Sunday, December 03, 2006


It was only recently, while reading Prometheus Bound, that I encountered prodelision (or aphaeresis) for the first time. As you might guess from the name, it is like elision, but happens at the beginning of a word, when an inital short vowel is lost, following a long vowel or diphthong at the end of the previous word. I was surprised that I hadn't come across this before now, but today I discovered why, from reading Maurice Platnauer's article, Prodelision in Greek Drama, in Classical Quarterly (1960): PB is my first attempt at either tragedy or comedy, and it seems that this phenomenon, with few exceptions, is confined to drama. Here are a few interesting notes from the article.

It can be found very rarely in inscriptions or manuscripts of prose authors, such as Plato, but then almost always with ᾽κεῖνος and its cases. It happens not at all in Homer and Hesiod (and so presumably nowhere else in epic verse), and only rarely in lyric, and seems to show up first in fifth century tragedy. The frequency for the major dramatists is as follows: in Aeschylus about 1 in 250 lines, in Sophocles about 1 in 77 lines, in Euripides 1 in 154 lines, and in Aristophanes 1 in 43 lines. Although unusual, it can happen after a comma or colon; and it has been printed in some editions at the beginning of a line, but, according to Platnauer, this almost always turns out to be an impossible reading, or a case of false line division.

Prodelision is caused by the following vowels and diphthongs: ᾱ, ᾳ, η, ῃ, ω, and ῳ. Of these, η and ῃ are by far the most common. The only vowels suffering prodelision are α and ε, but α is much more common. Alpha privative is generally not prodelided, and most cases of prodelided alpha are with ἀπό and ἀνά and their compounds. The rare prodelision of epsilon will usually be found with the prepositions ἐπί, ἐκ, ἐς, ἐν, and their compounds, but sometimes with the syllabic augment.

It occurs in PB at lines 80, 440, 651, 741, and 773, or 5 times in 1093 lines, which is about 1 in 219 lines. Of the dramatists discussed above, this is closest to the frequency of Aeschylus.


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