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What's with the imperfect in Xenophon's Anabasis?

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What's with the imperfect in Xenophon's Anabasis?

Postby jswilkmd » Sun Mar 06, 2011 3:11 pm

I have a question for those familiar with the Anabasis of Xenophon.

I've just started working my way through the Anabasis and notice that Xenophon uses the historical present quite a bit and the imperfect even more so, often in cases where I'd absolutely expect the aorist. For many sentences, it seems like it conveys a customary nuance: "Cyrus would do this, Cyrus used to do that," etc. But with several other sentences, try as I might, I can't see a progressive, conative, ingressive, customary or iterative idea in the context. What's going on here?

Granted, my training is in Biblical Greek specifically, but I'm not too bad with Homer. I need to read more Attic/Classical Greek, to be sure, and so I'm working through Xenophon. Is there something about the imperfect tense in Attic that I'm unaware of??

Thanks!
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Re: What's with the imperfect in Xenophon's Anabasis?

Postby spiphany » Sun Mar 06, 2011 6:06 pm

I think the imperfect may be used for habitual action as well as for continuing action.

Smyth (§ 1889-1908) lists the following usages: continuance, customary action, iterative, conative (attempted but not completed), resistance or refusal, description, inchoative.
He notes:
The imperfect often has a dramatic or panoramic force; it enables the reader to folloow the course of events as they occurred, as if he were a spectator of the scene depicted.

The imperfect and aorist often occur in the same passage; and the choice of the one or the other often depends upon the manner in which the writer may view a given action. The imperfect may be represented by a line, along which an action progresses; the aorist denotes a point on the line (either starting point or end), or surveys the whole line from beginning to end.
IPHIGENIE: Kann uns zum Vaterland die Fremde werden?
ARKAS: Und dir ist fremd das Vaterland geworden.
IPHIGENIE: Das ist's, warum mein blutend Herz nicht heilt.
(Goethe, Iphigenie auf Tauris)
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Re: What's with the imperfect in Xenophon's Anabasis?

Postby Markos » Mon Mar 07, 2011 12:37 am

χαιρετε παντες

In the last year, I have read narratives by Chariton, Longus and Lucian. While as general principle I would agree that in narrative the imperfect (like the historical present and the perfect) can give a more vivid feel to that part of the story than the aorist, as a practical matter, it is often hard to figure out why the imperfect occurs here and the aorist there. In Lucian's VH, 1:32, they come to a temple which is to Poseidon "as the inscription made clear." (ὡς ἐδἠλου ἡ ἐπιγραφή) What is vivid or marked or salient or prominent about this? Were the letters faded "as the inscription tried to make clear." Did they spend a long time reading it?

If you read a whole text, you will find dozens of examples like this. Each writer has an inner ear for what sounds right with what words at what time. Euphony and style, that is, may be as important as semantics a lot of the time.

By the way, Brenda, are you back in Colorado? jswklmd and I met last month in Denver and spoke some conversational Ancient Greek. If you or any one you know would like to join us, let me know. I have not yet had much luck getting any C.U. profs or students to give it a try. David M and Jennifer say maybe in the Summer. ερρωσθε.
I am writing in Ancient Greek not because I know Greek well, but because I hope that it will improve my fluency in reading. I got the idea for this from Adrianus over on the Latin forum here at Textkit.
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Re: What's with the imperfect in Xenophon's Anabasis?

Postby jswilkmd » Mon Mar 07, 2011 1:33 am

Apparently he intends
spiphany wrote:The imperfect often has a dramatic or panoramic force; it enables the reader to follow the course of events as they occurred, as if he were a spectator of the scene depicted.


Because many times, as I noted in my original post, I can't see a progressive, conative, ingressive, customary or iterative idea in the context.
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Re: What's with the imperfect in Xenophon's Anabasis?

Postby IreneY » Mon Mar 07, 2011 1:46 am

Hey there! Can you give us some examples of what you're talking about?
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Re: What's with the imperfect in Xenophon's Anabasis?

Postby jswilkmd » Mon Mar 07, 2011 4:20 am

Sure. There are several such instances. Here's but one example:

ὁπόσας εἶχε φυλακὰς ἐν ταῖς πόλεσι παρήγγειλε τοῖς φρουράρχοις ἑκάστοις λαμβάνειν ἄνδρας Πελοποννησίους ὅτι πλείστους καὶ βελτίστους, ὡς ἐπιβουλεύοντος Τισσαφέρνους ταῖς πόλεσι.

He ordered (aorist) each of the commanders of as many garrisons as he was having (imperfect) in the cities to take the most and best Peloponnesian men, (on the grounds) that Tissaphernes had designs upon their cities.

Why the imperfect εἶχε here? I guess it's to convey some sort of customary notion, like "as many garrisons as he would have in the cities." But English idiom certainly is content with "as many garrisons as he had in the cities."

As an aside, there is a lot of bizarre/interesting syntax in this sentence, too:

The relative clause, ὁπόσας εἶχε φυλακὰς is accusative by attraction (as the object of εἶχε), but in actuality, it modifies τοῖς φρουράρχοις ἑκάστοις in a genitive of subordination relationship and we should expect τῶν φυλακῶν ὁπόσων εἶχε κτλ.

And why ὁπόσας instead of πάντας anyway?

The use of indirect discourse (ὅτι πλείστους καὶ βελτίστους) here seems odd to me, too, but comprehensible. Smooth English idiom pretty much demands that these adjectives be placed simply in front of the noun they modify, rather than in a dependant clause of some sort. Hence "the most and best Peloponnesian men."

The use of ὡς plus a participle of purpose is interesting--this construction sets forth the ground of belief on which an agent acts and asserts the thought, assertion, or real or presumed intention in the mind of the agent without implying it is the idea of the writer/speaker himself (Smyth sections 2086, 2086c). It's Xenophon's way of letting the reader know that Cyrus said this, and not that it was really true.

Interesting and thought-provoking stuff.
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Re: What's with the imperfect in Xenophon's Anabasis?

Postby Imber Ranae » Mon Mar 07, 2011 10:04 am

jswilkmd wrote:Sure. There are several such instances. Here's but one example:

ὁπόσας εἶχε φυλακὰς ἐν ταῖς πόλεσι παρήγγειλε τοῖς φρουράρχοις ἑκάστοις λαμβάνειν ἄνδρας Πελοποννησίους ὅτι πλείστους καὶ βελτίστους, ὡς ἐπιβουλεύοντος Τισσαφέρνους ταῖς πόλεσι.

He ordered (aorist) each of the commanders of as many garrisons as he was having (imperfect) in the cities to take the most and best Peloponnesian men, (on the grounds) that Tissaphernes had designs upon their cities.

Why the imperfect εἶχε here? I guess it's to convey some sort of customary notion, like "as many garrisons as he would have in the cities." But English idiom certainly is content with "as many garrisons as he had in the cities."


I'm not sure if there's any particularly definitive reason he uses the imperfect here. I've noticed in Thucydides, too, that the aorist and imperfect are sometimes used almost interchangeably. I suppose in this case the imperfect is just slightly more vivid.

I have a question of my own: Τισσαφέρνους is genitive here, right? That would make it a third declension noun, if I'm not mistaken. Yet all the sources I can find say Τισσαφέρνης is first declension. But the genitive of that would have to be Τισσαφέρνου. What gives?

jswilkmd wrote:As an aside, there is a lot of bizarre/interesting syntax in this sentence, too:

The relative clause, ὁπόσας εἶχε φυλακὰς is accusative by attraction (as the object of εἶχε), but in actuality, it modifies τοῖς φρουράρχοις ἑκάστοις in a genitive of subordination relationship and we should expect τῶν φυλακῶν ὁπόσων εἶχε κτλ.

And why ὁπόσας instead of πάντας anyway?


This isn't especially unusual for Greek. There's a definite preference for saying "however many X as..." as opposed to "all of X that...", contrary to English usage. I don't think there's any case-attraction here, either, as the indefinite relative pronoun regularly adopts the case required by the relative clause itself, which must be accusative in this sentence.

You're right, however, that the indefinite relative pronoun cannot logically have τοῖς φρουράρχοις ἑκάστοις as its antecedent, so you have to supply a genitive as the implied antecedent. So literally: "However many garrisons he had, he ordered each commander [of them] to...etc."

jswilkmd wrote:The use of indirect discourse (ὅτι πλείστους καὶ βελτίστους) here seems odd to me, too, but comprehensible. Smooth English idiom pretty much demands that these adjectives be placed simply in front of the noun they modify, rather than in a dependant clause of some sort. Hence "the most and best Peloponnesian men."


I'm pretty sure ὅτι here doesn't introduce indirect discourse. It's modifying the superlatives πλείστους and βελτίστους as an adverb that means "as possible".

"jswilkmd wrote:The use of ὡς plus a participle of purpose is interesting--this construction sets forth the ground of belief on which an agent acts and asserts the thought, assertion, or real or presumed intention in the mind of the agent without implying it is the idea of the writer/speaker himself (Smyth sections 2086, 2086c). It's Xenophon's way of letting the reader know that Cyrus said this, and not that it was really true.


Yes. There's isn't necessarily any implication as to the truth or falsity of the reasoning, but the reasoning is definitely Cyrus'.
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Re: What's with the imperfect in Xenophon's Anabasis?

Postby jswilkmd » Mon Mar 07, 2011 1:29 pm

Imber Ranae wrote:I'm not sure if there's any particularly definitive reason he uses the imperfect here. I've noticed in Thucydides, too, that the aorist and imperfect are sometimes used almost interchangeably. I suppose in this case the imperfect is just slightly more vivid.


That's the conclusion that I have come to as well.

Imber Ranae wrote:I have a question of my own: Τισσαφέρνους is genitive here, right? That would make it a third declension noun, if I'm not mistaken. Yet all the sources I can find say Τισσαφέρνης is first declension. But the genitive of that would have to be Τισσαφέρνου. What gives?


You got me. I would think it was a first declension masculine, too, akin to Ὁλοφέρνης in the Septuagint (Judith 12:20), the genitive of which appears as Ὁλοφέρνου in Judith 13:6. However, the Anabasis-specific dictionary, An Illustrated Dictionary to Xenophon's Anabasis by White and Morgan, gives Τισσαφέρνους as the genitive form. And that's the form it has--in the Anabasis, anyway. Perhaps it's by analogy to the third declension τριήρης, -εος (-ους in Attic), ἡ, "trireme." See http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/mor ... ek#lexicon

Imber Ranae wrote:I don't think there's any case-attraction here, either, as the indefinite relative pronoun regularly adopts the case required by the relative clause itself, which must be accusative in this sentence.

You're right, however, that the indefinite relative pronoun cannot logically have τοῖς φρουράρχοις ἑκάστοις as its antecedent, so you have to supply a genitive as the implied antecedent. So literally: "However many garrisons he had, he ordered each commander [of them] to...etc."


That's a good way of looking at it. I simply didn't express myself as well as I should have.

Imber Ranae wrote:I'm pretty sure ὅτι here doesn't introduce indirect discourse. It's modifying the superlatives πλείστους and βελτίστους as an adverb that means "as possible."


You're right. Consulting the aforementioned dictionary by White and Morgan, I see "to strengthen a superlative." This is a completely new usage for me; it is not at all the way ὅτι is used in the New Testament nor in whatever Homer I have come across. Must be some usage limited to Classic, Attic Greek?

Thanks for your thoughts! A very interesting discussion.
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Re: What's with the imperfect in Xenophon's Anabasis?

Postby IreneY » Tue Mar 08, 2011 7:52 pm

Regarding Τισσαφέρνης:
N. Many compound proper names in -ης (especially names of foreigners) have forms of the 1 and 3 decl., as , -νους, -νῃ and -νει. So Θεοκρί¯νη (voc.) in Demosth., Λεωνίδην and Λεωνίδεα in Hdt.


Source (it's the cached page so you can find the passage easier)
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Re: What's with the imperfect in Xenophon's Anabasis?

Postby Imber Ranae » Tue Mar 08, 2011 8:05 pm

Thanks, IreneY. Very interesting.

Actually, I now vaguely recall learning of this before, but I don't always remember to close the lid on the ol' noggin.
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Re: What's with the imperfect in Xenophon's Anabasis?

Postby mkc » Sat Mar 26, 2011 3:03 pm

jswilkmd wrote:Sure. There are several such instances. Here's but one example:

ὁπόσας εἶχε φυλακὰς ἐν ταῖς πόλεσι παρήγγειλε τοῖς φρουράρχοις ἑκάστοις λαμβάνειν ἄνδρας Πελοποννησίους ὅτι πλείστους καὶ βελτίστους, ὡς ἐπιβουλεύοντος Τισσαφέρνους ταῖς πόλεσι.

He ordered (aorist) each of the commanders of as many garrisons as he was having (imperfect) in the cities to take the most and best Peloponnesian men, (on the grounds) that Tissaphernes had designs upon their cities.


A lot of imperfects in Greek are hard to explain, but this one is easy. Thinks about it this way: would you ever say "as many garrisons as he was having" in English? I hope not, and that's because the past tense of the verb "to have," even if its simple in form, is imperfect in meaning, because "having" is inherently an action that occurs over time, not instantaneously. We express the aorist (esche in Greek) by another verb: to get. So if Xenophon had used the aorist here the meaning would be: "as many garrisons as he got."

A lot of imperfects can be explained this way. Another use is descriptive. For instance, if you would say in the present "there is a mountain beside the river," in the past you would say "there was (imperfect) a mountain," even though the mountain is presumably still there. That explains the quote from Lucian. Sometimes you will see a string of imperfects that can be explained on this principle. Thus you might see something like "Cyrus was giving orders and arrows were flying and his army was charging," where the idea is that the author is describing to the reader a picture of something that was in progress in an instant. This is what the grammars mean by "vivid."

Many others only seem strange because our definitions in English are not exact equivalents. So, for instance, you will usually see pempo, "to send," in the imperfect rather than the aorist. That's because the Greeks conceived of "sending" as an action that takes place, not instantaneously like we do, but continuously until the person you have sent comes back to you. Others have to do a difference in the meaning of the aorist stem. For example, in the verb "to see" the present stem, horao, means something more like "to watch," while the aorist, eidon, means "to catch sight of."
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