Monday, July 31, 2006

Phallic Metre

In How to Kill a Dragon, 1995, page 159, Watkins discusses a line from the Rig Veda (10.101.12ab) which appears to equate the preparation of the soma with phallus-worship (with his translation):

kápṛn naraḥ kapṛthám úd dadhā́tana
codáyata khudáta vā́jasātaye

[Raise high the penis, o men, the phallus; drive (it), thrust (it) in, to win the prize.]

He scans these lines u-u-uuu-u-ux and -uuuuuu-u-ux, and points out that the string of short syllables in the second line is unusual for Vedic verse, and suggests that the final cadence -u-ux is "climactic". He parallels this with Greek metrics, viewing the five syllable -u-ux as a catalectic variant of the six syllable -u-u-x. It is interesting that this six syllable cadence in Greek was called ἰθυφαλλικόν, by virtue of its use in the Dionysiac φαλλαγωγία procession (the ritual from which Aristotle derives comedy, according to West, 1982). The song of the φαλλοφόροι, or phallus-bearers, is preserved in Athenaeus, and found in Watkins, translated by Campbell:

ἀνάγετ᾽, εὐρυχωρίαν
τῷ θεῷ ποιεῖτε·
θέλει γὰρ ὁ θεὸς ὀρθὸς ἐσφυδωμένος
διὰ μέσου βαδίζειν

[Stand back, make plenty of room for the god! For the god, erect and at bursting-point, wishes to pass through your midst.]

Watkins points out that lines 2 and 4 are ithyphallics, and line 3 is an iambic trimeter. He also notes that the first line, ἀνάγετ᾽, εὐρυχωρίαν, is metrically identical with kapṛthám úd dadhā́tana, which comes after the caesura in the first line quoted above from the Rig Veda. He finds it interesting that in Greek lyric, the ithyphallic almost always appears as the final element in its strophe, and suggests that it is, perhaps, a climactic cadence common to Indo-European poetics, or at least of the Greco-Aryan tradition.


Blogger Myrtle said...

Do you have a recommendation for a website where I can learn more about Greek meter? (I just finished reading Aristophanes Frogs in English translation.)

Also, when I view your blog I see squares in the Greek text. Is there something that I need to download to view it or this is a browser issue that I'm having?

6:48 PM  
Blogger Nicholas said...

Hi Myrtle,

Sorry about the boxes. Just by chance I was using Firefox when I created it, and could see it fine, but later learned that I couldn't view it from IE on most computers. You could probably install fonts for your browser, but the easiest thing might be to download the Firefox browser, which I think is free, and seems to be already set for most languages. I love and recommend it for that reason, because I'm not great with computers.

I admire your interest in Greek metre. There is a fantastic website at Follow the link to "Articles" on the right side of the homepage, and see the second section down, "Meter and Recitation", which has several great articles. The general introduction would be the place to start, but there is also one with recordings of examples from Homer. And if you read Greek, look at the "Poets" link on the homepage, where there are parsed texts, often with metrical help.


9:49 AM  
Blogger Myrtle said...


I do not read Greek. I picked up Mastronarde's "Attic Greek" text and I'm paying very close attention to every rule on accentuation and vowel length.

Thank you for the suggestions.

4:13 PM  
Blogger Nicholas said...

That's great: it's very rewarding, so stick with it. I would strongly recommend that you join the forum at, where there are many great people willing to answer questions, and which can help just to maintain motivation.


10:43 AM  

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