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Odyssey - Book II - Use of imperfect

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Odyssey - Book II - Use of imperfect

Postby Adelheid » Sun Oct 14, 2012 7:25 pm

In the first 4 lines of book 2 of the Odyssey I see the use of imperfect and aorist, where I would only expect the use of the aorist:

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,

ὤρνυτ᾽ is an imperfect , θέτ and ἐδήσατο are aorists. The aorists I can rationalise, the imperfect not so much. ὤρνυτ doesn't sound like a continuous action, serving as a backdrop for the following actions, or as as a habitual action. I would have expected it to be an aorist also.

I am stuck at this. Can anyone clarify? It will probably be very simple and cause some facepalming on my side, but I just don't SEE it.
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Re: Odyssey - Book II - Use of imperfect

Postby Adelheid » Mon Oct 15, 2012 5:57 pm

Or does it convey that Telemachos usually got up at dawn?
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Re: Odyssey - Book II - Use of imperfect

Postby Paul Derouda » Mon Oct 15, 2012 8:15 pm

It's a imperfect because it expresses the beginning of a action. The emphasis is not just in the jumping out of bed (where you would have an aorist), but in the whole process of getting up and being up as a result.

Often the difference between the aorist and the imperfect are really fine nuances and even good translations get them wrong. In this case I don't know if it matters in English, but in some cases it's relevant.

The imperfect has no iterative meaning per se; though you would use the imperfect for that, you also need some other indication that the action is repeated regularly. (like -σκ-: εφίζω -> εφίζεσκε)
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Re: Odyssey - Book II - Use of imperfect

Postby Adelheid » Mon Oct 15, 2012 9:28 pm

I thought the aorist (inceptive/ingressive) was used to express the start of something? Then I would again expect an aorist here. If the ἐξ εὐνῆφιν would have been left out, it would have been easier to look at this as a kind of backdrop activity and therefore imperfect. To me, it just seems to be such a perfect candidate for an aorist ...

I know I could easily step over this and continue, but I am in the process of wanting to figure out exactly why imperfect or aorist is used.
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Re: Odyssey - Book II - Use of imperfect

Postby Paul Derouda » Tue Oct 16, 2012 9:24 am

For this use of the imperfect, see Monro Grammar of the Homeric dialect (http://archive.org/stream/grammarofhome ... 5/mode/2up), page 64, §72 (3). I'd usually consult Chantraine's Grammaire Homérique (volume 2), but I'm on a holiday trip and don't have access to it.

I might be totally wrong, but I'm not sure if the inceptive aorist is a Homeric usage at all. I couldn't find a mention in Monro (I wish I had my Chantraine!). Pharr at §1081 gives ἐδάκρυσε as an example, but that form doesn't actually occur in the whole Homeric corpus. With this verb, the only instance that I think just might be an inceptive aorist is 11.55 = 11.87 = 11.395

τὸν μὲν ἐγὼ δάκρυσα ἰδὼν ἐλέησά τε θυμῷ,

But I'd rather translate this "I wept" than "I began to weep".

I've actually thought about this before and haven't found a clear answer... Can anyone give a clear example of an inceptive aorist in Homer?

But anyway, with this "inceptive imperfect", the emphasis is the beginning of process.
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Re: Odyssey - Book II - Use of imperfect

Postby Adelheid » Tue Oct 16, 2012 9:39 am

OK, thanks, I have Monro on the shelf at home, will have a look later.
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Re: Odyssey - Book II - Use of imperfect

Postby Paul Derouda » Thu Oct 25, 2012 1:46 pm

I'm back home and read the relevant chapter in Chantraine, vol. 2. There's not much discussion of this use of the imperfect, just a couple of words stating that "(imperfect is used) avec des verbes exprimant le développement d'un mouvement", i.e. with verbs denoting the development of a motion. As examples he gives ωρνυτο Il. 3.267 etc, αφιει Il. 1.25 etc., προιει Il. 1.326 etc., εζετο Il. 1.68 etc.

I guess the point with the imperfect instead of the aorist in ωρνυτο is that Homer doesn't want us to imagine Telemachus quicky jumping out of bed, realizing he's overslept - rather, the boy yawns, streches his arms and legs, says to himself "the early bird gets the worm", sits up, turns around, puts his feet on the floor and finally stands up from the bed. Ok, I'm overdoing it a bit but you get the point.

As for the other thing - I don't know what to think about Homer and the inceptive aorist. Chantraine doesn't mention it. Certainly there must be occasions where the aorist is correctly translated "began to...". But cases like εβασιλευσα "I became king", with verbs indication a state or condition, just sounds un-Homeric to me though I have nothing to back up my claim. For δάκρυσα I'm not really that sure anymore, it's really not comparable to εβασιλευσα. I cheched out 14 different translations of Od. 11.55 (English, French, Finnish, Swedish) all of which I think are good; 10 were consistent with "I wept" and 4 with "I broke into tears" - of which 2 in French and 2 in English, so apparently independently of each other.

The inceptive aorist is starting to haunt me so I'd be grateful if someone can help me out with this.
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Re: Odyssey - Book II - Use of imperfect

Postby Adelheid » Thu Oct 25, 2012 2:00 pm

I had some comments on that when I was in the Pharr-b group here on Textkit, a long time ago. I will go through my notes tonight.
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Re: Odyssey - Book II - Use of imperfect

Postby Adelheid » Fri Oct 26, 2012 1:36 pm

This is what I have in my Pharr-notes:

349. δακρύσας ἑτάρων ἄφαρ ἕζετο νόσφι λιασθείς
starting to cry sat down at once apart from his comrades falling down

Lesson Comments
The aorist participle δακρύσας in line 349 is a good example of an inceptive or ingressive aorist. See Smyth 1924, 1925


It always comes back to δακρύσας, it seems ;-)
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Re: Odyssey - Book II - Use of imperfect

Postby Paul Derouda » Fri Oct 26, 2012 8:42 pm

I'm not sure if an aorist participle should be called an inceptive/ingressive aorist. But those must abound in Homer I guess.

I checked Smyth 1924: "The aorist of verbs whose present denotes a state or continued action, expresses the entrance into that state or the beginning of that action." Looking at the list at 1925, most of these ingressive aorists seem unhomeric to me. Maybe εβλεψα, εδακρυσα, εθαρσησα might work. Maybe I'll check those tomorrow.
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Re: Odyssey - Book II - Use of imperfect

Postby Paul Derouda » Sat Oct 27, 2012 7:49 am

Paul Derouda wrote:I'm not sure if an aorist participle should be called an inceptive/ingressive aorist.

I was wrong about that. Gildersleeve, Syntax of Classical Greek, doesn't object to participles being called inceptive/ingressive § 239-242.

http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/tex ... ythp%3D239

He also gives a couple of Homeric examples:

HOM. Il. 3.259: “ῥίγησεν” (gave a shudder) “δ᾽ ὁ γέρων”. 11.546: “τρέσσε”, He took to flight.

So I guess I was also wrong about the inceptive aorist not being Homeric, at least in large part. But I maintain that most of the examples given in Smyth would be wrong in Homer. I still think there must be some difference in usage I can't pinpoint.

Sorry if I have mixed you up even more, this hasn't anything to do with the original question anymore. The exact use of aorist and imperfect is in my opinion one of the single most difficult quirks in Homer, so don't be discouraged too much.
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Re: Odyssey - Book II - Use of imperfect

Postby Adelheid » Mon Oct 29, 2012 6:01 pm

Well, I will just trod on then :-) and finally get me through Book 2.

Thanks!
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Re: Odyssey - Book II - Use of imperfect

Postby Paul Derouda » Fri Mar 15, 2013 9:02 pm

Paul Derouda wrote:It's a imperfect because it expresses the beginning of a action. The emphasis is not just in the jumping out of bed (where you would have an aorist), but in the whole process of getting up and being up as a result.

I've been thinking about this and did some study, and I think what I said here is misleading. The point with the imperfect here is not the beginning of a an action per se, but that the action takes some time or that the action is undelimited. Monro says that ὤρνυτ᾽ here is imperfect because it expresses the "beginning of a motion"; but the idea of "beginning" is just incidental; the real point is that the motion is not punctual, it's not like Telemachus was first lying fast asleep and the next second up standing, but that that it's a more gradual process. When you render the imperfect in English, sometimes you have to say "began to x"; but this is not a punctual, even instaneous, change of state like with an inceptive aorist.
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Re: Odyssey - Book II - Use of imperfect

Postby Qimmik » Sun Jun 30, 2013 4:24 pm

For what it's worth, at the beginning of Book 8 of the Odyssey, Alkinoos gets up in the imperfect, but in the next line Odysseus gets up in the aorist:

ἦμος δ᾽ ἠριγένεια φάνη ῥοδοδάκτυλος Ἠώς,
ὤρνυτ᾽ ἄρ᾽ ἐξ εὐνῆς ἱερὸν μένος Ἀλκινόοιο,
ἂν δ᾽ ἄρα διογενὴς ὦρτο πτολίπορθος Ὀδυσσεύς.


I'm not sure how to explain this, except to note that ὤρνυτ᾽ ἄρ᾽ ἐξ εὐνῆς/ὤρνυτ᾽ ἄρ᾽ ἐξ εὐνῆφι(ν) seems to be formulaic in the Odyssey: 2.2, 3.405, 4.307 and 8.2. (This doesn't occur in the Iliad.)

Or perhaps the imperfect is used to set the scene?

But the passage continues with imperfects:

τοῖσιν δ᾽ ἡγεμόνευ᾽ ἱερὸν μένος Ἀλκινόοιο
Φαιήκων ἀγορήνδ᾽, ἥ σφιν παρὰ νηυσὶ τέτυκτο.
ἐλθόντες δὲ καθῖζον ἐπὶ ξεστοῖσι λίθοισι
πλησίον. ἡ δ᾽ ἀνὰ ἄστυ μετῴχετο Παλλὰς Ἀθήνη
εἰδομένη κήρυκι δαΐφρονος Ἀλκινόοιο,
νόστον Ὀδυσσῆι μεγαλήτορι μητιόωσα,
καί ῥα ἑκάστῳ φωτὶ παρισταμένη φάτο μῦθον:
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Re: Odyssey - Book II - Use of imperfect

Postby Markos » Sun Jun 30, 2013 6:02 pm

χαίρετε φίλοι!

Every comment on this excellent thread (except possibly for the most recent one by Qimmik that ὤρνυτ᾽ is formulaic) assumes that Homer's choice of the imperfect was semantic as opposed to euphonic.

I think Homer used the imperfect because it sounds better, but the problem with a view like mine is that it tends to end discussions like this.

To use an analogy from English, this epigram has come down to us in two slightly different versions:

John Harington wrote:
Treason doth never prosper: what's the reason? For if it prosper, none dare call it treason.
Treason doth never prosper: what's the reason? Why, if it prosper, none dare call it treason.


Ask 100 fluent English speakers what the difference in meaning is. Most will say there is no difference. Those who say there is a difference will not agree on the difference in meaning because it is so slight and nuanced. Very few fluent English speakers will use terms like "confirmatory" versus "asseverative." A fluent English speaker will FEEL the difference and leave it at that. The will say one just sounds a little better.

I do this a lot. When I hear about a supposed semantic distinction in Ancient Greek, I find an English analogy and I try to get fluent English speakers to do to English what we do to Greek. It never works. Linguistic analysis tends to find things that are in the mind of the analyzer, not the speakers or hearers of real language.

Off my soap box, now. :D γένοιτο πάντα καλῶς ὑμῖν!
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Re: Odyssey - Book II - Use of imperfect

Postby Adelheid » Sun Jun 30, 2013 6:54 pm

Interesting comment. Does indeed throw me off bit :D

I *am* overfocused on recognizing aorists and imperfects and trying to understand why one is used. And I do tend to look only at the semantics.
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Re: Odyssey - Book II - Use of imperfect

Postby Paul Derouda » Sun Jun 30, 2013 8:10 pm

Maybe everybody is right here? Basically the examples treated in this thread are ones where both imperfect and aorist would be correct, and whatever difference there was in these examples, it is a slight one of nuance. When the poet makes a choice with what form to use, all of these aspects (shade of meaning, formulas available to him, euphony) influence him (unconciously of course).

Early this year I read a whole book that more or less concentrated on this question (Maria Napoli: Aspect and Actionality in Homeric Greek). I have of course forgotten most of by now ( :) ) but if you have an unhealthy interest in this stuff like I have, you might want to have a look at it too... The main point I think is that the imperfect (or the present stem in general) is used for an undelimited action, and the aorist for a punctual action (the book used of course a much more refined and nuanced linguistic vocabulary). With transitive verbs, it's often pretty straightforward to translate in English:

I shot him (dead). AORIST
I shot at him. IMPERFECT

With intransitive verbs (i.e. verbs that don't have an object), translation is often a bit more difficult. A very tentative translation for the beginning of Book 8 of Odyssey:

When Dawn appeared,
Alkinoos got [leisurely] out of bed,
and Odysseus sprang up too.

But if there really is a difference in meaning, it's definitely nothing as strong as this. Alkinoos is at home in his own kingdom, he can take all his time to get up, while Odysseus is insecure amid the Phaeacians and has yet to show them what he's worth, hence a more prompt getting up from bed.

Let me quote also Chantraine's "explanation", which I don't understand, so I don't attempt to translate it. (But note passé simple in jeta, imparfait in faisait)

"A côte de l'aoriste, l'imparfait indique un procès qui se déroule auprès de celui qu'exprime l'aoriste: A 3-4 πολλὰς δ᾽ ἰφθίμους ψυχὰς Ἄϊδι προΐαψεν / ἡρώων, αὐτοὺς δὲ ἑλώρια τεῦχε κύνεσσιν "elle jeta en pâture tant d'âmes fières de héros, tandis que ces héros mêmes elle faisait la proie des chiens..." Other examples given are Od 8.532, Od 8.63

(Grammaire Homérique t. 2, p. 193)

There seems to be two other instances of aorist ὦρτο for getting up from bed: Od 14.499 (clearly means "sprang up" and Od 23.348 (not so obvious, but a quick waking up seems preferable to me, because the hasty runover lines suggest some immediacy there).
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Re: Odyssey - Book II - Use of imperfect

Postby Paul Derouda » Sun Jun 30, 2013 8:21 pm

Qimmik wrote:Or perhaps the imperfect is used to set the scene?

That seems very possible to me. Perhaps one reason this verb is typically used in the imperfect when it means waking up is precisely because waking up typically starts a scene?
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Re: Odyssey - Book II - Use of imperfect

Postby Scribo » Sun Jun 30, 2013 8:41 pm

Well generally speaking this is obviously a set phrase with some subtle variations, either ex eunephin, ex eunephi, ex eunes. It is, iirc, restricted to the Odyssey.

This imperfective aspect is used even when you'd expect a more perfective sense, however:  οἱ δ' εὕδειν ὤρνυντο κατὰ πτόλιν, οὐδ' ἄρ' ἔτι δὴν (Od 2.397) So it goes beyond the set phrase.

I'd basically settle for the distinction here just being use, then for any particular reason. So take Agamemnon in the Ilias:

3.267 ὤρνυτο δ' αὐτίκ' ἔπειτα ἄναξ ἀνδρῶν Ἀγαμέμνων

7.162 ὦρτο πολὺ πρῶτος μὲν ἄναξ ἀνδρῶν Ἀγαμέμνων, cf ὦρτο πολὺ πρῶτος μὲν ἄναξ ἀνδρῶν Εὔμηλος

There's little point doggedly playing off aorist vs impef here alone, if you need to look at the metre, the background of the formula system, pitch counter and euphony. Unfortunately I don't have my notes on Homer to hand, and I don't remember enough of the Odyssey to help out with it specifically.
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Re: Odyssey - Book II - Use of imperfect

Postby Paul Derouda » Sun Jun 30, 2013 9:16 pm

Ha! Your post makes me more dogged than ever! I agree that in many cases the choice between imperfect and aorist is affected by all those other factors mentioned above, perhaps more than by semantics. But the examples you give are best explained doggedly in aorist vs. imperfect.

Od 2.397: imperfect is used, because the action is not punctual/delimited: the suitors don't necessarily get up all at the same time, they don't all walk together like an army marching, they go to different places (each his own home).

IL 3.267: despite αὐτίκ', Agamemnon doesn't "spring up", but he sets out to do something that's going to take a while. It's an imperfect in the middle of other imperfects, which all indicate leisurely, undelimited actions.

Il 7.162: Here the aorist is clearly needed. The heroes are springing up one after the other, "I'll go!", "No, I'll go!". In this instance I think the imperfect would be clearly wrong. Maybe some lazy coward would get up with an imperfect here, but not these guys.

So while I agree in principle, your examples aren't good... ;)
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Re: Odyssey - Book II - Use of imperfect

Postby Scribo » Sun Jun 30, 2013 9:55 pm

I'll disagree and think you're being too visual with how you see these actions in terms of suitors loitering and leaving slowly.

3.267. Really? I don't see how that's possible. He rises, the verb delineates that rather than the following actions. I don't see how this is meant to be gradual but Achaeans getting up (and down?) after the other isn't.

Also ὤρνυτο δ' αὐτίκα is a phrase and used elsewhere similarly, I don't personally see how it differs from ὣς ἔφατ', ὦρτο δ' κτλ. Ι'm just not seeing a massive difference.
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Re: Odyssey - Book II - Use of imperfect

Postby Paul Derouda » Sun Jun 30, 2013 10:49 pm

There's no massive difference, rather it's me playing those differences up to make my point. Mostly they are little nuances, but I think it's usually possible to find a reason why one of the two tenses has been chosen, even if both are possible.

ὤρνυτο δ' αὐτίκα occurs also at Il. 23.488, 23.664, 23.754, and especially the last of these is problematic for me... I think I was wrong saying the imperfect at Il. 7.162 is wrong. But I think the nuance is there, it might not be important but it's there like it is in Markos' example above. (As a side note, the present imperative in 23.753 really puzzles me)

In 3.267 I think an aorist would be ok, but would stand out among the imperfects. Maybe it would be better to say that it's in the imperfect "by default", because it were it in the aorist, that would contrast with the imperfects.

As for the suitors loitering and leaving slowly, that's not exactly my point. Rather, the point is they are not leaving as one clearly defined group in one clear movement. I've seen this usage explained somewhere, I'll try to find it.
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Re: Odyssey - Book II - Use of imperfect

Postby Markos » Mon Jul 01, 2013 8:08 pm

Scribo wrote:There's little point doggedly playing off aorist vs impef here alone, if you need to look at the metre, the background of the formula system, pitch counter and euphony.


Very well put. Homer and other poets, of course, have more of a reason to be driven by euphony rather than by semantics in their lexical choices. Without question Homer will choose, for example, a middle over an active for no other reason than to match the meter. But I maintain that a residue of this is found within virtually ever subsequent Greek author. Quite often, in a process which is largely unconscious, a Greek author will feel the need for an extra syllable, and that extra syllable has to have a certain sound, and it has to fit in right with the neighboring syllables. This drives which particles are used, the tenses, word order, choices among synonyms. I'm not sure if it is possible to develop rules to explain these euphonic choices, and certainly there would be no point in doing so. (The rules that purport to explain these choices on semantic grounds strike me as too vague and subjective, and with too may exceptions like ὤρνυτο δ' αὐτίκα.) Nor do I deny of course that quite often semantic nuance does in fact drive these choices. But euphony is, I think the bigger factor even in prose authors.

Try it yourself. Try to compose Ancient Greek and you will be hit with these choices. See how often euphony versus semantics drives your own choices.
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Re: Odyssey - Book II - Use of imperfect

Postby Paul Derouda » Mon Jul 01, 2013 10:18 pm

Despite what it seems, I don't really think we disagree much. Reading again especially my second last post, I think I've put my point too strongly. Available formulas, euphony etc are probably very important in deciding which form to use. It's just that like Markos says, saying so tends to end the discussion, which I didn't want to do. Like I said before, the cases discussed in this thread are ones where the difference of aorist and imperfect are very small, maybe even as small as in Markos' example. But since the thread's subject is trying to understand the difference between the aorist and the imperfect, that's what I've set out to do - even if said differences in some instances are minuscule.

Another example which might be relevant:

Ἀτρεὺς δὲ θνῄσκων ἔλιπεν πολύαρνι Θυέστῃ,
αὐτὰρ ὃ αὖτε Θυέστ᾽ Ἀγαμέμνονι λεῖπε φορῆναι
(Il. 2.106-7)

Chantraine (Grammaire Homérique II p. 194) thinks λεῖπε is imperfect because Agamemnon still has the scepter - not because the handing of the scepter was gradual. Although the action is punctual, the imperfect is used because the emphasis is on the duration of the result. Maybe this is some support for the idea that in some cases the imperfect ὤρνυτο sets the scene? (For Il. 3.267 I think now the reason is rather the surrounding imperfects, which would make an aorist seem quite markedly punctual).

I think one important point is that euphony and available formulas also affect the meaning - between two slightly different meanings the poet chooses the one that sounds better or for which he has a good formula. For related reasons it's impossible to make a translation that's both excellent poetry and exact.
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Re: Odyssey - Book II - Use of imperfect

Postby Markos » Tue Jul 02, 2013 2:06 am

Paul Derouda wrote:Another example which might be relevant:

Ἀτρεὺς δὲ θνῄσκων ἔλιπεν πολύαρνι Θυέστῃ,
αὐτὰρ ὃ αὖτε Θυέστ᾽ Ἀγαμέμνονι λεῖπε φορῆναι
(Il. 2.106-7)

Chantraine (Grammaire Homérique II p. 194) thinks λεῖπε is imperfect because Agamemnon still has the scepter - not because the handing of the scepter was gradual.


I would think that had Homer wanted to use a tense to highlight that bit of information, he would have used the perfect λέλοιπε.

For what it is worth, both Psellos and Gaza use the same κατέλιπε to render both ἔλιπεν and λεῖπε.

Despite what it seems, I don't really think we disagree much.


Indeed we don't, φίλε Παῦλε, though even had we done so, I should still have enjoyed the exchange. :D
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Re: Odyssey - Book II - Use of imperfect

Postby Qimmik » Tue Jul 02, 2013 12:42 pm

Having some familiarity with Russian, a language with a complex system of verbal aspect, I wonder whether the full range of subtle distinctions of meaning that may be encoded in Homeric aspect is recoverable today. Russian, at least, is a living language with a large number of native speakers and a constantly expanding corpus of written and oral utterances. For Homeric Greek, we don't any native speakers to guide us (in fact, there never were any native speakers of Homeric Greek).

I wonder whether explanations for aspectual differences in Homeric Greek, such as Chantraine's explanation for ἔλιπεν/λεῖπε, are simply desperate post facto attempts to tease out meaning on the basis of preconceptions that may or may not be correct about the nature of the aorist/imperfect distinction. There are many things about Homeric Greek we don't understand--for example, there are many words whose meanings have been lost, and were already lost in the Hellenistic and even in the classical eras, and may already have been lost when the Homeric poems were first composed, the words themselves having been preserved in formulas. Could the same be true of whatever semantic distinction might have existed between ὦρτο/ὤρνυτ᾽ or ἔλιπεν/λεῖπε?

Here's an example from Russian. In Russian, there are two verbal aspects: imperfective and perfective, which correspond to some extent with the distinction between continuous and punctual characteristic of Greek imperfect and aorist, although that is not the only way the two aspects differ semantically. (In general, with very few exceptions, there are actually two different verbs for each verbal concept, usually but not always related etymologically, although in unpredictable ways--you just have to learn a pair of verbs, just as you have to learn Greek principal parts and can't rely on morphology to predict them.) Thus there are two imperatives for a verb such as "sit down": sadites (imperfective) and s'ad'te (perfective; the apostrophes indicate that the preceding consonant is palatalized). The imperfective form sadites is polite--you would use it inviting someone to have a seat. The perfective form s'ad'te is peremptory: a doctor might use it to tell you to sit down during an examination. This is the sort of distinction that only a native speaker's intuition could explain to someone who isn't a native speaker--and as I mentioned previously, we don't have native speakers for Homeric Greek.

Another example from Russian:

Imperfective: Voynu i mir -- chitali? Da, chital. "War and Peace -- have you read it? Yes, I've read it."

Perfective: Prochitali Voynu i mir? Da, prochital. "Have you finished reading War and Peace? Yes, I finished it." or "Have you read War and Peace from cover to cover? Yes, I've read the whole thing [maybe even implying that the speaker has read the tedious Second Epilogue]."

Subtle aspectual distinctions of this sort run throughout Russian, many of them unique to specific aspectual verb pairs. I wonder whether these sorts of distinctions, now irrecoverable, existed in Homeric (and later) Greek. And I also wonder whether the restrictions of fixed formulas and metrical convenience didn't play a much larger role in Homeric Greek than we would like to admit.
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Re: Odyssey - Book II - Use of imperfect

Postby Paul Derouda » Wed Jul 03, 2013 9:03 pm

What I'm basically saying is: For argument's sake, let's pretend we can at least try to understand Greek verbal aspect.

What you're all saying is: Let's not! :(

Anyway, here I go again.

Qimmik, what you are saying about sadites and s'ad'te seems to me somewhat predictable. What is not predictable is to what degree each particular form is polite or rude or whichever other distinction there is. For example, I would have guessed that imperfective chital meant "I've have been reading it but I'm not through yet", not "I have finished reading it but didn't necessarily read it very thoroughly", which is apparently the meaning if I understand you correctly.

The Greek corpus in general and the Homeric corpus in particular is quite large, so I wouldn't be completely pessimistic about being able to discern even small nuances with careful study.

Although formularity and euphony affect the choice of the forms used, I don't think Homer uses ungrammatical language. Thus even (and especially!) the difficult or unexpected forms demand an explanation. I agree we won't necessarily always find the exactly correct answer, but at least we can have some clue.

Chantraine's explanation of ἔλιπεν/λεῖπε is of course a guess, but I think it's an informed guess, since this is by no means the only example of such a use of the imperfect. We have for example:

ἔνθα δὲ Σίσυφος ἔσκεν, ὃ κέρδιστος γένετ᾽ ἀνδρῶν,
Σίσυφος Αἰολίδης: ὃ δ᾽ ἄρα Γλαῦκον τέκεθ᾽ υἱόν,
αὐτὰρ Γλαῦκος τίκτεν ἀμύμονα Βελλεροφόντην:
(Il. 6.153-155)

Chantraine says the imperfect τίκτεν is used of a father who has a son, i.e. emphasis on on the lasting result of the procreation.

According to Aspect and Actionality in Homeric Greek, by Maria Napoli, this form is called imperfective pro perfective, "which is well-known to some modern languages, especially to Slavic languages [...] but also, at least in some forms, to Romance languages [...] and to Modern Greek" (p. 69). I'm not sure I understand the explanations she gives for this usage though.
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Re: Odyssey - Book II - Use of imperfect

Postby Qimmik » Wed Jul 03, 2013 9:34 pm

I would have guessed that imperfective chital meant "I've have been reading it but I'm not through yet", not "I have finished reading it but didn't necessarily read it very thoroughly", which is apparently the meaning if I understand you correctly.


No, the imperfective form doesn't imply less than thorough reading--it simply states the fact of having read the book; the perfective form emphasizes that the speaker read it cover to cover and finished it. It's just this sort of nuance that I suspect we'll never be able to recover for the aspectual system of Homeric Greek. I'm not saying we shouldn't try, but I''m skeptical about our ability to do so successfully, and by the same token I think we need to be wary of trying to fit the text to our Procrustean bed of preconceptions and reading into the text things that aren't there.
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Re: Odyssey - Book II - Use of imperfect

Postby Paul Derouda » Wed Jul 03, 2013 10:07 pm

Qimmik wrote:No, the imperfective form doesn't imply less than thorough reading--it simply states the fact of having read the book; the perfective form emphasizes that the speaker read it cover to cover and finished it.

But does the imperfective form mean that you read the book or can it also mean you read part of the book? If it didn't, that would really surprise me. What I mean is that I'm in a way comparing this to comparable Finnish expressions; in Finnish, the case of the object often plays the same role as the perfective/imperfective verb.

Accusative: "Luin kirjan." ("I read the book", "I read a book", implies reading the whole book)
Partitive: "Luin kirjaa". ("I read a/the book", I was reading a/the book"; this can mean reading the whole book or only a part of according to the context. But if you use the partitive when answering the question whether you have read a book, it automatically implies you have only read part of it. Often using the partitive would put the emphasis on the act of reading.)

So, I have difficulty situating exactly the correspondences between the Russian and the Finnish expressions here, since the overlap isn't complete. But probably by guessing which form to use would be correct most of the time.
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Re: Odyssey - Book II - Use of imperfect

Postby Qimmik » Thu Jul 04, 2013 2:00 pm

The Russian imperfective chital doesn't imply completion but neither does it imply less than completion. If someone told you ya chital voynu i mir, "I read War and Peace", and you wondered whether they meant they had read it from cover to cover, you might ask, nu, a razve prochitali? "ok, but did you really read the whole thing?" (Russian verbs in the past tense are inflected for number, and, in the singular, gender. chital is masc. sing.; prochitali is plural--used for politeness, like vous, Sie, etc.; pronouns can be omitted in conversation.) Incidentally, Ru. nu is etymologically the same as Greek νῦν, and there are many other clear etymologically transparent counterparts in Russian to Greek and Latin (as well as English) words.

The odd thing is that while the Russian past imperfective, like the Greek imperfect, can be interpreted as durative or as repeated or habitual action, and the Russian past perfective, like the Greek aorist, can be punctual, the Russian past imperfective, like Greek aorist, is neutral in the sense that it simply reflects that the action of the verb happened, while the perfective adds something about the action--some "aspect" of the action: inception, completion, punctual (as opposed to durative), direction, etc. Often the perfective member of a perfective/imperfective pair is formed from the imperfective by adding a pre-verb--a prepositional prefix like those of Latin and Greek--that conveys this additional information about the action. For example, there's another perfective from imperfective chitat' (the infinitive): pochitat', meaning "to read for a little while"-- and you can form a secondary imperfective from this verb pochityvat', meaning something like "to read for a little while repeatedly or on various occasions", or in the past, "used to".

As a Finn, I'm sure you're glad that Finland wasn't incorporated into the Soviet Union in 1917-8, if for no other reason than that you were spared learning Russian numerals and verbs of motion (which have three verbal aspects). But I don't think you're really Finnish--your English is too good.
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Re: Odyssey - Book II - Use of imperfect

Postby Scribo » Thu Jul 04, 2013 5:30 pm

No I don't think anyone is saying its a waste of time trying to understand, I just don't think reified rules ought to be pressed too far and I absolutely 100% stand by my examples. I think grammatical constructions need to be supplemented with the other things we're talking about. It appears we all agree on that at least, its just the little things. Its also in the little things where fun lies so, do let us carry on if we may.

I, for one, am more surprised that suddenly everyone knows Finnish and Russian. I would love to learn Finnish actually, one of my classmates as an under-graduate was a Fin (though he went onto Neuroscience), but I've actually got further with Sumerian than Finnish though, so..
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Re: Odyssey - Book II - Use of imperfect

Postby Paul Derouda » Thu Jul 04, 2013 9:23 pm

One thing that makes this question difficult is that some grammatical distinctions that were originally originally clear and important can get watered down in time and can become vaguely synonymous later on, and we can't be exactly sure which exact stage we're on in each instance when we're talking about a dead language.

Scribo:
I just don't think reified rules ought to be pressed too far

If the rules don't fit, they have to be changed. I mean that there must be some constraint as to when you can use the aorist and the imperfect seemingly interchangeably and when not. Homer isn't ungrammatical.

With the help of Chicago Homer, I went through all the instances of ὤρνυτο, ὤρνυτ', ὤρνυντο, which I list here. This made me refine my ideas a bit.

IL.3.13, IL.10.483, IL.21.20, OD.22.308, OD.24.184, IL.5.13 (?), IL.16.635, IL.19.363. These have durative, or gradual or other easily understandable use of the imperfect and don't concern us for now.

IL.7.20, OD.2.2, OD.3.405, OD.4.307, OD.8.2, IL.23.131, OD.2.397, OD.24.496, IL.3.267, IL.3.349, IL.16.479, IL.17.45, IL.23.488, IL.23.664, IL.23.689, IL.23.759, IL.5.17. These are the difficult ones, where the described action seems punctual. Chantraine (p. 192) calls them "verbes exprimant le développement d'un mouvement" (verbs expressing the development of a movement) , but admits this is "très proche de l'aoriste" (very close to the aorist). Probably these don't all come from the same mold, so there isn't probably one single explanation for all of these. Often it looks like as if there's some emphasis on the result of the action, rather than the action itself, that something that follows is being prepared. When the character gets up from bed, this "sets the scene" like Qimmik says. When this describes a character attacking another, the description of the inflicted wound follows (Il 5.17). In Il. 3.267, a description of the sacrifice follows.

Here are the first 15 examples of aorist ὦρτο (I only looked these, as they are too numerous):
IL.5.590, IL.7.162, IL.7.163, IL.7.211, IL.8.135, IL.8.409, IL.10.523, IL.11.129, IL.11.151, IL.11.343, IL.11.645, L.12.377, IL.13.62, IL.15.124, IL.15.312.

In all these cases there seems to me to be some emphasis on the action itself, it's immediacy. For example in Il. 7162-163 the heroes seem to be springing up in response to Nestor's speech, not in preparation of something that follows.

I think in most cases here "punctual" imperfect and aorist should be translated the same. What I'm suggesting is that in this case Homer has two vaguely synonymous forms, and while in many/most cases both forms are possible, the poet has a choice; probably there's a pattern to found, if even it's only a statistical probability rather than an absolute rule.

Qimmik:
As a Finn, I'm sure you're glad that Finland wasn't incorporated into the Soviet Union in 1917-8, if for no other reason than that you were spared learning Russian numerals and verbs of motion (which have three verbal aspects). But I don't think you're really Finnish--your English is too good.

Thanks for the compliment. If you want to know my linguistic background, Finnish is my mother('s) tongue, I'm also half French from my father's side. I started learning English at about 11; like in many small countries with strange languages, many people are ok in English here. My spoken English is very poor though, you wouldn't believe. French I speak better than English but read and write less well. Unfortunately I don't know Russian.
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Re: Odyssey - Book II - Use of imperfect

Postby Qimmik » Fri Jul 05, 2013 2:44 pm

One more parallel between the ancient Greek imperfect/aorist opposition and the Russian imperfective/perfective opposition: Russian imperfectives, like Greek imperfects, often have a conative sense (i.e., trying to do something, as opposed to achieving the result). Some classic Russian examples of imperfective/perfective verb pairs, which are perhaps suggestive of how Greek imperfects might differ semantically from aorists:

dobivat'sa/dobit'sa - to try to obtain, to strive for/to obtain, to achieve
ubezhdat'/ubedit' - to try to persuade or convince/to persuade or convince
reshat' problemu/reshit' problemu - to work on a problem/to solve a problem
sdavat' eksamen/sdat' eksamen - to take an exam/to pass an exam

Ya sdaval eksamen, no tak i ne sdal yevo. "I took the exam but didn't pass it."

Again, the problem with ancient Greek is that none of us are native speakers, and we don't have native speakers to explain these things to us. And there's a risk of reading too much into the Greek, which is as dangerous as or maybe even more dangerous than failing to catch a semantic distinction that is in the Greek.
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Re: Odyssey - Book II - Use of imperfect

Postby Paul Derouda » Fri Jul 05, 2013 7:12 pm

According to Napoli, this is an instance of conative imperfect in Homer:
[...] Ἀριάδνην,
κούρην Μίνωος ὀλοόφρονος, ἥν ποτε Θησεὺς
ἐκ Κρήτης ἐς γουνὸν Ἀθηνάων ἱεράων
ἦγε μέν, οὐδ᾽ ἀπόνητο: πάρος δέ μιν Ἄρτεμις ἔκτα
(Od. 11. 321 ff.]
ἦγε "tried to bring".

Od. 9.408 is an even clearer instance of a conative present:
ὦ φίλοι, Οὖτίς με κτείνει δόλῳ οὐδὲ βίηφιν.

Napoli seems to be arguing that the comparative evidence, especially Slavic languages, is relevant to the imperfective pro perfective form in Homer, which to me seems to be key to undestand ὦρτο/ὤρνυτ᾽ and ἔλιπεν/λεῖπε. She doesn't give ὤρνυτ᾽ as an example of an imperfective pro perfective though. I didn't find any other treatment of this verb either in the book, and she doesn't explain imperfective pro perfective so that I would understand. I gather it means an imperfective (=imperfect in Greek) is used of a punctual event to put emphasis on the result of the action, or something in this vein; apparently this is somewhat common in Russian - do you know an example, Qimmik?

(The book I've mentioned).
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Re: Odyssey - Book II - Use of imperfect

Postby Markos » Mon Jul 08, 2013 4:54 pm

Hi, Paul,

Let me just make sure I understand what you are saying. Are you saying that Chantraine and Napoli say that Homer uses ἔλειπε and ἔτικτε to refer to living as opposed to dead offspring because the imperfect can be used to highlight the on-going effects of a verb?

I am both a little intrigued and highly skeptical. Have you looked at all the data? How often does this occur? Are there other verbs involved? Not that this would falsify the premise, but does Homer ever use ἔλιπε and ἔτεκε to refer to living offspring? Do other authors do this? Could it not just be a coincidence if just a few instances occur?

The problem with linguists bringing in other languages is that if you are not fluent in those languages, you have to trust what they say about them, and often the linguists themselves are not fluent in these languages, just like they are not fluent in Ancient Greek. I skimmed the book by Napoli and I have to say that I don't agree in several places about what she says about English, that for example in English stative verbs do not occur in the imperative. (She says that you would not say in English, "Know the answer," which may or may not be true (it does sound a little funny,) but you would say "Be aware of the answer" or "internalize the answer" or "Make sure you that you know the answer."

If I had time, I would look into it myself, but I wonder if you have already done a search for these verbs in Homer.
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Re: Odyssey - Book II - Use of imperfect

Postby Paul Derouda » Mon Jul 08, 2013 8:09 pm

This is a complicated question and one thing is that my opinion on the subject has considerably evolved in the course of this thread... Another thing is that I'm not sure Chantraine and Napoli interprete this question exactly in the same manner, in the very least Napoli uses a more modern linguistic vocabulary; but the substance seems more or less the same to me. I'm just trying to understand this myself.

The opposition ἔτεκε/τίκτεν is not about the offspring being dead or alive, it's more subtle than that. The point is that both forms describe a punctual act, but with the imperfect there's an emphasis on the lasting result of this act, on the fact that the subject would then have a son. Using the aorist ἔτεκε doesn't necessarily mean the child didn't survive, it's just that the subject being thereafter a father isn't emphasized, or something like that. (A further complication is that I have a faint recollection that the verb isn't used the same way of a father and a mother. I wish I remembered where I read about that.)

In the same way λεῖπε carries and emphasis on the fact that Thyestes' handing of the scepter to Agamemnon has a lasting effect; ἔλιπεν doesn't imply a similar lasting effect, but it doesn't preclude it either.

Chantraine says: "L'imparfait est employé pour un procès dont l'effet est durable." Chantraine gives the examples already given in this thread (Grammaire Homérique II, p. 194) and cites H. Keller Mus. Helv., 8(1951), p.92 (It's possible to read it online; my German isn't very good though.)

I'm not completely sure of how Napoli interpretes these. She also quotes γ 58-61 with δίδου/δὸς, but doesn't mention λεῖπε/ἔλιπεν. How she exactly explains these I'm not sure; she certainly thinks some aspectual function is intended, but perhaps she doesn't even want to be too explicit about the specifics, since she's more vague than Chantraine. I quote:

"It is self-evident that the present stem does not have any of the typical "imperfective" functions described in the preceding pages: on the contrary, it seems to be equivalent to the aorist itself. However, in such a case, one should not deny that the imperfective aspect has a specific funtion: as explained in 2.4.3., the use of imperfective "pro perfective" corresponds to a particular stylistic strategy, adopted especially for achievement verbs, which allows the speaker (or the writer) to present a punctual action as though it were non-punctual. As we have just seen, this use is documented also in Homeric Greek."(p.138)

"The occurence of the imperfective in such "perfective" contexts consists of not implying or denying that the action has been completed" (p. 67)

I haven't gone through the examples myself. Doing this properly would probably give enough material for a doctoral thesis. One thing is that I haven't found any treatment of ὤρνυτο yet; with the other verbs mentioned, there seems to be some authority on the idea that the oppositions aorist/imperfect does have an aspectual function.
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Re: Odyssey - Book II - Use of imperfect

Postby Paul Derouda » Mon Jul 08, 2013 8:35 pm

The German article gives Hdt. 4.143 as an example: ἐνθεῦτεν δὲ αὐτὸς μὲν διέβη τῇσι νηυσὶ ἐς τὴν Ἀσίην, λείπει δὲ στρατηγὸν ἐν τῇ Εὐρώπῃ Μεγάβαζον ἄνδρα Πέρσην.

If I understand the German correctly, the point is that the endpoint of Megabazos' stay is not considered here. Later on, the aorist is used for the same event this time seen as a completed historical fact.

EDIT: λείπει is of course a historical present, not an imperfect; but still, the present stem is used.
Last edited by Paul Derouda on Sat Jul 13, 2013 7:28 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Odyssey - Book II - Use of imperfect

Postby Paul Derouda » Sat Jul 13, 2013 7:25 pm

Googling around, I found this.

With the caveat that I don't know any Russian, I give here an example taken from this book which seems relevant:

[The waiter to the customer:]
Vy uzhe zakazyvali?
you:PL already order:IPFV:PST:PL
Have you ordered?

If I understand correctly, the Russian verb is in the imperfective here, which roughly corresponds to the Greek imperfect; here, however, it is used of punctual action, not habitual, or durative, or gradual, or conative or in any other "usual" sense of the imperfective. The imperfective is used, because ordering in a restaurant effects a result that is lasting (the cook starts to prepare the food etc.), although the action itself is punctual.

Now correct me if there's something wrong in my interpretation of Russian here, or of something else.

I think this, if anything, is the sort of sense the imperfect has in Homeric Greek when it is used of punctual actions. (I no longer think ὤρνυτ᾽ ἄρ᾽ ἐξ εὐνῆφιν means that the getting up was gradual like I did earlier in this thread; rather, I think Qimmik's "it sets the scene" is closer to the truth.) But I'm not sure it explains every problem we've brought up in this thread, for instance Od 2.397.

I think it's possible in theory (though I don't think it's very likely) that some of these cases of "punctual imperfect" are "formular fossils", i.e. used without Homer attaching this sense to them. But even in this case, the origin of this use is probably something like this.
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Re: Odyssey - Book II - Use of imperfect

Postby Qimmik » Sat Jul 13, 2013 11:49 pm

Vy uzhe zakazyvali?

I think this is imperfective because the question is simply a yes or no question as to whether the action of the verb has occurred or not. There's no implication of any definite aspect of the act of ordering, just whether the ordering has occurred or not. This is different from the distinction between Greek imperfect and aorist. I think that if you were to ask, "What did you order?" the perfective would be used: Shto vy zakazali? Or if you were to ask whether a specific item was ordered: "Did you order a steak?" Vy zakazali biftek? But I don't have the intuitive sense of a native speaker.
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Re: Odyssey - Book II - Use of imperfect

Postby Paul Derouda » Sun Jul 14, 2013 5:51 pm

The two other instances you give are single, punctual, bounded events that have already occured and are past and gone, hence perfective. With "Vy uzhe zakazyvali?", if I understand you correctly, whether the action has occured or not is particularly relevant in the context of the present conversation, and this triggers the use of imperfective. Why doesn't a yes or no question like this take a perfective? I'm guessing it's specifically because it's the result of the act of ordering which is relevant, not the act itself. And the result of the act, or the lack of it, extends to the moment of the conversation. Probably I was wrong about the bit about the cook starting to prepare food; what is relevant is the situation of the conversation. The waiter is basically asking "Have you ordered? [Because if you haven't, I can take your order now.]"

Think about English - you would rather say "Have you ordered?" than "Did you order?", i.e. you use the perfect, which is essentially a present tense. Again, what counts is the result of the past action in the present moment.

I don't know if make point clear at all. Anyway, it's difficult to pinpoint these things exactly, I'm not a linguist or anything, and I don't have the correct vocabulary either. But the more I think about, the more I think I'm more or less on the right track. (Though of course I can't say I can use Russian in my argumentation with any credibility...)
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