[B-Greek] A Couple of Questions
Carl W. Conrad
cwconrad at artsci.wustl.edu
Tue Jul 1 09:11:06 EDT 2003
At 10:17 PM -0400 6/30/03, Richard Ghilardi wrote:
>Carl and fellow b-greekers,
>I only wish you had addressed some of the questions I asked.
Sorry about that; I misunderstood the focus of your interest which
apparently rests primarily upon matters Greek composition.
At 2:47 PM -0400 6/30/03, Richard Ghilardi wrote:
>2) I found a quote from Oliver Cromwell recently which looked like it
>might go easily into Greek:
>"He who ceases to be better, ceases to be good."
>My Greek rendering:
>AMEINWN EINAI hO PAUSAMENOS EPAUSATO AGAQOS
>Could this be improved?
What I offered in my earlier response indicates my view on this; as with
all translation, I think the procedure needs to begin with a perception of
the essential content of the original as a whole and to proceed toward a
conception of how that whole essential content would be best expressed in
the target language. Unless the original is essentially narrative or
expository--and especially when an adage or proverb or "sententia" is being
expressed, I think one would do best not to attempt a formulation in the
target language in terms of the original words and grammatical construction
but rather in a formulation that restates the essential idea in some manner
that seems natural to the target language as best one knows that target
If the question devolves to, "how might the above Greek formulation be
improved without alteration of the structural conception, the kinds of
questions that I have posed as a teacher of composition would begin with
asking what the new Greek construction implies:
The first thing I'd note is that, so far as I can ascertain, the verb
PAUOMAI in the sense "stop doing" where PAUOMAI is an auxiliary verb
usually takes a participial complement rather than an infinitive, so
perhaps better would be:
AMEINWN WN hO PAUSAMENOS EPAUSATO AGAQOS (WN).
Richard has chosen to formulate this with aorist participle and aorist and
aorist main verb. I'd English that (literally) as "The one who has ceased
being better has ceased (being) good."
While I don't think that construction is in itself "unGreek," it is not the
only possible way to formulate the original even in a relatively literal
fashion. For instance, there's an implicit condition in the relationship of
the participle to the main verb; the idea could be expressed in a more
direct conditional formulation: hOS AN AMEINWN PAUSHTAI WN, EPAUSATO KAI
AGAQOS (WN), or EAN TIS AMEINWN WN PAUSHTAI, EPAUSATO KAI AGAQOS (WN).
>Is it necessary to repeat EINAI in the independent clause?
If it's intended that it be perfectly clear, it could be repeated;on the
other hand, if one uses the verb PAUOMAI in both clauses, then the
complement of predicate adjective and participle might be understood. On
the other hand, if one gives up repetition of the verb "cease" as essential
to structure of the original and that it must be retained, then it seems to
me "more natural" in the Greek to use GINOMAI in the main clause: AMEINWN
hO PAUSAMENOS WN CEIRWN GINETAI; in that case, it seems to me that some of
that rhetorical force of the original achieved by repetition of "
(also/simultaneously) ceases" is achieved just as well by using the
antithetical comparative adjective: "The one who has ceased to be better is
>Should AMEINWN and AGAQOS be accusative? (AMEINONA, AGAQON)
Not if one starts out with these as predicate adjectives to an implicit
subject, as here (hO PAUSAMENOS ...). But if the construction were to be
recast as an infinitive, then the implicit subject of the infinitive would
PAUSASQAI AMEINONA ONTA, TOUT' ESTI PAUSASQAI AGAQON ONTA.
>Would it be better (no pun intended) to use BELTIWN rather than AMEINWN?
There are a number of comparative adjectives to AGAQOS. I don't think
AMEINWN is found in the GNT. I remember from classical usage that BELTIWN
tended to be used of moral superiority, AMEINWN of superiority in
performance (when AGAQOS means "good at carrying out valued actions"--as in
Homer AGAQOS meant essentially "good at fighting" or "good at giving advice
in council", KREISSWN/KREITTWN of superiority in power or influence--and I
recall from Homeric usage FERTEROS of superiority in productivity of fields
and chattels. I used AREIWN, even though it is less common and more
comparable to KREISSWN than to the other options, in my own version because
it is etymologically akin to and suggestive of the linkage of AGAQOS to
ARETH and ARISTOS. Another factor here is whether one is attempting to
express the original into standard classical Attic or into Koine of the NT
Ultimately the first step really has to be thinking through what is
intended by the coiner of the original phrase. I am assuming that what
Cromwell had in mind was a notion of fundamental importance in a
competitive sort of aristocratic society such as ancient Homeric and
Classical Greek society was, one aptly represented by the ideal enunciated
in Glaucon's line from Iliad 6:
AIEN ARISTEUEIN KAI hUPEIROCON EMMENAI ALLWN
"Always to be the best (one can be) and to be superior to (i.e.
In that sense, Cromwell's dictum must mean that one who fails to perform at
the highest level of one's competence is not performing competently at all.
If that's the right sense, then we could rephrase Cromwell's dictum in
Homeric Greek thus:
hOSTIS AN MH ARISTEUHi OUD' AGAQOS ESTAI OUDEPOTE
At any rate, there are lots of things to be thought through in the exercise
of translating from English to Greek; first, one must be sure one has a
clear sense of what is meant by the original text; then one must ponder how
that idea is most naturally and best expressed in the target language
(whether the contemporary language or the language and usage of some
particular era, such as Koine Greek or Attic Greek); then one must ponder
word-choices and standard rules of grammar involved in the formulation.
Ultimately this is not really a science but an art. I did two years of
Greek composition while in graduate school and have taught it two or three
times in a 40-year academic career; I certainly don't claim to be an expert
or really adept at it, but it is a "game" that is fun to play and it can be
very instructive in bringing one closer to a sense of HOW native
speakers/writers of an era normally and naturally expressed themselves in
their own language.
Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Emeritus)
1989 Grindstaff Road/Burnsville, NC 28714/(828) 675-4243
cwconrad at artsci.wustl.edu
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