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Historical present in Agamemnon?

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Historical present in Agamemnon?

Postby Paul Derouda » Wed Jun 19, 2013 12:05 pm

A. Ag. 1596 ff.
[...]ὁ δ' αὐτῶν αὐτίκ᾽ ἀγνοίᾳ λαβὼν
ἔσθει, βορὰν ἄσωτον, ὡς ὁρᾷς, γένει·
κἄπειτ᾽ ἐπιγνοὺς ἔργον οὐ καταίσιον
ᾤμωξεν, ἀμπίπτει δ᾽ ἀπὸ σφαγὴν ἐρῶν,
μόρον δ᾽ ἄφερτον Πελοπίδαις ἐπεύχεται,
λάκτισμα δείπνου ξυνδίκως τιθεὶς ἀρᾷ,
οὕτως ὀλέσθαι πᾶν τὸ Πλεισθένους γένος.

"and Thyestes at once, in ignorance, took some of it and ate it, a meal that, as you now see, was ruinous for the family. Then, when he recognized the unrighteous deed, he howled aloud, fell backwards while vomiting out the slaughtered remains, and called down an unendurable fate on the house of Pelops, kicking over the table to chime with his curse: "So perish all the race of Pleisthenes!" (Sommerstein)

This immediately follows a profoundly corrupted passage, but that's irrelevant for now. What I'm wondering are the presents ἔσθει, ἀμπίπτει, ἐπεύχεται. This looks like a historical or narrative present, i.e. a present tense used in a narrative of past events for a dramatic effect. I didn't know Attic had such a form. At least Pierre Chantraine explicitly says this form doesn't exist in Homeric Greek (Grammaire Homérique, tome II, p. 191; Odyssey 8.104 ff. seems to be an exception to this and is considered either interpolated or transposed by some scholars (at least R. D. Dawe and M.L. West, I can dig out the exact references if somebody wants))
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Re: Historical present in Agamemnon?

Postby Qimmik » Wed Jun 19, 2013 12:18 pm

Yes, the historical present is a feature of post-Homeric Greek, including Attic. See Smyth sec. 1883.

http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.04.0007%3Asmythp%3D1883
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Re: Historical present in Agamemnon?

Postby Paul Derouda » Wed Jun 19, 2013 1:31 pm

Thanks for the reference. Hmm, the first example Smyth gives is from the beginning of Thucydides, which I have read. Didn't pay attention to the historical present back then.
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Re: Historical present in Agamemnon?

Postby C. S. Bartholomew » Wed Jun 19, 2013 7:47 pm

Paul,

Present tense finite verbs are common in Koine narrative. A finite present is always marked but marked for what? That question has been discussed[1] in the last few decades. In Guy Copper's discussion, apart from listing a few examples from Tragedy, Thucydides, Herodotus , there wasn't anything new in the treatment of the idiom. When you boil down the discussion of this in the standard grammars it amounts to reporting that the historical present exists with no attempt at an explanation other than a few vague impressionistic commonplaces. In times past north american speakers of english typically considered the historical present a folksy semi-literate idiom. Transferring this attitude to ancient Latin and Greek is bad linguistics but some of the grammars do this. Cooper explicitly points out this error and then falls into it when describing the avoidance of the historical present in Homer and Pindar[2].

[1] e.g., Stephanie L. Black, “The historic present in Matthew: Beyond speech margins.

[2] Cooper lists some examples in Pindar but considers them bogus for one reason or another.
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Re: Historical present in Agamemnon?

Postby Qimmik » Thu Jun 20, 2013 1:37 am

When you boil down the discussion of this in the standard grammars it amounts to reporting that the historical present exists with no attempt at an explanation other than a few vague impressionistic commonplaces.


Is there anything more to say about the historical present?
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Re: Historical present in Agamemnon?

Postby C. S. Bartholomew » Thu Jun 20, 2013 1:50 am

Qimmik wrote:
When you boil down the discussion of this in the standard grammars it amounts to reporting that the historical present exists with no attempt at an explanation other than a few vague impressionistic commonplaces.


Is there anything more to say about the historical present?


It would appear that Stephanie L. Black thought there was a lot more to say about it. Unfortunately, I don't have a copy of her article on hand and it has been over a decade since I looked at it.
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Re: Historical present in Agamemnon?

Postby C. S. Bartholomew » Thu Jun 20, 2013 9:39 pm

C. S. Bartholomew wrote:
Qimmik wrote:
When you boil down the discussion of this in the standard grammars it amounts to reporting that the historical present exists with no attempt at an explanation other than a few vague impressionistic commonplaces.


Is there anything more to say about the historical present?


It would appear that Stephanie L. Black thought there was a lot more to say about it. Unfortunately, I don't have a copy of her article on hand and it has been over a decade since I looked at it.


As it turns out I was wrong. This happens. Here is what I posted on b-greek in 2000 for what it's worth:
Stephanie L. Black has an article* on the use of the historical present
in Matthew outside of speech margins. In her preliminary remarks she
paraphrases an axiom** of semantics:
"The more likely a form is to appear in a given context the less meaning
it tends to convey. Conversely, the less likely a form is to appear in a
given context, the more meaning it tends to convey in that context."


Ms. Black applies this principle to the use of the historical present in
Matthew in speech margins. She concludes based on her analysis of the
statistical data that Matthew's use of the historical present in speech
margins is something of a stereotyped idiom and not too much
significance should be attached to its use.

Ms. Black then proceeds with the main body of her study which is
Matthew's use of the historical present in contexts where it is
unexpected.

{snip}
--

* Her comments quoted here appear on page 126 in: Stanley E Porter &
Jeffrey T. Reed Discourse Analysis and the New Testament, Sheffield
Academic Press, 1999

**She cites J. Lyons, Introduction to Theoretical Linguistics, Cambridge
1968, p415.
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