A.T.Robertson on Voice

Carl W. Conrad cwconrad at artsci.wustl.edu
Fri Nov 2 13:42:18 EST 2001

For those who don't have access to Robertson's big grammar (it ought by now
to be available on-line, like his "Word-Pictures"), I am reproducing here
the text of about three pages, from which it should be clear that, although
ATR did not call for changes in terminology for categorization of the
morphoparadigms, he was well aware of and called attention to deficiencies
in the traditional understanding of them as well as to the questionable
value of the term "deponent." I'm not calling for any comment on this, only
making it accessible to those who may not have ready access to it.

Extract from A.T. Robertson, _A Grammar of the Greek NT in the Light of
Historical Research_. 4th ed., 1923, pp. 330-333.

Chapter VIII. Conjugation of the Verb (hRHMA)
[p. 330] VI. The Voices (DIAQESEIS)

(a) Transitive and Intransitive. The point is that "transitive" is not
synonymous with "active." Transitive verbs may belong to any voice, and
intransitive verbs to any voice. Take EDIDAXA, EDIDAXAMHN, EDIDACQHN, which
may be transitive in each voice. On the other hand EIMI. GINOMAI, ELUQHN
are intransitive. The same verb may be transitive or intransitive in the
same voice, as AGW. A verb may be transitive in Greek while intransitive in
English, as with KATAGELAW and vice versa. This matter properly belongs to
syntax, but it seems necessary to clear it up at once before we proceed to
discuss voice. Per se the question of transitiveness belongs to the idea of
the verb itself, not to that of voice. We [p. 331] actually find Green
making four voices, putting a neuter (OUDETERON) voice (using active and
middle endings) on a par with the others! The Stoic grammarians  did speak
of a neuter voice as neither active (KATHGORHMA ORQON) nor passive
(hUPTION), meaning the middle (MESH). Jannaris  confounds transitiveness
with voice, though he properly says (p. 356) that "the active voice is
usually transitive," i.e. verbs in the active voice, not the voice itself.
Even Whitney  speaks of the antithesis between transitive and reflexive
action being effaced in Sanskrit. Was that antithesis ever present? Farrar
speaks of verbs with an "active meaning, but only a passive or middle
form," where by "active" he means transitive. Even the active uses verbs
which are either transitive (ALLPAQHS) or intransitive (AUTOPAQHS). So may
the other voices. If we clearly grasp this point, we shall have less
difficulty with voice which does not deal primarily with the transitive
idea. That belongs rather to the verb itself apart from voice.  On
transitive and intransitive verbs in modern Greek see Thumb, Handb., p. 112.

(b) The names of the Voices. They are by no means good. The active
(ENERGHTIKH) is not distinctive, since the other voices express action
also. This voice represents the subject as merely acting. The Hindu
grammarians called the active parasmani padam ('a word for one's self').
There is very little point in the term middle since it does not come in
between the active and the passive. Indeed reflexive is a better
designation of the middle voice if direct reflexive is not mean. That is
rare. The middle voice stresses the interest of the agent. Cf. Moulton,
Prolegomena, p. 155f. In truth we have no good name for this voice. Passive
(PAQHTIKH) is the best term of all, for here the subject does experience
the action even when the passive verb is transitive, as in EDIDACQHN. But
this point encroaches on syntax.

[p. 332] (c) The Relative Age of the Voices. It is a matter of doubt as
between the active and middle. The passive is known to be a later
development. The Sanskrit passive is the yá class.  In Homer the passive
has not reached its full development. The passive future occurs there only
twice. The aorist middle is often used in passive sense (BLHTO, for
instance).  That is to say, in Homer the passive uses all the tenses of the
middle with no distinct forms save sometimes in the aorist. In later Greek
the future middle (as TIMHSOMAI) continued to be used occasionally in the
passive sense. The aorist passive in fact used the active endings and the
future passive the middle, ;the passive contributing a special addition in
each case (H, QH, HS, QHS). Some languages never developed a passive
(Coptic and Lithuanian, for instance), and in modern English we can only
form the passive by means of auxiliary verbs. Each language makes the
passive in its own way. In Latin no distinction in form exists between the
middle and the passive, though the middle exists as in potior, utor,
plangor, etc. Giles  thinks that the causative middle (like DIDASKOMAI,
'get taught') is the explanation of the origin of the Greek passive. Cf.
BAPTISAI (Ac. 22:;16). It is all speculation as between the active and
middle. An old theory makes the middle a mere doubling of the active (as
ma-mi = mai).  Another view is that the middle is the original; and the
active a shortening due to less stress in accent, or rather (as in TIQEMAI
and TIQHMI) the middle puts the stress on the reflexive ending while the
active puts it on the stem.  But Brugmann  considers the whole question
about the relation between the personal suffixes uncertain. Of one thing we
may be sure, and that is that both the active and the middle are very old
and long antedate the passive.

(d) The So-called "Deponent" Verbs. These call for a word (cf. c h. XVII,
III, (k) at the risk of trespassing on syntax. Moulton  is certainly right
in saying that the term should be applied to all three voices if to any.
The truth is that it should not be used at all. As in the Sanskrit  so in
the Greek some verbs were used in both active and middle in all tenses
(like LUW); some verbs in some tenses in one and some in the other (like
BAINW, [p. 333] BHSOMAI); some on one voice only (like KEIMAI). As concerns
voice these verbs were defective rather than deponent.  Note also the
common use of the second perfect active with middle verbs (GINOMAI,
GEGONA).  A number of verbs sometimes have the future in the active in the
N.T. which usually had it in the middle in the older Greek. These are
AKOUSW (Jo. 5:25, 28, etc., but AKOUSOMAI, Ac. 17:32), hAMAARTHSW (Mt.
18:21), APANTHSW (Mk. 14:13), hARPASW (Jo. 10:28), BLEYW (Ac. 28:26),
GELASW (Lu. 6:21), DIWXW (Mt. 23:34), ZHSW (Jo. 5:25), EPIORKHSW (Mt. 5:33,
LXX), KLAUSW (Lu. 6:25), KRAXW  (Lu. 19:40), PAIXW (Mk. 10:34), hREUSW (Jo.
7:38), SIWPHSW (Lu. 19:40), SPOUDASW  (2 Pet. 1:15, SUNANTHSW (Lu. 22:10).
Gk., p. 42 f.; Wiener-Schmiedel, p. 17; Moulton, Prol., p. 1455. See
Helbing, Gr. d. Sept., p. 89f.; Thackeray, pp. 231ff., for illustrations in
the LXX. The term "deponent" arose from the idea that these verbs had
dropped the active voice. Verbs do vary in the use of the voices in
different stages of the language.

(e) The Passive Supplanting the Middle. In Latin the middle and passive
have completely blended and the grammars speak no more of the Latin middle.
Greek indeed is the only European speech which retains the original middle
form and usage.  In fact, when we consider other tongues, it is not strange
that the passive made inroads on the middle, but rather that there was any
distinction preserved at all.  In most modern languages the middle is
represented only by the use of the reflexive pronoun. The Greek itself
constantly uses the active with the reflexive pronoun and even the middle.
Jannaris  has an interesting sketch of the history of the aorist and future
middle and passive forms, the only forms where the two voices differ. As
already remarked, the old Greek as in Homer  did not distinguish sharply
between these forms. In Homer the middle is much more common than in later
Greek,  for the passive has no distinct form in the future and not always
in the aorist. In the modern Greek the middle has no distinctive form save
LUSOU (cf. LUSAI) and this is used as passive imperative second singular.
Elsewhere in the aorist and future the passive forms have driven out the
middle. These passive forms are, however, used sometimes in the middle
sense, as was true of APEKRIQH, for instance, in the N.T. the passive forms
maintain the field in modern Greek and appropriate the meaning of the
middle. We see this tendency at work in the N.T. and the KOINH generally.
Since the passive used the middle forms in all the other tenses, it was
natural that in these two there should come uniformity also.  The result of
this struggle between the middle and passive in the aorist and future was
an increasing number of passive forms without the distinctive passive idea.
So in Mt. 10:26 (MH FOBHQHTE AUTOUS) the passive is used substantially as a
middle. Cf. the continued use of TIMHSOMAI as future passive in the earlier
Greek as a tendency the other way. The history of this matter thus makes
intelligible what would be otherwise a veritable puzzle in language. Here
is a list of the chief passive aorists in the N.T. without the passive
idea, the so-called "deponent" passives: APEKRIQHN (Mt. 25:9 and often, as
John, Luke chiefly having Attic APEKRINATO also, Ac. 3:12; DIEKRIQHN (Ro..
4:20, SUNUPEKRIQHN (Gal. 2:13), APELOGHQHN (Lu. 21:14, but see 12:11),
HGALLIAQHN (Jo. 5:35), EGENHQHN (Mt. 6:10, but also EGENOMHN often, as Ac.
20:18); cf. GEGONA and GEGENHMAI, EDEHQHN (Lu. 5:12); HGERQHN (Lu.
24:34),HDUNASQHNn (Mk. 7:24, as New Ionic and LXX) and HDUNHQHN (Mt.
17:16), DIELECQHN (Mk 9:34), EQAUMASQHN (Rev. 13:3, but passive sense in 2
Th. 1:10), EQAMBHQHN (Mk 1:27), ENQUMHQEIS (Mt. 1:20), METEMELHQHN (Mt.
21:32), EFOBHQHN (Mt. 21:46), EULABHQEIS (Heb. 11:7), etc. For the LXX
usage see Thackeray, p. 238. The future passives without certain passive
sense are illustrated by the following: ANAKALUFQHSOMAI (Mt. 8:11),
(Heb. 7:21), FANHSOMAI (Mt. 24:30), FOBHQHSOMAI (Heb. 13:6). But we have
Gr., p. 44 f.; Winer-Schmiedel, p. 108. For the rapid development of this
tendency in later Greek see Hatzidakis, Einl., p. 192f. See Helbing, Gr. d.
Sept., pp. 97-100, and Thackeray, p. 240 f., for similar phenomena in the
LXX. These so-called deponents appear in modern Greek (Thumb, Handb., p.
113). Cf. ch. XVII, IV, (e).

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Emeritus)
Most months: 1647 Grindstaff Road/Burnsville, NC 28714/(828) 675-4243
cwconrad at artsci.wustl.edu OR cwconrad at ioa.com
WWW: http://www.artsci.wustl.edu/~cwconrad/

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