Future "deponents"

Carl W. Conrad cwconrad at artsci.wustl.edu
Thu Oct 8 16:48:43 EDT 1998

At 11:13 AM -0500 10/8/98, Randy LEEDY wrote:
>Thanks for the post, Carl, and thanks for mailing me a copy, since I
>get only the digests. You wrote:
>... Of course, it is certainly true also that there are intransitive
>verbs with active forms, and in fact, HLQON functions as the ACTIVE
>aorist of ERCOMAI and BAINW or PROBAINW may be used to mean much the
>same thing as POREUOMAI (at least when one is traveling on foot!). I
>think the same psychology is at work in the fact that so many Greek
>verbs that are active in the present tense go into the
>middle/reflexive in the future--they apparently involve a notion of
>self-projection or self-propulsion in the thought of the agent
>You're going to have to help me if you want me to see the force of
>your argumentation. Wouldn't this "notion of self-projection" be
>something inherent in the nature of the action itself, regardless of
>tense? What is there about putting the word "go" (BAINW) into the
>future that would somehow enhance this notion of self-projection to a
>point that justifies the use of the middle voice in that tense only?
>If there is something inherently "self-projecting" in the nature of
>futurity itself (I rather doubt this idea, but I'm floating it as a
>possibility), then why wouldn't all or at least a majority of verbs
>shift to the middle voice in the future?
>I do recall, now, this section in your thesis, and what I now remember
>more specifically about it is that it left me unconvinced. Perhaps
>this is so because I am too dense to pick up the force of some factor
>that is more obvious to you than to me. Do my objections indicate to
>you what I'm missing that you're seeing?

Touché! I'm not sure whether I can make this intelligible or not. Perhaps
my notion is not a sensible one in the first place, and in any case, I am a
questioner in search of an answer rather than one offering a clear and
obvious solution. I certainly can't answer why ALL verbs in the future
shouldn't be middle/reflexive. My tentative suggestion is based on an
understanding that the future tense in Greek is a relatively late formation
and the fact that in Homer futurity is more commonly expressed by use of
the subjunctive, expressing an active WILL to perform the action of the
verb--while the classical future tense seems to develop from using a
desiderative infix -ES- with thematic endings added to a verb stem. I
rather think that the tendency toward middle-reflexive formulation is
something that shows itself in the future tenses in some instances, not in
others, and I think it must have something to do with the inherent meanings
of the verbs in question too. I don't really know, but I am intrigued by
the fact that some intransitive verbs seem to start moving to the middle in
the future, then in the course of time, migrate to the middle elsewhere:
like EIMI, ESOMAI in classical Attic, becoming EIMAI, ESOMAI in some
Hellenistic, etc. Why the intransitive verbs of motion like ERCOMAI and
POREUOMAI, and yes, BAINW/BHSOMAI (but aor EBHN comparable to such second
"passives" as EBLABHN). Why is French "abandon," "leave behind" S'EN ALLER:
indeed, why should "go" be reflexive at all? I don't really know the answer
to this, but I'm not satisfied that the movement of these verbs to the
middle voice precisely in the future tense is purely arbitrary and
inexplicable, even if we're not quite sure what an adequate explanation
might be.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics/Washington University
One Brookings Drive/St. Louis, MO, USA 63130/(314) 935-4018
Home: 7222 Colgate Ave./St. Louis, MO 63130/(314) 726-5649
cwconrad at artsci.wustl.edu OR cconrad at yancey.main.nc.us
WWW: http://www.artsci.wustl.edu/~cwconrad/

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