Light and Heavy Syllables as Dramatic Colouring in Plautus and Others

TitleLight and Heavy Syllables as Dramatic Colouring in Plautus and Others
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication1982
AuthorsGratwick, AS, Lightley, SJ
Ancient AuthorsTitus Maccius Plautus (PHI 0119), Publius Terentius Afer (PHI 0134)
JournalClassical Quarterly

Our purpose is protreptic, to broach a subject neglected by researchers and consequently by commentators on Plautus and Terence.1 We mean the relation of rhythm and dramatic meaning in the ordinary stichic iambo-trochaic metres. It is of course a longstanding convention that a commentator writing in usum scholarum will include some account of the basic rules of scansion and prosody and a conspectus metrorum of sorts. Ambitious efforts may be made to analyse the polymetric songs in Plautus, if to label cola is analysis; but there are notorious difficulties in this, for the songs are astrophic and polymorphous, the colometry is uncertain, and it cannot be said that we fully understand the range or relationship of the elements out of which the songs are constructed, or that the rules of prosody in the cantica have been definitively established. Under the circumstances it is understandable that commentators refrain except in the most general terms from relating rhythm to dramatic context in the songs. But it is different with the iambo-trochaic metres. We are on firmer ground here, and there is more of it. Commentators will draw attention to aspects of the playwright's diction such as alliteration, assonance, triadic expression, hyperbaton, and so on, by which emphasis and dramatic ‘colouring’ may be indicated. But very little attention is given to the dramatic and tonal implications of the texture of the iambo-trochaic metres as used for whole scenes or in particular exchanges. This is a pity, because Plautus and the tragedians and even Terence can be shown to have exploited the latitude of realization allowed by ‘the rules’ to underpin the sense of a passage or an exchange. []


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