The Dactylus is a pedunculate, which is composed of three syllables. A verse rhythmizes a lyrical text and determines our reading. The Dactylus is formed by the sequence of a heavy and two light syllables in a verse, and belongs to the four basic metrics of the accentuating metric (→ verse) in addition to Jambus, Trochaeus and Anapaest.
The word dactylus goes back to ancient Greek (δάκτυλος, dáktylos) and means “finger”. In the plural, however, we speak of dactyls and not of dactyls, although this form of formulation has sometimes prompted German classrooms. It is still wrong.
In ancient Greece the Dactylus was determined by the sequence of a long and two short syllables (- υ υ). If the dactyl is thus understood, we speak of a quantitating metric, which is confined to the lengths and shortenings in a word.
In the German imitation of the dactylic verse, however, we do not look at the shortening and length of a word, but pay attention to the stress of individual syllables. This means that the dactyl is composed of one concise and two unstressed syllables. This understanding of Dactylus is also taught in schools and in teaching German.
Structure of the Dactylus
As described, the dactyl is formed from one concise and two unstressed syllables. This sequence is usually given as: x ‘x x. Sometimes the syntax X x x has been used.
In principle, however, it is up to us how we characterize the individual stresses when editing a text. What is most important is that we carry out our own work consistently so that a future reader of our work knows exactly what we want to express with the individual symbols and inscriptions.
With regard to the Dactylus, we can quite simply remember the exact sequence, since the word itself is a Daktylus. We emphasize the first syllable Dak, while ty and lus remain unstressed.
Furthermore, in the German language we find quite a few examples of the dactylic verses, since many composed nouns contain the pattern. This is due to the fact that, in German, the emphasis of a word is very often on the first syllable. An example of this can be the trailing edge and the filler holder.
Note: If a syllable is pronounced in a non-emphasized or accentuated manner, we recognize best when we pronounce it loudly and distinctly. In principle, we speak a pronounced syllable louder and raise the voice in pronunciation. We have described this in more detail in the article on verses.
The Dactylus in the poem
But, of course, the verse is found not only in individual words, but can also determine entire verses. Furthermore, the Dactylus is naturally not determined by the boundaries of a word, but can go beyond and over several words.
A dactylic structure consisting of several dactyls would thus look like: x ‘x x x’ x x x ‘x x. Here we are dealing with a juxtaposition of three dactyls, which alternate uniformly. Let’s look at a fictional one-line.
Drive? Air han sa! Wonderful!
Note: We see only three words that are listed and each describe a Daktylus. However, this scheme does not always have to rise and dactyls can also be incomplete, which we describe by the cadence.
Cadence and dactylus
Using a cadence, we describe how many unaccented words come after the last stressed syllable in a verse line. The typical Dak ty lus, as presented in this article, always ends with two unaccented syllables. This means that the dactyl has a rich cadence (→ cadence).
Now, however, the authors and poets rarely adhere to clear structures and orient the chosen verses according to any theories. This means that the dactylus can also be used incompletely in a verse. Let us take an example of the first verse from Schiller’s dignity of women.
Honor the women! they weave and weave
It is noteworthy that only three dactylic feet are complete. The fourth consists merely of two syllables, so that the last unaccented syllable is certainly lacking. Nevertheless, we must ascribe this line to the dactylus, since the pattern is otherwise quite clear.
Note: In science, such “incomplete” verses are called catalectic. The exemplary verse line would thus be a four-armed dactyl with female cadence, the last dactyl being two-syllable catalectic (→ verse).
The dactylus and the elevation
We have already learned a lot about the foot. However, we have so far talked about several dactyls in a verse line. This is not quite correct, however, since we do not count the individual emotions but describe a line with the elevation.
This can be explained by emphasizing the concepts of uplifting and lowering with the terms and unstressed. If we now look at Schiller’s verse, we see that this is determined by four heights.
Honor the women! they weave and weave
Schiller’s line of verse does not, therefore, consist of four dactyls, but of a four-armed dactyl with female cadence, which is two-syllable catalectic.
Note: We therefore always look at the individual lifts in a line of verse. If there were three, we would be dealing with a three-pronged Dactylus, etc.
Effect and function of the dactylus
In principle, it is not possible to attribute a specific function or effect to a footer. This must always be judged in the context of the poem. However, there are some features that apply to the Dactylus and, of course, have an effect on the reader.
Effect of dactylus
The dactylus can be considered as dancer or even exhilarating. After all, his sequence can be transferred seamlessly to the three-thirds of a piece of music. A three-digit split indicates that a note is “full” after three quarters. The waltz is a dance in the trio.
However, with this unpretentious, danceric accentuation, it is also possible to play when opposing moods are produced by the content of a word, and the effect is thereby suddenly abolished.
Notes on the dactylic measure
The counterpart to the dactyls forms the anapost, which is formed of two unstressed and a stressed syllable, and consequently is the inversion of the described verse.
At the beginning it was written that the word Daktylus could be translated with “finger”. This is due to the fact that our finger also consists of three limbs, one of which is longer and the other two short, which is also the case with our foot.