Re: deponency

Carl W. Conrad (
Wed, 22 Jan 1997 05:51:23 -0600

At 9:36 PM -0600 1/21/97, Stephen C. Carlson wrote:
>I may suggest, however, that the problem with teaching deponents is not
>so much the connotation of the term (another meaning of "deponent" in
>English is "one who testifies under oath in a deposition" -- perhaps
>that's negative!) but an insufficient linguistic exposure, especially to
>many different languages. What is the typical language background of
>your students? Is it a good idea to study Latin before studying Greek?

The very first thing I do on the first day with each new class is to get on
record which students, if any, have studied any other language than English
and which one(s). The more they have, the better. And Latin does help some,
although I really think it would be better to learn Latin AFTER learning
Greek. Most of the misleading things taught in Latin grammar (such as the
term "deponent" derive from the same traditions as those in traditional
Greek grammar, and sometimes commentaries and teachers do little to improve
on tradition. I recall way back in High School when reading Vergil being
taught that VOLVITUR means "he is rolled" rather than "he rolls," although
one who has learned Greek can readily see that VOLVITUR is really a middle
voice; I was also taught--and most commentaries still teach--that MANUS in
VINCTUS MANUS is a "Greek accusative" whereas this is a very common
construction in Latin and MANUS is a direct object of VINCTUS, which is a
middle/reflexive participle used in a passive sense: "having bound his
hands" =3D "having his hands bound" =3D "his hands bound."

When I start teaching the middle and passive in Greek, I begin with an
active form like:

LUEI hO NEANIAS TON hIPPON =3D "The young man unties (his) horse."

then go on to the middle:

LUETAI hO hIPPOS=3D "The horse works his way loose."

and finally the passive as a way of using the middle,

LUETAI hO hIPPOS hUPO TOU NEANIOU=3D "The horse gets loose by action
of the young man."

If someone knows French, we can talk about the construction of "Je me lave
les mains"; or if someone knows Spanish we can use the phrase, "Spanish
speaks itself here." Of course I tell them what is meant by the traditional
term deponent, but I warn them against the implications of the term.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University
One Brookings Drive, St. Louis, MO, USA 63130
(314) 935-4018 OR