uberdwayne wrote: Is the order really that open that anyone can place the nominative wherever their style pleases?
Yes, I think so. With every sentence, the Greek faced the decision, though I am sure it was largely unconscious, of what words would come first. Before this choice, there was the choice of which connectives to use. I'll give an example. On another forum, I wanted to congratulate a guy for completing three quarters of an audio project. I wrote this:
τρία μὲν τετέλεσται, ἕν δὲ μέρος προσδοκῶμεν.
three parts have been completed, and we look forward to one (more.)
using in this case a SV, OV word order. Now I can tell you, since I wrote the sentence, that meaning had nothing to do with the word order. It was not that I was trying to emphasize one thing over another. Nor can "information theory," explain my choices. I could just as easily have written, with no difference in meaning
τετέλεσται μὲν τρία μέρα, προσδοκῶμεν δ' ἕν.
which would have been VS, VO.
But the latter strikes me, based on my individual style, as somehow less balanced, a little clunky and less euphonic. I have to be careful here. I'm sure the Greeks had a totally different ear than I do; for all I know they would disagree with my sense of euphony. I don't claim, not at all, to have mastered the art of producing or even recognizing Greek euphony, but I'm saying it was there, while at the same time saying that it varied from writer to writer, across and even within genres and epochs. I am saying that euphony, not semantics, more often drove word order choices, as well as other things like the tenses and which connectives were used. It may be impossible for moderns to ever get that same ear; I would like to try to do so. Or at the very least get my own Greek ear.
In my own reading, going through Κατα Ιωαννην, I see a nominative follow the verb often, then before I say, maybe thats it, I see it appear elsewhere.
Sure, absolutely, and then you may have noticed that the manuscripts have all these variant readings where the word order is switched. Now, why is this? Why did the scribes feel it was okay to change things like word order and καί versus δέ, but they rarely made significant changes in substance which affected the meaning of the text? I think it is because Greek word order was highly subjective, variable, loose, and incapable of explanation based on semantics or rules.
As a native english speaker, I would be naturally be inclined to place the subject before the verb, then the dative after, then the accusitive after that. Μαρκος εδωκεν εμοι βιβλιον.
Part of the reason why it is so hard for us to learn Greek is that English is a language where word order is very strong in establishing meaning and Greek is one where it is not. My teacher gave this example. When we hear the sentence
Me bit the cat.
it is almost impossible for us not to hear this as "I bit the cat," even though this is a. ungrammatical and b. makes no sense. In fact, "me, the cat bit" (that is, "the cat bit me") is both technically grammatical and makes sense, but so strong is our rule of the SVO word order that we almost cannot hear it any other way. I've been reading Greek almost every day for the last seven years and I still often misconstrue sentences because I take something as a subject just because it comes first.
Let me, though, say one thing about Μᾶρκος ἔδωκεν ἐμοὶ βιβλίον. I won't deny, of course, that depending on the context, the word order could be shifted to emphasize one element or another. Nor would I deny that statistically one order would be more common than another. I would guess that this order might be V(I.O.)SO ἔδωκεν ἐμοὶ Μᾶρκος βιβλίον. But again I would say that based on what connectives are used, based on a desire to avoid stylistic monotony, based on a largely subconscious impulse to produce a certain number and sound of syllables right at this moment, the word order is free to vary all over the place.