The hexameter is an ancient verse of six verses, the last of which is shortened by a syllable. In principle, the hexameter consists of dactyls (elevation and two depressions), but these have been replaced by a spondeus (two elevations) in ancient verses, in order to avoid monotony. Since the six-heighted hexameter is shortened by the last syllable, the last verse is incomplete, that is, catalecally, and usually ends unstressed (→ female cadence).
The term can be derived from the Greek (ἑξάμετρον ~ hexámetron) and roughly translated into six dimensions. This translation gives us the first clues as to what this verse is about: namely, a six-lineed verse line [consisting of dactyls and catalectic]. Let’s look at an example.
Tell me, Muse, the | Acts of | a lot of wander ten man
What so far wrong according to | heil gen | Troy Zer | disorder
In the above example, we have marked the reductions and elevations in color, and the individual vowels are separated from each other (|), so that the dactylus (emphasized, unstressed, unstressed) is indeed the determining verse; Spondeus is replaced.
Consequently, the two verses differ metrically hardly and are easy to recognize as hexameters. Only in the third and fourth verses do they easily deviate from this structure, since the purely dactylic scheme is interrupted by the spondeus. This means that instead of a stressed and two un – stressed syllables, there are only two stressed syllables in the verse (much – and – after).
– υ υ | – υ υ | – υ υ | – – | – υ υ | – υ
– υ υ | – υ υ | – – | – υ υ | – υ υ | – υ
The hexameter becomes even more distinct when we restrict ourselves to the statement of the individual elevations and depressions. It is also apparent that the two lines of verse are identical with respect to the third verses, with the last two feet being identical.
In addition, we can clearly see that the last dactylus is incomplete, that is, catalectic, because it is formed only from two syllables. Consequently, in the classical hexameter, the last unaccented syllable is missing in order to appear acatalectically, thus completely. This is a feature of such a hexameter.
Note: Basically, one distinguishes between quantifying and accentuating metrics. In German, we use an accentuating metric and thus distinguish between stressed and unaccented syllables, while the quantitating metric differs between ups and downs.
The spondeus, which is presented in the above section, is not one of the four basic metrics of the accenting metric, since it does not actually exist in German. For words composed of two stressed syllables also place a stronger emphasis on one of the two. Accordingly, the preceding section is only to be understood as a Germanized variant for the hexameter.
The last syllable in the hexameter
As already described, the hexameter is formed from dactylic feet, which can be replaced by a spondeus. The last footer is incomplete in the hexameter.
Incomplete means that one syllable is missing, so that a complete dactyl could arise. This can be quite well understood in the above examples. Consequently, the last footer in the hexameter consists of a stressed and an unstressed syllable, since the last is absent.
However, the last footer in the hexameter, like all others, can also be a spondeus and thus be formed from two stressed syllables. This means that the last syllable of the hexameter can either be unstressed (if the foot is dactylic) or stressed (if sputic vowel).
Consequently, there are two ways to emphasize the last syllable in the verse. This is called syllaba anceps in the metric, which is marked with an x. Thus, when this fact is taken into account, the structure of the hexameter is as follows:
– υ υ | – υ υ | – υ υ | – υ υ | – υ υ | – x
Note: The last syllable in the hexameter is variable and is not specified by the measure. If the closing verse is dactylic, if catalectically, the syllable is unstressed, it is formed by a spondeus, it is stressed. Such a syllable is called syllaba anceps.
The caesura in the hexameter
As a caesura, a (mental) incision is generally described in a verse line. The term “caesura” is thus used when a (speaking) pause is made when reading a verse, whereby it breaks down and rhythmizes a verse in speech units (Kola).
In the strict sense, however, the caesura means only an incision when a word-word does not coincide with the end of the verse, but a word ceases in the midst of a verse, and another begins. In the hexameter there are basically three possible and frequent caesura.
Note: For the following explanations the understanding of the term halffoot is important. In this case, either a stressed syllable (length) or two unaccented syllables (shortening) is considered as a half-foot. Thus, for example, a dactyl consisting of three syllables (one length, two shortcuts) consists of two half-feet.
Penthemimeres in hexameter
The most frequent caesura in the hexameter, called penthemimeres, is found after the third elevation, that is, after the fifth half-foot of the respective line of the verse (hence the name Pent-five).
– υ υ | – υ υ | – || υ υ | – υ υ | – υ υ | – x
The incision takes place in the example after the fifth half-foot, in other words, according to three elevations and just four depressions. The caesura was highlighted in color (||) and fell clearly in the middle of the verse. Consequently, we are dealing with a penthemimer, which is quite frequent in poetry.
Bucolic diheresis in the hexameter
In addition to the penthemimer, the buccal diheresis often comes into its own as a powerful element. Here the linguistic incision of the caesura follows the fourth verse.
– υ υ | – υ υ | – υ υ | – υ υ | || – υ υ | – x
The bucolic diheresis is prevalent mainly in the herd of poultry, from which also its name comes (Bukol ~ Rinderhirt) and is regarded as particularly characteristic for this type of poetry. If the hexameter is provided with such a diheresis, the part after the incision is given the form of a verse Adoneus. This means that a length of two shortcuts, a length, and a long or short syllable follow.
Trithemimer and hephthemimer in the hexameter
Furthermore, we often find caesuria after the third half-foot (trithemimeres) and after the fourth elevation, ie after the seventh half-foot (hephthemimer). Both usually occur together.
– υ υ | || – υ υ | – υ υ | – || υ υ | – υ υ | – x
When the hephthemimer occurs together with a trithemimer, the trithemimer is very frequently the main cause of the vesical and the hephthemimer. These caesura occur in the poetry as a rule. Usually when there is no penthemimer in the hexameter.
Note: The introductory sentences are the most common and appear in this very clear form primarily in Latin texts. In principle, however, the hexameter can be very freely designed, which is why theoretically a break is conceivable at every point of the line of verse.
The hexameter in German poetry
As described, the hexameter originally came from Latin poetry and served numerous Roman poets to design literary texts. The hexameter was also decisive for German poetry, but it was partly adapted to German.
The main difference is that Greek and Latin are oriented towards a quantitative metric and Germanic languages have an accentuating metric. This means that verses are not divided into lengths and shortenings, but in emphasized and unaccented syllables. We thus speak an accented language, which is why the distances between the stressed syllables are not absolutely the same.
It is, therefore, difficult to translate a measure as the hexameter is seamlessly into German. Especially in the case of Spondeus, there is actually no real analogy in German, because even in words consisting of two stressed syllables (Vollmond), one of the two is emphasized more strongly.
Thus the hexameter in German is adapted to the conditions of our language, which is why some dactyls are replaced by a trochus instead of by a spondeus. Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock, for the first time, was inspired by the successful epic of Messiah (1748-1773), which was written in hexameters.
Although Klopstock was criticized by some poets for this free conduct, especially by Johann Christoph Gottsched, his variation of the hexameter ultimately succeeded in German poetry, as the Trochäus made possible a simpler manipulation of the verses.
Well-known representatives who follow this form of the hexameter are Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s work Reineke Fuchs (1794), Hermann and Dorothea (1797) and Achilleis (1808). Friedrich von Schiller’s lyricism also contains numerous hexameters similar to the Klopstock form.
The most important to the Hexameter at a glance
The hexameter is an antique lineage, which is six-leaved and is formed from dactylene. The hexameter is always shortened by the last syllable, which means that it must be counted as a catalectic measure.
The continuous dactylus can be replaced by a spondeus, to avoid a monotonous sound or to make the work appear more dynamic. In most cases, the third or fourth verse is replaced by the spondeus, which is especially common among the great Roman poets, Horace, Ovid, and Virgil.
Sometimes the spondeus also appears in the fifth vertex, albeit very rarely. Is this so, one speaks of a versus spondiacus (Latin) or a spondeiazon (Greek).
The last syllable in the hexameter is called syllaba anceps. This means that it can either be stressed or unstressed, whereby the measure itself does not set a specification.
If the hexameter is formed exclusively from dactylene, we call it holodactyl, but if it is formed exclusively spondeeically, this is referred to as holosponde. Both forms are, however, rarely used, since dactylus and spondeus usually form the hexameter in the combination (“holo” means “whole”, but rather “through”).
In German poetry, the hexameter was mostly adapted to the realities of the German language. This means that a trochus is often used instead of a spondeus, since there are hardly any spondones in German.
Characteristically, the hexameter is also for the elegy and the epigram. In this case, he appears in the connection with a pentameter. This unit is called Distichon.