[B-Greek] Present Middles with "Active" aorists/perfects

Carl W. Conrad cwconrad at artsci.wustl.edu
Fri Mar 10 08:28:04 EST 2006

On Mar 10, 2006, at 6:54 AM, Randall Buth wrote:

> PERDESQAI raises another issue that Carl has often clarified elegantly
> here on the list.
> Voice.
> PERDESQAI is one of those words that is attested as middle/MESH FWNH
> in the present/ENESTWS, but then in the simple past one says EPARDON
> (PARDEIN). I would chalk this up to accident and the vagaries of
> language. This kind of inconsistency happens in languages in general.
> For language learning, I think that one can simply use the forms as
> needed.
> However, in Greek it may reflect some older processes.
> ERXESQAI//ELQEIN shows the same shift between
> AORISTOS+ENERGETIKOS(active). Is there a principle here that can
> elucidate these?

As I indicated in my earlier reply to Randall's message entitled "[B- 
Greek] Body Humor and Voice," this is a separate topic deserving of a  
new header and a fuller discussion in its own right. I've researched  
this matter in response to Martin Culy's urging me to explain why we  
should NOT call "deponents" such  forms like HLQON and ELHLUQA as  
actives associated with a present-tense middle lemma.

PERDOMAI/EPARDON is hardly unique; another like it is DERKOMAI/ 
EDRAKON, "look (distinctively) with its derivative aorist participle  
DRAKWN which, as a substantive, is "the one with the fierce look."

So far as I've gotten, these verbs seem to belong to what Smyth  
(§372) calls a "primitive" verb: "A verb forming its tense-stems  
directly from a root is called a primitive verb. ... Verbs in -MI and  
verbs in -W of two syllables (in the present indicative active, as  
LEGW, speak) or of three syllables (in the middle, as DECOMAI  
receive) are generally primitive."

One of my contentions concerning voice is that what we call "active"  
and "middle-passive" paradigms in ancient Greek are more accurately  
to be understood as "standard" or "ordinary" (unmarked) and "subject- 
focused" (marked) forms. Originally these paradigms have nothing to  
do with transitivity and, although there's some validity in referring  
to the "active" forms by the name "active" -- by far the greatest  
number of verbs with "active" lemmas turn out to be transitive and  
active --, yet there are quite a few intransitives and even some  
verbs with "active" lemmas that even function to indicate a semantic  
passive: PIPTW as passive of BALLW, PASCW as passive of POIEW or PRATTW.

Another contention is that verbs with present-tense middle lemmas  
should not be called "deponents" but should better be characterized  
as "middle" verbs. While it would probably be misleading to call them  
"reflexive," the fact is that the reflexive verbs in languages using  
a reflexive pronoun generally function in much the same way as do  
Greek "middle" verbs. Moreover, some verbs that in ancient Greek do  
in fact have active forms or active lemmas are really "middle" verbs  
whose somewhat less-common active forms are "causatives" of the  
fundamentally inransitive verb. One such verb is EGEIROMAI, "arise"  
or "awake" with an active EGEIRW, "roust" or "awaken." Another is  
hISTAMAI "stand" or "come to a standstill" with an active hISTHMI  
"cause to stand" or "bring to a halt."

"Primitive" verbs with aorist and perfect forms that are “active” in  
form, are generally intransitive;  they correspond to verbs that are  
(or should be) lemmatized as “Middle” verbs: It has been observed by  
some that a full accounting of what have traditionally been called  
"deponent" verbs ought to clarify why it is that some "middle" verbs  
have active forms in the aorist and in the perfect tenses. For  
instance ERCOMAI has a middle future derived from a different root  
(fELEUQ) -- a root that appears in the aorist (HLQON) active and in  
the perfect (ELHLUQA) active forms; another is hISTAMAI (usually  
lemmatized in the active form hISTHMI): there is an aorist active  
form ESTHN which is intransitive and a perfect active form hESTHKA  
(older hESTAA) which is also intransitive.

Why? The reason is that these aorist and perfect forms of these  
"primitive" verbs emerged long before the development of the middle- 
passive perfect tense and the distinctive -QH- forms of the aorist.  
They are not really "active" in meaning -- they are certainly not  
transitive and causative -- but rather they exemplify the "default"  
function of the "active,"  the form that is not distinctly marked for  
subject-focus.  Some of these verbs have causative transitive aorists  
in -SA-, e.g. ESTHSA -- but the older “second” or  “strong” aorists  
really correspond to present-tense forms that are middle rather than  
active.  Moreover, the -QH- forms of the aorist are originally  
intransitive aorists with active endings; like the -MAI/SAI/TAI; MHN/ 
SO/TO forms they can bear either middle or passive semantic force,  
although the lexical meaning of most verbs restricts the -QH- forms  
ordinarily to either middle or passive semantic force.

This is just a brief sketch, and inasmuch as it's a topic that I have  
researched and reached some tentative conclusions about since my 2002  
version of "New Perspectives on Ancient Greek Voice," I've added this  
to some other revised thinking about voice issues that I hope to  
develop more expansively in a fresh revision of the "New  
Perspectives." In the meantime, links to PDF forms of my older  
discussions and a brief sketch of some of my revised thinking can be  
accessed at WWW: http://www.ioa.com/~cwconrad/GrkVc.html

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Emeritus)
1989 Grindstaff Road/Burnsville, NC 28714/(828) 675-4243
cwconrad2 at mac.com
WWW: http://www.ioa.com/~cwconrad/

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