[B-Greek] APOSTREFW - aktive and middle
cwconrad2 at mac.com
Sat Feb 12 09:11:32 EST 2011
I was going to respond to this off list, but what I want to write to you is largely what I have written so frequently on list that it's become boring. My "ad nauseam" notes have a reputation and an "odor" on B-Greek. Bear with me: I'm a 76-year-old retired Greek teacher, away from the campus for ten years now, having taught my last Greek class in January of 2001. But I hope that I'm harmless ... and BG regulars will know to delete before they've reached the end of this opening paragraph.
On Feb 12, 2011, at 7:52 AM, Richard Smith wrote:
> Very thorough and informative. Thanks to all who helped with their comments. I think part of my misreading is that English translation definitions may use words with transitive and intransitive senses, and sometimes I miss that a particular Greek form may not have convey both of the transitive and intransitive senses of the English translation. I apply the English possibilites to the Greek. I will be more attuned to that going forward.
It's worth noting -- and bearing always in mind -- that the better English translations don't endeavor to render the Greek original in the word-order or grammatical structures of the Greek but rather in word-order and grammatical sructures that are appropriate to good English prose. Of course, every English translation from the Greek is an interpretation of the Greek, and unless the Greek original is so concrete and simple that it doesn't say anything very important, it is almost certainly going to skew and misrepresent the original in some way or other -- not intentionally, ordinarily -- although the translation is often skewed in part by the translator's own preconceptions. That's what the old Italian proverb is intended to convey: "Traduttori traditori" -- "Translators are not to be trusted!" I've often (too often?) said that one seeking to gain competence in Biblical Greek should aim at understanding what the original Greek is communicating in its own terms, and NOT on how that Greek will sound or look in an English translation.
> And "transitive" and "intransitive" are helpful classifications for me, as is "deponent" still.
One of the insights into how language works that I've gained relatively recently is that grammar -- including lexicology, syntactic rules, morphology, etc. --, whether it's the traditional grammar of "dead scholars" of the decades and centuries past or the theoretical constructions and analyses of the academic linguists of more recent years -- is fundamentally analytic. It's function is to help us explain or give an account to ourselves and each other about HOW the Greek utterance or written statement means what we understand it to mean. I honestly believe that grammatical analysis cannot begin until one has already reached at least a tentative understanding of the Greek text. But I also believe that grammatical analysis will not help one reach an understanding of WHAT the text means so much as of HOW it means what it means. Understanding the meaning must precede analysis. And that is why so much classroom work and self-study of Greek (and other languages, of course) turns out so often to be a waste of time: students can recite paradigms of verbs and nouns and regurgitate glossaries of Greek verbs and nouns and recite the rules of syntax -- and still be unable to make sense of Greek texts.
The distinction between "transitive" and "intransitive" verb usage is helpful and will continue to be helpful to students who haven't learned and constructed a more useful way of accounting for the way verbs work in context with other words with which they construe in particular texts. Iver has referred to an alternative method of accounting for how these elements of Greek statements relate to each other; many students of Greek do indeed find that alternative more helpful. What's problematic, however, is that the reference works upon which we must rely for want of better reference works still employ terminology that some of us believe is outdated and unhelpful. BDAG is really a very fine lexicon for Biblical and early Christian literature; it's barely ten years since this edition was published -- but many of us believe that decscribing a verb-form as "passive with active usage" is, if not something worse, an instance of "obscurum per obscurius" -- a still murkier explanation of something that's murky in the first place.
"Deponency" is a grammatical "doctrine" (by which I mean a bit of traditional lore about the voice of Greek verbs that don't conform to the rules as traditionally understood) that is currently under attack. Despite a dissertation in defense of the doctrine written at Dallas Seminary recently, the doctrine was the subject of a special session on Greek Linguistics at last November's meeting of SBL in Atlanta; the upshot of that session is that the ranks of defenders of the doctrine have thinned very considerably as more intelligible accounts of Greek verbal voice phenomena have been offered and the ways that middle and passive forms actually function in ancient Greek are being analyzed in more helpful ways. The facts to be explained remain "messy" but the explanations offered for those facts seem to many to be LESS messy than they are in the traditional doctrine of "deponency."
> But I am a very amateur self taught NT Greek reader. I offer that in way of introduction.
The fact is that we are ALL of us who deal with NT Greek amateurs. NOT ONE of us reads the NT Greek texts with the instantaneous grasp of the text's meaning gained by those who first listened to those texts read aloud. Some of us are not "rank" amateurs, but not one of us can honestly claim to be an "accomplished" professional either.
Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Retired)
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