Word order of oracles in prose

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markcmueller
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Word order of oracles in prose

Post by markcmueller » Mon Oct 01, 2018 11:09 am

Topic name was: Belle marquise, vos beaux yeux...

I'm most of the way through Easy Selections from Xenophon and decided to take a break and read Thrasymachus. I realize that in the Xenophon selections I've been shielded from Xenophon's word order, and I realize that the readings from Thrasymachus have been created by the authors, but I assume that those readings reflect natural Greek word order. I'm stumped by the reply to Jason from the priest of Apollo (reading VIII): Ἂνδρα μίαν κρηπῖδ᾽͵ ὦ τλῆμον͵ φεῦγε φέροντα.

I assume the warning means "O Wretch, flee a man bearing one sandal." I'm having a hard time understanding why the word order would seem natural. I can imagine that the first three words are first because they express the key point -- but I cannot see why φέροντα comes at the end. It's probably the least important word in the sentence, but the whole sentence is held in suspense for this unimportant word. He's not, for example, swinging the sandal or throwing it. φεῦγε φέροντα feels like the last two pieces in a jigsaw puzzle that you have to make fit by pounding. What am I missing?

Hylander
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Re: Belle marquise, vos beaux yeux...

Post by Hylander » Mon Oct 01, 2018 2:13 pm

This is a hexameter. The word order to a certain extent is constrained by the meter. And it ends with a catchy alliteration. But Greek word order is difficult to pin down, and strict rules can't be formulated--only general tendencies.

The Pythia could have said Ἂνδρα μίαν κρηπῖδα φέροντ', ὦ τλῆμον͵ φεῦγε. That would be metrical, to be sure, but metrically less effective, with a heavy spondee in the fifth foot.

Jason himself was the man with one sandal, the other having been lost while he was crossing a river. The oracular response was delivered to Jason's uncle, Pelias, who had ousted Jason's father Aeson from the throne of Thessaly, and who was ultimately killed by his own daughters. They were deceived into cutting him up and boiling the pieces by Jason's then consort, Medea. The oracle warned Pelias about Jason.

markcmueller
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Re: Belle marquise, vos beaux yeux...

Post by markcmueller » Fri Oct 05, 2018 12:30 pm

Thanks, Hylander! Since the passage was in prose, I wasn't thinking verse. The idea that a heavy spondee would be metrically less effective is rather beyond me for right now. I did sort of realize there was alliteration, but I was focused on the meaning not thinking the alliteration was driving the word order.

I am glad to hear that some sort of meaning was not at play in the word order!

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Re: Belle marquise, vos beaux yeux...

Post by Aetos » Fri Oct 05, 2018 1:09 pm

I've noticed in reading Herodotus that quite often whenever an oracle's reply is quoted, it's rendered in hexameter. Is this common?
markcmueller wrote: Ἂνδρα μίαν κρηπῖδ᾽͵ ὦ τλῆμον͵ φεῦγε φέροντα
This appears to be dactylic hexameter, so usually the fifth foot would be a dactyl. In this line, all but the first and fifth feet are spondees. Of course, spondees are found on the fifth foot, just not very often and usually with the result of slowing the movement of the verse.

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Re: Belle marquise, vos beaux yeux...

Post by Hylander » Fri Oct 05, 2018 6:16 pm

The oracle always responded in hexameters, and I think Herodotus and others usually if not always quote the responses in hexameters. In ancient Greece, hexameters were the original medium of written communication, and prose was a later discovery. In fact, hexameters, or at least metrical communication of important information, probably preceded writing: meter made memorization of information easier before writing became available.

Mark Mueller, I wonder whether you could change the heading of this thread so that the subject is more transparent. I realize that you're quoting a comic discussion of inverted word order from Le bourgeois gentilhomme (I had to look it up myself), but not everyone knows that, and I think others might weigh in if they can see what you're asking about.

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Re: Belle marquise, vos beaux yeux...

Post by Aetos » Fri Oct 05, 2018 6:58 pm

Hylander, thanks for the reply! I never realized that prose came along much later than verse and I would imagine that explains why not only poetry but plays were written in meter (not necessarily hexameter) as well.

markcmueller
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Word order of oracles in prose

Post by markcmueller » Sat Oct 06, 2018 8:01 am

Sorry, Hylander, I couldn't figure out how to rename the topic, unless
changing it on a reply does the trick.

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Re: Word order of oracles in prose

Post by Hylander » Sat Oct 06, 2018 6:56 pm

Thanks, Mark! Seems to have done the trick. Maybe some others can be lured into commenting.

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Re: Word order of oracles in prose

Post by jeidsath » Sun Oct 07, 2018 2:51 am

Apparently oracles gave up hexameter as too troublesome. Plutarch wrote a ΠΕΡΙ ΤΟΥ ΜΗ ΧΡΑΝ ΕΜΜΕΤΡΑ ΝΥΝ ΤΗΝ ΠΥΘΙΑΝ.
ἀλλὰ κἀκείνας αἰτιᾶσθε τὰς πάλαι προφήτιδας ὡς φαύλοις ποιήμασι χρωμένας, καὶ τὰς νῦν καταλογάδην καὶ διὰ τῶν ἐπιτυχόντων ὀνομάτων τοὺς χρησμοὺς λεγούσας, ὅπως ὑμῖν ἀκεφάλων καὶ λαγαρῶν μέτρων καὶ μειούρων εὐθύνας μὴ ὑπέχωσι.
I tried to find a Greek source for something like this Jason line, but couldn't.

Pindar's Pythian 4:
ἦλθε δέ οἱ κρυόεν πυκινῷ μάντευμα θυμῷ, πὰρ μέσον ὀμφαλὸν εὐδένδροιο ῥηθὲν ματέρος τὸν μονοκρήπιδα πάντως ἐν φυλακᾷ σχεθέμεν μεγάλᾳ,
I couldn't find the scene in Flaccus.

Apollodorus:
ἐθέσπισεν ὁ θεὸς τὸν μονοσάνδαλον φυλάξασθαι
Apollonius:
τοίην γὰρ Πελίης φάτιν ἔκλυεν, ὥς μιν ὀπίσσω
μοῖρα μένει στυγερή, τοῦδ᾿ ἀνέρος, ὅν τιν᾿ ἴδοιτο
δημόθεν οἰοπέδιλον, ὑπ᾿ ἐννεσίῃσι δαμῆναι.
Lycophron (a reference only):
Καὶ δευτέρους ἔπεμψαν Ἄτρακας λύκους
ταγῷ μονοκρήπιδι κλέψοντας νάκην,
δρακοντοφρούροις ἐσκεπασμένην σκοπαῖς.
Joel Eidsath -- jeidsath@gmail.com

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κλέπτε νόῳ, ἐπεὶ οὐ παρελεύσεαι οὐδέ με πείσεις.

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Re: Word order of oracles in prose

Post by Hylander » Sun Oct 07, 2018 2:56 am

oracles gave up hexameter as too troublesome.
That would have been about 600+ years after Herodotus' time.

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Re: Word order of oracles in prose

Post by jeidsath » Sun Oct 07, 2018 3:26 am

Yes, I didn't mean to contradict anything. Herodotus always puts his responses in meter, though I've only read bits and pieces. The Sibylline Oracles are all in hexameters.

However, Plutarch does make me wonder how much of this was just literary convention, rather than actual utterances. It's clear that all of the examples in Herodotus were dreamed up after the fact.

I looked for the text of the famous oracle about Socrates, which would have come up in court, and could perhaps be real. I found an interesting discussion about it in a Scholia on Clouds.

I find it interesting that Xenophon and Plato both use μηδένα instead of οὐδένα, and makes me wonder if their versions derive from a real source.

Xenophon
μηδένα εἶναι ἀνθρώπων ἐμοῦ μήτε ἐλευθεριώτερον μήτε δικαιότερον μήτε σωφρονέστερον.
Plato
ἀνεῖλεν οὖν ἡ Πυθία μηδένα σοφώτερον εἶναι.
Scholia
σοφὸς Σοφοκλῆς, σοφώτερος δ’ Εὐριπίδης, ἀνδρῶν δὲ πάντων Σωκράτης σοφώτερος. τούτου Ἀπολλώνιος ὁ Μόλων ἐν τῷ κατὰ φιλοσόφων ἐψεῦσθαί φησι τὴν Πυθί- αν· τοὺς γὰρ πυθικοὺς χρησμοὺς ἑξαμέτρους εἶναι καὶ <ἀ>εί. ἔστι δὲ παρὰ (10) κωμικῷ τινι †συγκεχωρίσθαι τῷ χρησμῷ δύναται†. ὅτι δὲ καὶ ἄλλοι διὰ τριμέτρων πλείους εἰσὶ χρησμοί, οὐ μὴν ἀλλὰ καὶ πεζῷ λόγῳ λεχθέντες τῇ Πυθίᾳ, δῆλον.
Joel Eidsath -- jeidsath@gmail.com

μὴ δ’ οὕτως ἀγαθός περ ἐὼν θεοείκελ’ Ἀχιλλεῦ
κλέπτε νόῳ, ἐπεὶ οὐ παρελεύσεαι οὐδέ με πείσεις.

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Re: Word order of oracles in prose

Post by mwh » Mon Oct 08, 2018 1:33 am

There’s a lot that could be said about the production of oracles (see e.g. Fontenrose’s The Delphic Oracle, but he downplays politicization), but to get back on topic, and to Mark’s excellent query about the word order of this particular oracle. The crucial thing is that it’s not prose but verse, a dactylic hexameter as Hylander pointed out (so the topic title is still a bit misleading?). That should be obvious to anyone reading the passage. The hexameter is the most venerable of the Greek meters, and oracles are delivered in hexameter as a matter of course. Word order in hexameter is in fact not very far removed from prose, and Ἂνδρα μίαν κρηπῖδ᾽͵ ὦ τλῆμον͵ φεῦγε φέροντα illustrates the fact. But it’s not quite the same, and Mark did well to fasten on the position of φέροντα. In prose the participle would probably not be deferred so, but in hexameter its position at the end has no special significance beyond (importantly) completing both the verse and the syntax—just as Mark noted.

Verse is “marked” speech, and word order in verse is routinely somewhat different from how it is in prose. Partly this is due to metrical constraints, but it goes deeper than that. It’s more a matter of stylization, and poets can manipulate word order for effect. Prose writers can too, of course, but not to the extent that poets can. The more elevated the verse form, the more “distortion” you’re likely to get, and the more functional it becomes. Menander for instance, composing in iambic trimeters in more or less ordinary language (and iambics are the closest meter to the rhythms of ordinary speech), departs little from ordinary word order, but a poet like Pindar, operating with a complex metrical system and in highflown language, achieves effects through word order which are simply unattainable in prose.
(In Latin compare Plautus vs. Horace's Odes.)

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Re: Word order of oracles in prose

Post by jeidsath » Mon Oct 08, 2018 3:10 pm

I have just corrected all of the mentions of κληπῖδα to κρηπῖδα. I won't mention the names of those who copy-pasted from the initial error (but it was everybody).
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Re: Word order of oracles in prose

Post by mwh » Mon Oct 08, 2018 9:42 pm

Thank you Joel. I admit to sometimes copy-pasting without copy-editing, and am not ashamed of it.
Apologies to all for the trivial nature of this post. My previous one had a little more substance to it.

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