Arsis and Thesis
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Arsis and Thesis
Note grouping. A=Arsis, T=Thesis.[1]About this sound Play 
Binary and ternary rhythms and meter are said to originate in human movement.[1] Inh.=Inhalation, Exh.=Exhalation.

In music and prosody, arsis and thesis (plural arses and theses) refer to the stronger and weaker parts of a musical measure or poetic foot. Arsis and thesis were the raising and lowering of the foot in beating of time or in marching or dancing. An ancient Greek writer, Bacchius, states: "What do we mean by arsis? When our foot is in the air, when we are about to take a step. And by thesis? When it is on the ground."[2]

Accordingly, in music and in Greek scansion arsis is an unaccented note (upbeat).[3] However, in discussions of Latin and modern poetry the word arsis is generally used to mean the stressed syllable of the foot, that is, the ictus.[4]

Since the words are now used in the opposite of their original meanings, the authority on Greek metre Martin West[5] recommends abandoning them and using substitutes such as ictus for the down beat when discussing ancient poetry.[6]

Latin and English poetry

In Latin (and Greek) dactylic hexameter, the strong part of a foot is the first syllable -- always long -- and the weak part is what comes after -- two short syllables (dactyl: long--short--short) or one long syllable (spondee: long--long). Because Classical poetry was not based on stress, the arsis is often not stressed; only consistent length distinguishes it.

  • Arma virumque can?, Tr?iae qu? pr?mus ab ?r?s...
    Of arms and a man I sing, who first from the shores of Troy... -- Aeneid 1.1
Ar -- ma vi rum -- que ca n? -- Tr? iae -- qu? pr? -- mus ab ? -- r?s
arsis -- thesis arsis -- thesis arsis -- thesis arsis -- thesis arsis -- thesis arsis -- thesis

In English, poetry is based on stress, and therefore arsis and thesis refer to the accented and unaccented parts of a foot.


Ancient Greek ársis "lifting, removal, raising of foot in beating of time",[7] from ? aír? or aeír? "I lift".[8] The i in aír? is a form of the present tense suffix y, which switched places with the r by metathesis.

Ancient Greek thésis "setting, placing, composition",[9] from títh?mi (from root /, the/th?, with reduplication) "I put, set, place".[10]


  1. ^ a b Thurmond, James Morgan (1982). Note Grouping, p.29. ISBN 0-942782-00-3.
  2. ^ Bacchius, Isagoge 98 (Musici Scriptores Graeci, ed. Jan, p. 314, quoted by Pearson, Lionel (1990). Aristoxenus: Elementa Rhythmica. (Oxford ), p. xxiv).
  3. ^ "Arsis". Merriam-Webster Dictionary..
  4. ^ "arsis". Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. September 2005. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.) (subscription required)
  5. ^ West, M.L. (1982) Greek Metre (Oxford).
  6. ^ Martin Drury (1986 [1985]), in The Cambridge History of Classical Literature, vol. 1 part 2, p. 203.
  7. ^ . Liddell, Henry George; Scott, Robert; A Greek-English Lexicon at the Perseus Project.
  8. ^  in Liddell and Scott.
  9. ^  in Liddell and Scott.
  10. ^  in Liddell and Scott.

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