For epic, Homer had used the dactylic hexameter, a line composed of six units or feet. Each unit (for which the Greek word is metron, a measure) may be a dactyl, made up of a long syllable followed by two short syllables (— ˘˘) or by a spondee, made up of two long syllables (— —). Long and short refer to the time taken in pronunciation, to the ‘quantity’ or length of the syllables. Greek metre, unlike English, is not determined by a pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables. In literature after Homer, we see the establishment of new metrical forms used for kinds that developed after him. The elegaic couplet, consisting of a hexameter followed by a pentameter, was used for epitaphs, inscriptions and epigrams. It may be represented as follows:
The pentameter line is actually two and a half feet repeated. At particular points in the line, the pattern allows syllables to be either long or short, thus making the metre very flexible. The iambic, which later became the metre for the spoken parts
of drama, was first used for occasional poems, such as short invectives and festive songs. The pattern of the iambic pentameter line is:
Both elegiacs and iambics were used by an early practitioner, Archilochus, of the mid-seventh century, fragments of whose work survive as the earliest post-Homeric poetry. Rhyme, which is standard in English verse before the twentieth century and is employed in some of the translations used in this book, was not generally used in Greek verse.