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Aspect of εἰμί

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Aspect of εἰμί

Postby huilen » Wed Apr 23, 2014 8:40 am

In Latin there is an aspectual distinction between era and fui of the verb sum. But in Greek there is no aorist of εἰμι, and instead there is only the imperfect: ἤν. How should I read it then "ἤν κακός", for example? "He was evil", or "he used to be evil"? Or is there some kind of ambiguity in the aspect that has to be resolved by the context?
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Re: Aspect of εἰμί

Postby Paul Derouda » Wed Apr 23, 2014 11:34 am

I find it difficult to answer this sort of question without a specific context, but I think depending on the context ἤν κακός could have either meaning. But I'm not sure what you mean by ambiguity of the context, such ambiguity exists only if you want to translate into another language.
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Re: Aspect of εἰμί

Postby huilen » Fri May 16, 2014 3:48 am

Sorry, I did not have a specific example when I made the question, but now I have found in Book 2 of the Odyssey two examples that are related with this.

58. μαψιδίως: τὰ δὲ πολλὰ κατάνεται. οὐ γὰρ ἔπ᾽ ἀνήρ,
59. οἷος Ὀδυσσεὺς ἔσκεν, ἀρὴν ἀπὸ οἴκου ἀμῦναι.


345. δικλίδες: ἐν δὲ γυνὴ ταμίη νύκτας τε καὶ ἦμαρ
346. ἔσχ᾽, ἣ πάντ᾽ ἐφύλασσε νόου πολυϊδρείῃσιν,
347. Εὐρύκλει᾽, Ὦπος θυγάτηρ Πεισηνορίδαο.


In both cases, the sense requires from εἰμι a durative aspect. But since there is no imperfect vs aorist distinction for εἰμι, the iterative form of the verb is used instead to denote the durative aspect. So I wonder if by default ἦν is more like an aorist than an imperfect, and here is used the iterative form to denote the durative aspect, because otherwise it should be not durative, like an aorist.
In addition to this, there may be other aspects beside the durative that are usually denoted by the imperfect or the aorist. Could be that in those cases another verb is used instead of εἰμι, like πέλω or γίγνομαι?

Well, may be I am divagating too much with this :P
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Re: Aspect of εἰμί

Postby Qimmik » Fri May 16, 2014 6:29 pm

If anything, εἰμί is stative--it doesn't fit into the present/aorist dichotomy, so there is no aorist.

As for the iterative form ἔσκε, compare--

59. οἷος Ὀδυσσεὺς ἔσκεν, ἀρὴν ἀπὸ οἴκου ἀμῦναι.

with--

272. οἷος κεῖνος ἔην τελέσαι ἔργον τε ἔπος τε

Do you see a difference? I don't see much difference at all. The two forms ἔσκεν and ἔην really don't differ in meaning. They have a different metrical shape, and they fill different metrical slots in the hexameter, giving the aoidos the flexibility to use one or the other depending on metrical exigencies.
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Re: Aspect of εἰμί

Postby huilen » Fri May 16, 2014 7:19 pm

Ok, I had thought that εἰμι was used in it's iterative form because otherwise it would have a non-stative sense, but I see that I was wrong, because εἰμι already has a stative sense.

I suppose then that the iterative form was used here for emphasis. I have just noted that in both examples the subject of εἰμι was "watching" or "guarding" something, so the iterative form may be just emphasizing that the nurse/Odysseus was watching/guarding the wine/house constantly, νύκτας τε καὶ ἦμαρ.
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Re: Aspect of εἰμί

Postby Qimmik » Fri May 16, 2014 8:14 pm

The real reason for the use of the iterative form is probably that it fit in a metrical slot where the simple form would not fit. I think you really have to strain to see a difference between 59 and 272. But meter is ultimately bound up with the formulaic aspect of the Homeric poems: the verbs are generally speaking embedded in formulas which have specific metrical characteristics. The aoidos generally composes not be selecting specific words, not by deciding whether to use the simple or the iterative form, but rather by choosing a specific group of words constituing a formula. He has two ways of essentially saying the same thing, depending on what he needs to say in the rest of the hexameter. He joins two formulas with specific metrical properties together to make single hexameter verse.

By the way, since you're struggling with the aspectual difference between imperfect and aorist, you should go back and read this thread in its entirety:

http://www.textkit.com/greek-latin-forum/viewtopic.php?f=22&t=42676

Pay particular attention to mwh's comments towards the end. He knows Greek better than any of us, and I think his process/event distinction makes the most sense for understanding Greek aspect. As he notes, there is a semantic difference between the two aspects--process vs. event--even though the aoidos' choice may be constrained or at least guided to a greater or lesser extent by the exigencies of the verse.
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Re: Aspect of εἰμί

Postby Paul Derouda » Fri May 16, 2014 9:24 pm

I'm not really contesting anything that has been said here, but maybe there is a slight difference in meaning between ἦν and ἔσκεν, however small it may be. Perhaps you could render it to English by translating ἔσκεν "always was".

59. οἷος Ὀδυσσεὺς ἔσκεν, ἀρὴν ἀπὸ οἴκου ἀμῦναι.
...a man such as Odysseus always was...

272. οἷος κεῖνος ἔην τελέσαι ἔργον τε ἔπος τε
...a man such as Odysseus was...

Is there a difference? Not much; probably the meter is what decides between the two, like Qimmik said.
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Re: Aspect of εἰμί

Postby huilen » Fri May 16, 2014 9:28 pm

Thank you for your explanations.
I was reading again the last part of the thread. I have liked very much mwh's paradox, and I feel that his explanation has much sense. In the verb system of my native language there is a large variety of aspectual distinctions, and they all have structural sense; I mean, I can't just replace one form of a word with another without introducing a semantic distinction. And though I don't remember most of the names of the tenses that I use, I feel when I have to use one or another, and there is always a reason, though most of the time I don't reflect on that (thanks god I don't :)). So, I always has that in mind when I struggle with Greek aspect.
I also agree that in poetry the form influences the sense in really curious ways, and I always expect that whenever Homer had to face up with the metric he just have found a slightly different sense that is agree both with what he has to narrate and with what the self-coercive self-inspiratory metric demands. After all, one read Homer because he is good doing that.
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Re: Aspect of εἰμί

Postby Qimmik » Fri May 16, 2014 9:46 pm

Perhaps you could render it to English by translating ἔσκεν "always was".


English actually has a very close equivalent: "used to be".
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Re: Aspect of εἰμί

Postby Paul Derouda » Fri May 16, 2014 9:56 pm

Qimmik wrote:
Perhaps you could render it to English by translating ἔσκεν "always was".


English actually has a very close equivalent: "used to be".

Actually I was going to say that as another alternative, but my feeling was that in this particular context it would have been a bit misleading – "a man such as Odysseus used to be" implies, I think, that "...but nowadays he's a bum", i.e. the idea that Odysseus has changed, not that he has ceased to exist or at least disappeared from Ithaca. Or what do you think?
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Re: Aspect of εἰμί

Postby Qimmik » Sat May 17, 2014 1:19 pm

Telemachus is unsure whether Odysseus is alive or dead--he thinks it more likely that Odysseus is dead. So I think here "used to be" would be ok--it doesn't imply that Odysseus has changed. "Used to be," for me at least, would convey a certain nostalgia for the past, which is exactly what's implicit in the Greek.
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