| Main page | Contents |   Philologica   | Sections | Contributors | Personalia |
  Philologica 1 (1994)  


(On the Formal and Semantic Derivation of Versification Metres)


Full text in Russian with tables (HTML) Full text in Russian    |    Tables (PDF)



In this work a fundamentally new theoretical problem is posed: a non-metaphorical description, using a single set of terms, of the rhythmic, metric and semantic evolution of the Russian hexameter and its derivatives. It emerges that form and content evolved in one and the same direction, and were inseparably linked to each other: the inherent similarity (mimesis) of formal and semantic derivations assured a latent, though effective, iconicity of the verse sign. Here, for the first time, one of the most interesting of the derivatives of the Russian hexameter has become the focus of study; this is the verse form in which one of the finest Russian “long poems” of the first half of the nineteenth century was written — Katenin’s tale The Old Soldier Gorev (1835). In terms of its formal features its verse form is very close to the hexameter: five of the six metric constants coincide in both metres. They differ, however, in the number of ictuses: six in the hexameter, five in Gorev. By analogy with the hexameter, Katenin’s invention could have been called a pentameter, if this term had not already been given to the even-numbered lines of the elegiac distich — a form which has, by the way, far less right to the name: the pentameters of the tonico-syllabic distich, like hexameters, have six feet. This is why it nevertheless makes sense to name the meter of Gorev a dactylo-trochaic pentameter, though a free (or unbound) pentameter — to distinguish it from the pentameter found only in elegiac distichs.

1. The unbound dactylo-trochaic pentameter is found in its pure form only in Katenin (4 works; c. 1000 lines). This metric form has no analogies either in Classical or western European literature, and so it is not surprising that, from the viewpoint of its rhythmic characteristics, its closest relative turns out to be Katenin’s own hexameter. To demonstrate this connection, we investigated most of Russian hexameters of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries: more than 30,000 lines from 77 works of 29 poets.

The most important factor in the rhythm of the hexameter is the alternation of the length of the inter-ictus intervals: any of the four initial intervals may be either mono- or bisyllabic. However, it has been discovered that even among those four, bisyllabic (dactylic) intervals predominate over the monosyllabic (trochaic): the bisyllabic account for 50 to 100%. In most of Russian hexameters, including the classic translations of the Iliad and Odyssey, more than 90% of feet are dactylic. On the other hand hexameters with less than 70% of dactyls are fairly uncommon, and are found in only 8 poets. In Lomonosov, Murav’ev and Vasilij Perevoshchikov they are of an exclusively experimental nature; hexameters with high number of trochees are usual only in Trediakovskij, Vostokov, Katenin and Irodion Vetrinskij.

The Russian hexameter has 16 correct rhythmic forms; other variations of hexameter, in fact, violate the metre. All 16 forms can be found together in only 8 works of 5 poets: Trediakovskij, Vostokov, Voejkov, Katenin, and Vetrinskij. The rarest rhythm form is XVI (with four initial trochees): it is found in only 17 works out of 77. In Katenin it occurs more frequently than in Trediakovskij, but a little less than in Vostokov. The most frequent form is I (which coincides with the 6-foot dactyl): it is used in 73 poems, and predominates in 58. Katenin was one of the few poets in whose works form I was not the most common.

The Russian hexameter is characterized not only by its primary rhythm (i. e. an alternation of ictuses and inter-ictus intervals), but also by its secondary rhythm, i. e. alternation of frequently and infrequently trochaisized feet. In Lomonosov most trochees fall on the third foot, followed by the fourth foot, while the first and second feet were least common. An increase in the share of monosyllabic intervals on the first foot led to the appearance of a “twin” (“double-peak”) rhythmic curve with a falling off of trochees on the second foot, a sharp rise of the third, and another falling off in the fourth. An increase in the share of monosyllabic intervals on the second foot led to a “single-peak” curve with a gradual ascent from the first to the third foot and a decrease in the fourth. Both these possibilities were realized as early as Trediakovskij, who created the two most widespread rhythmic types from which, one way or another, all other derive. Almost all of Katenin’s hexametric works belong to one of the two basic types of secondary rhythm.

2. The second section of the article is devoted to the metric derivation of the hexameter: along with the new rhythmic versions of the hexameter, new metres derived from it also arose. The first such metre was the “anapaesto-iambic hexameter”, invented by Trediakovskij in 1749: it differed from the dactylo-trochaic mainly in having variable anacrusis, monosyllabic (as in the iambus) or bisyllabic (as in the anapaest). This metre did not at first take root, but when, under the influence of the Germans, the so-called “amphibrachic” hexameter with a constant monosyllablic Auftakt, came to be assimilated in Russia, Trediakovskij’s earlier experiment was probably taken into account. From the “amphibrachic” (or amphibracho-iambic) hexametre, was formed the amphibracho-iambic pentameter, which most likely served as a model in the creation of an unbound dactylo-trochaic pentameter.

Isolated 5-ictus lines appear sporadically among the hexameters of most poets and from the 1810s they became noticeable, reaching 2—4%. At the same time the first works were composed in which dactylo-trochaic pentameters appear not as a consequence of metrical errors, but as a result of the author’s intentions. In his To Myself (1813), Zhukovskij combined dactylo-trochaic pentameters with dactylo-trochaic hexameters; in Olin’s Cathba and Morna (1818), dactylo-trochaic hexameters and pentameters are combined with amphibracho-iambic hexameters and pentameters. Five-foot lines without anacrusis and with variable syllable intervals were used by Katenin as a separate metre. In all Katenin’s hexameters, there are no 5-stress lines, but the link between the two is beyond doubt. The poem Achilles and Homer (1826) in which the new metric form first appeared, begins with 8 lines of the unbound pentameter, and continues with 151 lines of hexameter. The last time Katenin made use of the pentameter was in his poem The Old Soldier Gorev; there are no 6-ictus lines in it; however, the idyll The Fool (1835), which had its origins as a section of this poem, is written in true hexameters.

The kinship between the two metres is reflected in their rhythm. The number of dactylic intervals in Katenin’s pentameter is even lower than in his hexameter (61. 7% and 63. 1%); and it continued to fall in both metres as time went on. The rhythmic repertoire of the pentameter also includes all conceivable variants of the metre; incorrect verses are extremely rare, and, at the very least, some of them are the result of typographical errors. The continuous increase in the percentage of trochees from the first foot to the third brings to mind the structure of the hexameter in Achilles and Homer and Idyll (1831); the only difference being that in the hexameter the decrease in the number of trochees from the mid-line onwards is continuous, while in the pentameter there is a sharp fall. This strong rhythmic similarity which confirms the fact that Katenin’s pentameter did indeed derive from his hexameter is not as obvious as it may seem: from the viewpoint of metre, the “pure” hexameter and the hexameter of Katenin’s elegiac distich are identical, whereas their differences from the unbound pentameter are obvious; however, from the viewpoint of rhythm the differences between the hexameter and the unbound pentameter are insignificant, while the difference between the two of them on the one hand and elegiac distich on the other is striking — the difference between frequently and infrequently trochaisized feet fluctuates between 16. 6% and 33. 3% in the “pure” hexameter, between 12. 5% and 32. 7% in the unbound pentameter, and between 39. 2% and 87. 5% in the hexameters of the elegiac distich.

3. The third and last section of the article deals with the problem of the semantic derivation of the hexameter, the study of which should concentrate not on those aspects of the content which were supposedly “preserved”, but rather on those which were consciously and deliberately altered: the study of comparative historical versification should establish law-based semantic differences between related forms — it is precisely this difference which can provide incontroversible evidence of a common origin of metres. When the unbound pentameter was born, in Katenin’s Achilles and Homer, it had the same semantic character as the hexameter, but later the semantic umbilical cord between the meters was cut, and they diverged more and more. In his Elegy (1828), Katenin portrays himself in the guise of an ancient Greek poet, Eudorus: scenes of Hellas (admittedly early Hellenistic) are still in the foreground, but through them a Russian background to the plot is clearly visible. The next time the unbound pentameter appears is in A Dove’s Nest (1835): the action has been brought another thousand years forward, nevertheless links with the Greece of Alexander the Great have not been entirely broken. The logical conclusion to this journey through time is Gorev, the action of which has been moved on yet another thousand odd years, and brought close to the contemporary Russian world: in this poem all visible trace of Classical Antiquity is lost.

However, invisible threads firmly link Katenin’s “true story” to the Ancient Greek epic, and this to a large extent determines the structure of the plot and the arrangement of characters of the poem. Just as Odysseus leaves Penelope and Telemachus, the peasant Makar Gorev leaves his young wife and son at home, and sets out for the war which lasts, as did the siege of Troy, ten long years. He is taken prisoner and, like Odysseus, is the last to return home. Both characters suffer in foreign lands; both dream of returning to their dear native land. After ten years of wandering the heroes of both Homer and Katenin come home. On home-coming Gorev, just as Odysseus, is taken for a beggar, and each becomes a guest in his own house.

The similarity between Katenin’s poem and Homer’s epic is not limited to the construction of the plot. Gorev has many features of epic style, including stereotype verses and formulae, fixed epithets, rhythmico-syntactic clichés etc. In Katenin’s poem, just as in Homer, parataxis considerably predominates over hypotaxis; indirect speech is almost entirely absent, although the characters of the poem constantly talk to each other. In Katenin’s poem one can find hyperbolic description of heroic deeds characteristic of the folklore epic. Many of Katenin’s sententiae remind one of Homeric aphorisms (gnomes); many of his similes are abridged versions of the similes found in the Iliad. Lastly, the lexico-stylistic archaization in the description of the Napoleonic Wars was determined by the influence of Homer and his translators.

In The Old Soldier Gorev the relationship between the “Russian” and “Antiquity” was very largely a reversal of that which we see in Elegy: the “text” and “subtext” have changed places, and the only surprise is the fact that the Ancient Greek archetype is hidden so deeply. Homeric plot and style are reinterpreted and transformed in Katenin’s poem; naturally, Homer’s metre was subjected to an analogous transformation. As in Classical Antiquity, for Russian poetry of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries (and in particular for Katenin) the hexameter had genre (rather than thematic) connotations: it was perceived in the first place as the metre of the epic and the idyll. Why, then, was Gorev written not in hexameters, but in pentameters? — because the Russian Odyssey was substantially different from the Ancient Greek: there is no Homeric breadth or smoothness in it; the presentation of events is compressed, an epic exposition is followed by a tragic climax and dramatic denouement. The genre of the poem is appreciably lower: in place of Greek gods and kings, its characters are Russian peasants. Gorev’s fate resembles that of Odysseus, but his character does not: while Homer’s hero is poly-intelligent and poly-artful, Gorev is trusting and artless, and because of that cheated. In the Greek Odyssey, the self-seeking suitors are unsuccessfully attempting to woo Penelope — in the Russian Odyssey, it is the self-seeking “Penelope” who successfully arranges a marriage; in the Greek Odyssey, Telemachus helps his father to return home and save the remnants of his possessions — in the Russian, the son, who has inherited everything, makes life at home for his father impossible. As a result, Gorev turned out to be neither an idyll, nor an epic — the hexameter was therefore not appropriate. But when Katenin extracted from the poem an idyllic episode (The Fool) the pentameters of Gorev were immediately reworked into hexameters.

The change of metre had not only genre reasons, but also purely thematic ones. A movement from Classical Antiquity to contemporary Russian life was often accompanied by a shortening of the line by one foot: thus the “Russian idylls” of Gnedich (1821) and Del’vig (1829) were written in 5-ictus lines, although the metre of almost all of their “antique” idylls was, of course, the hexameter. Similarly, Katenin spoke of the Russian Odysseus in pentameters, while his Greek prototype was mentioned in hexameters (Achilles and Homer). The replacement of the hexameter by the pentameter should be interpreted in the context of a general preference not to use 6-foot verse, in favour of 5-foot verse, in the Romantic epic and drama: it is well known that Katenin was one of the first to develop the dramatic 5-foot iambus, the epic tercets and octaves.

Isomorphism and homology of form and content are evident: thematic, plot, genre and metrical reworkings of Ancient Greek models passed from hand to hand in a single direction. Katenin planned a small epic — and, in parallel to the plot, shortened the verse. He conceived of the Russian epic — and in place of the Classical hexameter created an original pentameter. He conceived of a peasant epic — and, together with its characters, he simplified its metre (8 rhythmic variations instead of 16). Finally, Katenin conceived a tragic epic — the increased tension of the conflict was reflected in the sharp contrasts of the verse rhythm: in the hexameter, trochees increase smoothly from the first foot to the third, followed by a smooth decrease from the third to the fifth, — in the pentameter extremal numbers collide: from a maximum number of trochees in the third foot, the curve of the secondary rhythm falls off sharply to a minimum in the fourth.


Full text in Russian with tables (HTML) Full text in Russian    |    Tables (PDF)


|| Main page || Contents | Sections | Contributors | Personalia || Books || About the Editors | Reviews | News ||
Design by © Zina deZign 2000 © Philologica Publications 1994-2017