Demodocus and imperfects

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Paul Derouda
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Demodocus and imperfects

Post by Paul Derouda » Mon Jun 06, 2016 9:03 pm

A brief interlude from Sophocles' Ajax, my main reading project for now...

The Muse has robbed the bard Demodocus of his sight, but has given him the gift of song.

Od. 8.62 ff.
κῆρυξ δ' ἐγγύθεν ἦλθεν ἄγων ἐρίηρον ἀοιδόν,
τὸν πέρι Μοῦσ' ἐφίλησε, δίδου δ' ἀγαθόν τε κακόν τε:
ὀφθαλμῶν μὲν ἄμερσε, δίδου δ' ἡδεῖαν ἀοιδήν.

The repeated imperfect δίδου surprises beside the aorists ἐφίλησε and ἄμερσε. The commentaries I have (Hainsworth, Merry-Riddell, Ameis-Hentze, Stanford, Garvie) are all silent, equally surprisingly. The aorist ἄμερσε is easy to understand, as blinding someone is a single event, and ἐφίλησε is like English "fell in love", except in a Platonic sense without any erotic element... But the only way I can explain the imperfect δίδου is that it means almost "kept giving" and expresses the continuous favor the Muse grants to Demodocus every time he performs. No translation I cared to check interprets it this way though, but simply "gave" or the like.

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Re: Demodocus and imperfects

Post by mwh » Mon Jun 06, 2016 9:31 pm

Yes I think it's because the gift continues. He was still blind, and he could still sing sweetly. So in a sense she was still giving.

PS. The urban dictionary has an entry for “the gift that keeps on giving,” a much used slogan in advertising. It lists syphilis, AIDS, gonorrhea, and other STDs.

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Re: Demodocus and imperfects

Post by jeidsath » Tue Jun 07, 2016 8:10 pm

It is aorist in the opposite usage at Iliad 2.599-600

αἳ δὲ χολωσάμεναι πηρὸν θέσαν, αὐτὰρ ἀοιδὴν
θεσπεσίην ἀφέλοντο καὶ ἐκλέλαθον κιθαριστύν·

Here it seems to be conceived as a gift to be taken away, or an art that one can (be made to) forget.
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Re: Demodocus and imperfects

Post by Paul Derouda » Tue Jun 07, 2016 9:33 pm

Thanks!

Too bad Archilochus died so long ago. I'm sure he would have wanted to make a poem about "gifts that keep on giving".

Joel's passage: when something is taken away, or made to be forgotten, that happens once and then the effect is permanent. The aorist is logical.

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Re: Demodocus and imperfects

Post by seneca2008 » Tue Jun 07, 2016 11:17 pm

Yes I think it's because the gift continues. He was still blind, and he could still sing sweetly. So in a sense she was still giving.

PS. The urban dictionary has an entry for “the gift that keeps on giving,” a much used slogan in advertising. It lists syphilis, AIDS, gonorrhea, and other STDs.
Eventually these two statements will be merged and provide a medical diagnosis. (Already always? :D )

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Re: Demodocus and imperfects

Post by jeidsath » Tue Jun 07, 2016 11:35 pm

Paul Derouda wrote:Joel's passage: when something is taken away, or made to be forgotten, that happens once and then the effect is permanent. The aorist is logical.
If the poet was thinking of the gift of the Muse being a continuous act in the Iliad passage, I think that he would have used some sort of verb like ἄπειχον, and that it would have had to be imperfect.
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Re: Demodocus and imperfects

Post by Paul Derouda » Wed Jun 08, 2016 12:24 pm

Joel, I'm not sure you understood my point. Either that, or I didn't understand yours.

Think of the Greek verbal system as a set of switches. Like light switches. Aorist switches go click, lights on - click, lights off - click, lights on - click, lights, off, etc. The act of hitting the switch is instantaneous (punctual) but the effect is permanent (or lasts at least until you hit the switch again). But imperfect switches are different - when you press the switch, the light goes on, but it stays on only as long as you keep the pressing the switch; the moment you release it, the light goes off. The act of pressing the imperfect switch is continuous, and so is the effect continous, but not permanent.

In the Iliad passage απειχον would mean something like "kept depriving", which means that the person kept trying to get his gift back but the Muse obstinately refused the request.

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Re: Demodocus and imperfects

Post by jeidsath » Wed Jun 08, 2016 3:06 pm

I was thinking of a noun like χάρις, which seems parallel. I think someone might ἔχει χάριν Διί οὗ ἐκεῖνος ἔδρασε, and after he had stopped feeling grateful, I would expect εἶχε χάριν Διί οὗ ἐκεῖνος ἔδρασε, and not ἔσχε χάριν. Maybe that is my English language prejudice.
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