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Greek Verse, the beginning


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Classic Greek Verse

The Greeks are the first to study features of how language can be shaped to the special purpose of poetry. They are responsible for recognizing, naming and describing every possible metric foot. They identified and named the various sounds and rhythms in meter such as the iamb and trochee.

The earliest written Greek verse comes from the 8th century B.C., but studies date Greek oral patterns back to the Bronze Age 1100 B.C. Aeolic(an ancient Greek dialect) meters were later found in the works of Sappho which dates back to 2000 B.C. The oral traditions of Greek verse evidence a connection with the meters of the Indian Vedas. But it was the development of the alphabet in 8th century B.C. that was the beginning of "literature" as we know it. That single event allowed verse to be fixed in permanent form and handed down through the generations. Ancient, yet familiar names of Homer, Plato, Euripedes, Alceaus, Sappho, and Aeschylus left behind their genius in poetic works.

Neath this tall pine,
That to the zephyr sways and murmurs low,
Mayst thou recline,
While near thee cooling waters flow.
This flute of mine
Shall pipe the softest song it knows to sing,
And to thy charmèd eyelids sleep will bring.----------------------------------Plato 427BC-349BCplato.jpg



The Greeks measured the line in quantitative verse which focuses on long and short vowel sounds. The language supports falling rhythms more easily than English, therefore, trochaic and dactylic meters tend to dominate Greek works. In English rising rhythms are more prevalent and we usually measure the line in accentual syllabic verse which counts the stress and unstressed vowel sounds. Iambic meters tend to dominate English works.

The concepts of poetics as seen by the ancient Greeks are:

  • "ethos, character portrayal, the manifestation of human attitudes, beliefs, aspirations"
  • "a serious public concern, the cornerstone of education and civic life"
  • "a delightful thing, gifted with attributes bordering on enchantment".
  • "divine, inspired by the gods or the Muses"
  • "techne, art, a craft requiring talent, training and practice. "


    --------------------- New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics,
                                       ----------------------Preminger and Brogan 1993

These concepts are universal to all poetry even today.

The defining features of a Classical Greek line ar:

  1. a product of ancient times when poetry was written to be sung accompanied by the lyre, the classic definition of lyrical poetry. However, since the scope of Greek poetry includes epic tales of gods and heroes and plays in which characters speak in poetic patterns, Classical Greek poetry can be exhibited in all three major groups of verse, Lyrical, Narrative and Dramatic.
  2. written in quantitative verse. Quantitative verse measures long and short vowel sounds. There is much written on the subject, but to over simplify, the concept of long and short vowels do not translate well to English. Probably the closest we can get is measuring stressed and unstressed syllables which warps the original rhythm but brings it into a context the English ear can hear more easily. Greek is not accented.
  3. often composed using metaphor or simile.
  4. written in line patterns that have become classics. There are multiple meters and forms identified as Classical Greek verse.

Here are some of the most common poetic genres, meters and verse forms which originated in Greece and are found in English literature today.

Acritic Verse                Acrostic Adonic Line Aeolic Ode Aeolic Verse


Alcmanian Strophe

Alcmanic Verse          Allegory Alphabestiary           


amphimacer Anacreontic Ode Anacreontic Verse         anapest Anapestic tetrameter Bestiary
Bucolic Choral Ode choriamb Choriambics Line   Classical Hexameter Classical Pentameter
Complaint dactyl Dactylic Hexameter
or heroic hexameter


Echo Verse Ecologue Elegy Eligiac Couplet Epic Epigram
Epitaph Epithalamium Epyllion Glyconic hendecameter Hendecasyllabic Line      
heptameter hexameter inverted refrain Metaphor monometer nonometer
Ode Paean Paeon Parody Pattern Poetry pentameter
Pindaric Ode phirach Prothalamium  Rhopalics Sapphic Line Sapphic Stanza            
spondee Stich tetrameter trimeter tribrach trochee  

~~ © ~~ Poems by Judi Van Gorder ~~

For permission to use this work you can write to Tinker1111@icloud.com

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