I’ve uploaded a slightly revised version of Lesson 19: Semantic Roles and Voice: the Aorist Passive.
The changes are designed to make it clear that what has traditionally been called the Aorist Passive is a set of forms that, while they often suggest a passive interpretation, are not exclusively (or even primarily) passive.
The middle voice will be introduced later, and at that point I will have more to say about Greek voice, and I’ll introduce the notion of transitivity. My goals for this lesson are simply to introduce the notion of the semantic roles AGENT and PATIENT—establishing their independence from specific morphological Case forms—and to introduce the forms traditionally called aorist passive.
I would love to hear from readers about how well you think I have accomplished these goals and about how clearly (or unclearly) I have handled the issue of insuring that students do not equate these forms exclusively with passive voice interpretations.
Lesson 19: Semantic Roles and Voice: the Aorist Passive
Well… It’s been a long time since I’ve made any substantive changes to my online grammar. In part this has been because responsibilities at work have taken too much of my time. Another reason, though is that I’ve been struggling with what to do with the issue of voice.
My original intention was simply to convert to a form suitable for the web the old grammar that I wrote in the early ’90s. I intended to do very little editing. Shortly after I posted the lesson on passive voice, though, I realized that this is not a workable option. My views on voice have changed too much to simply post what I wrote back then. So… I have delayed further progress on the grammar till I can see how revising this part will affect the remainder of the lessons.
In the mean time, I hope to post here a few thoughts on particular verbs, especially ones that have middle voice lexical forms (present tense/aspect), but active voice forms for other principal parts. Take ἔρχομαι, for example. While it’s meaning fits nicely with the semantic value of the middle voice, and it consistently has middle voice forms in the present, its aorist forms are typically active voice (ἦλθον, etc.). If we dispense with the notion of “deponent” (as I think we should), how do we account for this variation of voice forms between tenses/aspects without going into too much detail for an introductory grammar?
I agree with Carl Conrad that the term “Middle Voice” creates the false impression that the real contrast in Greek is between active and passive and that the “middle” voice is something of a misfit in an otherwise clear system. I have been thinking about what term could be used to replace “middle” that would avoid this implication and better fit the actual usage of what we have all been calling the “middle” voice.
Here’s my problem: The Greek middle voice is clearly NOT equivalent to the English reflexive construction, but it IS very much like the reflexive of some other IndoEuropean languages. I happen to be a fluent speaker of Spanish, so examples from that language are very easy for me to produce, but the same is true for French and Italian according to what I have read on those languages.
Here are a few Spanish reflexive constructions with English equivalents. Notice that there is a good deal of difference between the two languages in their use of reflexives. All of the Spanish sentences have reflexive constructions. Many of the English equivalents do not.
I cut myself.
Me corté el dedo.
I cut my finger.
Me compré un nuevo reloj.
I bought myself a new watch.
¿Te diste cuenta que Alfredo ya llegó?
Did you realize that Alfredo has arrived?
Se despertó el bebe.
The baby woke up.
Of course I could write hundreds of these examples easily, but I think this is enough to make the point. Reflexive constructions vary widely between languages. The Greek “middle” voice is very much like the reflexive of Romance languages, but quite unlike the English reflexive. If I were writing a Greek grammar in Spanish, there’s no question of what I would call the “middle” voice: la voz reflexiva. But calling it the “Reflexive Voice” in English could cause serious confusion since many “middle” voice Greek verbs require active voice English translations, not reflexive ones.
So, what should we call the “middle” voice to avoid the confusion caused by the term “middle” and also avoid the confusion that could be created by calling this voice “reflexive” in English?
Several links in the discussion below have ceased to work, so I have disabled them. You can now find the papers referenced in this post at Professor Conrad’s Ancient Greek Voice page at Washington State University.
If you are interested in the topic of Voice and the problematic issue of deponency, you should read Carl Conrad’s “Active, Middle, and Passive: Understanding Ancient Greek Voice.”
It’s available as a PDF download from http://www.artsci.wustl.edu/~cwconrad.
For further discussion of the same issues, see his “New Observations on Voice in the Ancient Greek Verb.” This 21 page discussion provides wonderful detail and clear reasoning. He raises compelling questions about the semantic import of the morphological distinction between what have traditionally been called the aorist middle and passive forms.
You can find the paper at http://www.artsci.wustl.edu/~cwconrad.
It’s wonderful to have both his and Pennington’s views on the topic available online for free!
Pennington’s article on deponency from Trinity Journal is available online at the following address:
The topical index is now up to 82 topics linked to 272 specific sections within the grammar. This should be enough to enable you to quickly find where I have discussed your pet issue, or perhaps to determine that I haven’t discussed it yet! Give it a try. I would love to hear your reaction to the way I have presented any issue of interest to you.
The topics include everything from traditional grammatical categories to terms from Linguistics that I have found useful in writing the grammar.
Today I uploaded “Lesson 19: Semantic Roles and Voice, The Aorist Passive” to my Hellenisitic Greek grammar. I will add vocabulary exercises later. I also added a significant amount to the Topical Index.
Since the papyri have been mentioned twice already in this discussion of the scope of a Hellenistic Greek Grammar, I thought I would offer a little of my own take on the issue.
The papyri are extremely valuable for documenting language change. They are not as helpful for documenting a particular point in the middle of that change. Their very variability offers great evidence for the shifts that were occurring in pronunciation during the Hellenistic period, for example, but they don’t help in understanding Luke’s discourse preferences.
Their importance, from a linguistic point of view, has been that they have given us a clearer picture of conversational or informal Greek in and around Egypt and have clarified to some extent what we might call business Greek or the language of commerce. These are legitimate concerns for a grammar of Hellenistic Greek, but are not necessarily crucial for understanding the biblical documents.
It is very hard to sort out all of the variation in the papyri, but they are nonetheless fascinating.
The discussion on the documentary scope of a Hellenistic Greek Grammar has slowed a little, so I want to pull out one comment by Rick Brannan for further discussion. After citing O’Donnell’s proposed corpus, Rick proposes a few further works that I also think deserve serious attention.
He suggests two works from the Apostolic Fathers, and both fit the literary level and style of much of what is in the New Testament. He also suggests including Philo [of Alexandria], in addition to Josephus. Both of these authors were Jewish and each was bilingual (though not to the same degree), and because of this share certain features with several of the New Testament writers. Here’s what Rick Brannan had to say:
In Matthew Brook O’Donnell’s “Corpus Linguistics and the Greek of the New Testament”, he outlines a corpus of Hellenistic works to use for corpus linguistic purposes; there may be some insight. See pp. 164-165 of his book. It comes down to the NT, a few LXX books (Judges, 1 Macc, 2 Esdras) Hermas, Ignatius’ letters, Josephus’ Life, Philo’s On Moses. Then it gets interesting: Strabo’s Geography, Epictetus’ Dissertations, Polybius’ History, Plutarch’s Cato Minor, Arrian’s Anabasis, Diodorus Siculus’ Library of History, Cassius Dio’s Roman History, Apollodorus’ Library, and a generic “Selection of Documentary Papyri” and a generic “Selection of Inscriptions” (no further info on those last two). I think there should be more LXX, Apostolic Fathers (namely 1 Clement and Hermas, at least), Josephus and Philo, and that perhaps some of the early Greek OT Pseudepigrapha and NT Apocrypha too.
Are there other works from the Early Christian and Jewish communities that you think should be included in the documentary base for a serious grammar of Hellenistic Greek?
I have completed my revisions of the navigation system in my introductory grammar of Hellenistic Greek. The 18 lessons currently available all have a navigation bar at the top and bottom as well as a link to the topical index at the bottom.
It will be quite some time before I am able to complete the grammar, but the lessons that are currently available are 100% free. No adds. No fees. Use them as you please. If you quote them, though, please include the URL in your citation.
Micheal Palmer’s Hellenistic Greek