Footnotes on Middle Voice

I was looking over Wallace’s discussion of deponency this morning, primarily curious about who he cites in his discussion. Here’s the section in question:

“A deponent middle is a middle voice verb that has no active form but is active in meaning.58 This is the most common middle in the NT, due to the heavy use of certain verbs. English (as well as other modern Indo-European languages) has few analogies, making analysis of this phenomenon particularly difficult.59 But in the AV, we read on occasion “he is come” in the sense of “he comes” (cf. Matt 12:44; John 4:25).
–Daniel Wallace, Greek Grammar, 428.

There’s nothing particularly remarkable with the two paragraphs, by themselves, but a quick look at Wallace’s footnotes is slightly more illuminating, particularly note 59.

Note 59 is a quote and reference to Gildersleeve’s review of Stahl’s Syntax, later republished as a short monograph entitled Notes on Stahl’s Syntax of the Greek Verb.

“Like the rest of us, Stahl has to go into bankruptcy,” admits Gildersleeve on Stahl’s explanation of the deponent middle (in B. L. Gildersleeve’s review of Stahl’s Syntax in AJP 29 [1908] 278).

This is an interesting quote. Part of me wonders whether or not it was directly pulled from Robertson (Wallace’s reliance on Robertson isn’t exactly unknown):

“The question is raised whether these verbs have lost the middle idea or never had it. “Like the rest of us, Stahl has to go into bankruptcy,” Gildersleeve remarks on Stahl’s attempt to explain this use of the middle.”

–A.T. Robertson, A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research, 812.

But we should quote Gildersleeve at length to see exactly what he’s saying.

“And now we come to what I would fain call the drip-pan middle, the πανδέκτης middle, the middle that is put at the bottom to catch the drippings of the other uses as the ablative is put to catch the drippings of the others cases. It is called the intensive middle, the dynamic middle. We have five chevaux de frise pages on the subject and after all the categorizing, individual authors baffle us. There is, f. i., παρλεχειν and παρέχεσθαι. If you read certain authors you are ready to formulate. ὁ παρέχων shirks responsibility for disagreeable things, ὁ παρεχόμενος take the credit for agreeable things, but alas! Plato who after all writes Jove-like Greek sends the distinction ἐς κόπακας. In short the dynamic middle might as well be called the ethical middle and spelling it out with the help of ‘out of one’s means’ and the like is in many cases a mere concession to the mania for explaining the reflexive notion, which is often so faint that one forgive Curtius for his untenable explanation of -μαι, -σαι, -ται. After one has done one’s best, one must needs fall back on the way of the language. λαβεῖν may be rendered to ‘grip’, and λαβέσθαι ‘to get one’s grip’, the –εύειν and –εύεσθαι may be differentiated, πολιτεύειν ‘to be a citizen’, πολιτεύεσθαι ‘to play one’s part as a citizen’, but ἕπεσθαι like sequi does not yield to us a reflexive sense without forcing, and alfter all is said and down we have to admit, as Stahl has done, that the language is capricious in such matters. We translate ἰδεῖν ‘see’, ἰδέσθαι ‘to see with one’s own eyes’, and overtranslation as ὀφθαλμοῖσιν ὁρᾶν shows, but if there is such virtue in ἰδέσθαι, why not in ἰδόμενος? Ah! the verse. Like the rest of us Stahl has to go into bankruptcy. Translation with not suffice. ‘The middle may be quite appropriate’, he says, ‘and yet when there is not essential difference between the middle and the active the <frivolous> author may go to work <or rather to play> and use the active’. And the whole thing winds up with a chapter on the differences between -κα and the strong perfects, the use of the aorist active (e.g., ἔδρακον) side by side with the present middle (e.g., δέκρομαι) and the tendency of the sigmatic aorist to the causative signification, ἔστησα)(ἔστην. All this is very disappointing in a work that was to have illuminated the whole track of our studies. The book will be a God-send to those who like to write about Greek syntax without reading Greek, and every Greek scholar will welcome the material, but the specialist in syntax who is really seeking light and who has worked through the whole period covered by Stahl will not be edified by the false points he has made the the ruthless way in which he breaks off those that he has not developed himself.”

Gildersleeve, Notes on Stahl’s Syntax of the Greek Verb, 277-8.

The quote in question, I’ve placed in bold in the section above. Thoughts on the context anyone?

I cannot help but wonder whether the actual statement, “Like the rest of us Stahl has to go into bankruptcy,” is far less about deponency and more about the reliability of translation for understanding the meaning of the grammatical forms.

But even then, Wallace’s point holds, I suppose, “…making analysis of this phenomenon particularly difficult.” But I think Gildersleeve’s later statement is more relevant to that point:

“All this is very disappointing in a work that was to have illuminated the whole track of our studies. The book will be a God-send to those who like to write about Greek syntax without reading Greek, and every Greek scholar will welcome the material, but the specialist in syntax who is really seeking light and who has worked through the whole period covered by Stahl will not be edified by the false points he has made the the ruthless way in which he breaks off those that he has not developed himself.”

It also seems clear that Gildersleeve isn’t a particularly big fan of taking reflexive meaning as the basic starting point for understanding the Greek middle (unfortunately, too many today do just that!).

9 thoughts on “Footnotes on Middle Voice

  1. The comma in Wallace’s quotation “Like the rest of us, Stahl has to go into bankruptcy” is not original to Gildersleeve but present in Robertson. This agreement in error suggests that Wallace obtained at least the form of this quotation via Robertson.

  2. Good eye, Stephen. I didn’t notice that. Considering that Wallace’s grammar originated as syllabus notes. It’s likely that the quote was dropped in during a read through of Robertson. I’m sure he did check the source when it went from syllabus to textbook. Wallace (considering his dissertation) tends to be quite good and finding old books.

  3. The end of the quotation which begins “The book will be a God-send to those who like to write about Greek syntax without reading Greek …” is brilliant. It reminds me of something Randall Buth wrote the other day on B-Greek: “A few in NT studies have bought used cars from the ‘aspect-only’car lot. My claim is that the cars are not roadworthy. If the purchasers would take their car out for a ride, they would discover that themselves.”

  4. Fascinating. Gildersleeve was, I think, the American Housman (who published commentaries “in usum editorum”); Gildersleeve was a Confederate veteran (authored an interesting memoir of that), founed and long edited the Journal of the American Philological Association, taught for years at Johns Hopkins, perhaps the most eminent of American Classicists who sought to make American Classical scholarship the match of German Classical scholarship.

  5. Regarding this: But in the AV, we read on occasion “he is come” in the sense of “he comes” (cf. Matt 12:44; John 4:25).
    Maybe I’m nitpicking and off topic, but I believe English “he is come” has more of a past sense than a present one and mirrors the Germanic languages. Germanic verbs of motion tend to use a form of “to be” rather than a form of “to have” to form past tenses. The German “er ist gekommen” means “he has come” or “he came” and that is what the archaic English “he is come” means, not “he comes”.

    1. I do not know German, but I think you’re right. Also, I’m not entirely convinced that “he is come” is truly archaic or merely an attempt at a literal translation of the Greek. One would have to do some research to see whether this construction existed before 1611. I don’t know.

      1. I think that “he is come” is indeed archaic. I haven’t done the research, but I think it’s equivalent to the Romance “past indefinite” = “aorist.”
        Just looking through some KJV instances of “is come,” I find it sometimes has ἦλθεν in the LXX, sometimes ἥκει (the perfective present).

        It might be instructive to compare French verbs conjugated with “être” in the past indefinite as opposed to the default auxiliary “avoir.”

        Cf. KJV “is become” GNT: ἐγένετο, ἐγενήθη (LXX also γέγονεν)
        KJV “is risen” GNT: ἠγέρθη, ἀνέστη
        KJV

      2. Wow! I just found two examples (in two lines!) from Chaucer’s Squire’s Tale, Part 1.

        The usshers and the squiers been ygoon,
        The spices and the wyn is come anoon.

        (When) The ushers and the squires been gone [went/left],
        The spices and the wine is come [came out] immediately.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s