Heidegger's Bible Handbook: Psalms: Meter in Hebrew Poetry?

7. The Psalms were composed in meter. Yet its sort is uncertain. The attempt of Mercerus and Gomarus to elicit it has been opposed by Cappel. Rivet’sἐπίκρισις/judgment.


That the Psalms are metrical, or bound by certain rules to meter, and accommodated to Music, vocal and instrumental, whether simple or symphonic, is openly acknowledged among a great many; with few denying it, like Augustinus Steuchus in his Præfatione in Psalmos, and Joseph Scaliger in his Animadversionibus ad Eusebii Chronicon, page 6. But, in what sort of meter they were written, it has not hitherto been possible to make clear. Indeed, Josephus, in his Antiquities, book VII, section 10, says, that David composed ὕμνους ποικίλου μέτρου, hymns in a varied sort of meter, and made some in trimeter, and others in pentameter. Jerome also on the Chronicon of Eusebius: What is more melodius than the Psalter? which after the manner of our Horace, and of the Greek Pindar, now runs along in Iambus,[1] now resounds in Alcaic,[2] now swells in Sapphic,[3] now advances in a half-foot. Of the more recent men, Mercerus promised that he was going to explain the method of the meter: but the Most Learned Gomarus in his Lyra Davidis attempted to explain it, in which he thought to conform the Psalms to the meter of Horace and the like, in such a way that he might enter upon the truth method of Hebrew Poetry. On the other hand, the Hebrews deny that the rules of meter are able to be explained; and Louis Cappel in his little book of Animadversionum tried to mark Gomarus’ Lyram Davidis as doubtful: so that thence the reader might learn that not even with the utmost difficulty is agreement able to be had among the learned concerning this, and that he should not weary himself excessively with difficult and unproductive labor, which is the ἐπίκρισις/judgment of the Most Illustrious Rivet in his Prolegomeno in Psalmos propheticos.

[1] That is, a two-syllable foot, with the accent on the last syllable. [2] An Alcaic stanza, named after they lyric poet Alcæus of Mytilene (circa 600 BC), consists of four lines. The first two consist of eleven syllables; the third line, nine syllable; and the fourth line, ten. [3] A Sapphic stanza, named after the lyric poet Sappho of Mytilene (circa 600 BC), consists of four lines. Typically the first three line have eleven syllable; the last just five.

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