Re: Attention aspect geeks: John 15:6 EBLHQH, EXHRANQH

From: Don Wilkins (
Date: Mon Apr 07 1997 - 22:06:55 EDT

At 6:55 PM 4/7/97, Jonathan Robie wrote:
>Actually, everything I said in the previous message applies only to the
>indicative; the sections I cite from Smyth and Robertson are from their
>discussions of the indicative, though the Smyth quotation does have one
>sentence which discusses other moods. Mari's thesis, incidentally, is also
>limited to the indicative.
>In fact, I'd be pretty disappointed with myself if this *were* still a
>matter of confusion. I think I sorted this out fairly quickly in the aspect
>debates last November. In fact, today I would want to limit my remarks to
>indicative moods and independent clauses, since, as Smyth points out, tenses
>in dependent clauses express relative time, and are reckoned from the time
>of some verb in the same sentence.
>Both Smyth and Mari say that a futuristic aorist "looks back on" an
>anticipated completed action. So there are two times: the time relative to
>the speaker, and the time from which the action is viewed. Smyth says (1850)
>that indicative tenses in independent clauses denote absolute time, which is
>reckened from the time of the speaker or writer. That is precisely Mari's
>definition of a true tense. Mari (following Comrie, I think) talks about a
>second time: the time from which an action is viewed. So when Smyth says
>that the gnomic aorist "simply states a past occurrence and leaves the
>reader to draw the inference from a concrete case that what has occurred
>once is typical of what often occurs" or that "the aorist may be substituted
>for the future when a future event is vividly represented as having actually
>occurred", he seems to be agreeing with Mari that the action is being viewed
>from a time after the action has occurred, even though this may be in the
>future or timeless.
>Of course, there is one significant difference: Mari says that this means
>that aorist is not a true tense, and grammaticalizes only aspect; Smyth is
>too early to use the term aspect, so he says that the aorist is sometimes a
>primary tense and sometimes a secondary tense. This explanation isn't very
>helpful, especially since it would mean that the augment is used for both
>primary and secondary cases!
>However, Smyth also provides another explanation which is remarkably close
>to Mari's explanation of aspect as the time from which an action is viewed:
>"(1850 c) Even in the indicative the actual time may be different from that
>which would seem to be denoted by the tense employed. Thus the speaker or
>writer may imagine the past as present, and use the present in setting forth
>an event that happened before his time (1883); or may use the aorist or
>perfect of an event that has not yet occurred (1934, 1950)." The action is
>depicted from a viewpoint which is different from the time of the speaker or
>Robertson, on the other hand, treats gnomic and futuristic aorists pretty
>much as idioms, without trying to provide a theory to explain how these
>exceptions can occur without totally violating the sense of the aorist.

I don't want to respond to everything Jonathan says here because I dredged
up this topic in the first place after it had been discussed already for
some time, and by now I must be boring everyone ad nauseam. However, I do
want to clarify two points: (1) Smyth was in fact familiar with the term
(and concept) "aspect", as his brief note on p. 107 shows ("Greek also
makes extensive use of _aspect_ distinctions to qualify the type (rather
than the time) of an action") and as his explanations for the various
tenses and moods reveals. I would almost argue that the term "aspect"
itself deserves about as much use as Smyth gave it. (2) Jonathan's own
citations of Smyth re the gnomic aorist clearly reveal that Smyth qualified
the "primary" label of this aorist as applying to the contextual point
being made (as I discussed previously) rather than to the nature of the
aorist indicative itself, which Smyth maintains as past-referring ("The
aorist simply states ..."). If the "aspect geeks" (not my words) want to
take this same approach, that is fine with me.

Don Wilkins

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