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Odyssey - Book II - Use of imperfect

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Re: Odyssey - Book II - Use of imperfect

Postby Qimmik » Sun Jul 14, 2013 9:59 pm

Maybe it was a mistake to bring Russian into this. I didn't mean to suggest that you could map Gk. aorist onto Ru. perfective and Gr. imperfect onto Ru. perfective on a one-to-one basis: only that there are subtle semantic distinctions in aspectual contrasts that are difficult if not impossible for non-native speakers to perceive without the aid of native speakers. And we don't have native speakers for ancient Greek. (However, I think the basic distinction in Russian is that the imperfective is unspecific--so a yes or no question generally calls for the imperfective--whereas the perfective adds some element of specificity to the verbal idea, such as inception, completion, success, direction, brevity, and other aspects of the action. That's different from Greek.)
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Re: Odyssey - Book II - Use of imperfect

Postby Paul Derouda » Fri Jul 19, 2013 2:04 pm

I never suggested there was an exact correspondence between Homeric Greek and Russian, only that there might be some parallels. Also, Napoli and others think they are important. But since I don't know Russian, I can only guess, so I'll get back to Homer.

Here are all the instances of ὤρνυτο, ὤρνυτ', ὤρνυντο in the Homeric corpus describing a punctual action (as far as I can see).

ἀλλ᾽ ὅτε δή ῥ᾽ ἵκοντο μετὰ Τρῶας καὶ Ἀχαιούς,
ἐξ ἵππων ἀποβάντες ἐπὶ χθόνα πουλυβότειραν
ἐς μέσσον Τρώων καὶ Ἀχαιῶν ἐστιχόωντο.
ὄρνυτο δ᾽ αὐτίκ᾽ ἔπειτα ἄναξ ἀνδρῶν Ἀγαμέμνων,
ἂν δ᾽ Ὀδυσεὺς πολύμητις: ἀτὰρ κήρυκες ἀγαυοὶ
ὅρκια πιστὰ θεῶν σύναγον, κρητῆρι δὲ οἶνον
μίσγον, ἀτὰρ βασιλεῦσιν ὕδωρ ἐπὶ χεῖρας ἔχευαν.
Ἀτρεΐδης δὲ ἐρυσσάμενος χείρεσσι μάχαιραν,
ἥ οἱ πὰρ ξίφεος μέγα κουλεόν αἰὲν ἄωρτο,
ἀρνῶν ἐκ κεφαλέων τάμνε τρίχας: αὐτὰρ ἔπειτα
κήρυκες Τρώων καὶ Ἀχαιῶν νεῖμαν ἀρίστοις. (Il 3.267)

Agamemnon starting up with the imperfect ὄρνυτο starts/anticipates a series of events, a whole series of events in the imperfects until the aorist νεῖμαν rounds them off.

[...]ὃ δὲ δεύτερον ὄρνυτο χαλκῷ
Ἀτρεΐδης Μενέλαος ἐπευξάμενος Διὶ πατρί:
Ζεῦ ἄνα δὸς τίσασθαι ὅ με πρότερος κάκ᾽ ἔοργε
δῖον Ἀλέξανδρον, καὶ ἐμῇς ὑπὸ χερσὶ δάμασσον,
ὄφρα τις ἐρρίγῃσι καὶ ὀψιγόνων ἀνθρώπων
ξεινοδόκον κακὰ ῥέξαι, ὅ κεν φιλότητα παράσχῃ.
ἦ ῥα καὶ ἀμπεπαλὼν προΐει δολιχόσκιον ἔγχος, (Il. 3.349)

Typical case: imperfect ὄρνυτο is used of a character who starts his attack. The imperfect anticipates further developments (Here Menelaus' prayer and his spearthrow).

Τυδεΐδεω δ᾽ ὑπὲρ ὦμον ἀριστερὸν ἤλυθ᾽ ἀκωκὴ
ἔγχεος, οὐδ᾽ ἔβαλ᾽ αὐτόν: ὃ δ᾽ ὕστερος ὄρνυτο χαλκῷ
Τυδεΐδης: τοῦ δ᾽ οὐχ ἅλιον βέλος ἔκφυγε χειρός,
ἀλλ᾽ ἔβαλε στῆθος μεταμάζιον, ὦσε δ᾽ ἀφ᾽ ἵππων. (Il. 5.17)

Similar as the preceding one, ὄρνυτο is used of a character starting with his attack; the imperfect anticipates further developments (how he hits his target).

τοὺς δ᾽ ὡς οὖν ἐνόησε θεὰ γλαυκῶπις Ἀθήνη
Ἀργείους ὀλέκοντας ἐνὶ κρατερῇ ὑσμίνῃ,
βῆ ῥα κατ᾽ Οὐλύμποιο καρήνων ἀΐξασα
Ἴλιον εἰς ἱερήν: τῇ δ᾽ ἀντίος ὄρνυτ᾽ Ἀπόλλων
Περγάμου ἐκκατιδών, Τρώεσσι δὲ βούλετο νίκην:
ἀλλήλοισι δὲ τώ γε συναντέσθην παρὰ φηγῷ.
τὴν πρότερος προσέειπεν ἄναξ Διὸς υἱὸς Ἀπόλλων (Il. 7.20)

Athene's actions here are described with aorists; ἐνόησε 'noticed', and her deplacement is a clearly bounded movement with aorist βῆ accentuated with the aorist participle ἀΐξασα, 'went down with one leap'. Apollo's starting up is no less punctual, but the imperfect looks forward to further developments, the meeting of the gods (imperfect συναντέσθην) and finally Apollo's speech with προσέειπεν - an aorist, not an imperfect like speech introductions often.

[...]ὃ δ᾽ ὕστερος ὄρνυτο χαλκῷ
Πάτροκλος: τοῦ δ᾽ οὐχ ἅλιον βέλος ἔκφυγε χειρός,
ἀλλ᾽ ἔβαλ᾽ ἔνθ᾽ ἄρα τε φρένες ἔρχαται ἀμφ᾽ ἁδινὸν κῆρ. (Il. 16.479)

Same use as e.g. 3.349, 5.17 above.

[...]ὃ δὲ δεύτερος ὄρνυτο χαλκῷ
Ἀτρεΐδης Μενέλαος ἐπευξάμενος Διὶ πατρί:
ἂψ δ᾽ ἀναχαζομένοιο κατὰ στομάχοιο θέμεθλα
νύξ᾽, ἐπὶ δ᾽ αὐτὸς ἔρεισε βαρείῃ χειρὶ πιθήσας:(Il 17.45)

Cf. 3.349 above.

[...]αὐτὰρ Ἀχιλλεὺς
αὐτίκα Μυρμιδόνεσσι φιλοπτολέμοισι κέλευσε
χαλκὸν ζώννυσθαι, ζεῦξαι δ᾽ ὑπ᾽ ὄχεσφιν ἕκαστον
ἵππους: οἳ δ᾽ ὄρνυντο καὶ ἐν τεύχεσσιν ἔδυνον,
ἂν δ᾽ ἔβαν ἐν δίφροισι παραιβάται ἡνίοχοί τε,
πρόσθε μὲν ἱππῆες, μετὰ δὲ νέφος εἵπετο πεζῶν
μυρίοι: ἐν δὲ μέσοισι φέρον Πάτροκλον ἑταῖροι. (Il. 23.131)

Again, the imperfect anticipates further developments; perhaps you could say the aorist ἔβαν rounds these off, or perhaps alternating the imperfect and the aorist gives the aorist ἔβαν some emphasis? (Cf. Chantraine gramm. II p. 194)

ὣς ἔφατ᾽, ὄρνυτο δ᾽ αὐτίκ᾽ Ὀϊλῆος ταχὺς Αἴας
χωόμενος χαλεποῖσιν ἀμείψασθαι ἐπέεσσι:
καί νύ κε δὴ προτέρω ἔτ᾽ ἔρις γένετ᾽ ἀμφοτέροισιν,
εἰ μὴ Ἀχιλλεὺς αὐτὸς ἀνίστατο καὶ φάτο μῦθον: (Il 23. 488)

ὄρνυτο anticipates further developments, perhaps also his intention to speak.

ὄρνυτο δ᾽ αὐτίκ᾽ ἀνὴρ ἠΰς τε μέγας τε
εἰδὼς πυγμαχίης υἱὸς Πανοπῆος Ἐπειός,
ἅψατο δ᾽ ἡμιόνου ταλαεργοῦ φώνησέν τε (Il.23.664)

ὄρνυτο anticipates Epeios' speech.

ἐπὶ δ᾽ ὄρνυτο δῖος Ἐπειός,
κόψε δὲ παπτήναντα παρήϊον: οὐδ᾽ ἄρ᾽ ἔτι δὴν
ἑστήκειν: αὐτοῦ γὰρ ὑπήριπε φαίδιμα γυῖα. (Il. 23.689)

Again, ὄρνυτο anticipates further develompents.

τοῖσι δ᾽ ἀπὸ νύσσης τέτατο δρόμος: ὦκα δ᾽ ἔπειτα
ἔκφερ᾽ Ὀϊλιάδης: ἐπὶ δ᾽ ὄρνυτο δῖος Ὀδυσσεὺς
ἄγχι μάλ᾽, ὡς ὅτε τίς τε γυναικὸς ἐϋζώνοιο
στήθεός ἐστι κανών, ὅν τ᾽ εὖ μάλα χερσὶ τανύσσῃ
πηνίον ἐξέλκουσα παρὲκ μίτον, ἀγχόθι δ᾽ ἴσχει
στήθεος: ὣς Ὀδυσεὺς θέεν ἐγγύθεν, αὐτὰρ ὄπισθεν
ἴχνια τύπτε πόδεσσι πάρος κόνιν ἀμφιχυθῆναι:
κὰδ δ᾽ ἄρα οἱ κεφαλῆς χέ᾽ ἀϋτμένα δῖος Ὀδυσσεὺς
αἰεὶ ῥίμφα θέων: ἴαχον δ᾽ ἐπὶ πάντες Ἀχαιοὶ
νίκης ἱεμένῳ, μάλα δὲ σπεύδοντι κέλευον. (Il 23.759)

Here again, I think the best explanation of imperfect ὄρνυτο is that it how Odysseus starts his race and anticipates further developments.

ἦμος δ᾽ ἠριγένεια φάνη ῥοδοδάκτυλος Ἠώς,
ὤρνυτ᾽ ἄρ᾽ ἐξ εὐνῆφιν Ὀδυσσῆος φίλος υἱὸς
εἵματα ἑσσάμενος, περὶ δὲ ξίφος ὀξὺ θέτ᾽ ὤμῳ,
ποσσὶ δ᾽ ὑπὸ λιπαροῖσιν ἐδήσατο καλὰ πέδιλα,
βῆ δ᾽ ἴμεν ἐκ θαλάμοιο θεῷ ἐναλίγκιος ἄντην. (Od. 2.2)

ὤρνυτ᾽ sets the scene; similarly Od. 3.405, Od. 4.307, Od. 8.2

ἔνθ᾽ αὖτ᾽ ἄλλ᾽ ἐνόησε θεά, γλαυκῶπις Ἀθήνη.
βῆ ῤ᾽ ἰέναι πρὸς δώματ᾽ Ὀδυσσῆος θείοιο:
ἔνθα μνηστήρεσσιν ἐπὶ γλυκὺν ὕπνον ἔχευε,
πλάζε δὲ πίνοντας, χειρῶν δ᾽ ἔκβαλλε κύπελλα.
οἱ δ᾽ εὕδειν ὤρνυντο κατὰ πτόλιν, οὐδ᾽ ἄρ᾽ ἔτι δὴν
ἥατ᾽, ἐπεί σφισιν ὕπνος ἐπὶ βλεφάροισιν ἔπιπτεν.
αὐτὰρ Τηλέμαχον προσέφη γλαυκῶπις Ἀθήνη (Od. 2.397)

I'm not sure how to explain this one, but certainly the alternation between aorists and imperfects has some aspectual meaning here. Perhaps also the suitors being many and not leaving all at the same time and all to the same place also affects the choice not to use the aorist.

ὣς ἔφαθ᾽, οἱ δ᾽ ὤρνυντο καὶ ἐν τεύχεσσι δύοντο,
τέσσαρες ἀμφ᾽ Ὀδυσῆ᾽, ἓξ δ᾽ υἱεῖς οἱ Δολίοιο:
ἐν δ᾽ ἄρα Λαέρτης Δολίος τ᾽ ἐς τεύχε᾽ ἔδυνον,
καὶ πολιοί περ ἐόντες, ἀναγκαῖοι πολεμισταί.
αὐτὰρ ἐπεί ῥ᾽ ἕσσαντο περὶ χροῒ νώροπα χαλκόν,
ὤϊξάν ῥα θύρας, ἐκ δ᾽ ἤϊον, ἄρχε δ᾽ Ὀδυσσεύς. (Od. 24.496)

ὤρνυντο anticipates further developments.

I would have gone through a sample of aorists too, but since this thread is getting really long, I'll leave that to another time.

The point seems to me that in these cases, the imperfect vs. aorist doesn't seem to change the action described, but rather the narrator looks at the actions from another point of view. It looks like the imperfect (often used in series) anticipates further developments; using the imperfect looks at an action as a part of a series of actions, while an aorist describes an action as bounded whole, or rounds off a series of actions.
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Re: Odyssey - Book II - Use of imperfect

Postby Qimmik » Sat Jul 20, 2013 6:15 pm

It looks like the imperfect (often used in series) anticipates further developments; using the imperfect looks at an action as a part of a series of actions, while an aorist describes an action as bounded whole, or rounds off a series of actions.


You may be right about this, but are you sure you aren't reading more into these passages than is actually there? Almost any verb in a narrative belongs to a series of actions except the last. And getting out of bed is almost always the beginning of a sequence leading to something else; yet we find the aorist in Od. 8.3. In Il. 23.131 ff. we find imperfects and aorists intermingled promiscuously. To reach a conclusion about this, wouldn't it be necessary to examine passages where characters get out of bed or get up in the aorist -- including verbs other than ὄρνυμι -- as well as other activities, too?
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Re: Odyssey - Book II - Use of imperfect

Postby Paul Derouda » Sat Jul 20, 2013 8:02 pm

Qimmik wrote:Almost any verb in a narrative belongs to a series of actions except the last.

Yes, exactly. But according to my theory, that's exactly the situation where you'd expect to find imperfects. If you could find an imperfect used of a punctual action that didn't belong to a series of actions/events, that would sort of disprove this theory...
And getting out of bed is almost always the beginning of a sequence leading to something else; yet we find the aorist in Od. 8.3.

Precisely: Alkinoos gets up at 8.2 with an imperfect, thus "setting the scene", and at 8.3 Odysseus "rounds off" the sequence with an aorist.
In Il. 23.131 ff. we find imperfects and aorists intermingled promiscuously.

This is a difficult one. εἵπετο and φέρον seem to be just "basic" durative imperfects "were following", "were bearing". It seems to me that ὄρνυντο and ἔδυνον both are punctual actions, and the imperfects anticipate aorist ἔβαν on the next line.
To reach a conclusion about this, wouldn't it be necessary to examine passages where characters get out of bed or get up in the aorist -- including verbs other than ὄρνυμι -- as well as other activities, too?

Absolutely. :) I said earlier that doing this properly would amount to the equivalent of a doctoral thesis... I've gone through the 15 first cases of ὦρτο in the Iliad myself, I'll post about these sometime...

For now, a couple of important parallels:
1) Speech introductions often take the imperfect. In Chantraine's words (GH II, p. 192) "la considération des paroles qui vont suivre entraine l'emploi d'un thême duratif" ("the consideration of the following words triggers the use of a durative theme"). E.g. Il 1.385 and a zillion others. Remark that the common imperfects at the ends of speeches, ὣς ἔφατ᾽ etc., are different, they are durative in the usual sense of the word and could be translated "that's what he was saying" or the like.
2) "Verbs denoting the idea of an order, a mission, a message are used in the imperfect because they imply an effort and are the starting point of a development" (Chantraine). E.g. Il. 3.116 (ἔπεμπε), 5.199, 5.198, 7.427.
3) To me it seems typical that the casting of a missile or the shot of an arrow takes the imperfect, and when it hits, the aorist is used. E.g. Il 3.346 ff.:

πρόσθε δ᾽ Ἀλέξανδρος προΐει δολιχόσκιον ἔγχος,
καὶ βάλεν Ἀτρεΐδαο κατ᾽ ἀσπίδα πάντοσε ἴσην,
οὐδ᾽ ἔρρηξεν χαλκός, ἀνεγνάμφθη δέ οἱ αἰχμὴ
ἀσπίδ᾽ ἐνὶ κρατερῇ: ὃ δὲ δεύτερον ὄρνυτο χαλκῷ...

Didn't find this in any grammar book and didn't go through all the instances myself, but this seems to be a pattern.

It seems to me that in all or most of these instances, the imperfect isn't compulsory and the aorist could be used as well. The point is that the imperfect situates the action in the context of the following actions. Sometimes the aorist is used in seemingly similar cases; only in those cases the poet has chooses to see the action as a more bounded whole (and perhaps also the aorist often situates the action as a response to/consequence of preceding actions). So finding an aorist in a situation where these imperfects are used doesn't disproove this theory, since aorists are used of punctual actions more or less by default. What would disproove this theory would be finding an imperfect used of a punctual action outside of this kind of setting.
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Re: Odyssey - Book II - Use of imperfect

Postby Markos » Sun Jul 21, 2013 4:51 pm

Qimmik wrote:
It looks like the imperfect (often used in series) anticipates further developments; using the imperfect looks at an action as a part of a series of actions, while an aorist describes an action as bounded whole, or rounds off a series of actions.


You may be right about this, but are you sure you aren't reading more into these passages than is actually there? Almost any verb in a narrative belongs to a series of actions except the last. And getting out of bed is almost always the beginning of a sequence leading to something else; yet we find the aorist in Od. 8.3.


I have to say, at the risk of repeating myself, that I had the same reaction as Qimmik. Like many linguistic-grammatical categories that we come up with to over-define usage, this one seems way too vague, subjective, and non-falsifiable to be of much use. I do give Paul an A for effort, though, realizing that it is easier to criticize this type of analysis than to produce it.

In Il. 23.131 ff. we find imperfects and aorists intermingled promiscuously.


That is a very good adverb to describe what, again at the risk of repeating myself, I think comes naturally to Greek authors in narrative. They intuitively avoid monotony by throwing in an imperfect here, a historical present there, a perfect here, only to return to the aorist at just the right moment for the maximum euphonic (not semantic) effect. Our attempts to analyze just WHY there is that usage there and this usage here involve attempts to read the mind of someone who is doing something not primarily in the mind. The Greek uses the tenses like--at the risk of extending Qimmik's metaphor beyond the limits of good taste--the way a good prostitute uses lipstick and perfume and jewelry and just the right combination of flesh-revealing clothing. She does this without thinking about, without analyzing it; there is no discernible pattern, but it is the over-all EFFECT that is important. Same with the tenses (and word order, and particles κ.τ.λ.) The Greek FELT these distinctions. Of course, this is not a very helpful way to approach the subject for someone who wants to write and read books about Ancient Greek, but it is what it is.

Paul:
What would disproove this theory would be finding an imperfect used of a punctual action outside of this kind of setting.


I'll be on the look-out for this. I would think this would be pretty easy to find, but I'll get back to you.
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Re: Odyssey - Book II - Use of imperfect

Postby Adelheid » Sun Jul 21, 2013 5:35 pm

I will need a week off to go through all these responses :D I will, though. Fascinating subject, I feel a bit guilty that I can only ask and not contribute.
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Re: Odyssey - Book II - Use of imperfect

Postby Paul Derouda » Sun Jul 21, 2013 7:26 pm

Adelheid wrote:I will need a week off to go through all these responses :D I will, though. Fascinating subject, I feel a bit guilty that I can only ask and not contribute.

Well, if you want to save time, don't read my posts in this thread from before July, as I've changed my mind since then. :)
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Re: Odyssey - Book II - Use of imperfect

Postby Adelheid » Sun Jul 21, 2013 7:36 pm

Would want to understand why you changed your mind, so will read them all anyway :)
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Re: Odyssey - Book II - Use of imperfect

Postby Paul Derouda » Sun Jul 21, 2013 8:19 pm

I refuse to accept the idea that for punctual actions, Homer uses the imperfect and the aorist randomly. All native speakers use their language intuitively, so I don't see Homer would differ in this respect. There are some rules and some constraints that are followed. Otherwise, your language ungrammatical becomes. will then nobody understand And.

The prostitute doesn't put lipstick on her forehead, even if she chooses the colour at random.

With this ornumi, we've picked up a verb where the difference between the aorist and the imperfect is often minimal. So when I try to point out that difference, it's bound to sound forced. It's just that the imperfect will tend to be found in some contexts and the aorists in others, but whichever you have, you'd translate the same in English.

After all this time, I had another look at good old Monro. And this is how he puts it, very very elegantly:

"The Impf. appears sometimes to be used in a description along with Aorists for the sake of connexion and variety (i.e. to avoid a series of detached assertions)" (italics mine)

Read pp. 64-65!
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Re: Odyssey - Book II - Use of imperfect

Postby Paul Derouda » Sat Aug 10, 2013 9:35 pm

ἔνθ᾽ αὖτ᾽ ἄλλ᾽ ἐνόησε θεά, γλαυκῶπις Ἀθήνη.
βῆ ῤ᾽ ἰέναι πρὸς δώματ᾽ Ὀδυσσῆος θείοιο:
ἔνθα μνηστήρεσσιν ἐπὶ γλυκὺν ὕπνον ἔχευε,
πλάζε δὲ πίνοντας, χειρῶν δ᾽ ἔκβαλλε κύπελλα.
οἱ δ᾽ εὕδειν ὤρνυντο κατὰ πτόλιν, οὐδ᾽ ἄρ᾽ ἔτι δὴν
ἥατ᾽, ἐπεί σφισιν ὕπνος ἐπὶ βλεφάροισιν ἔπιπτεν.
αὐτὰρ Τηλέμαχον προσέφη γλαυκῶπις Ἀθήνη (Od. 2.397)

I wasn't sure how to explain the imperfect ὤρνυντο before, but I'll have a go now. While getting up is a punctual action, the poet has chosen not to see it as single delimited event, but as a starting point - in this case, to the suitors' going home. Homer is basically saying the suitors "left for home", not that they "went home", so the action is not bounded. In an earlier post I put perhaps too much emphasis on the idea that the imperfect anticipates further developments; often it's the case but perhaps it's incidental. Here the imperfect doesn't anticipate any further expressed action of the suitors, although you could argue that it anticipates Athena's speech.

I think this is analogous to the imperfects in speech introductions and shots of a missile, only in this case whatever follows (the suitors walking home) is left hanging in the air and we have to imagine it ourselves.
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Re: Odyssey - Book II - Use of imperfect

Postby Qimmik » Sun Aug 11, 2013 2:06 am

If you're interested in linguistics, it might be worthwhile to spend time looking at each past-tense verb in the Odyssey and trying to figure out just why it's imperfect, aorist or perfect. But if you're interested in the Odyssey, you'll never get through it if you pursue that approach.

Maybe there are some underlying semantic distinctions between the various past tenses/aspects of Homeric Greek, but since no one has been able to articulate any such distinctions clearly, at least to my satisfaction, and since the Odyssey makes enough sense to me without understanding such distinctions, I doubt whether, if they could be articulated, they would significantly enhance my appreciation and enjoyment of the poem.

I just finished reading through the Odyssey in about four weeks, as rapidly as the time at my disposal (I do have a day job and other demands on my time) and my own command of Homeric Greek would allow. After that experience, I feel that reading rapidly, not spending a lot of time on details of grammar, not trying to pin down the meaning of every obscure hapax (in many cases, even the ancients and maybe even "Homer" himself had no idea what they meant), not worrying over every variant reading, helped me understand the poem much better than on previous readings. If you try that, you'll see more clearly the long-range connections, the anticipations and foreshadowings, the vivid characterizations, and the over-arching structure, and you'll enjoy the story-line much more. (But by the same token, more intensive study is useful, too.)
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Re: Odyssey - Book II - Use of imperfect

Postby Paul Derouda » Thu Aug 15, 2013 7:29 pm

Well, I more or less agree that this isn't the way to read the Odyssey, but that's not really the point... I have actually read the Odyssey several times, and while doing so have more or less ignored these "imperfective pro perfective" imperfects and why they're there instead of aorists. Generally speaking, I'm not very interested in grammar for grammar's sake and that, beside me being an autodidact and never having participated in grammatical drills, is the reason I can't articulate myself very well on grammatical questions. My Greek studies have chiefly been autoimmersion into Homer. I've read whole pile of secondary litterature though, but I've concentrated on other than grammatical issues. I certainly don't claim understanding this is absolutely necessary to understand Homer.

The fact is that these "imperfective pro perfective" imperfects are not hapaxes. They're all over Homer, more likely to be counted in thousands than in hundreds. I doubt you could find a single page of Homer without them. Also, I found out they're by no means confined to Homer:

Κῦρος δὲ ἔχων οὓς εἴρηκα ὡρμᾶτο ἀπὸ Σάρδεων
(Xenophon, Anabasis 1.2.5)

I don't see how this differs from Od. 2.397.

Perhaps the gods ἔμβαλον ἄγριον ἄτην at my diaphragm, but at least I think I have an idea what sort of situation allows these imperfects, and I can have my peace of mind.

You could have a look at Smyth § 1891 yet, if you're not totally bored on the subject...
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Re: Odyssey - Book II - Use of imperfect

Postby Markos » Sun Sep 01, 2013 6:04 pm

Paul Derouda wrote: "...imperfective pro perfective" imperfects...


I thought of you, Paul, and this phrase the other day when I read a passage from Nonnus of Panopolis' Epic paraphrase of John's Gospel. The high priests want Pilate to change what he wrote on Jesus' cross. Pilate's famous reply is in the perfect

John 19:22: ὃ γέγραφα, γέγραφα.


the sense being, "What I wrote, stands written, the effects of what I wrote (should) continue into the present and should not be changed, so perfectly did I write this"

But Nonnus' paraphrase uses the imperfect.

ἔγραφον ἀσφαλέως, τόπερ ἔγραφον.


"I was writing it with a enduring, steadfast, existing-into-the-present-and-even-future certainty, what I was writing (over an extended period of time?")

What grammaticalizes this as a type of "perfect imperfect" is not, of course, the tense, but the modifier ἀσφαλέως and more so, as always, the context. I don't like the term "imperfective pro perfective" because I buy into the dictum that words don't have meanings; meanings have words. The imperfect has no meaning; rather, meanings make use of the imperfect however they want to. Somebody like Nonnus can do anything he wants with Greek words and tenses, and the grammar books have nothing to say about it.

I say this not to deter you from your quest to pin down the meaning of Homer's use of the imperfect, but just to say that I thought about you the other day.
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Re: Odyssey - Book II - Use of imperfect

Postby Paul Derouda » Sun Sep 01, 2013 7:11 pm

Thanks for this example! I don't have the larger context, but to me this example of yours looks similar to others in Homer. But is Nonnus doing "anything he wants with Greek words and tenses"? I think here again we have an example where an imperfect is used of a punctual action because the emphasis is on the result of the action (which is also why the original used the perfect γέγραφα). I think these uses are allowed are actually fairly limited; for some reasons the grammar books don't treat this very extensively, but it is there, even in Smyth (the lack of this coverage is, I guess, the reason why this thread has grown this long...).

I'd translate Nonnus' paraphrase either "wrote" or "have written", not "was writing". The action is punctual, the result isn't, and this is something we simply can't render into English.

As for words and meanings, I agree. Words and terms like "imperfective pro perfective" are just labels, they don't explain anything. We have to use them to convey our thoughts to each other, but often they get a life of their own and the substance of the argument gets lost. "Imperfective pro perfective" is just a situation where we, non-natives, would expect some other tense than imperfect, usually the aorist.
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Re: Odyssey - Book II - Use of imperfect

Postby Paul Derouda » Sun Sep 01, 2013 7:15 pm

As for pinning down this "imperfective pro perfective" in Homer and other Greek, I think I've done it to some satisfaction, at least for myself. I don't know if you agree or if you've even understood my somewhat nebulous musings, but I have my peace of mind in this matter...
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Re: Odyssey - Book II - Use of imperfect

Postby Paul Derouda » Wed Oct 16, 2013 10:00 pm

Just a thought... (I'll never let go this thread!)

I've been arguing for some time that when the imperfect seems to be used of a punctual action, it still conveys a specific aspectual meaning. Nobody seems to believe me, though I still think I'm right :) (at least since I refined my ideas in July); one reason is probably that I can't make myself understood properly and another is... you speaking English.

Of the languages I know, I guess English is the one which is most indifferent to aspect, while Greek is at the other end of spectrum. I remember when I first heard the English idiom "to be sick" = "vomit". "I was sick three times." That was just so wrong! To be sick is a state, to vomit is a punctual action! You can't say that! (Of course, at 12 years I didn't think about it in exactly those terms, but that was my reaction. It hurt my sense of logic so much that I still remember it).

I suppose aspectuality in a language must be more than just the presence or absence of that disctinction in verb inflection; it can be encoded by the case of object, it affects semantics etc. Perhaps indeed English is "blind" to many distinctions that are important in other languages. Just a thought.
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Re: Odyssey - Book II - Use of imperfect

Postby daivid » Thu Oct 17, 2013 12:54 am

Paul Derouda wrote:Just a thought... (I'll never let go this thread!)

I've been arguing for some time that when the imperfect seems to be used of a punctual action, it still conveys a specific aspectual meaning. Nobody seems to believe me, though I still think I'm right :) (at least since I refined my ideas in July); one reason is probably that I can't make myself understood properly and another is... you speaking English.

Of the languages I know, I guess English is the one which is most indifferent to aspect, while Greek is at the other end of spectrum. I remember when I first heard the English idiom "to be sick" = "vomit". "I was sick three times." That was just so wrong! To be sick is a state, to vomit is a punctual action! You can't say that! (Of course, at 12 years I didn't think about it in exactly those terms, but that was my reaction. It hurt my sense of logic so much that I still remember it).

I suppose aspectuality in a language must be more than just the presence or absence of that disctinction in verb inflection; it can be encoded by the case of object, it affects semantics etc. Perhaps indeed English is "blind" to many distinctions that are important in other languages. Just a thought.


Aspect is very important for English. It however cuts it up in a different way.

In Ancient Greek habitual + continuous action is imperfective (ie imperfect+ present tense)
punctual action is perfective (ie aorist)

In English punctual and habitual are combined and it is continuous that is separated out.

Indeed English has an aspect distinction for the future and the perfect.
You can say "I have been running all morning"
or "I have just run home"
This a distinction that you can't make in Ancient Greek.


You are right "I was sick" is not logical but for a completely opposite reason.
past simple should never be continuous by the logic of the language.
However, the continuous verb forms are a newer part of the language.
The prestige form of English (ie what gets taught in schools) has frozen the usage
of a time when the continuous form had not spread to all situations that it logically
should and indeed would have if having a standard language didn't muddy the waters.

Verbs like "see", "want" , "know" etc do not have continuous forms.
At least not officially.
eg a London shop girl trying to push me into buying more than I intended.
"That will be two you're wanting"

I'm bit rusty on the actual rule but it is to do with personal states.
"being sick" is a personal state.

If English was logical you should say
"All last week I was being sick with flu".
Logically then to say " I was sick last week." should mean only "Last week I vomited." (ie once)
However because personal states are an aspect free zone, it could also mean that you were
sick with fever the entire time.

But like I said Ancient Greek has its aspect free zones with the future and the perfect.
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Re: Odyssey - Book II - Use of imperfect

Postby Paul Derouda » Wed Oct 23, 2013 7:27 pm

I don't know anything about this stuff in English. Suppose you replace "sick" with "ill". Are you saying that "I was ill last week" is an innovation?" For me, ill=sick and that's why "to be sick"="to vomit" was so shocking, while "I was ill last week" has nothing out of the ordinary.

"Aspect is very important for English. It however cuts it up in a different way."

That's much better than what I was saying...
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Re: Odyssey - Book II - Use of imperfect

Postby mwh » Fri Oct 25, 2013 11:14 pm

Let me propose a paradox:
1. There is no such thing as a "punctual" imperfect. When an impf is used, it can and should always be undertood as imperfective, different (however slightly) from aorist. (This is line with Chantraine) When I read the instances of wrnuto etc. listed by Paul (7/4 and 7/19 posts) I have no difficult reading them in an imperfective sense. Semantic distinction between impf. and aor. is always operative.
But at the same time:
2. Metrical expediency can determine whether Homer uses aor. or impf. (This is heresy, or almost.) This of course suggests that in such cases impf. and aor. are semantically equivalent, which I have just denied. But the paradox is only apparent. I'm suggesting that wrnuto and wrto at line beginning, say, are not only metrically distinct but also semantically. Where the metre determines which of the two is used, that doesn't necessarily void the semantic distinction: in such cases either tense would make sense, but gives a slightly different sense according to which one is used. -– Meter similarly determines whether Odysseus is resourceful or long-suffering, but only the hardest of Parryites would maintain they meant quite the same thing.

Qimmik (7/4 post, "desperate ex post facto attempts", cf. subsequent posts) suggested that the semantic distinction between impf. and aor. may be illusory. There's no proving it's not, but when the impf. can always be understood imperfectively, and the aor. always "punctually," the hypothesis loses plausibility. (I'm not sure I'm using "punctually" correctly: I mean as an aorist, i.e. simply registering a simple past event.) It could be countered that my seeing a difference is only the result of my being conditioned to do so. (But what's the point of having different tenses if they don't mean different things?)

Chantraine must be right about leipe at Il.2.107, I think. Cf. the well-known use of etikte (as distinct from eteke) in tragedy (e.g. E. Alc.638, Andr.566, El.1167, 1184, Ph.289, Hel.1645, IA 1075, etc. etc.) and of tiktei (E.Bac.2 etc.).

There's much I haven't engaged with here, but that will do for one post. (And I can't comment on Russian.)
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Re: Odyssey - Book II - Use of imperfect

Postby Paul Derouda » Sat Oct 26, 2013 9:28 am

I agree with you basically in everything and I think you're saying exactly what I've been trying to say, only you say it much more succinctly.

Certainly the Greeks didn't think in terms of "punctual" imperfect, that's just a way for us to understand something that seems surprising to us but was natural for them. Yet, I don't think it's a totally useless concept: think about giving birth or shooting a missile - don't you think that, as actions, they are punctual? The imperfect is used to put emphasis on the idea that the effect of the action outlasts the action itself.
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Re: Odyssey - Book II - Use of imperfect

Postby mwh » Sat Oct 26, 2013 10:39 pm

Paul Derouda wrote: The imperfect is used to put emphasis on the idea that the effect of the action outlasts the action itself.

That's well put, though of course it doesn't apply to all imperfects, in fact only to very few; and I wouldn't use "punctual" of any imperfect. The tense distinction in terms of "process" (impf) and "event" (aor.) works well, it seems to me, though linguistically informed discussions of aspect have given it up.

I don't know how many mothers would agree that giving birth is a punctual action. :wink:
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Re: Odyssey - Book II - Use of imperfect

Postby Paul Derouda » Sat Oct 26, 2013 11:42 pm

mwh wrote:That's well put, though of course it doesn't apply to all imperfects, in fact only to very few; and I wouldn't use "punctual" of any imperfect. The tense distinction in terms of "process" (impf) and "event" (aor.) works well, it seems to me, though linguistically informed discussions of aspect have given it up.

I don't know how many mothers would agree that giving birth is a punctual action. :wink:

It applies only to the imperfects that specifically the subject of this thread. The proper linguistic term seems to be "imperfective pro perfective", although I don't know how firmly this term is established. But I think "process" doesn't describe the impf προΐει in the next example at all, προΐει describes an event, just like the aorist βάλεν. I think this is the way tenses are usually used when missiles are shot in Homer - they are launched with an impf and they hit with an aorist.

Il 3.346 ff.:
πρόσθε δ᾽ Ἀλέξανδρος προΐει δολιχόσκιον ἔγχος,
καὶ βάλεν Ἀτρεΐδαο κατ᾽ ἀσπίδα πάντοσε ἴσην,
οὐδ᾽ ἔρρηξεν χαλκός, ἀνεγνάμφθη δέ οἱ αἰχμὴ
ἀσπίδ᾽ ἐνὶ κρατερῇ: ὃ δὲ δεύτερον ὄρνυτο χαλκῷ...

But I guess "punctual" isn't a very good term, I think "bounded" or "delimited" is better. The point isn't how long the event took, but whether the narrator sees is as a single whole or not - I think this definition will suit better even for all those mothers... :) The "imperfective pro perfective" imperfects are strange, because we clearly see it's a case where the action is a clearly delimited whole, and yet an imperfect is used, not an aorist.
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Re: Odyssey - Book II - Use of imperfect

Postby mwh » Sun Oct 27, 2013 3:16 am

"First Paris proceeded to launch his spear, Paris was the first to set about launching his spear." It's not an instantaneous act, it's the entire process of pulling the spear back and and moving his arm rapidly forward and releasing the missile. Think a pitcher in baseball (or a bowler in cricket, if that's more your thing). Unlike the hitting its target - bam.

Similarly with ornuto of Menelaus' turn in the last line you quote. So the thread gets back to where it started.

"Seen as a single whole" yes, but it has extension, unlike the aorist. I'd resist "pro perfective," which I don't think is right. Sure, the act is understood as having been completed, but that's only implicit, context-determined. You could imagine a case where the act was thwarted (e.g. proiei, but he stumbled in the process and the missile fell harmless to the ground).

Or that's how I see it.
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Re: Odyssey - Book II - Use of imperfect

Postby Paul Derouda » Sun Oct 27, 2013 6:57 am

Perhaps you're right about that one; I think the question is more how to translate this than what the Greek is really saying. Whether call it "pro perfective" or not, it's just us. Anyway, I think the essential reason to use imperfect in that particular context is to connect the action to what follows.

But can you explain how the action described by τίκτεν could be interpreted as something else than a single delimited event in the past? "Glaukos proceeded to conceive Bellerophontes"?

Iliad 6.152 ff.
ἔστι πόλις Ἐφύρη μυχῷ Ἄργεος ἱπποβότοιο,
ἔνθα δὲ Σίσυφος ἔσκεν, ὃ κέρδιστος γένετ᾽ ἀνδρῶν,
Σίσυφος Αἰολίδης: ὃ δ᾽ ἄρα Γλαῦκον τέκεθ᾽ υἱόν,
αὐτὰρ Γλαῦκος τίκτεν ἀμύμονα Βελλεροφόντην:
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Re: Odyssey - Book II - Use of imperfect

Postby daivid » Sun Oct 27, 2013 5:21 pm

Paul Derouda wrote:I don't know anything about this stuff in English. Suppose you replace "sick" with "ill". Are you saying that "I was ill last week" is an innovation?" For me, ill=sick and that's why "to be sick"="to vomit" was so shocking, while "I was ill last week" has nothing out of the ordinary.

"Aspect is very important for English. It however cuts it up in a different way."

That's much better than what I was saying...

In many contexts ill is a synonym of sick that's true. However, of the diseases that commonly afflict people in Britain most of the symptoms are difficult to delimit timewise (general aches, fever etc) but to vomit is by its nature punctual and for that reason seems odd.

"I was ill last week" is in no way an innovation, that again is true. It is the continuous tense that is the innovation. If English was logical then people would use the continuous tense when they want to say "Last week I was ill" just as they do say "Last week I was working". And yes this does mean that "Last week I was sick" is ambiguous. It could mean "I was ill" or it could mean "I vomited". If we look at a language expecting to see it to conform to neat linguistic caterogries then this is very messy. Looking at language historically then for the present form of a language to be shaped by the past is exactly what we should expect.

Now to bring things back on topic.

Sure, punctual is not a very good description of the aspect description expressed by the aorist-imperfect distinction. We are used to the idea that whether something has delimited aspect or not is a matter of choice. An event that lasted several million years such as the end-Permian mass extinction is, from the geological perspective over in a flash. A bullet slamming into a block of wood can be by us watched as a slow open-ended process by simply playing a film in slow motion.

However, in a language where two verb forms are changing in the extent of their usage then a perfective/aorist form will be retained for punctual events even if it is not used in other cases where we might expect a perfective/aorist form to be used.

I say "retained" but I suspect that if Homer tends to use the imperfect in cases where later usage would lead us to expect an aorist then that is because the aorist was in his day the new kid on the block and was in a process of expansion.
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Re: Odyssey - Book II - Use of imperfect

Postby mwh » Mon Oct 28, 2013 2:57 am

Paul Derouda wrote:But can you explain how the action described by τίκτεν could be interpreted as something else than a single delimited event in the past? "Glaukos proceeded to conceive Bellerophontes"?

Iliad 6.152 ff.
ἔστι πόλις Ἐφύρη μυχῷ Ἄργεος ἱπποβότοιο,
ἔνθα δὲ Σίσυφος ἔσκεν, ὃ κέρδιστος γένετ᾽ ἀνδρῶν,
Σίσυφος Αἰολίδης: ὃ δ᾽ ἄρα Γλαῦκον τέκεθ᾽ υἱόν,
αὐτὰρ Γλαῦκος τίκτεν ἀμύμονα Βελλεροφόντην:

Excellent! It's a perfect parallel with that λιπε - λειπε sequence in Il.2 of Agamemnon's sceptre, isn't it? A did X, then B proceeded in turn to do Y. It's significant, as others already suggested, that X (aor.) is the background event, plain and simple, while Y (impf.) is stayed with (both the scepter and Bellerophon), so that (to adopt your formulation) the effect outlasts the action. (The reverse, in a way, of your προιει … βαλεν example, where an action is set in train with the impf and its result is a simple event.) This use of ετικτε, as I noted above, is common in tragedy; it seems to mean more or less "was his/her mother" – or father, in this case.

daivid wrote:I say "retained" but I suspect that if Homer tends to use the imperfect in cases where later usage would lead us to expect an aorist then that is because the aorist was in his day the new kid on the block and was in a process of expansion.

Actually tense usage remains pretty consistent throughout the history of ancient greek, from Homer through late antiquity. The aorist was no new kid on the block (with or without augment – there's controversy over whether this was older or newer). In Homer the aorist is in constant use and highly developed (you have all those variant forms, elabe elaben ellabe ellaben labe laben lab' - and gento to supply the metrically missing one), and when the imperfect is used instead it's for a purpose, just as is the case with later writers. If we sometimes have difficulty seeing the point of an imperfect (or any other tense), that's just a reflexion of our inadequate attunement to greek usage. As Markos commented earlier, "the Greek FELT these distinctions." I make so bold as to say that we can too, if we train ourselves to develop sensitivity by reading with close attention to tenses and constantly asking ourselves why this particular tense is used, and what difference it would make if a different tense were used (aor. vs. impf, for example). (The difference is always semantic, I'd say, and so do readers far more expert than me.) That way we become better readers.
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