A prosimetrum (plural prosimetra) is a poetic composition which exploits a combination of prose (prosa) and verse (metrum);[1] in particular, it is a text composed in alternating segments of prose and verse.[2] It is widely found in Western and Eastern literature.[2] While narrative prosimetrum may encompass at one extreme a prose story with occasional verse interspersed, and at the other, verse with occasional prose explanations, in true prosimetrum the two forms are represented in more equal measure.[3] A distinction is sometimes drawn[4] between texts in which verse is the dominant form and those in which prose dominates; there the terms prosimetrum and versiprose are applied respectively.

Usage of term

The term prosimetrum is first attested in the Rationes dictandi of Hugh of Bologna, in the early 12th century. Sources differ on the date, one suggesting around 1119,[5] another about 1130.[6] Hugh divided metrical composition into three kinds: quantitative verse (carmina), verse based on syllable count and assonance (rithmi), and "the mixed form ... when a part is expressed in verse and a part in prose" (prosimetrum).[5] The derived adjective prosimetrical occurs in English as early as Thomas Blount’s Glossographia (1656) where it is defined as "consisting partly of Prose, partly of Meteer or Verse".[7]

Works such as historical chronicles and annals, which quote poetry previously composed by other authors, are not generally regarded as "true" prosimetra.[8] In the Old Norse-Icelandic tradition, however, vernacular histories and family sagas that quote verses by other authors are commonly accepted as prosimetra.[9] Quoted or "inset" verses are a familiar feature of longer historical texts in the Old Irish and Middle Irish traditions as well.[10] The role of such verse quotations within the prose narrative varies; they may be mined as historical source-material, cited as factual corroboration of an event or recited by a character as dialogue.[10][11]


See also


  1. Braund, Susanna. "Prosimetrum". In Cancil, Hubert, and Helmuth Schneider, eds. Brill’s New Pauly. Brill Online, 2012. Retrieved 2 October 2015.
  2. Brogan, T.V.F. "Prosimetrum". In Green et al., pp. 1115–1116.
  3. Harris & Reichl, p. 11.
  4. Hanson, Kristin, and Paul Kiparsky. "The Nature of Verse and Its Consequences for the Mixed Form". In Harris & Reichl, p. 36.
  5. Dronke, p. 2.
  6. Ricklin, Thomas. "Femmes-philosophie et hommes-animaux: essai d'une lecture satirique de la Consolatio philosophiae de Boèce". In Boèce ou la chaîne des savoirs: actes du Colloque international de la Fondation Singer-Polignac, Paris, 8–12 juin 1999. Louvain: Peeters, 2003. p. 131. ISBN 90-429-1250-2
  7. Ziolkowski, Jan. "The Prosimetrum in the Classical Tradition," in Harris & Reichl, p. 48.
  8. Ziolkowski, pp. 55–56.
  9. Ross, pp. 80–81.
  10. Mac Cana, Proinsias. "Prosimetrum in Insular Celtic Literature." In Harris & Reichl, pp. 110–111.
  11. O’Donoghue, pp 11–12.
  12. Heinrichs, Wolfhart. "Prosimetrical Genres in Classical Arabic Literature". In Harris & Reichl, p. 249.
  13. Jones, Jones, and Knight, p. 87.
  14. Mac Cana, p. 115.
  15. O’Donoghue p. 101.
  16. O’Donoghue, pp. 181–182.
  17. Green et al., p. 1510.
  18. Harris & Reichl, p. 14.
  19. Alexis, André. Beauty and Sadness. Toronto: House of Anansi, 2010. p. 157. ISBN 978-0-88784-750-9


  • Dronke, Peter. Verse with Prose from Petronius to Dante. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1994. ISBN 0-674-93475-X
  • Green, Roland, et al., ed. The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2012. ISBN 978-0-691-15491-6
  • Harris, Joseph, and Karl Reichl, ed. Prosimetrum: Cross-Cultural Perspectives on Narrative in Prose and Verse. Cambridge, Eng.: D. S. Brewer, 1997. ISBN 0-85991-475-5
  • Jones, Samuel, Aled Jones, and Jennifer Dukes Knight, ed. Proceedings of the Harvard Celtic Colloquium, 24/25, 2004 and 2005. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009. ISBN 978-0-674-03528-7
  • O’Donoghue, Heather. Skaldic Verse and the Poetics of Saga Narrative. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005. ISBN 978-0-19-926732-3
  • Ross, Margaret Clunies. A History of Old Norse Poetry and Poetics. Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 2005. ISBN 978-1843842798
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