[B-Greek] Aorist Middle/Passive?

Carl Conrad cwconrad2 at mac.com
Mon Nov 17 12:03:23 EST 2008

On Nov 17, 2008, at 11:15 AM, Richard Ghilardi wrote:

> Hello Folks,
> The following quotation is found in Donald Mastronarde's  
> Introduction to
> Attic Greek, page 141, paragraph 6:
> << Note on Terminology. The aorist middle is called "middle" rather  
> than
> "middle/passive" because there is a separate aorist passive form,  
> based
> on a different tense stem. In fact, strong aorist middle forms are
> sometimes found with passive meaning in early poetry and early  
> prose, but
> in classical Attic usage this passive use of the aorist middle form is
> confined to ESXOMHN, from EXW (and compounds). The weak aorist  
> middle is
> sometimes used intransitively or reflexively, but it CANNOT be used  
> with
> a passive meaning. >> (Emphasis is mine.)
> This quote puzzles me because it seems to be at variance with Carl
> Conrad's several essays on Greek voice. (I agree with Dr. Conrad.)  
> Either
> I have misunderstood one (or both) of these teachers or one of them is
> wrong. (Perhaps there are other possibilities.)

Your cited passage is in fact essentially correct. There are two  
aorist middle verb-forms, however, that can be used in a passive  as  
well as in a middle sense, depending on contextual framework: APWLOMHN  
and EGENOMHN; APWLOMHN is the aorist of APOLLUMAI, EGENOMHN is the  
aorist of GI(G)NOMAI. Both these verbs can take an agent construction.  
E.g. 1Cor. 10:10 μηδὲ γογγύζετε, καθάπερ  
τινὲς αὐτῶν ἐγόγγυσαν καὶ  
ἀπώλοντο ὑπὸ τοῦ ὀλοθρευτοῦ. [MHDE  
OLOQREUTOU]; Acts 26:6 καὶ νῦν ἐπ᾿ ἐλπίδι τῆς  
εἰς τοὺς πατέρας ἡμῶν ἐπαγγελίας  
γενομένης ὑπὸ τοῦ θεοῦ ἕστηκα  
Mastronarde notes, several more to be found in Homer and other early  
poetry, such forms as BEBLHTO (from BALLW), "was hit."

The position I have argued has more to do with the QH forms ordinarily  
termed "aorist passive" or "future passive." My view is that the QH  
aorist and QH future forms were beginning, already in Homer, to  
supplant the aorist middle forms in MHN/SO/TO/MEQA/SQE/NTO while  
continuing to bear middle sense/function. This observation applies to  
most so-called "deponent verbs" such as DUNAMAI, aor HDUNHQHN or  
POREUOMAI, aor. EPOREUQHN. Over the course of several centuries the QH  
aorist forms came ever more completely into use where previously MHN/ 
SO/TO aorists had been dominant. In Classical Attic the aorist of  
APOKRINOMAI is APEKRINAMHN, while in the GNT it is almost always  

Over the centuries the functions associated with these distinct verb  
morphologies underwent a significant transformation. The fact that the  
language was always in flux makes it somewhat difficult or misleading  
to characterize precisely the prevalent forms of paradigms in the  
different eras.

>  In paragraph 5 on the same page Mastronarde writes that ELYSA = 'I
> released' and ELYSAMHN = 'I ransomed'. If paragraph 6 is correct,
> ELYSAMHN cannot mean 'I was released', can it?

No, and it does not.

> Is Mastronarde right in asserting that a 1st aorist middle form can  
> never
> have a passive meaing, and, with one exception, neither can a 2nd  
> aorist
> middle form in classical Attic Greek?

He's more right than wrong (statistically speaking!); I've indicated a  
couple second-aorist "middle" verb-forms that still can bear a passive  
sense in NT Koine, and I think instances of these same verbs could be  
found in 5th-4th-century Attic texts.

> Can someone clear up my confusion?

Hopefully to some extent.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Retired)

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