Re: Perfect outside the indicative

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Sat Jun 06 1998 - 15:41:02 EDT

>Jonathan Robie wrote:
>> I've continued thinking about the relationship between the past event and
>> the current state in the perfect. The two explanations I'm most familiar
>> with are:
>> 1. Mari Olsen's suggestion that the tense of the perfect is present,
>> referring to the current state, and the aspect is perfective, referring to
>> the complete event.
>> 2. Fanning's suggestion that the perfect combines stative Aktionsart with
>> imperfective aspect.
>> I think that clear thinking about the perfect always requires attention to
>> what it might say about a past event and what it might say about the
>> current state. Since tense disappears outside the indicative, and aspect
>> remains, I thought I'd see how non-indicative perfects relate to the past
>> event and the current state.
>> I chose to explore examples that Robertson had classified as referring to
>> past events or current states. He says these examples represent states:
>> John 4:6 Now Jesus, *having been wearied* from the journey, sat thus upon
>> the well.
>> I do not mean to imply that "having been wearied" is a great translation
>> into English, but it is the most woodenly literal translation of a perfect
>> participle that I could find, so I thought I would inflict it on yāall.
>> Although Robertson uses this as an example that refers to the current state
>> - Jesus is tired - the perfect in this example doesnāt work without
>> reference to a past event, tiring himself out from the journey. Suppose I
>> left out the prepositional phrase EK THS hODOIPORIAS ("from the journey") -
>> my guess is that the result still implies a past event:
>> Now Jesus, *having worn himself out*, sat thus upon the well.
>> Iām surprised that Robertson uses this as an example:
>> Luke 4:16 and he went in according to the *having-been-accustomed* of him
>> Iām not sure that I want to read must aspect into this articular participle
>> - doesnāt this just mean "according to his custom"? Even if we read this
>> with significant verbal force, though, the past ongoing custom is as much a
>> part of the meaning as the current custom, so both past event and current
>> state are intact.
>> Robertson suggests that the following two verses refer to past events, not
>> on the resulting state:
>> Matt 25:24 Then the one who *has received* the one talent came up·
>> The past perfect "had received" feels more natural in English here, but
>> nevertheless, the person is in the state of having received the one talent,
>> which is why he is now held accountable. It seems to me that the current
>> resulting state is very much in focus!
>> Hereās the last example Iām looking at in this message:
>> John 18:18 now the servants and the police were standing around *having
>> made* a fire, for it was cold.
>> Again, the current state may be the most relevant detail - that there was a
>> fire - but to me, the verb also clearly implies the past event of making
>> the fire.
>> My tentative conclusion: both the past event and the current state are
>> retained in non-indicative use of the perfect. In participles, at least,
>> the force of the perfect itself is virtually unchanged from its force in
>> the indicative. Therefore, neither the relationship to the past event or
>> the current state is really a tense, since absolute time exists only in the
>> indicative. Iām inclined to think we have two true aspects here.
>> Comments?

First, to Jonathan's original post:
Did you ever see my response from early yesterday to the question
originally posed--drawing on David Mills' post about the English present
perfect and speculating on overlaps with aorist usage?

1. I think that sometimes Greek perfect participles show an ambiguity that
is comparable to that of English "passive participles": KEKOPIAKWS I'd
translate "exhausted (from travel)" and raise the question: is it a real
participle or is it an adjective? The stative function underscores present
condition; the phrase EK THS ODOIPORIAS indicates the reason for the
condition and does indeed point to happenings that have occasioned this
exhaustion--but surely the emphasis is on the present condition.

2. KATA TO EIWQOS AUTWi: Although to be sure EIWQOS originated as a pf.
ptc. of EISKW, it has become (already was in classical Attic) pretty much a
neuter noun in its own right (like some others TO EIKOS, TO SUMBEBHKOS, TO
PEFUKOS), meaning "custom" or "habitual practice," quite comparable in fact
to Latin HABITUS for "habit," a 4th declension noun deriving originally
fromthe participle of HABEO, "have." If you want to give the participial
element a "wooden" equivalent here, you could make it "according to what
was customary for him." Here too you might well argue that the stative
quality of the perfect has transformed the participle into a descriptive
adjective here used as a substantive--yet enough of a verb to require that
dative complement, AUTWi.

3. The last two examples, hO TO hEN TALANTON *EILHFWS* and hOI hUPHRETAI
ANQRAKIAN *PEPOIHKOTES* are both substantival participles best conveyed by
relative clauses and pluperfect verbs ("who had received the one talent"
and "who had made a charcoal fire")--BUT it is worth noting that although
the perfect participle is employed inthese two examples, an aorist could
readily be substituted for each of them without altering the sense in the
least: we could just as readily have hO TO hEN TALANTON *LABWN* and hOI
hUPHRETAI ANQRAKIAN POIHSANTES--for my part, at any rate, I don't think
there's one whit of difference between the perfect participles and the
corresponding aorist participles. I would put this together with my
observations yesterday and argue that we have several instances of the
perfect and the aorist coalescing functionally--and quite honestly, I think
these last two are instances where classical Attic is more likely to have
used an aorist participle.

Then to George:

At 10:51 AM -0400 6/06/98, wrote:
>The only way I have been able to make sense of this issue is to see
>the Greek perfect as 'conclusive', because it talks about an action
>that is concluded. [Likewise the Greek present is 'progressive'
>because it talks about an action that is in progress, and the aorist
>is inceptive because it talks about an action that has begun.]
>Actions begin, progress, and conclude, and the Greek seems to have a
>verb form for each of these 'aspects' of an action ~ The aorist, the
>'progressive' system of verbs, and the 'perfective' system of verbs.

Unless I'm mistaken, George, you're looking to find a rational symmetry
relating the present (which you call progressive), aorist (which you call
inceptive), and perfect (which you call conclusive). But I don't think the
symmetry is there, or if there is one, it's not the one you're pointing to.
I rather think that 'perfective' better describes the aorist than it does
the perfect, and that 'inceptive' is not at all adequate for the aorist. A
Greek-speaker who wanted to say "I started running" would use the
imperfect, ETRECON, not the aorist, EDRAMON. Rather as 'perfective' the
aorist could be used to answer the question, "Did you run this morning,
dear?" with "NAI, EDRAMON." ('Yes, I got my running done.')

You want to see the "aspects" simplified as "present"--action viewed from
within, "aorist"--action viewed as a whole from the beginning of it, and
"perfect"--action viewed as a whole from its conclusion--but I think this
endeavor brings things into a relationship that isn't their real one,
except, perhaps, for the "present"--action viewed from within. But the
other two are not to be contrasted with each other at all: Aorist is action
viewed as a whole, while Perfect is more state consequent upon action or
change--and perfect and pluperfect really are analogous to present and
imperfect, as is evident in the pluperfect of John 18:18 EISTHKEISAN DE hOI
DOULOI cited by Jonath
an above and translated (correctly) like an imperfect, "were standing."

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University
Summer: 1647 Grindstaff Road/Burnsville, NC 28714/(828) 675-4243

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