Wednesday, November 4th, 2009...3:33 pm

Quintilian on pauses in Aeneid 1.1-8

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Pacing: Quintilian on pauses in Aeneid 1.1–8 (Inst. 11.3.33–38, trans. Russell)

Arma virumque cano,/ Troiae qui primus ab oris/
Italiam/ fato profugus/ Lavinaque venit
litora,/ multum ille et terris iactatus et alto . . .

Albanique patres, atque altae moenia Romae./

Musa, mihi causas memora, quo numine laeso . . .


However, though words must be pronounced in full, it is tiresome and offensive to put a value on every letter . . . For one thing, vowels often coalesce, and some consonants are suppressed when a vowel follows . . . multum ille et terris illustrates both points. (33–34)

Sense Pauses:

We must also note where our speech should be left in the air . . . and where it should be brought to rest. Arma virumque cano is left in the air, because virum belongs to what follows, giving us virum Troiae qui primus ab oris, after which there is another suspension; for, although where he came from and where he arrived are two different things, yet we do not need punctuation here, because both are covered by the same verb, venit. (35–36)

There is a third pause at Italiam, because fato profugus is parenthetical and interrupts the continuity of Italiam Lavinaque. For the same reason, there is a fourth pause at profugus, after which comes Lavinaque venit litora, where we do at last need some punctuation, because a new sentence begins at this point. (37)

Even when there is punctuation, the time we give to it may be shorter or longer, according to whether it marks the end of a phrase or of a thought. Thus I shall take a new breath immediately after the punctuation at litora, but when I come to atque altae moenia Romae, I shall pause and wait to make a fresh beginning. (37–38)

Pausing without breathing:

Pauses sometimes occur, even in long periods, without a new breath. The sentence beginning in coetu vero populi Romani, negotium publicum gerens, magister equitum and so on [Cicero, Philippics 2.63], has many Cola (there are a number of thoughts, one after another) but only one Period; so it is a case for short pauses between these phrases, not for breaking up the structure of the whole. (39)

Breathing without pausing:

Conversely, it is sometimes necessary to recover breath without a perceptible pause . . . because if we regain our breath awkwardly, this produces just as much obscurity as faulty punctuation. (39)

The necessity of proper pausing:

Virtue of punctuation is perhaps a small thing; but without it there can be no other virtue in pleading (virtus autem distinguendi fortasse sit parva, sine qua tamen esse nulla alia in agendo potest). (39)


  • Bene factum! The world needs more quality podcasts from classicists.

  • I’ve just come across your blog – wonderful, thank you for taking the time to make the recordings.

    A question on the practicalities -In preparing these readings do you perform the scansion, mark them up and then consider where to place the pauses? Also how does this tie up with the ictus, a concept I’ve never really managed to pin down?

  • Mille gratias. When I do these normally I print out the text, translate and scan it, then read it a few times to get the feel for it. I pause as seems necessary for the sense and emphasis of the words, which is basically what Quintilian is saying, I think. Ictus is a metrical concept involving the downbeat of a metrical foot (as opposed to the natural word accent). Sometimes ictus and accent coincide, sometimes not. My view is that word accent, natural sense pauses, and tone of voice, the kinds of things Quintilian talks about, are far more important than the ictus. Some people hammer away at the ictus, but this yields ugliness and nonsense, I think. Not that my own reading is flawless, don’t get me wrong!

  • Thanks for this good post.

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