[B-Greek] PRIN before the birth of Abraham/the Muses.

Steven Cox stevencox_backonbgreek at yahoo.co.uk
Wed Oct 14 21:48:51 EDT 2009

Sorry. Yes I should have transliterated the Perseus transliterations into BGreek and provided context of complete sentences. Discourteous. My apologies. 

But, thank you for the time spent on such a complete and helpful answer. Can I further ask:

>PRIN ABRAAM GENESQAI points to a moment of time when Abraham was born, while PRIN ABRAAM GEGONENAI points to a time span prior to Abraham's existence.<

Is that because time in the clause PRIN...GENESQAI is in itself ambiguous, and in other contexts it could mean "before this (future) happens", wheras GEGONENAI being "before" + perfective, is in effect equivalent to a pluperfect "before this had happened"?

PRIN TI GENESQAI, TOUTO PRASSW  before sth. happens/happened I do this.
PRIN TI GENESQAI, TOUTO PRAXW  before sth. will happen, I will do this.

PRIN TI GENESQAI, TOUTO EPRAXA before that happened, I did this.

cf. PRIN TI GEGONENAI, TOUTO PEPRAXA before sth. had happened, I had done this.


Thank you particularly also for the observations on Attic->Koine. I will ask a separate question of the list.

--- On Wed, 14/10/09, Carl Conrad <cwconrad2 at mac.com> wrote:

From: Carl Conrad <cwconrad2 at mac.com>
Subject: Re: [B-Greek] PRIN before the birth of Abraham/the Muses.
To: "Steven Cox" <stevencox_backonbgreek at yahoo.co.uk>
Cc: b-greek at lists.ibiblio.org
Date: Wednesday, 14 October, 2009, 12:21 PM

On Oct 14, 2009, at 4:15 AM, Steven Cox wrote:

> Hello folks,
> please don't jump all over me, this is probably a very basic question, but wasn't one I could see addressed in the Bgreek archive.
> I started with John 8:58 PRIN ABRAAM GENESQAI (aor. inf. mid.)
> and TWN PRIN MOUSAS GEGONENAI (perf. inf. act.)

Prefaced Unscientific Peevish PreScript: To be perfectly honest and straightforward, Steven, I don't understand how you can expect anyone to respond to a message like this. While it seems clear enough that you'd like to understand the difference between usage of PRIN with an aorist infinitive and PRIN with a perfect infinitive of the same verb GINOMAI, you illustrate your question with more than half a dozen truncated and semi-digested citations from Platonic dialogues and later from Herodotus and Xenophon -- evidently the fruits of a Perseus search. Your citation style is haphazard, almost never providing sufficient context to grasp how the PRIN + infinitive construction is being used, and you cite these texts using a transliteration scheme (probably the Perseus scheme) that is not unintelligible but awkward to list-members more familiar with or more comfortable with the standard B-Greek transliteration scheme. I found that I had to go to the Greek text
 of the Phaedo and read through the whole section from which you've drawn your illustrations in order to observe the usage you're trying to raise questions about. After doing that I rather think the question could have been posed much more simply without your sending us the contents of your note pad in that undigested format. Enough then of that.

> before the birth of the muses, Plato, Phaidros. Socrates 259b
> And had the question, why not PRIN ABRAAM GEGONENAI?

Aye, verily, why not? While there's a nuance of difference, I don't think it would have altered the substance of the dialogue or the import of Jesus' response to his questioners in the passage under consideration.

My take on this is as follows: PRIN ABRAAM GENESQAI points to a moment of time when Abraham was born, while PRIN ABRAAM GEGONENAI points to a time span prior to Abraham's existence. I tend to think that the aspectual difference between the aorist and the perfect tense -- especially in contexts where the discourse is about events in time as here -- is not observed with any regularity in Koine Greek. I am inclined to think that the perfect tense is less commonly used (it's my belief that it is less commonly used, but I haven't done a search to test that) in the Koine than it was in Classical Attic and that one reason is that it (the perfect) is quite commonly used not in a stative sense but rather as an eventive verb indicating perfective action in the past. However, the perfect tense-forms may also represent a state, as it does in the two most commonly-used perfect-tense forms in Koine, OIDA and its compounds and hESTHKA and its compounds. GEGONENAI, on
 the other hand, when used as a stative, means "exist" or "have existence.," whereas GENESQAI means "come into existence" or "come to birth/get born."

For practical purposes, I'd English PRIN ABRAAM GEGONENAI as "before Abraham's existence" and PRIN ABRAAM GENESQAI as "before Abraham's birth."

It's instructive in this context to compare the Johannine prologue, 1:3, particularly if we read it the traditional way, with hO GEGONEN understood as belonging with what precedes rather than with what follows:

 3 πάντα δι᾿ αὐτοῦ ἐγένετο, καὶ χωρὶς αὐτοῦ ἐγένετο οὐδὲ ἕν ὃ γέγονεν

Here EGENETO points to 'coming into existence' while GEGONEN points to existence as a state.
I would English this as "Everything has come into existence through his agency and apart from him not a single thing that has existence has come into existence." -- or " ... and apart from him not a single existing thing has come into existence."

> Then I've been looking through the "before [the soul] is born" constructions in Plato's Phaedo 75-77, where PRIN GENESQAI and PRIN GEGONENAI occur in contrast (?)
> 75c prin genesthai ara
> 75c kai prin genesthai kai euthus
> 75e labontes prin genesthai
> 76e prin gegonenai
> 77a prin genesthai
> 77b hoti prin genesthai
> 77c hoti prin genesthai hêmas ên hêmôn hê psuchê
> 77c prin genesthai ei mellei
> It makes reasonable sense to me why 76e is PRIN + perf.inf.act.
> [76e] huparchousan proteron aneuriskontes hêmeteran ousan, kai tauta ekeinêi apeikazomen, anankaion, houtôs hôsper kai tauta estin, houtôs kai tên hêmeteran psuchên einai kai prin gegonenai hêmas: ei de mê esti tauta, allôs an ho logos houtos eirêmenos eiê; ar' houtôs echei, kai isê anankê tauta te einai kai tas hêmeteras psuchas prin kai hêmas gegonenai, kai ei mê tauta, oude tade;
> [76e] which we find existed previously and are now ours, and
> compare our sensations with these, is it not a necessary inference that
> just as these abstractions exist, so our souls existed before we were
> born; and if these abstractions do not exist, our argument is of no
> force? Is this the case, and is it equally certain that provided these
> things exist our souls also existed before we were born, and that if
> these do not exist, neither did our souls?”
> but that still doesn't really help me grasp why not PRIN ABRAAM GEGONENAI. Can anyone provide any helpful comments. Is it related to the following being EGW EIMI not EGW HN?

I don't think so. I think that EGW HN would have raised both eyebrows and hackles as much as did EGW EIMI. Well, perhaps it's easier to understand PRIN ABRAAM GENESQAI than it is to understand EGW EIMI.  ;-)  Obviously there are many who are convinced that EGW EIMI harks back to Exodus 3 and there are others who rather doubt that. There are some who think that what EGW EIMI must ordinarily mean in Greek is "It's me" or "I'm the one." Perhaps the sense is "I continue to be the one you have to deal with." No doubt the formulation of John 8:56 was intended to be provocative and perhaps a little bit arcane. It still is, isn't it? I personally think that almost everything in our archives about John 8:56 is, at best, inconclusive.

> PS - there was a secondary question of why not PRIN ABRAAM GENNASQAI, but I think I'm okay on that one. Just noting in case anyone has comments on that too.
> nb. gennaw, prin .... gennasthai. - not found. except in Suda.

Well, it's perfectly conceivable, but a discussion focused upon the exact pinpointing in time of begetting tends toward the direction of "when you were a sparkle in your father's eye" or the like. As I recall, the lengthy beginning of the length novel, Tristram Shandy, is a digression to end all digressions on pinpointing the moment of the protagonist's begetting.

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

Send instant messages to your online friends http://uk.messenger.yahoo.com 

More information about the B-Greek mailing list