Re: (Augmented!) imperfects w/o past rfc (CORRECTED)

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Wed May 21 1997 - 12:31:46 EDT

Much abashed, but probably too late for the errors of my ways not to have
been duly noted. I probably should back up and start over. This another
confusion of protasis and apodosis, only worse; Bearded Bill calls it
"hympotaxis"--but I think it might better be termed "limpotaxis" (and don't
confuse the first element in that new compound with any Greek root!--I
guess I could have called it CWLOTAXIS and used 2 legitimate Greek roots).

At 7:38 AM -0400 5/21/97, Carl W. Conrad wrote:
>At 9:56 PM -0400 5/20/97, Jonathan Robie wrote:
>> [examples omitted since I'm not talking about them]
>>So does the "desiderative imperfect" exist at all? If so, how can I
>>distinguish it from a normal imperfect? It seems plausible that a
>>desiderative imperfect *could* exist in a language, since German can use
>>"wuenschte" in a similar way (Denn ich wčnschte, als ein Verfluchter selber
>>fern von Christus zu sein zum Besten meiner Brčder...), but how good is the
>>evidence for a desiderative imperfect in Greek?
>But isn't that German "wuenschte/wčnschte" a subjunctive rather than an
>indicative? i.e., isn't it "I would/might wish" rather than "I was wishing"?
>The imperfect and the aorist were both used in classical Attic in a
>desiderative sense to express unfulfillable wishes--but always with AN,
>which is not used with these imperfects in the NT cited by Jonathan. Some
>might call this potential, but I think it really is desiderative. Some
>might also call it the result clause/apodosis in an elliptical
>counterfactual construction with a suppressed protasis, which may be true
>but would be hard to demonstrate convincingly. At any rate, I think these
>imperfects are actually reflexes of the older imperect and aorist with AN
>to express unfulfillable wishes:
> TAUTA AN EPRATTON "I would be performing these acts"
> TAUTA AN EPRAXA "I would have performed these acts"

Only the first half of the first sentence of the above is right. The
corrected paragraph should read:

"The imperfect and the aorist were both used in classical Attic in a
desiderative sense to express unfulfillable wishes--but normally with an
introductory EI, EIQE, or EI GAR, these same elements being also used with
optatives to express remote but conceivably fulfillable wishes. Some might
call these clauses the protases of elliptical conditional clauses, the
apodoses of which would be formed by the imperfect or aorist indicative
with AN (for counterfactual conditions) or by the present or aorist
optative with AN (for potential or "future less vivid" conditions. At any
rate, this usage of the indicative imperfect in the sentences cited by
Jonathan appear to be derivative from the desiderative use of the
indicative imperfect or aorist in expressions of unfulfillable wish. Let me
offer examples of the older constructions:

        EI GAR TAUTA EPRATTON "If only I were performing these acts!" = "I
wish I were performing these acts (but I can't)!"
        EI GAR TAUTA EPRAXA "If only I had performed these acts!" = "I wish
I had performed these acts (but I couldn't)!"
        EI GAR TAUTA PRATTOIMI "I wish I were performing these acts (and I
could be, given the right conditions)!"
        EI GAR TAUTA PRAXAIMI "I wish I had performed these acts (and I
could have, given the right conditions)!"

It's easy to see how each of these could be followed by an appropriate
clause of apodosis that would yield a sense comparable to Jonathan's NT

        EI TAUTA EPRATTON, EUDAIMWN AN HN ("I would be happy")
        EI TAUTA EPRAXA, EUDAIMWN AN EGENOMHN ("I would have been happy")
        EI TAUTA PRATTOIMI, EUDAIMWN AN EIHN ("I would be happy")
        EI TAUTA PRAXAIMI, EUDAIMWN AN GENOIMHN ("I might have been happy")

At any rate, I think it is the desiderative usage of the imperfect and
aorist indicative that is the source of the usage Jonathan has found in the
NT texts.

No doubt by the time I get this posted, I'll see that somebody has already
caught my blunder and explained this better than I have done: would that I
had done it right the first time!

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

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.4 : Sat Apr 20 2002 - 15:38:16 EDT