(1) Can the coda, the final part of a syllable, be part of an alliteration? Do we have any example in the literature?

(2) in Beowulf.25 ("in mǣ́ġþa ġehwǣ́re | mán ġeþéo͡n.", stressed syllables with an acute accent), why would the correction of replacing ġehwǣ́re by ġehwǣ́m would produce a "double alliteration" ?

I'm stuck with what I know about alliteration: [source: wikipedia]

In literature, alliteration is the conspicuous repetition of identical initial consonant sounds [...]

This definition, along as others I read elsewhere, seems to imply that only the initial (onset) sound of a syllable is part of an alliteration; see examples like "humble house," or "potential power play."

In Old English, alliterative verses demand that two half-lines be linked by the alliteration of certain stress syllables. Two examples:

simple alliteration in [ʃ] (Scýldes/Scédelàndum) as in

    0019 Scýldes éafera | Scédelàndum ín. 

double alliteration in [w] (wḗox,wólcnum,wéorðmỳndum) as in

    0008 wḗox under wólcnum, | wéorðmỳndum þā́h,

In Beowulf.25, the manuscript reads:

simple alliteration in [m] : mǣ́ġþa/mán

    0025 in mǣ́ġþa ġehwǣ́re | mán ġeþéo͡n.

For some reasons[note a, see infra], it'd better to have a double alliteration here; some experts suggest[note b, see infra] to correct the verse and write:

    0025 in mǣ́ġþa ġehwǣ́m | mán ġeþéo͡n.

So, if ġehwǣ́m with its final -m produces a double alliteration, it seems that the onset AND the coda take part of an alliteration, in contradiction with the initial definition of an alliteration.

Hence my two questions:

(1) Can the coda, the final part of a syllable, be part of an alliteration? Do you have any example in the literature?

(2) In Beowulf.25 Why would the correction of replacing ġehwǣ́re by ġehwǣ́m would produce a "double alliteration" ?

[note a] Be.25 being a 'A' type avec anacrusis. Suggestion read in Klaeber's Beowulf, in the note about the verse #25.

[note b] relevant excerpts in Klaeber's Beowulf:

Klaeber's Beowulf, p. 114 (note about verse 25) :

"25. in mǣgþa ġehwǣre. Verses of type A with anacrusis usually have double alliteration (Appx.C §35). The exception here is very likely due to the scribal substitution of analogical LWS fem. ġehwǣre for earlier genderless ġehwǣm (the latter preserved w. fem. ref. in 1365; [...]) [...]"

Klaeber's Beowulf, p. 333 (Appendix C §35)

"(§35.) Type A. [...] There are no uncontested examples without double alliteration [...] Thus in mǣgþa ġehwǣre 25a is not impossible, but the substitution of ġehwǣm would mark an improvement [...]"

  • Do you mean the onset of the final syllable? – vectory Jan 31 '20 at 9:25
  • 1
    @vectory : No, I'm talking very generally about the final consonant of a syllable. In my example (Beowulf.25) it is true that it is the final consonant of the last syllable, but this is just a coincidence. – suizokukan Jan 31 '20 at 16:44

I asked Professeur Fulk, Professor Emeritus of English, one of the authors of Klaeber's Beowulf, who was kind enough to answer me quickly and to allow me to reproduce his email.

[...] if it is assumed that ġehwǣre is a late substitution for original ġehwǣm, the alliteration is improved because the metrical pattern x / x x / x usually appears only when the verse contains two alliterating staves. In the metrical pattern x / x x /, on the other hand, it may be that just one of the staves alliterates. And so substituting original ġehwǣm for ġehwǣre does not alter the alliteration, but it does convert the metrical pattern to one in which double alliteration is not required. [...]

Thank you very much, Professor.


It's not so much that -m causes aliteration in the strict sense, but if innovated -re falls on the stressed beat, it breaks the trochee (or iamb) of the staff rhyme and thus the alliteration. That's unlikely, if the final -e is chiefly elided to contract the words. The aliteration is in principle with the m- of the response, man g..., yes.

The repeated g- onset makes it a double aliteration (a Schüttelreim), in my mind, though your given example seems to imply something else, but note its additional rhyme under, -yndum.

PS: whoopsy, I meant a mere (a b, a b), but Schüttelreim fits the bill rather nicely.

  • 1
    "if innovated -re falls on the stressed beat" : it doesnt, isn't it ? We have in mǣ́ġþa ġehwǣ́re, not ġehwǣré or ġehwǣ́ré. – suizokukan Jan 31 '20 at 16:48
  • 1
    "The repeated g- onset makes it a double aliteration" : as far as I know, the alliteration is based upon stressed syllables but initial ġe- is never stressed in Old English. – suizokukan Jan 31 '20 at 16:51
  • I think that counts for the prefix ge- but I'm not sure it generalizes for all stems g-. – vectory Feb 5 '20 at 18:02

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.