Re: Perfects

Jonathan Robie (
06 Sep 96 18:17:09 EDT


I really appreciate the time you put into responding to this -- I think that I
have learned a lot from it. I'll respond to the important things first to try to
keep this focussed. For me, the really important things I want to say are (1)
this is cool, I'm really learning, and this is helping me understand that there
is more to the Greek than I thought; (2) but I'm not there yet...I need some
heuristics here to keep me from exploring every possible path; and (3) my
disclaimers may have been excessive, but the express a real concern. Let's take
these one at a time...

(1) this is cool, I'm really learning...

> There's a wonderful line (v. 11) in Hesiod's ERGA KAI hHMERAI with an
> instance of what someone once called "the philosophic imperfect" or "the
> imperfect of the recently-discovered fact":
> "There was not, after all, a single brood of Strifes, but on earth
> there are two."
> This is very similar; yes, the LOGOS was ALWAYS in existence,
> continuously--STILL IS, in fact.

Hmmmm....I think I may be just starting to get a feeling for some of the
richness of the Greek tenses. Until recently, I really wasn't seeing that much
that wasn't clearly expressed in the English translations. Partially out of
caution -- I really want to avoid reading things into the text that aren't
there. But now that I have B-GREEK as a safety net...

(2) I need some heuristics here to keep me from exploring every possible path

> it's rather like Faust's meditation on how many ways one may
> translate John 1:1a, EN ARXHi HN hO LOGOS ...

Well, one of the things that Newell and Simon established about expert knowledge
is that beginners explore many paths that experts wouldn't even bother with
because they don't yet have the heuristics needed to choose which paths to
ignore. And unlike Faust, I *haven't* studied theology ;->

For instance, should I assume that the primary meaning of the aorist is
generally that something happened? If so, when should I start exploring more
exotic possibilities like gnomic aorist...

> Wie, bitte? At this point I get frustrated with this endeavor at splitting
> the interpretative meanings of tenses into infinite refractions.

Me too. But I'm not really sure what I *should* be doing. Even as I was writing
that, it felt a bit like Dostoyevski's "intentional pouring of water through a
sieve". So here's the deal: I have a list of interpretative meanings of tenses
in my grammars, I have a passage that uses these tenses, and I want to figure
out which meanings may be appropriate. How do I proceed? I assume context and
common sense are key (and I may have exceeded both in my attempt to understand
what these grammars are talking about!), and I also assume that 30 years
experience helps (one down, 29 to go...), but are there other guidelines that
can help me?

George Polya says that every good solution is preceded by a good guess, and his
work on mathematical reasoning stresses teaching good guessing skills and the
ability to see which conjectures seem promising. After we have generated a good
guess, it is fairly simple to prove or disprove it. But beginners spend lots of
time giving too much weight to less promising conjectures...

So how should I really use all these interpretive categories that are in the

(3) my disclaimers may have been excessive, but the express a real concern.

> Gee, you sure do live a hard life! disclaimer was meant to be humorous, but I think I have two real
concerns here. I want to make sure that I'm not taking up excessive bandwidth,
and I want other beginners to have some indication who the experts are on the
list so that they know to give more weight to some of the responses to my posts
than to some of the speculation in my posts. I guess the other factor is that
I'm somewhat self-conscious about being a beginner in a public forum...but I'll
get over it!

In this context, it might also be worth mentioning my personal reasons for
liking the term "little Greek". It took me many years to get to the point that I
didn't have to be the expert, that I could afford to not know things or not be
in control. The word TEKNIA is very meaningful to me. I don't always have to be
God's great warrior (though that is also a role I may take at times), it is
enough to be a little child, like a child that has been weaned. I see lots of
people using Greek to prove that they are the real experts, and I really don't
want to do that. I want to use the Greek to explore the richness of its meaning.
So I use the term "little Greek" to remind myself that I don't have to become
the great expert.