ἀφίημι ὑμῖν — I forgive you?

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Yesterday in church, a friend leaned over and pointed to the verb ἄφετε in Luke 18:16 with a puzzled look on his face. (Yes. He and I both read the Greek text in church while the English translation is being read. We’re incurable geeks.) In introductory Greek classes, students often learn to associate ἀφίημι with the act of forgiving someone for something, but that’s clearly not its meaning in this text. Any decent Hellenistic Greek dictionary will present a range of different options for translating this verb into English, including, forgive, release, permit/allow, etc, but they do little to help you understand the implications of the verb in Greek.

This brief interchange in church began a thought process that did not interfere too much with the sermon, which was an awesome excursion through the Jacob cycle of stories in Genesis, but led me to want to write something about ἀφίημι. It’s a great example of how shifting worldviews can make ancient texts seem strange to us. How is it that a single verb can be used with such divergent senses in the biblical texts?

In today’s world we think of forgiving as something that has to do with emotions. “You did something thoughtless (hurtful, etc.),” we might think, “but I’m going to forgive you.” That is, “I’m going to overlook what you did and feel okay about you in spite of it.” This way of thinking about forgiveness is a very long way from the ancient Greek notion of ἄφεσις (the noun associated with the verb ἀφίημι).

In the ancient world these words were associated with release (release from obligation, release from imprisonment, release from ownership, release from impeded movement, release from limits imposed by someone else). Emotion might be associated with these things—and almost certainly was—but it’s not part of the meaning of these words. Both the verb ἀφίημι and the noun ἄφεσις had much more practical import.

In John 14:27 we are told that Jesus said to his disciples, Εἰρήνην ἀφίημι ὑμῖν. In this scene Jesus is not forgiving his disciples for anything they have done. He is handing over peace to them. Peace (εἰρήνη) is his to give, and he is releasing it to them. In Luke 18:16, Jesus is not asking his disciples to forgive the children for anything, he is demanding that they release them to come to him (ἄφετε τὰ παιδία ἔρχεσθαι πρός με).

In Hebrews 10:18 we find the aphorism, ὅπου δὲ ἄφεσις τούτων, οὐκέτι προσφορὰ περὶ ἁμαρτίας. The pronoun τούτων refers to sins and “lawless deeds” mentioned in the previous verse. Where there is ἄφεσις of these, the offenders are released from their obligation to bring offerings.

None of this implied anything about God’s feelings or the feelings of the disciples toward the children in Luke, or the feelings between Jesus and his disciples. But in our modern world this is precisely what we associate with forgiveness. I think we miss something fundamentally important when we make this mistake. Forgiveness (ἄφεσις) is not about present emotions. It’s about the advent of freedom.

Today, may you be released from whatever is holding you down!

LA DETERMINATION DU NOM EN GREC CLASSIQUE by Michele Biraud

A colleague recently ask me about Biraud’s treatment of determiners in Ancient Greek and its implications for the DP hypothesis (Determiner Phrase hypothesis). I had not seen the book in over a decade, so I put my colleague off until I could find a copy. I found one in a nearby library and it seems to confirm my vague recollection that Biraud (despite the sound of the title to English speakers) was not really discussing the issue that falls under the term “determiner” in English Linguistics.

Here’s the description of the book from its back cover along with my feeble translation. I am not fluent in French. In fact, I’ve never had a French class. What I can read in French is entirely self-taught, so the translation I provide after the French text is certainly open to debate! If you see any mistakes, please point them out, and I’ll make the necessary changes.

L’attique classique est riche en déterminants et la variéte des structures des groupes nominaux appelle une étude précise. A l’aide de quelques principes simples de description, empruntés pour la syntaxe à l’analyse distributionnelle, et pour la sémantique plus librement inspirés par diverses théories, l’auteur montre que cette diversité se laisse réduire à un système de quelques règles aux implications multiples, dont les écrivains anciens ont exploité toutes les possibilités expressives. Sont abordés en cours d’étude plusieurs problèmes de linguistique générale, pour certains desquels sont esquissées des solutions originales (le statut des déterminants d’identité es d’altérité, une possible hiérarchisation de la structure du syntagme nominal en fonction des apports déterminatifs…).

Ainsi non seulement cet ouvrage peut-il donner aux hellénistes une vision plus claire d’une question sacrifiée dans les grammaires alors qu’un mot sur six dans les textes est un déterminant, mais il peut aussi présenter quelque intérêt pour des linguistes curieux des résultats d’une approche systématique de la détermination en grec ancien et des probèmes qu’elle soulève.

Classical attic is rich in modifiers and the variety of the structures of noun phrases calls for a precise study. Using a few simple principles of description, borrowed from syntax for distributional analysis, and more freely inspired by various theories for semantics, the author shows that this diversity can be reduced to a system of a few rules with several implications, of which the ancient writers have exploited all the expressive possibilities. Several problems of general linguistics are addressed in the course of the study, for some of which original solutions are outlined (the status of modifiers of identity and otherness, a possible hierarchy of the structure of the noun phrase according to the contributions of modifiers…).

Thus not only can this work give Hellenists a clearer view of a question ignored in grammars although one word out of six in the texts is a modifier, but it may also be of interest to linguists curious about the results of a systematic approach to modification in ancient Greek and the problems it raises.

[Any mistakes in the translation are entirely my fault! Don’t blame Biraud!]

Second-position clitics and the syntax-phonology interface

David M. Goldstein (UC Los Angeles) has uploaded a paper on second-position clitics in Classical Greek to Academia.edu. He wrote the paper with Dag T. T. Haug (University of Oslo) using Lexical Functional Grammar as their framework and proposing some revision to the theory on the basis on their findings.

The paper was presented at the Joint 2016 Conference on Head-driven Phrase Structure Grammar and Lexical Functional Grammar in Warsaw, Poland. Here is the abstract:

In this paper we discuss second position clitics in ancient Greek, which show a remarkable ability to break up syntactic constituents. We argue against attempts to capture such data in terms of a mismatch between c-structure yield and surface string and instead propose to enrich c-structure by using a multiple context free grammar with explicit yield functions rather than an ordinary CFG.
Thanks to Mike Aubrey for pointing this out on twitter!

A fresh approach to Greek accents

James Tauber has published a short video explaining the accentuation of Ancient Greek words in a way that is more precise than what is found in beginning grammars that deal with the issue. If you don’t follow the argument fully, just watch a second time.

If you have never studied Greek accents before, here are some terms that may help you understand the video:

Syllable Positions

ultima = the last syllable in a Greek word
penult = second to last syllable
antepenult = third to last syllable

Accentuation Patterns:

oxytone = an acute accent (´) on the ultima
paroxytone = an acute accent on the penult
proparoxytone = an acute accent on the antepenult

perispomenone = a circumflex accent (῀) on the ultima
properispomenone = a circumflex accent on the penult

Thank you, James.

New Testament Verbs of Communication

danoventverbsofcommunicationI have added Paul Danove’s New Testament Verbs of Communication: A Case Frame and Exegetical Study to the bibliography.

Danove has been developing his Case Frame analysis since the mid 1990s, and along the way he has contributed significantly to our understanding of the argument structure of Hellenistic Greek verbs. It is good to see this new addition.

Additions to the Bibliography

greekverbrevisitedI have added The Greek Verb Revisited to the bibliography here at Greek-Language.com. Each of the papers contained in the book now also has its own entry in the bibliography.

I just found out today that the book is available for Kindle. You can read it on any device with the Kindle app.

A Treebank-Based Study of Subject-Verb Agreement with Coordinated Subjects in Ancient Greek

Journal of Greek Linguistics
Journal of Greek Linguistics

An article in the current issue of the Journal of Greek Linguistics by Francesco Mambrini and Marco Passarotti illustrates well the tremendous benefit provided by the development of electronic treebanks for the Ancient Greek data. Mambrini and Passarotti examine subject-verb agreement with coordinated subjects and bring to bear on the problem a breath of data that would have proved inaccessible only a short time ago.

Whether or not you agree with Mambrini and Passarotti’s conclusions (that partial agreement—where one of the coordinated subjects rather than the entire coordinated phrase controls the number of the verb—is “more than a mere deviation from a rigid syntactic behavior” and that “semantic and discursive factors influence the choice” between possible controllers of the verb’s number), you now have the amass a very large amount of data to argue with them, and the tools needed to amass that data are much more available than they were even a few years ago.

Mambrini and Passarotti used two annotated treebanks. The Ancient Greek Dependency Treebank (AGDT), part of the larger Ancient Greek and Latin Dependency Treebank (AGLDT), was created in 2009 and is the first syntactically annotated corpus of Greek literary texts of the Archaic (Homer, etc.) and Classical Age (Bamman et al. 2009).  is a project from the University of Oslo that provides aligned treebanks that can assist with translations of the New Testament in a broad spectrum of Indo-European languages (Haug and Jøhndal 2008). In addition to the New Testament, though, PROIEL includes a selection of other prose texts. The morphological and syntactic annotation of Herodotus, for example, is ongoing.

Mambrini and Passarotti’s use of these syntactic treebanks foreshadows what is certain to be the norm in future research on Ancient Greek. We are all greatly indebted to those who have put the time into developing the databases that will serve and greatly expand our research in the decades to come.

I’ve added the article to A Comprehensive Bibliography of Hellenistic Greek Linguistics.

The Greek Verbal System and Aspect Prominence

A new article by Nicholas J. Ellis, Michael G. Aubrey, and Mark Dubis has recently appeared in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society discussing the need for revising the terms we use to discuss the Greek verbal system. You can download the article from Academia.edu.

Their proposals have grown out of the work they have done with BibleMesh and are influenced by the work of other scholars such as Stephen H. Levinsohn and Randall Buth as well as conversations with Christopher Fresch and Steve Runge.

Here is the abstract:

Verbal systems can give prominence to tense, aspect, or mood. The morphology of the verbal system within biblical Greek provides important evidence to suggest that Greek is an aspect-prominent language, though one that also incorporates tense within the indicative mood. Certain traditional grammatical labels inappropriately treat Greek as though it were instead a tense-prominent language like English (e.g. the use of “present” or “tense formative” outside of the indicative mood). We need to reform our descriptive labels and general conception of Greek accordingly. In doing so, the simplicity and beauty of the Greek verbal system emerges, offering pedagogical advantages for teachers of Greek and challenging exegetes to properly account for Greek’s particular configuration of tense, aspect, and mood.

The well-informed discussion Ellis, Aubrey, and Dubis provide is long overdue. The terminology we use to label particular forms and their usage play a large role in informing interpretation of those forms. More accurate nomenclature will lead to better understanding and greater efficiency in describing the language.

I have added this article to the bibliography here at Greek-Language.com with notes to the names of each of the authors.

Inheritance and Inflectional Morphology

LeBlanc, Inheritance and Inflectional MorphologyIn Inheritance and Inflectional Morphology MaryEllen A. LeBlanc addresses inflectional morphology in four languages: Old High German, Latin, Early New High German, and Koine Greek. The section on Koine Greek comes in the sixth chapter (of eight). This is volume 94 of Peter Lang’s “Berkeley Insights in Linguistics and Semiotics.”

The book is an updated version of LeBlanc’s doctoral dissertation submitted at the University of California Berkeley in the Spring of 2014.

Here’s the abstract from Peter Lang:

Inheritance, which has its origins in the field of artificial intelligence, is a framework focusing on shared properties. When applied to inflectional morphology, it enables useful generalizations within and across paradigms. The inheritance tree format serves as an alternative to traditional paradigms and provides a visual representation of the structure of the language’s morphology. This mapping also enables cross-linguistic morphological comparison.
In this book, the nominal inflectional morphology of Old High German, Latin, Early New High German, and Koine Greek are analyzed using inheritance trees. Morphological data is drawn from parallel texts in each language; the trees may be used as a translation aid to readers of the source texts as an accompaniment to or substitute for traditional paradigms. The trees shed light on the structural similarities and differences among the four languages.

The dissertation is available in two different places online:

I’ve added the book to the online bibliography.

 

Reflections on Lexicography: Explorations in Ancient Syriac, Hebrew, and Greek Sources

ReflectionsOnLexicographySix articles from the recent Gorgias Press release of Reflections on Lexicography: Explorations in Ancient Syriac, Hebrew, and Greek Sources deal specifically with Hellenistic Greek Lexicography. This volume was produced for the International Syriac Language Project. Here is a list of the papers in the section entitled “Reflections on Greek Lexicography.”

  • A Linguistic-Cultural Approach to Alleged Pauline and Lukan Christological Disparity (Frederick William Danker) (page 267)
  • Contextual Factors in the Greek-Spanish Dictionary of the New Testament (DGENT) (Jesús Peláez) (page 289)
  • The Greek-Spanish Dictionary of the New Testament (DGENT): Meaning and Translation of the Lexemes; Some Practical Examples (Lautaro Roig Lanzillotta) (page 301)
  • The Genitive Absolute in Discourse: More Than a Change of Subject (Margaret G. Sim) (page 313)
  • Now and Then: Clarifying the Role of Temporal Adverbs as Discourse Markers (Steven E. Runge) (page 327)
  • ‘Therefore’ or ‘Wherefore’: What’s the Difference? (Stephen H. Levinsohn) (page 349)

This volume is number 4 in Gorgias Press’ series, Perspectives on Linguistics and Ancient Languages.

I have added these articles to the online bibliography.