Re: Masculine vs. common gender

From: Micheal Palmer (
Date: Fri Jun 27 1997 - 00:00:48 EDT

At 8:32 AM -0400 6/25/97, Karen Pitts wrote:
>Masculine vs. common gender 6/25/97 8:25 AM
>I have a question for the classicists on this list concerning whether ANQROPOI
>and ADELFOI can refer to both men and women.
>I was taught, when I first studied Latin (over 30 years ago), than when there
>were a group of men and women, the masculine gender would be used, and in
>fact, was taught the term, common gender, referring to plural nouns, of
>masculine form, which refer to groups of people. When I started studying
>Greek, I assumed this was also true of Greek, so I have always viewed hOI
>ANQROWPOI as possibly including both men and women. I haven't been so certain
>of ALDEFOI, but it certainly seems correct, as Paul uses it in his letters.
>Reaction anyone? The assertion that hOI ANQRWPOI must be men and men only
>grates on this long ingrained teaching. Was I taught correctly?

I would not call myself a classicist, Karen, but I have read a fair amount
of Greek. It seems quite clear that a masculine plural noun not only
*could* refer to a mixed group (male and female), but definitely *was* used
in that way. If not, how would Greek writers refer to such groups? There
was no neuter noun for adult humans (there was TO KORASION for a little
girl, though!). Any word an author chose would, therefore, be either
masculine or feminine. I know of no contexts in which it is clear that a
feminine word is used for a mixed group, but there are plenty where it
would be very natural to read a masculine word (like ANQRWPOS or ADELFOS)
as referring to such a group.

Micheal W. Palmer
Religion & Philosophy
Meredith College

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