Re: The mystery of verb voice (was ACTS 10:40)

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Wed Feb 26 1997 - 13:49:06 EST

At 12:15 PM -0600 2/26/97, Jonathan Robie wrote:
>In August 1996, you seemed to suggest that you could distinguish true
>passives from middles based on the form of the verbs, and gave me some very
>clear guidelines. I found these guidelines useful, and still use them. They
>are also very clear, so they could easily be taught.
>The last two times this has come up, you haven't cited the same guidelines.
>I'm wondering if this message still represents your current thinking, or if
>your understanding has evolved since then. I'm especially interested in the
>two points that follow the phrase "I would say":
>------- original message from archives --------------
>At 11:07 AM -0500 8/17/96, Jonathan Robie wrote:
>>In my CCATT morphological database, EGEIRETAI is marked as present passive
>>indicative in John 13:4, "egeiretai ek tou deipnou"...
>>What does the use of the passive mean in this context?
>You have touched (one of) my raw nerve(s). Traditional usage speaks of
>these forms as "middle-passive" and then proceeds to discuss them as if the
>passive were the norm of their meaning, when in fact, the passive is the
>special usage. The pure _middle_ forms then get called "deponent" as if
>there were something irrational about them, although they are as common in
>Greek as SE LAVER in French or SICH ANZIEHEN in German.
>I would say:
>(1) the only _forms_ that are genuinely passive are aorists in -QH- and
>futures in -QHSo/e-.
>(2) _forms_ conjugated in -MAI, -(S)AI, -TAI, etc. are really
>_middle_--which is to say _reflexive_. But in certain contexts (e.g. when
>an instrumental dative and/or an agent construction such as hUPO + genitive
>is appended, the sense of the verb thus conjugated is passive.
>In the present instance, EGEIRETAI is clearly _middle_, i.e., _reflexive_:
>"He raises himself (= rises) from the table and sets aside his tunic ..."
>------ end of original message from archives ---------

Yeah, I think that's what I would still say. The only way EGEIRETAI EK TOU
DEIPNOU can be passive in any real sense is if it's accompanied by a hUPO +
genitive construction; let's say hUPO TETTARWN hIPPWN: "he's raised from
the table by four horses" (the only way to get him up because, as the old
Alka Seltzer commercial of a decade or more ago used to say, "he can't
believe he ate that whole thing."

But I'd have to modify even (1) above to be more precise: there are
numerous verb that are given the totally absurd monicker, "passive
deponents." Everybody (some people, at least?) know what that means: verbs
that have -QH- in them but aren't passive at all, verbs like BOULOMAI have
an aorist EBOULHQHN. Don't let anybody tell you that this was ever deemed
passive by anybody. It's what I call a "third aorist," i.e. an athematic
aorist with a long-vowel stem in a class that developed almost
exponentially its -QH- forms for use to express the passive notion, but
which had already been used for numerous verbs that never did have any
passive sense, like BOULOMAI. EBOULHQHN ought to be understood as having
exactly the same pattern of conjugation as EBHN, EGNWN, and the like, and
so with the whole bunch of verbs that one is told to memorize as "passive

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

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