Political verse

Political verse (Greek: politikós stíkhos, πολιτικός στίχος), also known as decapentasyllabic verse (from Greek: dekapentasíllavos, δεκαπεντασύλλαβος, lit. ’15-syllable’), is a common metric form in Medieval and ModernGreek poetry. It is an iambic verse of fifteen syllables and has been the main meter of traditional popular and folk poetry since the Byzantine period.

The name is unrelated to the modern English concept of politics and does not imply political content; rather, it derives from the original meaning of the Greek word πολιτικός, civil or civic, meaning that it was originally a form used for secular poetry, the non-religious entertainment of the people of the polis, the city-state.

It is also called “ἡμαξευμένοι στίχοι” (imaksevméni stíhi “like-a-chariot-on-a-paved-road”) verse, because the words run freely like a chariot on a good driving surface.

. . . Political verse . . .

The political verse flourished from the 9th or 10th century, until the 19th and 20th centuries. It remains in use today, though, mainly by the type of “traditional” folk songs. The term “political” has nothing to do with “politics“. Πολιτικός also means “civil” or “civic”, and at the time it had the meaning “of everyday people”.[1] The term appears as early as in the 11th century, and had probably been in use earlier. The first use of political verse in writing is attributed to John Tzetzes. His Book of Histories (Khiliades), in 12,000 verses, is written in political verse has the title: “Ιωάννου του Τζέτζου βιβλίον ιστορικόν το δια στίχων πολιτικών, άλφα καλούμενον…” (By John Tzetzes, book of histories in political verses, called alpha…”). A short “admonitory” poem of his contemporary, Michael Psellos, to the emperor Constantine IX Monomachos is titled: ΣΤΙΧΟΙ ΠΟΛΙΤΙΚΟΙ ΠΡΟΣ ΤΟ ΒΑΣΙΛΕΑ ΚΥΡΟΝ ΚΩΝΣΤΑΝΤΙΝΟΝ ΤΟΝ ΜΟΝΟΜΑΧΟΝ ΠΕΡΙ ΤΗΣ ΓΡΑΜΜΑΤΙΚΗΣ (Political verses to the Emperor Kyr (Sire) Constantine Monomachos on Grammar). Earlier examples can be found in the older Greek poetry that used metres based on prosody, as in the poetry of Gregory of Nazianzus (4th century) and even earlier. Examples can be found even in some Homeric verses, but it isn’t clear if that occurrence was intentional or incidental.

Each verse is a 15-syllable iambic verse, normally (and in accordance with the ancient Greek poetical tradition) the Political verse is without rhyme. So it is a type of blank verse of iambic heptameter. The meter consists of lines made from seven (“hepta”) feet plus an unstressed syllable. There is a standard cesura (pause in the reading of a line of a verse that does not affect the metrical account of the timing) after the eighth syllable. Rhyme occurs only rarely, especially in the earlier folk songs and poems. Later examples, especially in personal poetry and in songwriting there is rhyme.. In those cases the rhyme scheme is more commonly that of the couplet: aa, or, aa/bb/cc/dd etc.; sometimes the rhyme may appear at the end of the cesura and that of the stanza, or in two successive cesurae. Generally speaking though, rhyme is used quite sparingly, either to make a dramatic point or for comic effect.

Each fifteen-syllable verse can be regarded or examined as a “distich” of two verses, one eight-syllable and one seven-syllable. Its form looks as follows:

U — | U — | U — | U — || U — |U — | U — | U

Until the 14th century, the half-foot could begin with two anapests instead of three iambs (Kambylis, A. 1995. Textkritik und Metrik: Überlegungen zu ihrem Verhältnis zueinander. Byzantinische Zeitschrift 88: 38–67):

U U — | U U — | U — || U — |U — | U — | U

U — | U — | U — | U — || U U — | U U — | U

To this day, each half-foot can also begin with a trochee; this is called choriambic, by comparison to its ancient metrical counterpart.

— U | U — | U — | U — || U — |U — | U — | U

— U | U — | U — | U — || — U |U — | U — | U

. . . Political verse . . .

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. . . Political verse . . .

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