Moulton on the Greek Dual

In  Classical Greek, there was singular, dual, and plural. The Dual dropped out by the Hellenistic Period (though it appears occasionally – I think Josephus uses it once or twice).

Anyway, I moved on from Robertson to Moulton’s discussion of nominal syntax and his comments about the dual caught my eye. They are comments that would make a field linguist irritated:

On the subject of Number there is one obvious thing to say—the dual has gone. Many Greek dialects, Ionic conspicuously, had discarded this hoary luxury long before the Common Greek was born; and no theory of the relation of the Κοινή to the dialects would allow Attic to force on the resultant speech a set of forms so useless as these. The dual may well have arisen in prehistoric days when men could not count beyond two; and it is evidently suffering from senile decay in the very earliest monuments we possess of Indo-Germanic language.

James Hope Moulton, A Grammar of New Testament Greek, Volume 1: Prolegomena. (Vol. 1: 2d ed.; Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1906), 57.
While Moulton might consider the dual form useless, many languages consider it to be quite important for day to day conversation. Culturally speaking, I think the correct term is that Moulton was rather “ethnocentric” here.

4 thoughts on “Moulton on the Greek Dual

  1. i swear quotes like that are included just to the reader awake. This reminds me of Dunn’s recent 1000 page book, “Jesus Remembered”, which found the way to include the term “menage a trois” into a discussion of the quest for the historical Jesus.

  2. Well, those so-called “Hellenists” focused only upon the GNT may have no desire ever to read Plato or Homer can steer clear of the dual, but a reader of the Iliad meets two duals — an aorist verb and a nominative aorist participle — already in line 6 of Book 1:
    ἐξ οὗ δὴ τὰ πρῶτα διαστήτην ἐρίσαντε
    Ἀτρεΐδης τε ἄναξ ἀνδρῶνκαὶδῖος Ἀχιλλεύς

    Duals that survive in Koine are the genitive of δύο — δυοῖν and there’s the numeral ὀκτώ, which apparently meant “two pairs of sharp points” (fingers).

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