Re: 'default' aorist

Date: Fri Oct 25 1996 - 19:17:38 EDT

This is an old issue that has been worked into the ground and subsequently
dug up and reworked again, so I'll try to avoid making to big a deal about
it as I throw in my two obols. (typo, to = too)
The first point I would make is that the aorist *is* the default tense for
moods other than the indicative, and all the Greek teachers on this list have
undoubtedly faced the challenge of explaining this many times. There is no
default tense for the indicative mood, though, because "tense" as a desig-
nation of time does have real meaning for the indicative. Whether we should
speak of "aspect" all the time vis-a-vis "tense" is (in my opinion) an in-
soluble issue. Understanding aspect is very important, and the concept applies
to all the moods, but the indicative is in a way the default mood and certain-
ly the most prevelant one.
My second point includes a question for all interested parties. Another old
argument is that "aorist" means "undefined" (the source for the "default"
theory, I infer), based on an etymological analysis of the name itself. But
I think attempts to define the aorist in this way, and/or to say what it can
and can not do based on the etymological analysis of "aorist" are ill-con-
ceived. Some time ago I ran a TLG search for "aorist" and came up virtually
empty: the word occurred in grammatical contexts a few times, but I don't
remember finding any enlightening comments. That brings me to the question:
do any of you (Carl, Ed, Carlton, or others) have any solid definitions of
the aorist from antiquity?
At the bottom line, I think an understanding of the aorist and of all the
other grammatical distinctions in Greek depends on a careful reading of the
texts. I don't know for sure whether some of the NT grammarians are really
basing their analyses on "modern" linquistics or something as tenuous as the
etymologies of special terms, but to do so at the expense of carefully reading
the texts (if that is what is being done in any case) is unadulterated folly.

Don Wilkins
UC Riverside

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