Re: Perfect tense (was 'default' aorist)

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Tue Oct 29 1996 - 18:02:30 EST

At 3:41 PM -0600 10/29/96, Albert Collver, III wrote:
>Carl Conrad wrote:
> "Ah, Ken--you WOULD add "completely," wouldn't you? You've MARKED
>it, and
>not lightly: it's over and done with, can never recur: isn't that precisely
>what the perfect tense indicates? As when Pilate says, hO GEGRAFA GEGRAFA!"

Interesting point: and now we turn from sense of the aorist to sense of the
perfect. When I said, "It's over and done with, can never recur," I was
thinking of a couple literary passages, specifically, Vergil's "fuit
Ilium"--"Troy has had its existence"--this is what Aeneas says to Dido at
the beginning of Aeneid 2 after she has asked him to relate his experiences
at the very end of Troy's existence, and he says, in effect, 'Why? That's
all history now'--and then proceeds to tell the story; another instance is
Cicero's announcement of the execution of the Catilinarian conspirators:
"vixerunt"--'Their life is finished.'

> Perhaps my confusion is in too strict of an interpretation of "it's
>over and
>done with, can never recur..." This to me sounds as if there is no
>for what happened now. In John 19:20, it reads hn gegrammenon. It is a
>periphrastic with eimi in the imperfect. In response to this the chief
>say mh graphe - present imperative, a prohibition - Stop writing! So far, all
>this seems that the writing of Pilate has very immediate, present results.
> In response, Pilate says, hO gegrapha, gegrapha. Does this say that
>"it can
>never recur" or that "it is finished, completed, the results are permanent."?
>It seems that a completed action with permanent results is different from
>"done, can never recur." It seems that the aorist better expresses a one time
>action than the perfect. The perfect seems to indicate an action that has
>permanent results.
> Perhaps, this distinction is just splitting hairs.

The way I interpret this sequence in John 19 is thus: HN GEGRAMMENON is a
periphrastic pluperfect--the TITLOS 'had been written' in Hebrew, Latin,
and Greek.' The high priests then complain to Pilate, with the present
imperative, MH GRAFE ... 'Don't be writing (that) ...' I take it they are
urging Pilate to remove the TITLOS that is now legible on the cross and
susbstitute for it their phrasing ('He claimed to be King of the Jews').
It's at this point that Pilate uses the hO GEGRAFA GEGRAFA, which does, it
seems to me, have the force, 'I've already written it, i.e. I can't unwrite
it.' Of course he could, theoretically, but John's gospel does like to use
the perfect tense to express absolute finality--as in Jesus' last words on

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

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