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Alcaics - Definition

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Poetry Definition

Four line stanza invented by Greek poet Alcaeus and normally employing a dactylic meter. Milton by Tennyson is a more recent example.

ALCAICS, in ancient poetry, a name given to several kinds of verse, from Alcaeus, their reputed inventor. The first kind consists of five feet, viz. a spondee or iambic, an iambic, a long syllable and two dactyles; the second of two dactyles and two trochees. Besides these, which are called dactylic Alcaics, there is another, simply styled Alcaic, consisting of an epitrite, two choriambi and a bacchius; thus—

Cur timet fla|vum Tiberim | tangere, cur | olivum?

The Alcaic ode is composed of several strophes, each consisting of four verses, the first two of which are always eleven-syllable alcaics of the first kind; the third verse is an iambic dimeter hypercatalectic consisting of nine syllables; and the fourth verse is a ten-syllable alcaic of the second kind. The following strophe is of this species, which Horace calls Alcaei minaces camenae—

 Non possidentem multa vocaveris
Recte beatum; rectius occupat
   Nomen beati, qui deorum
      Muneribus sapienter uti.
There is also a decasyllabic variety of the Alcaic metre.

The Alcaic measure was one of the most splendid inventions of Greek metrical art. In its best examples it gives an impression of wonderful vigour and spontaneity. Tennyson has attempted to reproduce it in English in his

 O mighty-mouthed inventor of harmonies,
O skilled to sing of time or eternity,
   God-gifted organ-voice of England,
       Milton, a name to resound for ages.
German is, however, the only modern literature in which alcaics
have been written with much success. They were introduced by
Klopstock, and used by Holderlin, by Voss in his translations
of Horace, by A. Kopisch and other modern German poets.


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