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An asclepiad is a line of poetry that is built around a choriamb and that dates back to Ancient Greece. In Latin, it is written as “Asclepiadeus.” 

The form is often described as glyconic, meaning that conforms to the style of the most basic kind of Aeloic verse (described in more detail below). This type of verse can be combined with others. Some terms often associated with this kind of poetry include: 

  • Anceps: an anceps is a slot in a metrical pattern that can be filled with either a short or long syllable. This means that it can vary depending on the poet’s intentions. 
  • Longum: a heavy syllable that was used in Ancient Greek and Latin hexameter poetry. It is known today as a long syllable. It is the opposite of a brevis. 
  • Brevis: a light or short syllable that was used in Ancient Greek and Latin hexameter poetry. It is the opposite of a longum.
  • Pherecratean: an arrangement of syllables in Aeolic verse. It comes from the Latin “pherecrateus.” It may be seen alongside words like “glyconic” and “hipponatean.” 

These unusual words are uncommonly used in everyday conversations about poetry. But, it does help to understand them when delving into the complexities of Aeolic verse. 

Asclepiad: auh-shlee-pee-ahd


Asclepiad Definition

Asclepiad is one form of Aeolic verse. It is attributed to Asclepiades of Samos. It uses a choriamb, or a prosodic foot that contains four syllables in a pattern of long, short, short, long.

It looks like — ‿ ‿ — when written in scansion. Or, in other words, it uses a trochee alternating with an iamb. The choriamb is one of two basic metrical forms that are separate from the lyric verse or sung verse. One Latin poet who is often cited in relation to the asclepiad form is Horace. He used the format in thirty-four of his famous odes. It also appears in the works of Seneca and Catullus. Explore more examples below. 

The Greater and Lesser Asclepiad

An asclepiad can be written in two different, common ways. Below are two patterns. The first is desired as “Lesser Asclepiad:” 

x x  – u u –  – u u –  u –

Note the use of three different kinds of beats. The “x” represents the anceps, or the “free” syllable. It can be either a long or short syllable. The “-“ represents the brevis (or short/light syllable), and the “u” represents the longum (or the heavy/long syllable). Below is an example of the “Greater Asclepiad:”

x x  – u u –  – u u –  – u u –  u –

There are clear similarities between the two, with the latter extended with extra long/heavy beats and short/light beats at the end. Both begin with two “aceps,” or free beats that can be either long or short. 

What is Aeolic Verse? 

Aeolic verse is a class of Ancient Greek lyric poetry that considers the verse of Alcaeus and Sappho. Verses use a fixed number of syllables, and multiple anceps are used in a row (as seen above). Forms like the cretic (-u-) and the choriamb (-uu-) are important. 

Examples of Asclepiad

In Due Season by W.H. Auden 

‘In Due Season’ is a contemporary example of how an asclepiad is used in English-language verse. It is write-in what is known as accentual asclepiads. 

Here is the first stanza

Springtime, Summer and Fall: days to behold a world

   Antecedent to our knowing, where flowers think

   Theirs concretely in scent-colors and beasts, the same

   Age all over, pursue dumb horizontal lives.

   On one level of conduct and so cannot be

   Secretary to man’s plot to become divine.

Read more of W.H. Auden’s poetry

Choriambics I by Rupert Brooke

Here are a few lines from one of Brooke’s attempts at using the Greater Asclepiad in English: 

Ah! not now, when desire burns, and the wind calls, and the suns of spring

Light-foot dance in the woods, whisper of life, woo me to wayfaring;

Ah! not now should you come, now when the road beckons, and good friends call,

Where are songs to be sung, fights to be fought, yea! and the best of all,

Love, on myriad lips fairer than yours, kisses you could not give! . . .

Dearest, why should I mourn, whimper, and whine, I that have yet to live?

Read more Rupert Brooke poems

Arcadia by Philip Sidney 

Arcadia’ is one final example of asclepiads in English verse. Sidney’s ‘Arcadia,’ also known as ‘The Countess of Pembroke’s Arcadia,’ is a long prose romance. It was written towards the end of the 16th century. It’s believed he may have started writing it as early as 1570. Here are a few lines: 

Ere now haue you (most deare, and most worthy to be most deare Lady) this idle worke of mine: which I fear (like the Spiders webbe) will be thought fitter to be swept away, then worn to any other purpose. For my part, in very trueth (as the cruell fathers among the Greekes, were woont to doo to the babes they would not foster) I could well find in my harte, to cast out in some desert of forgetfulnes this child, which I am loath to father. 

Read more Philip Sidney poems


Was Hippocrates an Asclepiad?

The word “asclepiad” is also used to describe Ancient Greek medical doctors. It’s given to Hippocrates by Plato in Protagoras. 

What are asclepiads?

Asclepiads are a type of verse that uses an arrangement of short, long, and free beats. Authors used greater and lesser asclepiads in their writing. 

What are the three styles of Greek poetry?

The three styles of Greek poetry are epic, lyric, and drama

Related Literary Terms

  • Alazon: one of the three traditional characters in Greek comedy. They have an inflated sense of worth and often boast.
  • Anacreontic: metered verses in the style of the Greek poet Anacreon. His poetry often dealt with themes of love and wine.
  • Accent:  the word “accent” refers to the stressed syllable in a word. Metered lines of verse are made up of different groups of syllables.
  • Accentual Verse: focuses on the number of stressed syllables per line rather than the total number of syllables.
  • Poetic Foot: a foot refers to a unit of meter in poetry. It is a grouping of stressed and/or unstressed syllables.

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