Re: peribleyesqai

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Fri Apr 16 1999 - 08:45:43 EDT

I owe you an apology, Jim; you remarked later to Carlton that nobody had
taken notice of your real point; I had done so, but was trying to make
another point of my own about which you and I are evidently in disagreement.

Let me note at the outset that I laughed out loud when I saw your opening
comment in the post I was commenting on:

At 4:55 PM -0400 4/14/99, Jim West wrote:
>The thing I like so much about commenting here is that no matter what I say
>someone will disagree--- forcing me to offer proof.

So I said to myself, there's a challenge to disagree, if ever there was
one; I was initially piqued at your writing the form of the future middle
infinitive in the subject-header and calling it passive, but when I checked
the section of BDF that you cited, I saw (a) that you were quite right
about the assertion there that PERIBLEPESQAI should be recognized as having
active meaning even though its form is middle (sort of an "inverted
deponent," if one favors the term "deponent," as in fact I don't) but saw
also (b) that BDF say this about PERIBLEPESQAI in a paragraph in which they
are emphasizing that the reflexive/middle sense does indeed survive in
Koine. I thought this was worth underlining, particularly in the light of
the passages cited by Jay Adkins asserting that this was not true. But it
IS true, and the survival and even expansion of the middle voice in later
Greek is one of the points I intend(ed) to underscore in my re-formulated
"Observations on Ancient Greek Voice."

At 10:05 AM -0400 4/15/99, Jim West wrote:
>At 08:55 AM 4/15/99 -0500, you wrote:
>>but what you actually say here is a bit muddled; you say that they list
>>this MIDDLE form as an example of active meaning "even though the form is
>>passive." I don't understand where you get the notion that it's passive:
>the middle/passive form is identical. Sorry. Of course I should have said
>"middle/passive" instead of just "middle".
>>is, after all, a future middle infinitive, and the future is one of two
>>tenses where we're taught conventionally that all three voices are found.
>>>So, regarding the verb we were earlier discussing, I would point the
>>>interested to Blass-Debrunner sec. 316(1), where they list peribleyesqai
>>>(middle!!!!) as an example of active meaning even though the form is
>>>passive. They also point out that it is active in Attic.
>>Blass-Debrunner sec. 316(1) refers to PERIBLEPESQAI as an EXCEPTION to the
>>rule that "NT authors in general preserve well the distinction between
>>middle and passive. The middle is occasionally used, however, where an
>>active is expected (cf. the reverse ##307 and 310)."
>nevertheless, the form under question is middle/passive in form and active
>in function.

Quite right: PERIBLEPESQAI (not PERIBLEYESQAI) is middle/passive in form,
and BDF assert that it is active in meaning; they do indeed say that it is
active (PERIBLEPEIN) in Attic, and they go on to argue that it developed by
analogy with PERIORASQAI. What I am less confident about is their
implication that PERIBLEPESQAI is not thought of by Koine speakers/writers
as being middle in sense. They may very well be right, but their saying it
doesn't make it right, even though one has to take their assertion
seriously. My own suspicion is that a change in form may very likely lead
to an alteration of the perspective on the word. But that can be no more
than a matter of my opinion unless definitive proof can be brought for
either argument.

>>I think there's something interesting going on here. While I would want to
>>affirm that the language is always in flux, I think there are some general
>>trends, and one of them, I believe, is the gradual shift of many active
>>verbs into the middle--and even intransitives, like EIMI --> EIMAI. I think
>>this probably needs some careful study, but my hunch is that the
>>morphological shift from active to middle forms does not take place without
>>a corresponding conception--however much this may hover at or below the
>>level of full consciousness--that some sort of self-projection is at work
>>in the actions/states referred to by these forms.
>this is a possibility of course. But the flux of language has little to do
>with concrete examples. The case in point is not in flux. It is fixed.

I don't altogether understand what you're saying here, Jim, although it may
just simply be a matter on which we disagree--which is perfectly okay. I
realize that there are many list-members who want to insist on looking at
Koine Greek strictly synchronically, while I think it's important to look
at it both synchronically and diachronically at the same time. I think that
there are competing forms being used at the same time in a language, e.g.
BLABHNAI and BLAFQHNAI as aorist passive infinitives of BLAPTW; eventually
one of the forms is likely to completely displace the other although it
won't take place overnight like the shift from Standard to Daylight time or
vice versa. My suspicion, which I have no way whatsoever of proving, is
that some users of PERIBLEPESQAI perceived it as being active in function
while others may have perceived it as being middle. But my guess is that
with passage of time there were more users of this middle form that
perceived it as being middle in sense. I just don't think there's any way
of proving it in this particular instance. But I called attention to the
gradual transition made by the Greek verb EINAI, which in Homer has active
forms in the present and imperfect but middle forms in the future; by the
Hellenistic period we're seeing HMHN as an imperfect first singular; I
don't know when the present form shifts from EIMI to what it is in modern
Greek (EIMAI), and I don't know exactly why that change is taking place,
but it looks to me like a clear case of a long-term trend of this
particular intransitive verb from active to middle inflection, and I can't
believe that the change is altogether fortuitous or that it is not
accompanied by some sort of perception, however subliminal, of a difference
of sense. My guess--no more than a guess--is that our notion of the meaning
of active and middle does not quite match the meanings that Greek-speakers
attached to these morphologies, although it may be a sufficient
approximation to allow us to grasp the substance of what they meant.

At any rate, I apologize for a bit of rudeness and slapstick humor in a
message in which I really meant to say something a little more important.

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

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