Tuesday, October 24, 2017



The Oxford English Dictionary has an entry for amœbaean, adj. = "Alternately answering, responsive," but not for amoebaeic, a word I first encountered in P. Vergili Maronis Bucolica et Georgica. With Introduction and Notes by T.E. Page (1898; rpt. London: Macmillan, 1968), p. 111 (introduction to Eclogue 3):
Such poetry as verses 60-107 was called Amoebaeic (ἀμοιβαία ἀοιδά Theocr. 8.31) from ἀμοιβή 'interchange,' and Virgil calls it 'alternate song' (alterna line 59). The rule was that the second singer should answer the first in an equal number of verses, on the same or a similar subject, and also if possible show superior force or power of expression, or, as we say, 'cap' what the first had said. The 9th Ode of the Third Book of Horace's Odes is a perfect specimen of this kind of verse.
But Page wasn't the first to use amoebaeic in English. The word occurs on ten different pages in Thomas Keightley, Notes on the Bucolics and Georgics of Virgil (London: Whittaker and Co., 1846), always as amœbæic. I see the word in four JSTOR articles (one by Page), and over a hundred times in Google Books.


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