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"she was watching TV when the phone rang"

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"she was watching TV when the phone rang"

Postby modus.irrealis » Tue May 18, 2010 4:03 pm

I was just wondering how sentences like "she was watching TV when the phone rang" would be expressed in Ancient Greek. From what I know of modern languages that have an imperfect vs. aorist type distinction, this kind of sentence is one of the standard examples to contrast them, and I would expect something like

ἔγραφεν ἐπιστολὴν ὅτε ἦλθον = "she was writing a letter when I arrived"

so imperfect in main clause, aorist in subordinate clause. The question came up when I was reviewing Rijksbaron's book on the the Greek verb because he states that aorist in the subordinate clause refers to a state of affairs anterior to that of the main clause. But he doesn't have any examples of this kind of sentence so I don't know if what he says applies in all cases or whether this was overlooked.

And actually I'm having a hard time finding any examples, although Xenophon's Anabasis 6.6.5

έτύγχανε δὲ τὸ στράτευμα ἔξω ὂν ὅτε ἀφίκετο

seems to fit. But like I said, Rijksbaron (and Smyth seems to agree with him) states that the aorist in the dependent clause represents an anterior action. And this does seem to be generally true, even when the main clause has an imperfect (although perhaps it makes a difference that these seem to generally have ἐπεί rather than ὅτε). Or maybe the order makes a difference, as well? So ὅτε ἦλθον ἔγραφεν ἐπιστολὴν would be "when I arrived, she proceeded to write a letter". Or perhaps some other construction was used to get the sense across in Ancient Greek, so I was wondering if anyone knew or had some examples of this construction.
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Re: "she was watching TV when the phone rang"

Postby Scribo » Tue May 18, 2010 6:48 pm

I would vaguely utilise the following:

An action in the past, incomplete/ongoing: Imperfect
A complete past action, like a "single unit of time" if you will: Aorist
A complete action with present effect: Perfect
A more distant completed action: Pluperfect.

Though the latter two are sketchy. Also unlike English Greeks prefers not to use more than one verb per sentence, instead you'd throw in participles (their tense being aspectual) though I guess if the person is different the rule changes somewhat.
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Re: "she was watching TV when the phone rang"

Postby NateD26 » Tue May 18, 2010 7:21 pm

Last year, when I learned in the university, our teacher always repeated this notion
of anteriority of the aorist action when used in dependent clauses. And when the participle
was used, it was also translated with an anterior aspect compared to the main verb.

However, Smyth clearly states in §1944 that the aorist in dependent clauses can be
either of three options, depending on the context alone: 1. contemporaneous*. 2. antecedent (translated as
the english pluperfect). 3. subsequent.

He gives this example from Xenophon's Hellenica 1.1.3 (full text here):
ἐμάχοντο...μέχρι οἱ Ἀθηναῖοι ἀπέπλευσαν = they kept fighting until the Athenians had sailed away.

If the context alone dictates whether an aorist action in a dependent clause is anterior, contemporaneous*, or subsequent to that of the main verb, then there's no reason why ἔγραφεν ἐπιστολὴν ὅτε ἦλθον wouldn't be translated as "she was writing a letter when I arrived", if it fits within the context.

* edited my spelling error (not a native English speaker). Thanks, Damoetas.
Last edited by NateD26 on Tue May 18, 2010 9:27 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: "she was watching TV when the phone rang"

Postby Damoetas » Tue May 18, 2010 8:45 pm

This is only a partial answer to your question, but it may help to think about how these types of clauses function in narratives. The reason why it's hard to find examples like "she was watching TV when the phone rang" is because Greek normally prefers a different construction: if "she was watching TV" gives the setting, and "the phone rang" is the main new event," then Greek will normally express the setting as a participle: θεωμένης αὐτῆς τὸ δρᾶμα, ἀφίκετο ἄγγελος (with necessary vocabulary changes :))

Again, this doesn't touch on your imperfect/aorist distinctions, but it does point out the importance of comparing like with like. You have to find examples that are actually doing the same sort of thing in the narrative.

PS. NateD26, I think you mean "contemporaneous," not "contemptuous" :)
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Re: "she was watching TV when the phone rang"

Postby modus.irrealis » Wed May 19, 2010 4:41 pm

Scribo wrote:I would vaguely utilise the following:

I agree that's the basic idea but different languages seem to work out the details a little differently. And one thing I've noticed is that the Ancient Greek imperfect is much more widely used than the corresponding tense in Modern Greek or French. And in fact, I did find some examples that might be relevant from Demosthenes, and all of these have the imperfect in the dependent clause:

23.187 παρῆν ὅτε τούτων ἠξιοῦτο
40.59 μαρτυρεῖ δὲ νυνὶ μόνος Κρίτωνι παρεῖναι, ὅτε παρ’ ἐμοῦ τὴν οἰκίαν ἐωνεῖτο
59.32 Φίλαγρος Μελιτεὺς μαρτυρεῖ παρεῖναι ἐν Κορίνθῳ, ὅτε Φρυνίων ὁ Δημοχάρους ἀδελφὸς κατετίθει εἴκοσι μνᾶς

But in each case, this could simply be a "normal" use of the imperfect and could be translated by, say, the English progressive, but they might be better translated otherwise, and I'm not sure.

NateD26 wrote:If the context alone dictates whether an aorist action in a dependent clause is anterior, contemporaneous*, or subsequent to that of the main verb, then there's no reason why ἔγραφεν ἐπιστολὴν ὅτε ἦλθον wouldn't be translated as "she was writing a letter when I arrived", if it fits within the context.

I agree in general, but I suspect a role is also played by the conjunction used which is why I wonder if there's a difference here between ἐπεί (always anterior?) and ὅτε. With that example you have μέχρι, which can't be read any other way. If I saw an example like mine I would translate it that way but I don't know if that's really the way it would've been said.

Damoetas wrote:This is only a partial answer to your question, but it may help to think about how these types of clauses function in narratives. The reason why it's hard to find examples like "she was watching TV when the phone rang" is because Greek normally prefers a different construction: if "she was watching TV" gives the setting, and "the phone rang" is the main new event," then Greek will normally express the setting as a participle: θεωμένης αὐτῆς τὸ δρᾶμα, ἀφίκετο ἄγγελος (with necessary vocabulary changes :))

I had thought of using a Katharevousa-like ἑώρα τηλεόρασιν ὅτε ἐκτύπησε τὸ τηλέφωνον but that basically sounds ridiculous. Anyway, I realize now that my English example was ambiguous, as I meant it the other way, that the new information is "she was watching TV". So even with the participle construction I'm not sure whether it would be ἀφικομένου ἀγγέλλου ἐθεώρει τὸ δρᾶμα or ἀφικνουμένου ... or neither for that matter and there may have been an entirely different way to get this across.

But to be honest, I've been searching English translations and going backwards. Here are some more examples I just found

Dem. 48.5: καὶ ἦν πρεσβύτερος ὅτε ἐτελεύτα
Lys. 11. 2: φαίνομαι οὖν δωδεκαέτης ὤν, ὅτε ὁ πατὴρ ὑπὸ τῶν τριάκοντα ἀπέθνῃσκεν

where even more so than in the examples above I would be tempted to translate ἐτελεύτα as just "died" and ἀπέθνῃσκεν as just "was killed" and not something more "imperfect-like".
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Re: "she was watching TV when the phone rang"

Postby NateD26 » Thu May 20, 2010 6:22 pm

Smyth does put (§2383) ἐπεί in the lists of conj. denoting usually an antecedent time to that of the principal verb,
as oppose to ὅτε.

But isn't the temporal clause in your sentence "she was watching tv when the phone rang" overlap with the principal verb,
i.e. "at the same time and after" (Smyth §2388). it's not exactly two separate actions - one was completed and then another followed,
but it's not solely contemporaneous either.

So I'd like to know as well what construction would be most suitable and authentic in ancient Greek.
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