Bibliotheca: Meters and Scansion of Latin Poetry


The meters of classical Latin poetry are based on a system of long and short syllables,
rather than on the rhythm of stressed and unstressed syllables.

One long syllable takes the same amount of time to pronounce as two short syllables.

Below is a chart showing notation for these syllables, and examples and explanations of the most common feet and meters.

The Feet

There are many varieties of feet used. The common ones are shown here. In some forms of poetry, these feet are interchangeable, but strict rules generally apply.

Often, the value of the last syllable is not important and can be either long or short.

Dactylic Hexameter

The Dactylic Hexameter is the usual introduction to Latin meters. It's fairly straightforward, using only dactyls and spondees.
There are six feet to a line. The first four feet are a combination of dactyl and/or spondee. The fifth foot is almost always a dactyl, and the last foot is a spondee (note, however, that the quantity of the final syllable can be short).

Elegaic Couplet

The Elegaic couplet consists of the Dactylic Hexameter and the Pentameter (or 2-1/2 feet twice).

Note in the pentameter, the first half-foot must coincide with the end of a word, and the last section can only contain two dactyls and the half-foot (no spondees).

This is a preferred meter for many neo-Latin writers.

Sapphic Ode

This lyrical form uses three Sapphic lines, followed by one Alcaic line.

Invented by the Greek poet, Sappho, it is noted for its use in Latin by Catullus and Horace.


Another lyrical meter borrowed from the Greeks, its name means 'eleven syllables'. Of the three variations for the first foot presented here, the spondee is the most common.


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