From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Mon Feb 26 1996 - 05:55:20 EST

On 2/25/96, Dale M. Wheeler wrote:

> Greetings fellow "voice"-ologists. Here's another interesting problem.
> APOLLUMI is listed in BAGD as only occuring in the Active and Middle, never
> the passive (BTW, if someone can figure out the cryptogram we refer to as
> Blass-Debrunner-Funk on this specific voice issue[I understand the rest],
> I'd appreciate it; ##92, 101). This apparently extends to the uses in the
> Pres, Impf, and Perf, where the forms are anomalous. Some of the tools
> declare, however, that certain forms are clearly passive, to wit: Matt 9:17
> (Perf); Mark 2:22 (Perf); 1Cor 8:11 (Perf); 1Cor 10:9 (Impf).

In the first place, these first three are actually present tenses rather
than perfect, but I suppose the point is that by form they could be passive
rather than middle.

Mt 9:17 APOLLUNTAI (pres.)(hOI ASKOI) "The wineskins become useless"
Mk 2:22 APOLLUTAI (pres.) (hO OINOS) "The wine goes to waste"
1 Cor 8:11 APOLLUTAI (pres.)(hO ASQENWN) "The sick man perishes"
1 Cor 10:9 APWLLUNTO (impf.) (hUPO TWN OFEWN) "They would die by the work
of snakes"

I say that all of these are middle voice, for reasons made clearer below.

> My question is whether these should be classified as Middle or Passive ??
> Now before you say they should definitely be passive, because, for example,
> 1Cor 10:9 has hUPO with the genitive associated with it, check out these
> other clearly middle passages: 1Cor 10:10; Matt 26:52. Well, what do
> you'all think ?


I would definitely assign all these instances to the middle voice; I would,
in fact, want to see a form of this verb with a -QH- before admitting
there's a real passive to it.

APOLLUMI in the active voice means "cause to perish" (basically); in the
middle it means "to perish." When you add an "agent" construction (hUPO +
genitive) or an instrumental construction (EN + dative) to it, I suppose
some linguists might want to say it becomes passive, but I don't think it
really does. 1 Cor 10:10 clearly means "they met their doom at the hands of
the executioner."

This is really tricky. In classical Greek, we like to say that APOLLUMAI
functions as the passive of APOKTEINW, and that PIPTW functions as the
passive of BALLW, KEIMAI as the perfect passive of TIQHMI. There's a real
problem here with whether these verbs are to be described in terms of
function or morphology. I think one must be aware of both (one must "know"
each verb personally!), but personally I prefer to describe the verbs for
VOICE in terms of their morphology.

Historically there never was a distinct passive in Greek, although we may
with justification speak of the -QH- forms as functioning passives in the
aorist and future tenses. But the aorist "passive" uses active endings, and
the future "passive" uses middle endings. The embarrassing fact that proves
this to be true is that we have verbs like SPLAGXNIZOMAI with "passive"
aorists that cannot be construed in any passive function. So we draw up a
classification of "middle deponents" and "passive deponents" to help us
keep the verbs straight.

I don't really know enough I-E languages to test my theory, but I really
have the sense that the passive voice is "unnatural" in Indo-European
languages--it does develop historically, as one can see in Latin--but all
those "deponent" verbs that are so pesky to learn are really verbs in the
middle voice, and in Late Latin and Medieval Latin they revert to what they
always wanted to be in the first place--reflexive verbs.

It's probably my bias toward diachronic analysis of linguistic forms that
inclines me to classify these forms of APOLLUMAI as middle, but it seems to
me that there are lots and lots of these verbs that trip us up as to their
voice in those tenses where the forms could be EITHER middle OR passive.
And it may be that we would prefer to define or describe these verbs in
terms of function rather than morphology. But APWLLUNTO in 1 Cor 10:9 and
APWLONTO in 1 Cor 10:10 both have the agent construction. In terms of
function we might legitimately define both as passives, but in terms of
morphology we would be safer to define them both as middle voice.

Of course this is what makes learning Greek a source of headaches--there
are so many verbs that you can't just dump into lists to learn; you just
have to come to "know" them personally. They are, as Alice observed in
_Through the Looking Glass_, "a stubborn lot."

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

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