Carl Conrad's "Understanding Ancient Greek Voice"

Several links in the discussion below have ceased to work, so I have disabled them. You can now find the papers referenced in this post at Professor Conrad’s Ancient Greek Voice page at Washington State University.

If you are interested in the topic of Voice and the problematic issue of deponency, you should read Carl Conrad’s “Active, Middle, and Passive: Understanding Ancient Greek Voice.” It’s available as a PDF download from

For further discussion of the same issues, see his “New Observations on Voice in the Ancient Greek Verb.” This 21 page discussion provides wonderful detail and clear reasoning. He raises compelling questions about the semantic import of the morphological distinction between what have traditionally been called the aorist middle and passive forms.

You can find the paper at

It’s wonderful to have both his and Pennington’s views on the topic available online for free!

Topical Index

The topical index is now up to 82 topics linked to 272 specific sections within the grammar. This should be enough to enable you to quickly find where I have discussed your pet issue, or perhaps to determine that I haven’t discussed it yet! Give it a try. I would love to hear your reaction to the way I have presented any issue of interest to you.

The topics include everything from traditional grammatical categories to terms from Linguistics that I have found useful in writing the grammar.

Have fun.

Topical Index

Lesson 19: Semantic Roles and Voice, The Aorist Passive

Today I uploaded “Lesson 19: Semantic Roles and Voice, The Aorist Passive” to my Hellenisitic Greek grammar. I will add vocabulary exercises later. I also added a significant amount to the Topical Index.

Scope of a Hellenistic Greek Grammar III: Papyri

Since the papyri have been mentioned twice already in this discussion of the scope of a Hellenistic Greek Grammar, I thought I would offer a little of my own take on the issue.

The papyri are extremely valuable for documenting language change. They are not as helpful for documenting a particular point in the middle of that change. Their very variability offers great evidence for the shifts that were occurring in pronunciation during the Hellenistic period, for example, but they don’t help in understanding Luke’s discourse preferences.

Their importance, from a linguistic point of view, has been that they have given us a clearer picture of conversational or informal Greek in and around Egypt and have clarified to some extent what we might call business Greek or the language of commerce. These are legitimate concerns for a grammar of Hellenistic Greek, but are not necessarily crucial for understanding the biblical documents.

It is very hard to sort out all of the variation in the papyri, but they are nonetheless fascinating.

See also, “Scope of a Hellenistic Greek Grammar IV.”

Scope of a Hellenistic Greek Grammar II: Jewish and Early Christian Literature

The discussion on the documentary scope of a Hellenistic Greek Grammar has slowed a little, so I want to pull out one comment by Rick Brannan for further discussion. After citing O’Donnell’s proposed corpus, Rick proposes a few further works that I also think deserve serious attention.

He suggests two works from the Apostolic Fathers, and both fit the literary level and style of much of what is in the New Testament. He also suggests including Philo [of Alexandria], in addition to Josephus. Both of these authors were Jewish and each was bilingual (though not to the same degree), and because of this share certain features with several of the New Testament writers. Here’s what Rick Brannan had to say:

In Matthew Brook O’Donnell’s “Corpus Linguistics and the Greek of the New Testament”, he outlines a corpus of Hellenistic works to use for corpus linguistic purposes; there may be some insight. See pp. 164-165 of his book. It comes down to the NT, a few LXX books (Judges, 1 Macc, 2 Esdras) Hermas, Ignatius’ letters, Josephus’ Life, Philo’s On Moses. Then it gets interesting: Strabo’s Geography, Epictetus’ Dissertations, Polybius’ History, Plutarch’s Cato Minor, Arrian’s Anabasis, Diodorus Siculus’ Library of History, Cassius Dio’s Roman History, Apollodorus’ Library, and a generic “Selection of Documentary Papyri” and a generic “Selection of Inscriptions” (no further info on those last two). I think there should be more LXX, Apostolic Fathers (namely 1 Clement and Hermas, at least), Josephus and Philo, and that perhaps some of the early Greek OT Pseudepigrapha and NT Apocrypha too.

Are there other works from the Early Christian and Jewish communities that you think should be included in the documentary base for a serious grammar of Hellenistic Greek?

See also, “Scope of a Hellenistic Greek Grammar III: Papyrii.”

Navigation in My Introductory Grammar

I have completed my revisions of the navigation system in my introductory grammar of Hellenistic Greek. The 18 lessons currently available all have a navigation bar at the top and bottom as well as a link to the topical index at the bottom.

It will be quite some time before I am able to complete the grammar, but the lessons that are currently available are 100% free. No adds. No fees. Use them as you please. If you quote them, though, please include the URL in your citation.

Micheal Palmer’s Hellenistic Greek

One more day for Greek

It's a cold, snowy day.

I’m happy to have most of the day tomorrow to work on Greek. It’s beautiful outside, and even more beautiful now that it’s confirmed I have the day off tomorrow!

I hope to make some progress on my introductory grammar. I’ve been polishing the HTML for the past few days, fixing links, cleaning up the look of the pages, etc.

Scope of a Hellenistic Greek Grammar

We could speak about the scope of a grammar of an ancient language in several ways. We could talk about what issues belong in a beginning grammar, what in an intermediate, and what in an advanced or reference grammar. Perhaps I will write about that at a later time. The issue of scope that I have in mind now is the documentary scope. What documents should serve as the basis for the grammar. What documents should the grammar enable its users to read?

This is an important question for Hellenistic Greek in particular because the answer has seemed obvious for so long, but there is reason to question the traditional answer. The majority of grammars of Hellenistic Greek deal either exclusively with the New Testament or are limited to the early Christian Literature. While the traditional reference grammars give passing attention to the wider Hellenistic literature, beginning and intermediate grammars in the past fifty years have seldom ever referred to anything outside the New Testament.

The early Christian literature is, of course, extremely important, and is what the majority of students of Hellenistic Greek most want to read. But do we not risk misunderstanding by failing to examine a wider range of literature? Here are a few ways in which a wider range of literature could make understanding of the biblical texts more accurate:

  • Grammatical structures that appear infrequently in the New Testament can be understood more clearly by comparing them to a wider range of examples.
  • Questions about the meaning of particular words and phrases that appear infrequently in the New Testament could by more clearly defined by considering a broader range of usage.
  • Comparison with texts outside the Christian tradition can clarify what common discourse structures looked like in Hellenistic literature at a broad range of levels. This would enable us to see what is truly unique in the early Christian literature and would also allow us to see how people outside the early Christian movement would have understood the earliest Christian texts.
  • I am attempting to move in the direction of including a broader range of Hellenistic literature in my own beginning grammar. While it is still heavily dominated by the early Christian literature, I am reading as much as possible outside that tradition to make sure that what I have to say in the grammar is actually true to a wider range of texts.

    Here are some of the texts I have been reading:

      Epictetus, Discourses (ΑΡΡΙΑΝΟΥ ΤΩΝ ΕΠΙΚΤΗΤΟΥ ΔΙΑΤΡΙΒΩΝ)
      Arrian, History of Alexander and Indica (ΑΛΕΞΑΝΔΡΟΥ ΑΝΑΒΑΣΕΩΣ, ΙΝΔΙΚΗ) [Deleted on 1/26/2011]
      Diodorus Siculus, Library of History (ΒΙΒΛΙΟΘΗΚΗΣ ΙΣΤΟΡΙΚΗΣ)
      Chariton of Aphrodisias, The Story of Callirhoe (ΤΑ ΠΕΡΙ ΚΑΛΛΙΡΟΗΝ ΔΙΗΓΗΜΑΤΑ)

    These texts represent a fairly wide range of styles and literary levels, though not as wide as it might appear at first glance. The Discourses of Epictetus, for example, were actually written by Arrian. Epictetus did not write down his own teachings. The relationship between him and the document that bears his name is similar in some respects (not identical) to the relationship between Jesus and his words as presented in the Gospels. Jesus did not write them. In fact, he may have spoken in Aramaic, and the Gospel writers had to translate what was remembered of his words. Arrian wrote from notes, violating the intention of his teacher who thought true philosophy should be oral, not written.

    I would love to hear from you about what you see as the ideal documentary scope of a Hellenistic Greek Grammar.

    See also, “Scope of a Hellenistic Greek Grammar II: Jewish and Early Christian Literature.”

    Aktionsart and Aspect

    A number of years ago–May 4, 1997 to be exact–I offered a clarification of the terms Aktionsart and Aspect on the b-Greek discussion list. I have decided to post here the essence of that discussion because even this late, both terms are still being used in Biblical Studies, often without a clear distinction between their meanings.

    The original post to b-Greek can be found at

    Here’s a very slightly edited version of what I had to say then. My additions are included in square brackets [ ]. Deletions are indicated by elipsis (…).

    The older grammars use the term ‘Aktionsart’ in a way that is not synonymous with its use in modern linguistics. As Mari [Olsen] stated in her recent note, many linguists use the term as a synonym for ‘lexical aspect.’ Others (especially in the study of Slavic languages) use it to mean ‘aspect which is expressed explicitly through derivational morphology (See R.L. Trask’s A Dictionary of Grammatical Terms in Linguistics for examples.)

    A.T. Robertson and company use the term in neither of these senses. They use it in a very broad sense covering both lexical and grammatical aspect as well as both the writer’s *perception* of an action and the writer’s *portrayal* of that action.
    . . .
    We can distinguish between (1) the way an action really is (out there in the real world, independent of the way we talk about that action), (2) the way that action is perceived by a language user, and (3) the way that same language user decides to portray that action.

    In the traditional grammars the term ‘Aktionsart’ is used for a bewildering mixture of these three.

    In modern linguistics, those linguists who use the term at all (It is interesting that the term did not even appear in David Crystal’s Dictionary of Linguistics and Phonetics, Blackwell, 1991.), tend not to ever use it to represent (1). Many use it to cover both (2) and (3) when they are tied to *lexical aspect* (as Mari stated).

    We might also distinguish between ‘Aktionsart’ and ‘lexical aspect’ taking ‘Aktionsart’ to refer to (2) while ‘lexical aspect’ represents only (3). On this view, however, we may want to reject Aktionsart, seeing it as beyond the scope of what we can legitimately know. In biblical studies, for example, I might argue that all we can know is how Paul [or any other writer] chose to portray an action (3), and that we can never know for sure how he perceived that action (2). If I take Aktionsart to refer only to (2), I would then reject the term, and say that linguistics is legitimately concerned only with aspect–not aktionsart. Much of the discussion in the traditional grammars does take ‘Aktionsart’ as referring to (2).

    Linguists who see ‘Aktionsart’ as Mari does, clearly have no reason to reject the term. Since in our context (biblical Greek studies), however, the term ‘Aktionsart’ carries the baggage of the confused discussion in the traditional grammars where it often covers (2) and even sometimes (1), I do not use the term ‘Aktionsart’ as Mari does when talking about biblical Greek. I prefer the term ‘lexical aspect’ for what she means by ‘Aktionsart.’ When I do use the term ‘Aktionsart’ I try to stick as closely as possible to what the Greek grammars mean by the term–where it is usually identified as ‘type of action’ ((1) and possibly (2)), not ‘type of presentation’ (3), though I doubt the authors of those grammars seriously considered the distinction between type of action and type of presentation).

    I hope this old post proves useful to some of you. Feel free to comment, challenge, ask questions as you like.