1947), p. 149.
  55. ^ Austin (1970), p. 133.
  56. ^ Catullus, 63.10-11.
  57. ^ Catullus 101.
  58. ^ Ovid, Metamorphoses 2.101.
  59. ^ Juvenal Satura 1.18.
  60. ^ Martial 1.44
  61. ^ cf. Naeke, p. 333.
  62. ^ Cicero, Brutus 38.142.
  63. ^ Cicero, Cat. 1.10.
  64. ^ Cicero, pro Sulla 19, cited by Brock (1911).
  65. ^ Cicero, Phil. 2.118
  66. ^ Peck (1884), p. 59.
  67. ^ Rolfe (1943), p. 228.
  68. ^ Nepos, Themistocles 10.
  69. ^ Annales 1.4; Hist. 3.46; quoted by Austin (1970), p. 133.
  70. ^ Brock, D.M. (1911), Studies in Fronto and His Age, (Cambridge), p. 221.
  71. ^ Clarke (1976), p. 297.
  72. ^ Ovid, Metamorphoses 2.769; Clarke (1976), p. 292; 294-5.
  73. ^ Greenberg (1980), p. 585.
  74. ^ Greenberg (1980), p. 608.
  75. ^ Lucretius, de Rerum Natura, 1.341.
  76. ^ Greenberg (1980), p. 585.
  77. ^ Clarke (1976), p. 280; cf. Rolfe (1943), p. 229.
  78. ^ Greenberg (1980), p. 610.
  79. ^ Clarke (1976), p. 298.
  80. ^ Rolfe (1943), p. 230.
  81. ^ Greenberg (1980), p. 604.
  82. ^ Clarke (1976), p. 284.
  83. ^ Aeneid 12.720.
  84. ^ Clarke (1976), p. 280.
  85. ^ Rolfe (1943), p. 236.
  86. ^ Ingo Gildenhard (2012), Virgil: Aeneid 4.1-299 Cambridge, Open Book Publishers.
  87. ^ Rolfe (1943), p. 231.
  88. ^ Aeneid 12.764-5
  89. ^ Aeneid 1.333.
  90. ^ Aeneid 10.607.
  91. ^ Aeneid 1.401
  92. ^ Aeneid 12.721-2
  93. ^ Austin (1970), p. 133.
  94. ^ Aeneid 12.894-5.
  95. ^ Rolfe (1943), p. 233.
  96. ^ Virgil, Aeneid 11.753-4
  97. ^ Rolfe (1943), p. 233.
  98. ^ Aeneid 12.756-7
  99. ^ Lucretius 6.155; cf. Rolfe (1943), p. 231.
  100. ^ Bailey (1947), p. 153.
  101. ^ Lucretius 2.618-9.
  102. ^ Niklas (2009). p. 2. The Greek is: ἁδύ τι τὸ ψιθύρισμα καὶ ἁ πίτυς αἰπόλε τήνα.
  103. ^ Virgil, Eclogue 1.1.
  104. ^ Bailey (1947), p. 153.
  105. ^ Rolfe (1943), p. 233.
  106. ^ Aeneid 1.124
  107. ^ Aeneid 12.748.
  108. ^ Aeneid, 9.50.
  109. ^ Aeneid 12.753-4
  110. ^ Ovid, Metamorphoses 6.376
  111. ^ Holzberg (2009). p. 12.
  112. ^ Ovid, Tristia, 5.12.58
  113. ^ Bailey (1947), p. 153.
  114. ^ Rolfe (1943), p. 233.
  115. ^ Aeneid 7.8-9
  116. ^ Aeneid 2.693-4
  117. ^ Rolfe (1943), p. 234; Bailey (1947), p. 153.
  118. ^ Lucretius, 5.280
  119. ^ Headlam (1920), p. 24; Headlam (1921), p. 61-2.
  120. ^ Aeneid 6.287
  121. ^ Aeneid 3.183.
  122. ^ Virgil, Georgics 2.4-5.
  123. ^ Aeneid 2.291
  124. ^ Aeneid 12.766-7
  125. ^ Aeneid 12.926-7.
  126. ^ Aeneid 9.414.
  127. ^ Ovid, Metamorphoses 3.337.
  128. ^ Ovid, Metamorphoses 8.84-6.
  129. ^ Ovid, Metamorphoses 8.223-5
  130. ^ Rolfe (1943), p. 234.
  131. ^ Aeneid 2.290-2.
  132. ^ Aeneid 12.875
  133. ^ Aeneid 12.891-3
  134. ^ Aeneid 12.894-5
  135. ^ Peck (1884), p. 60.
  136. ^ Peck (1884), p. 59.
  137. ^ Naeke (1829), p. 332.
  138. ^ Peck (1884), p. 59.
  139. ^ Lapidge (1979), p. 218.
  140. ^ Lapidge (1979), p. 221.
  141. ^ Liegey (1956), p. 372; de Ford (1986).
  142. ^ Liegey (1956).