[B-Greek] aorist infinitives

Carl W. Conrad cwconrad at artsci.wustl.edu
Mon Feb 10 13:01:52 EST 2003

At 12:11 PM -0500 2/10/03, <greek-list at emailias.com> wrote:
>I'm having some trouble reconciling the idea of the aorist as simple past
>(which is the way it is explained in Mounce) with the idea of aorist
>infinitives. Perhaps this is because English has no concept analogous to

"Aspect" is not a concept that belongs to a language as such; as a
"concept," aspect is a creation of those who are attempting to describe the
working of verbs in a particular category having to do with action that is
completed or uncompleted or with a state obtaining. I don't think it's true
that English as a language "doesn't have aspect"; rather, to use the jargon
of "aspectologists" who have in the earlier history of b-greek been termed
"aspect geeks," the English verb doesn't GRAMMATICALIZE aspect.
Nevertheless, I think that the aspectual differences, or some of those that
are accessible and employed in Greek, can be and readily are represented in
English usage.

>Mounce stresses the idea that the infinitive has no time significance
>whatsoever. The difference therefore between present and aorist is one of
>aspect. In other words, if the aorist tense represent simple past (ELUSA =
>I loosed), what is the meaning of the aorist infinitive? Mounce again
>defines both LUEIN and LUSAI as 'I loose', with the caveat the 'continue
>to' can be inserted into the definition of the present infinitive to
>distinguish from the aorist.
>How is this difference reflected in translation?

I think it would be best to keep the notion of "simple past" for the aorist
restricted to the indicative mood--i.e. to the augmented finite verb forms.
It's pointless to speak of "simple past" with reference to subjunctive,
optative, and imperative moods, the forms of which more generally have
reference to potential future situations; the participle may very well
indicate the priority of an action, but that still doesn't mean that the
aorist participle is referring to the past in relationship to the present.
We might have a simple sentence such as

	"Once I've got those things done, I'll take on all the other matters."

Here POIHSAS indicates completion of the "doing" indicated by the verb's
sense prior to the point in time of the "undertaking" indicated by
EPICEIRHSW. But the completion of the "doing" may well be at some future
point  with reference to the time and making of this statement.
Furthermore, I don't think that PRIOR completion is so much essential to
the aorist aspect of the participle so much as the notion of COMPLETION
itself, but conventional Greek usage employs the aorist participle par
excellence as the way to indicate prior completion in relationship to a
point in time.

Now, as for the infinitives, there's something a bit tricky here. Both the
present infinitive POIEIN and the aorist infinitive POIHSAI may ordinarily
be conveyed by English "to do" or "to make." Which one should use to convey
doing or making in any particular English expression does indeed depend
upon which "aspect" the English-speaker has in mind or intends: if the
doing/making is thought of an an unfinished action, whether ongoing or
getting it started, then the present infinitive POIEIN is more appropriate;
if the doing/making is thought of as something to be accomplished, brought
to a conclusion, then the aorist infinitive POIHSAI is more appropriate. It
is still true that English "to do" or "to make" may represent either the
present or the aorist Greek infinitive, but if "I need to do that" refers
to something like practicing a musical instrument, then I'd think that the
present infinitive would be more appropriate in the Greek; if "I need to do
that" refers to something like performance on the instrument at a public
concert or recital, then I think that the aorist infinitive would be more
appropriate in the Greek.

Does that get at the question you're raising?

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Emeritus)
1989 Grindstaff Road/Burnsville, NC 28714/(828) 675-4243
cwconrad at artsci.wustl.edu OR cwconrad at ioa.com
WWW: http://www.ioa.com/~cwconrad/

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