Pluperfect and the meaning of Iliad 1.221

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Paul Derouda
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Pluperfect and the meaning of Iliad 1.221

Post by Paul Derouda » Mon Jan 07, 2013 9:45 am

I raised the issue of pluperfect in Homer already in a thread on Aeschylus' Agamemnon.

Iliad 1.220-221:
ἂψ δ' ἐς κουλεὸν ὦσε μέγα ξίφος, οὐδ' ἀπίθησε
μύθῳ Ἀθηναίης: ἣ δ' Οὔλυμπόνδε βεβήκει
"He thrust the great sword back into the scabbard, and didn't fail to obey the command of Athene; but she was [already] on her way to Olympus."

or: "...but she was [already] gone to Olympus."

Which one is correct?

'on her way' has excellent authority:

W. Leaf's commentary on Homer's Iliad 1:
βεβήκει: ‘the pf. βέβηκα expresses the attitude of walking, the step or stride; hence βεβήκει, “was in act to go,” comes to mean “started to go” (not “had gone”).’ — Monro.

Kirk's Commentary on Iliad 1-4: "βεβήκει 'was in the act of going'."

But how is this interpretation to be reconciliated with e.g. Odyssey 3.410:
ἀλλ' ὁ μὲν ἤδη κηρὶ δαμεὶς Ἄϊδόσδε βεβήκει
The reference is to Nestor's father Neleus, who has died decades earlier. "But he'd been subdued by fate and had gone to Hades" is how I translate. "...and was on his way to Hades" would be totally absurd.

Chantraine's Grammaire Homérique has a discussion of the pluperfect. "Le plus-que-parfait, qui n'exprime pas proprement l'antériorité, sert parfois à indiquer de façon expressive que le procès verbal est déjà réalise." (My translation: "The pluperfect, which strictly speaking doesn't express anteriority, sometimes serves to indicate in an expressive way that the verbal process has already been realized." Not sure how to translate procès verbal). Chantraine doesn't discuss Il. 1.221, but he considers Od. 3.410 (which he doesn't translate) analogous to Il 11.296 ἐν πρώτοισι μέγα φρονέων ἐβεβήκει, which he translates "il avait déjà pris place au premier rang" ("he'd already taken his place in the front row"). So my guess would be that for Iliad 1.221 he would translate "had gone".

This seems to be a difficult question even for the greatest scholars. I'm leaning towards "she had gone to Olympus". Any ideas? Suggestions for further reading?

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Re: Pluperfect and the meaning of Iliad 1.221

Post by Scribo » Tue Jan 08, 2013 8:15 pm

I always read the verb clean and umarked and distinctly go for "had gone", basically it fits the syntax fine to be read as such so don't worry.
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Re: Pluperfect and the meaning of Iliad 1.221

Post by cb » Wed Jan 09, 2013 6:51 pm

hi, i don't translate grk into other languages and so can't help on the best translation, but can make a suggestion in the meantime about the meaning of the grk verb itself:

you seem to be debating whether the verb in Il 1.221 implies that the subject has arrived at the destination or not (that's how I see your 2 translations differing).

but I don't see that information about arrival in the verb here at all – for me it is just saying that the subject of the verb has left the current location for a destination (but doesn't say whether they've arrived or not).

this is consistent with each of the scholars' readings above (if you think about the source rather than the destination of the motion).

see LSJ βαίνω, para 3: ... lter=CUTF8

this reading also works fine for Od 3.310.

for Il 11.296 however my first reading would be rather under para 2 rather than 3 of LSJ βαίνω.

cheers, chad

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Re: Pluperfect and the meaning of Iliad 1.221

Post by Paul Derouda » Wed Jan 09, 2013 10:48 pm

Thanks for consoling me, Scribo.

Chad, you're not making this any easier for me :) ! Basically, you're saying the two translations are not mutually exclusive, i.e. the Greek at Il. 1.221 is not committed as to whether Athene reached her destination or not, that it just says she left. I'm not sure I believe you, but you've sure given me some thought. As for translation, that's not important here, I just translate here to illustrate my point.

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Re: Pluperfect and the meaning of Iliad 1.221

Post by ximo » Sun Jan 27, 2013 8:37 pm

The verb βαίνω in the first sense means "to make a step". From this orginal meaning the sentence means "Athene had made a step towards the Olympus"; she had begin her way to the Olympus.

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