diachronic explanation of 1st/2nd aorist

Carl W. Conrad cwconrad at artsci.wustl.edu
Sat May 25 08:18:27 EDT 2002

At 6:20 AM -0400 5/25/02, Harry W. Jones wrote:
>Dear Ward,
>I wonder why 3rd aorists are not mentioned in any of my basic grammars?
>I wouldn't even know about them if I hadn't seen a number of threads on
>3rd aorists. 3rd aorist forms seem to be important forms to know. So why
>aren't they in the books?

I should (and certainly shall) let Ward offer his own answer to this
question. I must take the credit or blame, I think, for introducing it to
B-Greek. More about it after a broader comment about Greek grammatical

It is in fact hardly less than scandalous how inadequate is the terminology
we (the entire community--even if it's not quite really a community--of
people who talk about Greek grammar) use to describe even the "fixed"
elements of the Greek language, the morphoparadigms that have been and must
be painfully memorized by all learners of ancient Greek as a "foreign"
language as long as anyone can remember. A.T. Robertson begins each chapter
of what I still think of as his magnum opus with a comment on the
inconsistent usage or dubious descriptive validity of the terms for the
most essential items: KOINH (pp. 49-51), "Declensions (KLISEIS)" (p. 246),
"Cases" (PTWSEIS)" (pp. 446-7), etc. My own nemesis has of course been
"voice," about the names of which ATR says (p. 798), "The names come from
Dionysius Thrax (about B.C.30), but "he has no inkling of a middle sense<"
showing that already the middle is disappearing before the passive. The
terminology is very poor. Gildersleeve calls the fashion of the Germans 'a
positively indecent nomenclature,' since they call the voices _genera_
(GENH), 'based on a fancied resemblance to the genders.' We in English
follow the French _voix_ (Latin _vox_), found first in this sense in the
_Grammatica graeca nova_ of J. Weller (A.D. 1635)." The thread on
terminology of verbal aspect initiated by Harry Jones earlier this week has
opened anew the wounds festering ever since the fall of the late great
edifice of Babel and that mythic time when all humanity supposedly
understood each other because they spoke the same language. I very
sincerely applaud Mark Wilson's earnest endeavor to formulate a coherent
and logical taxonomy and terminology of verbal aspect from the bits and
pieces of the labors of others, but the very fact that he must list QNHiSKW
in the category of verbs of "achievement"--although intelligible in its
context--is disturbing, if we think of _death_ as a sort of ultimate human
"achievement." When it comes to grammatical terminology, the truth, I
suspect, is analogous to what Karl Jaspers said about _myth_: myths do not
get replaced by rational explanations; rather they are supplanted by more
adequate myths. So with grammatical terminology: it relies necessarily upon
metaphorical extensions of semantic indicators, and since metaphors can
hardly avoid being fuzzy and multivalent, the grammatical terms will never
have the crystal clarity we might desire.

Now, what about "Third Aorist": why don't traditional grammars talk about
it? The fact is that they DO talk about it but normally classify it as a
type of "Second Aorist."

In traditional Greek grammatical usage descriptive of the morphoparadigms
of the verb "first" refers to the most common and most regular pattern
while "second" refers to a less common pattern into which a handful or two
(or more handfuls) of (more or less) irregular verbs will fall. Most
aorists in Koine Greek will fall into the -SA/-SAMHN group that is
traditionally termed "first aorist." Three or four dozen other verbs will
fall into the -ON/-OMHN group that is traditionally termed "second" aorist;
so also, according to the traditional usage those very few verbs with
aorists in -HN or -WN or -UN will be classed as "second aorists," the
reason being that "second" as traditionally used simply refers to all verbs
falling into patterns other than the common and regular pattern. The same
differentiation is observed in traditional designations of "first perfect"
(forms in -KA like LELUKA)--i.e. the most widespread and regular perfect
morphoparadigm-- and "second perfect" (forms in -A like OIDA and OLWLA); it
is also observed in traditional designations of "first passive" (forms in
-QHN like ELUQHN) and "second passive" (forms in -HN like EGRAFHN,
EBLABHN); it is even observed in designations of "first future (passive)"
forms in -QHSOMAI (e.g. LUQHSOMAI) and "second future (passive)" forms in

Unfortunately such terminology tends to become a snare and a stumbling
block to new learners of Greek: one encounters a form such as EGNWN or
ESTHN and is told by a teacher or reads in a reliable grammar that these
are "second aorists." They scratch their heads and ask, "But, if these are
second aorists, where is the -ON first-singular ending?

And so therefore, for my own pedagogical purposes I adopted the expedient
of referring to the handful of aorists falling into the morphoparadigms
characterized by non-thematic vocalic roots and standard
-N/-S/-/-MEN/-TE/-SAN endings as "THIRD AORISTS." That has seemed to be
useful pedagogically: it has helped my students to differentiate three
different aorist morphoparadigms: the "first" or "sigmatic" or "weak" type
(ELUSA), the "second" or "thematic" or "strong" type (EMAQON) and the
"third" or "athematic/non-thematic" (and also "strong") type (ESTHN, EGNWN).

Unfortunately, even that doesn't fully resolve the confusion or leave the
aorist "vista" a cloudless and serene picture: there are three other pesky
aorist verbs in a morphoparadigm all to themselves which are important
enough that one must know them and be able to recognize them: EDWKA, EQHKA,
and -hHKA (usually in compound verbs such as AFHKA. Are we to call these
"fourth aorists"? I confess that I haven't had the brazen shamelessness to
speak of a "fourth aorist." And to their chagrin students of Koine Greek
will eventually run into such aorists as AFHKEN (Mt 8:15) or AFHKAMEN (Mt
6:12) and perhaps strike their foreheads with their firsts and cry out "I
could have had a V-8" or something equally helpful(?).

It is easy to say, as Ward has said on more than one occasion, that most
Greek verbs are well-disciplined, well-mannered youngsters who abide by the
rules of the grammatical establishment. And I say, as one who spent years
teaching classical and Homeric and Koine Greek, "Thank God" for those
verbs! BUT we who teach the language had better not ignore those pesky
"unruly" verbs that don't follow the simple rules for conjugation of the
"first aorist" and "second aorist," but nevertheless are sufficiently
common in the GNT because they convey recurrent and important senses:
"betray" (PAREDWKA) and "forgive" (AFHKA). 90% of learning Greek is a
matter of learning the verbs, and for myself I must say that I've never
quite felt that I've completely learned all the Greek verbs --which is
perhaps why one of the best-selling little manual aids used by Greek
students everywhere is the one originally entitled TUTTI I VERBI GRECI.
Here's the amazon.com blurb (I'm not trying to sell this book or urge its
use, just noting its notorious utility):

	All the Greek Verbs
	by N Marinone
	List Price: $19.75
	Our Price: $13.83
	You Save: $5.92 (30%)
	Availability: Usually ships within 24 hours
	Only 3 left in stock--order soon (more on the way).
	Edition: Paperback
	Product Details
	*	Paperback:
	*	Publisher: Duckworth; ISBN: 0715617729; (June 1985)


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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