Re: The Iliad and The Apocalypse

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Mon Apr 13 1998 - 21:38:07 EDT

At 5:00 AM -0500 4/13/98, clayton stirling bartholomew wrote:
>I was reading Richmond Lattimore's introduction to Agamemnon yesterday and
>came across a reference to the Iliad which caught my eye.
>Homer, in describing KALXAS (Iliad 1:70) says:

Yes, something similar is said more than once of the Muses, that they know
TA T'EONTA TA T'ESSOMENA PRO T'EONTA. And did you know that Richmond
Lattimore published a translation of the Apocalypse?

>Something about the structure of this line reminded me of the formula from the
>Apocalypse 1:8:
>I have one question about these two passages. How is the temporal information
>in each of these made manifest by the syntax? I will reword the question a
>little. What syntactical indicators are present here that the authors used to
>encoded the temporal information?
>This is not a trick question. I really would like to know the answer to this.

Well, in the Homeric phrasing we have three participles: TA EONTA, neuter
plural acc. present participle (Classical and Koine would be ONTA) of EIMI,
"those things which are"; TA ESSOMENA, neuter plural acc. future participle
(Classical and Koine would be ESOMENA) of EIMI, "those things which will
be"; and TA PRO EONTA, where only the adverb (some might want to call it a
"separable-prefix verb" or a case of "tmesis" but I think both words are
anachronisms when one is trying to describe Homeric grammar) indicates
reference to prior time: neuter plural acc. present participle with the
adverb PRO, "those things which were before." The sticky element here is
that the present participle EONTA here must, because of the adverb, carry
the force of the imperfect, so that TA PRO EONTA = EKEINA hA PROTERON HN
(singular verb with neuter plural subject). This is a particularly neat
trick in Homer, considering the fact that the verb EIMI only has
durative/progressive aspect--that one must use the aorist of GIGNOMAI if
one wants to refer to something that simply had past existence.

The phrase in Apocalypse 1:8 is a neat periphrasis in its own right. Here
of course we have a masculine participle, at least in hO WN and hO
ERCOMENOS referring to God as "he who is" and "he who comes"--but of course
hO HN is a barbarism from the standpoint of normal Greek grammar, even
though it is perfectly intelligible in the context; it would not be a
barbarism if it where hO\ HN, that is, if the hO\ were a relative pronoun,
"he who was"--but in fact the hO as printed in our texts is an article, so
that if we were to translate literally we must say, "the one being, the
was, and the one coming." There's yet another way to look at hO HN, but I
don't think it is legitimate: the very ancient original function of what in
the historical era is the article (hO, hH, TO) was that of a weak
demonstrative, and there are a few rare locutions retaining that sense, as
hO D'EFH ('and he said') which one does find in those writers of the
Hellenistic period who write polished Greek--like Philo, for instance. But
I really don't think that's what the author of the Apocalypse is doing.
Rather it's a grammatical anomaly which is nevertheless intelligible.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics/Washington University
One Brookings Drive/St. Louis, MO, USA 63130/(314) 935-4018
Home: 7222 Colgate Ave./St. Louis, MO 63130/(314) 726-5649 OR

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