Leonine verse

Leonine verse is a type of versification based on internal rhyme, and commonly used in Latin verse of the European Middle Ages. The invention of such conscious rhymes, foreign to Classical Latin poetry, is traditionally attributed to a probably apocryphal monk Leonius, who is supposed to be the author of a history of the Old Testament (Historia Sacra) preserved in the Bibliothèque Nationale of Paris. This "history" is composed in Latin verses, all of which rhyme in the center. It is possible that this Leonius is the same person as Leoninus, a Benedictine musician of the twelfth century, in which case he would not have been the original inventor of the form. It is sometimes referred to disparagingly as "jangling verse" by classical purists, for example 19th century antiquaries, who consider it absurd and coarse and a corruption of and offensive to the high ideals of classical literature. Shakespeare used it to denote absurd characters, as in the speech of Caliban in The Tempest.[1]


Another very famous poem in Leonine rhyme is the De Contemptu Mundi of Bernard of Cluny, whose first book begins:

Hora novissima, tempora pessima, sunt vigilemus
Ecce minaciter, imminet arbiter, ille supremus.
Imminet imminet, ut mala terminet, æqua coronet,
Recta remuneret, anxia liberet, æthera donet.
(These current days are the worst of times: let us keep watch.
Behold the menacing arrival of the Supreme Judge.
He is coming, He is coming to end evil, crown the just,
reward the right, set the worried free and grant eternal life.)

As this example of tripartiti dactylici caudati (dactylic hexameter rhyming couplets divided into three) shows, the internal rhymes of leonine verse may be based on tripartition of the line (as opposed to a caesura in the center of the verse) and do not necessarily involve the end of the line at all.

In 1893, the American composer Horatio Parker set the Hora novissima to music in his cantata of the same name.

The epitaph of Count Alan Rufus, dated by Richard Sharpe and others to 1093, is described by André Wilmart as being in Leonine hexameter.


  1. Racism and Early Blackface Comic Traditions: From the Old World to the New By Robert Hornback, p.195
  •  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Gosse, Edmund (1911). "Rhyme". In Chisholm, Hugh (ed.). Encyclopædia Britannica. 23 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 279.
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