[B-Greek] Dative participial clauses

Steve Runge srunge at logos.com
Tue Jul 10 10:02:40 EDT 2007

I did not expect that the idea of backgrounding would be an epiphany for you.  I work with a seminary student, and a consistent frustration he has expressed is focusing more in translation that meaning/function.  Quite often, preverbal participles are translated into English as main verbs, since English does not use the participle nearly to the extent of Greek.  This is especially the case in Luke and Matthew, and possibly one of the reasons why people find these gospels so much more complex than John.  In describing the function based on the translation, students often miss what is obvious to you.  The 'translation' framework is lousy for description, since it often leads to the idea that there are different kinds of adverbial participles, some are more like main verbs, others are not.  This is why I have appreciated the patient discussion that you and Elizabeth have had over the past week to illustrate your explanations from the data.


From: Carl W. Conrad [mailto:cwconrad at artsci.wustl.edu]
Sent: Tue 7/10/2007 3:59 AM
To: Steve Runge
Cc: Elizabeth Kline; greek B-Greek
Subject: Re: [B-Greek] Dative participial clauses

On Jul 9, 2007, at 12:37 PM, Steve Runge wrote:

> Carl,
> You raised a point that I wanted address:
> "It certainly seems to be the case; that these dative participial 
> clauses at the beginning of a sentence function very much like the 
> so-called genitive "absolute" constructions. I don't know whether 
> this would be useful or not, but I'm now wondering whether even 
> nominative participial phrases in agreement with the subject of 
> main clauses don't generally display these same characteristics."
> I think that you are dead on in your inclination to look for a 
> common function of preverbal participles.  As a starting point, it 
> is worth asking what difference it would have made if each of these 
> participial actions had been conveyed using indicative verbs.  In 
> other words, based on the context what difference is there between 
> use of the participle versus a main clause mood such as the 
> indicative.  I would contend that use of an indicative mood would 
> place the 'participial' action on the same par with the main clause 
> action.  All would have similar weight, from a morphological point 
> of view.  If this is true, then what is the effect of using a 
> participle?  Levinsohn (2000:181-190) has argued that it has the 
> effect of 'backgrounding' the participial action with respect to 
> the main verb.
> What do I mean by backgrounding?  It would be like having a line of 
> soldiers at attention and having some of them take a step back.  
> Those who step back are pushed into the background somewhat 
> compared to those in their original position.  At the same time, 
> those that have not moved end up in a slightly more prominent 
> position than those backgrounded, even though they have not moved.  
> The text I have used to illustrate this is Mark 5:25-27, where the 
> writer uses 7 separate participial clauses to establish the needed 
> circumstantial information for the reader to understand the main 
> clause action: the woman touching Jesus.  English does not use 
> participles like this, and thus many of them are rendered as main 
> verbs in translation.
> Had the writer used indicative verbs for some or most of the seven 
> participial actions (as most English translations do), the 
> 'touching' would not have stood out nearly as blatantly.  The woman 
> 'touching' Jesus ends up being the thing that Jesus specifically 
> responds to in v. 30: TIS MOU hHYATO TWN hIMATIWN;
> If you are looking for a unifying explanation to describe the 
> function of pre-verbal participles in the gospels and Acts, I would 
> suggest starting with the idea of 'backgrounding' as a hypothesis 
> and testing it.  I have found this explanation also covers a good 
> many of the pre-verbal participles in the Epistles as well.
> Making the main clause action 'stand out' does not make it 
> emphatic.  If you go back to the 'line of soldiers' the line of 
> those who did not move is the normal position.  Having some step 
> back 'backgrounds' them.  Having some of them step forward 
> 'emphasizes' them by making the stand out from the normal position.
> Hope this helps advance the discussion,
> Steve
> Note:  Some folks, like Robert Longacre and Alvierro Niccacci, have 
> described narrative in terms of mainline and offline, foreground 
> and background.  I am not arguing that use of a participle makes 
> the action 'background information'.  Instead, the action is 
> backgroundED with respect to the main clause action, making the 
> main action stand out more than the participial action, compared to 
> if all indicative verbs had been used.

Thanks for these suggestions, Steve. Your appended note unfortunately 
illustrates the problem of terminology and jargon that drives me up 
the wall when I try to read Linguists. I continue to think I'll 
survive it and perhaps even learn something from what I read of it, 
but ...

After a thrid reading, I find myself reacting ambivalently toward 
what you say about nominative participial clauses:

(1) On the one hand, the preposition of aorist participial phrases/
clauses is such a standard feature of ancient Greek narrative prose 
that anyone who has read much ancient Greek will not find it 
especially new or enlightening that the action indicated by such 
preposed participial phrases/clauses is backgrounded with respect to 
the action of the main clause -- the reader of ancient Greek 
narrative takes that in without thinking about it; students who have 
done any serious work in Greek prose composition are even taught the 
principle in a standard composition primer like North and Hilliard.

(2) On the other hand, I doubt whether this usage or preposed 
participial phrases/clauses is as common a feature of non-narrative 
Greek prose -- oratory, philosophical discourse and essays such as 
those of Xenophon and Plutarch. I haven't tested this guess that the 
usage differs between narrative and non-narrative prose genres, but I 
think it's pretty likely. I think that some kinds of finite-mood 
circumstantial clauses preceding main clauses may very well be 
"backgrounded" -- but that's just a hunch. I do think that genre 
matters in this regard.

(3) I very much appreciate your calling attention to the structure of 
Mark 5;25-27. It's worth spelling out:

Mark 5:25       ??? ???? ???? ?? ????? 
??????? ?????? ???  26 ??? ????? 
??????? ??? ?????? ?????? ??? 
?????????? ?? ???? ????? ????? 
??? ????? ?????????? ???? ?????? 
??? ?? ?????? ???????,  27 ???????? 
???? ??? ?????, ??????? ?? ?? 
???? ??????? ????? ??? ??????? 


I don't think an Attic prose master could have formulated this more 
eloquently. That's one reason I find it hard to take seriously any 
suggestion that Mark's gospel was originally composed in Aramaic. 
There was a time when I thought Mark's Greek was very rough, but upon 
careful study and at the suggestion of Edward Hobbs, I came to 
believe that the rough places in Mark's gospel narrative more likely 
come from his received tradition, whereas the sequences more likely 
to have been composed by the evangelist himself are in quite 
acceptable Greek and even with some rhetorical flair and heavy irony.

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

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