Re: Passives in Hellenistic Greek

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Sun Apr 20 1997 - 08:45:10 EDT

At 9:54 PM -0500 4/19/97, Micheal Palmer wrote:
>I have a question about passives in Hellenistic Greek (including Biblical
>Greek). With a verb like DIDWMI, the Noun Phrase that would be assigned
>accusative case in an *active* construction (i.e. the Direct Object) may be
>made the subject of a *passive* construction in the usual way:
> EDWKEN EMOI *PASAN EXOUSIAN* Accusative object of active verb
> He gave me all authority
> becomes
> EDOQH EMOI *PASA EXOUSIA* Nominative subject of passive verb
> All authority was given to me (Matthew 28:18)
>In English we can also take the NP that would be the Indirect Object of an
>active verb (dative case in Greek) and make it the subject of an equivalent
> He gave me all authority
> ________|
> |
> I was given all authority [by him]
>But you canNOT do this with DIDWMI in Greek. EGW EDOQHN PASAN EXOUSIAN
>would be totally ungrammatical (and does not appear anywhere in the New
>So... here's my question: Is DIDWMI unique in this regard, or is it
>*always* impossible to take what would be the indirect object of an active
>construction and make it the subject of an equivalent passive construction
>in Greek? I suspect that it IS impossible, but I can't demonstrate that yet.
>Phrased a little differently, my question would be, 'Can any of you provide
>me with an example where the subject of a passive construction in the Greek
>New Testament (of in any other Hellenistic Greek document) would clearly be
>dative case in an equivalent active construction?'

Here's one, at least--and I really believe there are several others, but I
can't put my fingers on them as readily as this:


Here there is no way to understand TO EUAGGELION other than as the object
of the perfect passive PEPISTEUMAI.

As Micheal notes, this is not at all uncommon in English: "The candidate
was given a boost by his colleagues" -- where "a boost" is what I was
taught to call a "received object of a passive verb." I've never heard
anyone or read anywhere that term, but I was taught it [there's another:
"it" as the object of "taught"] by a remarkable 5th-grade teacher who
drilled grammar into her pupils, and in all the years since I've wondered
whether that term, "received object of a passive verb," isn't a translation
of OBJECTUM RECEPTUM or some such Latin phrase. For the construction is
extraordinarily common in Latin, especially poetry, where it tends to be
called a "Greek accusative" and is too often explained as an "accusative of
speciication" when it is really the object of a middle or passive verb. One
very common example is VIR VINCTUS MANUS IN TERGO, "aman with his hands
bound behind him"--but MANUS is clearly the object of VINCTUS. Another:
PUELLA COMAM REDIMITA CORONA, "a girl with her hair restrained by a
garland," -- but here COMAM is the object of the passive participle

My hunch is that this construction is most commonly found with a perfect
passive rather than an aorist. It is relatively rare, but one sees it

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

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