Thrasymachus: A Question of Interpretation

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thornsbreak
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Thrasymachus: A Question of Interpretation

Post by thornsbreak » Sun Jan 17, 2016 2:14 am

Hello all,

based on many positive endorsements on the board here to the effect that it provides some great, easy, graded reading, I purchased Thrasymachus by Peckett and Munday. Thanks to all who have recommended this, as I'm finding it very enjoyable and it is really fitting the bill as a way to get reading quickly without frustration, build vocabulary, and refresh my grammar as I go. I'm really loving it. I find I'm really benefiting from reading and re-reading these short stories repeatedly.

There are some spots in the first couple chapters though where I'm wondering how I'm supposed to interpret what is going on. If anyone has the book and could offer possible explanations, please chime in. Here we go:

On p. 6, Thrasymachus, escorted by Hermes, meets Cerberus, the three headed dog of Hades. Cerberus has been barking 3 barks in a row, one for each head. Suddenly, Hermes notices that Cerberus is only barking twice at a time. To which Thrasymachus replies,

"πῶς γὰρ οὔ; ἕνα γὰρ τῶν τριῶν αὐχένων κατέχω"

and in the very next line, Cerberus says:

"βαῦ βαῦ. δεινὸν δή ἐστι τὸ παιδίον. ἁποθνῄσκω. βαῦ..."

(here we notice that the barking decreases to just one time)

and then Thrasymachus replies:

"δεινὸς δή ἐστιν ὁ κύων. ἁεὶ γὰρ λέγει τὸ βαῦ." (what is that latter sentence supposed to mean?)

Then Aiakos/Aeacus shows up asking how Cerberus is dying and who is killing him, and telling someone (Cerberus?) not to cry. Then he tells Hermes and Thrasymachus not to kill his dog, who guards the dead.
Hermes and Thrasymachus greet Aiakos, Hermes inexplicably suddenly ducks out, because he's got other dying people to take care of, and Aiakos is left with the charge to show Thrasymachus around Hades.

Now I realize this is a super early chapter working with a very limited vocabulary, but I have a hard time understanding what's going on here. Can someone else help me understand what is going on?

1) the phrase πῶς γὰρ οὔ; seems idiomatic to me, and a bit difficult to understand. I'm interpreting this along the lines of "how could he not [bark only twice]?" or "how could it be otherwise?" is this correct?

2) ok, so Thrasymachus is holding/grabbing one of the three necks of Cerberus, which is why the dog is only able to bark twice. But why is the dog dying? Is Thrasymachus trying to attack Cerberus, and why? How is a child able to kill a hellhound? Is this some weird thing about simply the touch of a living boy is enough to kill him? Is it an accident? Does Cerberus actually die here, or is this just hyperbole? I really don't get what is supposed to be happening. Why does Aiakos tell Cerberus not to cry, if he is GETTING KILLED? Why does Aiakos agree to help Thrasymachus take a tour of Hades if the boy just killed his dog? I'm really confused, and not about the Greek, I don't think... but the seeming lack of stage directions and motivations make this hard to understand. Is there something I'm supposed to know from mythology that makes sense of all this?

3) a couple times in these early chapters there are parenthetical stage directions that read as follows:

(μιαρᾷ τῇ φωνῇ λέγει)

now, i am having a little difficulty how to render this, since μιαρᾷ is in predicative position. I would have expected to see λέγει τῇ μιαρᾷ φωνῇ or one of the other attributive positions, which I would translate as "he speaks with a gruff voice." Is this some kind of exception, still to be read attributively, or does the predicative position mean I need to interpret it differently, and if so, how?

I'm sure some of these problems will diminish with time as the readings are able to use greater breadth of vocabulary. It just seems strange to me to leave the cause of Cerberus' dying so ambiguous here and glibly move on, as though a child could just walk into Hades and kill the guardian beast of the dead without breaking a sweat. Am I missing something, or is the text just that vague and silly?
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Re: Thrasymachus: A Question of Interpretation

Post by jeidsath » Sun Jan 17, 2016 2:30 am

"δεινὸς δή ἐστιν ὁ κύων. ἁεὶ γὰρ λέγει τὸ βαῦ."
Really it's the dog that is fearful. For he is always saying "bow."

You are correct about πῶς γὰρ οὔ.

A child killing Cerberus doesn't make sense, but the story gets better as you advance.

(μιαρᾷ τῇ φωνῇ λέγει)
Brutal is the voice with which he speaks.
Joel Eidsath -- jeidsath@gmail.com

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Re: Thrasymachus: A Question of Interpretation

Post by thornsbreak » Sun Jan 17, 2016 4:45 am

thanks for the quick help on that one, Joel.

So I was right to think I needed to read that phrase in the predicate position - (μιαρᾷ τῇ φωνῇ λέγει) - I just wasn't quite sure how to piece it all together. I figured it needed an implied "is" in there somewhere. I guess I would have expected "Brutal is the voice with which he speaks" to look more like "μιαρὰ ἡ φωνὴ ᾗ λέγει" though we haven't dealt with relative pronouns at this point in the book... I've just never seen a construction like that in the instrumental dative that also seems to require an "is" to be supplied...

how would you explain the difference between these three phrases:

λέγει τῇ μιαρᾷ φωνῇ
μιαρᾷ τῇ φωνῇ λέγει
μιαρὰ ἡ φωνὴ ᾗ λέγει

I understand how the first and third work grammatically, but not really the second. is this second one a normal usage? Are there parallel examples anyone could provide for comparison?

Thank you for humoring my freshman questions.

I told my wife (who knows no Greek but studied some mythology) about this passage with Cerberus, and she suggested that maybe the text was implying that the kid strangled Cerberus when it says he is grabbing/holding his neck... is this a possible way to understand the verb κατέχω? I'm still unclear what the text is trying to suggest as to why Cerberus is dying. And man, that is messed up if the kid just goes up and strangles a dog...
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Re: Thrasymachus: A Question of Interpretation

Post by jeidsath » Sun Jan 17, 2016 5:40 am

Why does it use more words? From Smyth 1169:
A predicate adjective or substantive may thus be the equivalent of a clause of a complex sentence: “ἀθάνατον τὴν περὶ αὑτῶν μνήμην καταλείψουσιν” they will leave behind a remembrance of themselves that will never die”
To break that down:

ἀθάνατον (undying) τὴν περὶ αὑτῶν μνήμην (the -- about themselves -- memory) καταλείψουσιν (they will leave behind)

You see that in English, we have to add the "that will."

λέγει τῇ μιαρᾷ φωνῇ
μιαρᾷ τῇ φωνῇ λέγει
μιαρὰ ἡ φωνὴ ᾗ λέγει

He speaks with the brutal voice.
Brutal is the voice with which he speaks.
The same.

For the last, I think that adding a main verb would be more proper: μιαρά ἐστιν ἡ φωνὴ ᾗ λέγει.

Yes, Thrasymachus is strangling Cerberus. You should Google for Hercules and Cerberus (or wait for the chapter about that in your book).
Joel Eidsath -- jeidsath@gmail.com

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Re: Thrasymachus: A Question of Interpretation

Post by daivid » Sun Jan 17, 2016 11:37 pm

thornsbreak wrote:
1) the phrase πῶς γὰρ οὔ; seems idiomatic to me, and a bit difficult to understand. I'm interpreting this along the lines of "how could he not [bark only twice]?" or "how could it be otherwise?" is this correct?
Rather unhelpfully the vocab for each chapter is shunted fat towards the middle so you will find at page 164 that πῶς γὰρ οὔ is "of course".
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Re: Thrasymachus: A Question of Interpretation

Post by seneca2008 » Mon Jan 18, 2016 6:31 pm

A child killing Cerberus doesn't make sense
How is a child able to kill a hellhound? I
I think here that I am dying ἁποθνῄσκω is used figuratively rather than literally. Also dont forget that παῖς can mean slave as well as child. I am not sure if this is the word used here or τέκνον I havent seen the text.
"δεινὸς δή ἐστιν ὁ κύων. ἁεὶ γὰρ λέγει τὸ βαῦ." (what is that latter sentence supposed to mean?)
The dog is terrible (dreadful or terrifying) for it (he) always says bow (for its always barking).

I dont know the context of all this but it looks like simplified Aristophanes. πῶς γὰρ οὔ is a frequent Aristophanic tag based on colloquial speech as you correctly identified by describing it as idiomatic.

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Re: Thrasymachus: A Question of Interpretation

Post by thornsbreak » Mon Feb 01, 2016 2:20 am

jeidsath wrote:Why does it use more words? From Smyth 1169:
A predicate adjective or substantive may thus be the equivalent of a clause of a complex sentence: “ἀθάνατον τὴν περὶ αὑτῶν μνήμην καταλείψουσιν” they will leave behind a remembrance of themselves that will never die”
To break that down:

ἀθάνατον (undying) τὴν περὶ αὑτῶν μνήμην (the -- about themselves -- memory) καταλείψουσιν (they will leave behind)

You see that in English, we have to add the "that will."

λέγει τῇ μιαρᾷ φωνῇ
μιαρᾷ τῇ φωνῇ λέγει
μιαρὰ ἡ φωνὴ ᾗ λέγει

He speaks with the brutal voice.
Brutal is the voice with which he speaks.
The same.

For the last, I think that adding a main verb would be more proper: μιαρά ἐστιν ἡ φωνὴ ᾗ λέγει.

Yes, Thrasymachus is strangling Cerberus. You should Google for Hercules and Cerberus (or wait for the chapter about that in your book).
This is a much delayed and belated response, but thank you for taking the time to answer my questions and for going all the way to Smyth to give examples!

so as I understand it now, μιαρᾷ τῇ φωνῇ λέγει could be translated like this:

he speaks with a voice [which is] brutal.

though perhaps your reverse order captures the emphasis better: "brutal is the voice with which he speaks"

though again, I would have expected that sentence emphasis "μιαρὰ ἡ φωνὴ ᾗ λέγει"

is there any meaningful difference in emphasis or translation between these two:
μιαρᾷ τῇ φωνῇ λέγει
μιαρὰ ἡ φωνὴ ᾗ λέγει
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Re: Thrasymachus: A Question of Interpretation

Post by Hylander » Mon Feb 01, 2016 2:31 am

is there any meaningful difference in emphasis or translation between these two:
μιαρᾷ τῇ φωνῇ λέγει
μιαρὰ ἡ φωνὴ ᾗ λέγει
Maybe not, but using the predicative position of the adjective is idiomatic Greek. English doesn't have this resource here--it can only capture the idea using a relative clause.

Latin doesn't have this resource, either. In Latin, you might use word order to achieve the effect of the Greek predicative adjective, separating the adjective from the noun and placing it in a prominent position in the sentence: aspera loquitur uoce or uoce loquitur aspera.

The important thing to remember is that Greek isn't English and uses different techniques to achieve emphasis--you shouldn't expect to translate word for word from one language to the other. I'm sure you were already aware of that, but it's something you need to keep in mind all the time.

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Re: Thrasymachus: A Question of Interpretation

Post by thornsbreak » Sun Feb 07, 2016 1:43 am

Hylander wrote:
is there any meaningful difference in emphasis or translation between these two:
μιαρᾷ τῇ φωνῇ λέγει
μιαρὰ ἡ φωνὴ ᾗ λέγει
Maybe not, but using the predicative position of the adjective is idiomatic Greek. English doesn't have this resource here--it can only capture the idea using a relative clause.

Latin doesn't have this resource, either. In Latin, you might use word order to achieve the effect of the Greek predicative adjective, separating the adjective from the noun and placing it in a prominent position in the sentence: aspera loquitur uoce or uoce loquitur aspera.

The important thing to remember is that Greek isn't English and uses different techniques to achieve emphasis--you shouldn't expect to translate word for word from one language to the other. I'm sure you were already aware of that, but it's something you need to keep in mind all the time.
Forgive my thick-headedness, but I'm not sure I'm grasping your point. Both of the phrases I presented are in predicative position, no?

What I'm trying to get a sense of is whether they convey a different emphasis in Greek or not, or whether one is more idiomatic. The first actually occurred in the text; the second is my expectation for this idea.

What I'm trying to understand is whether a) the second version (aka my expectation) is acceptable/idiomatic Greek, and b) if so, how might one explain any difference in emphasis between the two, or whether they should be understood as two grammatically interchangeable ways of expressing precisely the same idea.

I don't expect to be able to come up with a perfectly "antiseptic" English translation, so to speak, for the nuances that Greek grammar/syntax can accomplish. But I don't have enough experience reading Greek to be able to recognize idiom/nuance as you more experienced readers, so I'm just looking for some explication of the nuances, lest my colorblindness level it at this stage. Thank you all for your comments!
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Re: Thrasymachus: A Question of Interpretation

Post by Hylander » Sun Feb 07, 2016 4:15 am

Both of the phrases I presented are in predicative position, no?

Yes, but the first one dispenses with a relative clause--there's just one clause. The Greek usage of the adjective in the predicative position allows this.

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Re: Thrasymachus: A Question of Interpretation

Post by mwh » Sun Feb 07, 2016 5:07 am

Let me have a supplementary shot at this. The difference is not really one of emphasis, since the adjective is consistently first word. I’d say there is a difference of meaning.

(1) Relative clause. With μιαρὰ ἡ φωνὴ ᾗ λέγει, “The voice with which he speaks is gruff,” using a relative clause, you’re limiting the gruffness to the voice with which he speaks, as potentially distinct from some other voice he uses for some purpose other than speaking. You’d be unlikely to use a relative clause in this sentence, unless you want to say e.g. “The voice he speaks with is gruff, (but the voice he sings with is charming).” (Or else “His voice—which he uses for speaking—is gruff.” But never mind that.)
As in “The pen he writes with is black (but the pen he stabs his enemies with is red.)” μελας ὁ καλαμος ᾧ χρώμενος γράφει (lit. “Black the pen using which he writes”).

(2) Predicative adjective. With μιαρᾷ τῇ φωνῇ λέγει, on the other hand, you’re saying that his voice is gruff. “He speaks with his voice gruff.” He has a voice, and (at least on this occasion) it’s gruff. What makes it difficult for us English speakers is that we don’t use predicate adjectives in that way. In English we wouldn’t say “He speaks with the voice gruff.” We’d say “He speaks in a gruff voice” (“a” not “the”), meaning his voice is gruff. That’s precisely equivalent to μιαρᾷ τῇ φωνῇ λέγει. It’s assumed he speaks with a voice, and μιαρᾳ tells us what kind of voice it is.
Similarly μιαραν εχει την φωνήν (lit. He has the voice gruff) would mean “He has a gruff voice,” “His voice is gruff.”
Similarly the sentence quoted by jeidsath, ἀθάνατον τὴν περὶ αὑτῶν μνήμην καταλείψουσιν, could well be translated “They will leave behind a deathless memory of themselves” (note “a” not “the” in English), but the emphasis falls on αθανατον, the first word, so we might want to recast it as “They will leave behind a memory of themselves that will never die” or as “The memory of themselves that they will leave behind will never die” or “Deathless will be the memory of themselves that they will leave behind.”
Once you understand how the predicative adjective works, there are various ways of translating it.

(3) Attributive adjective. As for τῇ μιαρᾷ φωνῇ λέγει, with the adjective in attributive position, that should imply he has another sort of voice that is not gruff. “He speaks with his gruff voice (not with his pleasant one).” τῇ μιαρᾷ φωνῇ λέγει (αλλ’ ου τῇ ἡδεῖ).
As in “He lives in his town house [his in-the-city house, τὴν εν αστει οικιαν], (but he vacations in his country one, εν τῇ εν τοις αγροις).”

The distinctions are subtle but real. (They break down to some extent in later Greek.) What you need to watch out for is whether adjectives (and adjectival phrases) are in attributive position (sandwiched between article and noun) or in predicative position (outside of article+noun).

Did not mean to write at such length! But I hope it helps.

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Re: Thrasymachus: A Question of Interpretation

Post by thornsbreak » Tue Feb 09, 2016 6:12 pm

Thank you all for taking so much time to explain these subtleties to me! Especially mwh-- that was a very helpful explication, and helps me to understand that there are indeed differently nuanced meanings depending on which of these mechanisms is deployed. That's exactly what I was after.

I see that the predicate adjective is far more versatile than I realized, which I could only remember being introduced to in simple sentences in the nominative. I see I'll need to read up on these a little - would Smyth be the recommended route?

So far, I have to say, I'm very pleased with how many points of grammar, syntax, and colloquial expression/idiom are being gently reinforced/reintroduced to me by reading through Thrasymachus. It's great review after being away from Greek for several years. It's very rewarding to read an entertaining story that I don't have to struggle greatly with in order to understand, all while building up more confidence and familiarity with Greek constructions that I'll need in order to tackle more difficult texts.
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