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Three lines of a chorus in Medea

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Three lines of a chorus in Medea

Postby C. S. Bartholomew » Thu Dec 15, 2011 10:29 pm

Ran into some problems at the end of a chorus in Medea.

Euripides, Medea
ed. David Kovacs

Euripides. Medea 659-661
ἀχάριστος ὄλοιθ᾽ ὅτῳ πάρεστιν
μὴ φίλους τιμᾶν καθαρᾶν
ἀνοίξαντα κλῆιδα φρενῶν·
ἐμοὶ μὲν φίλος οὔποτ' ἔσται.

May that man die unloved who cannot honor his friends, unlocking to them his honest mind. To me at any rate he shall never be friend. Trans. David Kovacs

ὄλοιθ᾽ ὄλλυμι verb 3rd sg aor opt mid

ἀχάριστος might be taken as a substantive functioning as the subject of ὄλοιθ᾽ but the syntax doesn’t reveal whether this attribute is part of the curse “let him die without favor [of the gods] ...” or an attribute of the subject demonstrated by what follows in relative clause and thus part of the grounds for the curse “let the ungracious/ungrateful/thankless wretch die.” The translations I have on hand support the first option but LSJ appears to support the second option: “of persons ... ungrateful, thankless, Hdt.1.90, X.Cyr.1.2.7, Crates Theb. 19, etc.; δῆμος Hdt.5.91; προδότας E.Ion880 (lyr.), cf. Med.659 (lyr.).”

The relative clause introduced by ὅτῳ is somewhat complex. If we read πάρεστιν as an impersonal verb we might end up with something awkward like ὅτῳ πάρεστιν “for whom it is possible not to honor his friends ...” or we could follow Kovacs, leaving πάρεστιν untranslated. The infinitive τιμᾶν (honor) takes and an accusative subject ἀνοίξαντα (opening, with κλῆιδα bolt/key/latch i.e. unlocking). The subject of ἀνοίξαντα has the same referent as the dative ὅτῳ but ἀνοίξαντα is in the accusative case since it is closer to the infinitive. This is explained in Alan Elliott’s notes[1] and also in Guy Cooper[2].

καθαρᾶν adj pl fem gen doric with φρενῶν, honest mind, pure heart, “a heart with no deceit” Alan Elliot [3].

C. Stirling Bartholomew




[1]Alan Elliott, Euripides Medea, OUP 1969, p. 37.

[2] Guy Cooper, Greek Syntax vol 3, p. 2502, 55.2.6.B cites E.Med 659. Cooper’s comments here are more difficult to understand than the text under discussion.

[3] Elliot, p 37.
C. Stirling Bartholomew
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Re: Three lines of a chorus in Medea

Postby spiphany » Tue Dec 20, 2011 4:56 am

Do you still have a question or did you resolve your difficulties?
I went and hunted down my notes/commentaries on the text (I've read it twice now, you'd think I'd remember more)

Regarding ἀχάριστος, Mastronarde's commentary (Cambridge UP 2002) has: "Understand ὤν with ἀχάριστος, just as is done with κακός in phrases like 1386 κατθανῇ κακὸς κακῶς ... This adj. is predominantly active in sense in classical authors and is unlikely to mean here 'unloved.' "

πάρεστιν is frequently used this way with a dative where we would use a personal verb in English. Page's commentary has the note: "πάρεστί μοι normally = I have the opportunity, or the power: but πάρεστί sometimes denotes the possession of a habit or characteristic."
IPHIGENIE: Kann uns zum Vaterland die Fremde werden?
ARKAS: Und dir ist fremd das Vaterland geworden.
IPHIGENIE: Das ist's, warum mein blutend Herz nicht heilt.
(Goethe, Iphigenie auf Tauris)
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Re: Three lines of a chorus in Medea

Postby C. S. Bartholomew » Tue Dec 20, 2011 6:34 pm

spiphany wrote:Do you still have a question or did you resolve your difficulties?
I went and hunted down my notes/commentaries on the text (I've read it twice now, you'd think I'd remember more)

Regarding ἀχάριστος, Mastronarde's commentary (Cambridge UP 2002) has: "Understand ὤν with ἀχάριστος, just as is done with κακός in phrases like 1386 κατθανῇ κακὸς κακῶς ... This adj. is predominantly active in sense in classical authors and is unlikely to mean here 'unloved.' "

πάρεστιν is frequently used this way with a dative where we would use a personal verb in English. Page's commentary has the note: "πάρεστί μοι normally = I have the opportunity, or the power: but πάρεστί sometimes denotes the possession of a habit or characteristic."


Thank you for the assistance. My experience with Attic Tragedy: if you "read" it on monday and then you look at it on saturday and it looks foreign to you. I have been trying to get away from my standard approach of printing the text and taking extensive notes. I quit doing that with the Greek NT and LXX over a decade ago but when it comes to Tragedy it seems like annotating the text is the best approach.

The use of πάρεστιν with the dative here sounds like a spacial metaphor. I just went through LSJ online for πάρειμι again (my two print versions of LSJ gather dust) and Middle Liddell. I'm thinking of a conceptual metaphor (G. Lakoff) not a conscious choice by the author but a cognitive habit embedded in the language/culture. Something along the line of "anger is present with her" = "she is angry," thus ὅτῳ πάρεστιν "the sort of person who" or "who has it in them" μὴ ... τιμᾶν, not suggesting translation options just a way to conceptualize the metaphor.

Thanks again,

C. Stirling Bartholomew
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Re: Three lines of a chorus in Medea

Postby spiphany » Tue Dec 20, 2011 8:01 pm

I'd actually just translate πάρεστιν with a dative as "can" with a personal subject in English. Expressing modal constructions impersonally this way is really not at all unusual -- you see it a lot in other Indo-European languages as well, not just Greek, so I wouldn't really consider it a special metaphor unless you mean the whole group of related dative usages (possession, ethical, etc). We can do it in English, too ("it is possible for him" vs. "he can"), it's just not the preferred structure.

I think it has to do with argument structure ("arguments" being here not rhetorical strategies but bits of a sentence which are ordered by the verb -- i.e., subjects, direct objects etc). When we think about participants in a sentence we can talk about their roles a couple of ways. First they have a syntactic function (grammatical subject or object). But they also have a semantic function ("thematic role"): agent, experiencer, recipient, instrument, etc. There are various theories about how thematic roles "map" into syntactic functions, but basically different languages do this different ways. I think English has a strong preference for filling the subject position of a sentence with an "agent" or "experiencer"-type noun. "The dog bit the cat." "I like pie." In Classical Greek (and other languages) this preference isn't nearly so pronounced. You're more likely to get sentences like "Pie is pleasing to me."
IPHIGENIE: Kann uns zum Vaterland die Fremde werden?
ARKAS: Und dir ist fremd das Vaterland geworden.
IPHIGENIE: Das ist's, warum mein blutend Herz nicht heilt.
(Goethe, Iphigenie auf Tauris)
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Re: Three lines of a chorus in Medea

Postby C. S. Bartholomew » Tue Dec 20, 2011 11:03 pm

I'd actually just translate πάρεστιν with a dative as "can" with a personal subject in English. Expressing modal constructions impersonally this way is really not at all unusual -- you see it a lot in other Indo-European languages as well, not just Greek, so I wouldn't really consider it a special metaphor unless you mean the whole group of related dative usages (possession, ethical, etc). We can do it in English, too ("it is possible for him" vs. "he can"), it's just not the preferred structure.


I have no problem with any of the above. My attempt to explain conceptual metaphors was pretty lame. We use them all time without being aware of them. Lakoff et al make a distinction between expressions like "pretty lame" obviously a metaphor in the traditional sense and spatial conceptual metaphors which are constructed as an extension of a container metaphor related to our bodies. The latter are built into our language/culture and are not generally a matter of language user choice. In the last sentence the expression "language/culture" is treated like a container which holds things thus we say "built into" which is a spatial metaphor. Lakoff considers this an extension of body language, i.e., language extended from how we conceptualize our bodies as containers. I am not a disciple of Lakoff, he is just another linguist, hadn't heard of him until Michael Aubrey started talking about him.

I was spinning off the πάρεστιν LSJ A 2 "to be by or near one, c. dat." Thinking that the ability of someone to do something which you gloss as "can" may be conceptualized spatially as something (an ability) metaphorically being with some person or agent. Again, this analysis does not imply any sort of conscious choice on the part of the language user and thus not related to rhetorical strategies. The conceptual metaphors are part of the architecture of the language at a very foundational level.

I think it has to do with argument structure ("arguments" being here not rhetorical strategies but bits of a sentence which are ordered by the verb -- i.e., subjects, direct objects etc). When we think about participants in a sentence we can talk about their roles a couple of ways. First they have a syntactic function (grammatical subject or object). But they also have a semantic function ("thematic role"): agent, experiencer, recipient, instrument, etc. There are various theories about how thematic roles "map" into syntactic functions, but basically different languages do this different ways. I think English has a strong preference for filling the subject position of a sentence with an "agent" or "experiencer"-type noun. "The dog bit the cat." "I like pie." In Classical Greek (and other languages) this preference isn't nearly so pronounced. You're more likely to get sentences like "Pie is pleasing to me."


I agree that πάρεστιν with the dative relative pronoun has to do with argument structure. Putting the agent into a dative relative pronoun is probably a form of backgrounding if viewed from the English language perspective. That is one of hazards of text linguistics, we always lean toward an analysis which makes sense in our native language. It may be that an agent in Classical Greek can appear in the dative without reduced salience. I don't recall seeing anyone arguing that point however.

Notice the spatial metaphor "lean toward an analysis" which is probably an extension of what Lakoff calls conceptual metaphor.

thanks again,


C. Stirling Bartholomew
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