No Tense Outside the Indicative Mood: Origin?

One claim that you’ll regularly encounter once you start reading various contemporary works on the Greek Verb from NT scholars is the idea that Georg Curtius (1873 [English: 1883]) was the originator of the idea that Greek does not grammaticalize tense outside the indicative mood.

Con Campbell’s recent book, Advances in the Study of Greek, is a representative source of the claim, though it isn’t limited to him and I’m certainly not criticizing him for making it–I think he might be taking it from Fanning (1990, 9-10):

The chief significance of Curtius’s scholarship was as the father of Greek verbal aspect studies. He was the first to argue that the Greek verbal system differs from Latin, and that temporal reference is limited to the indicative mood and is not a feature of the other moods (a fact taken for granted today) (Campbell 2015, 31).

The thing is, I have no idea whether the claim is right or wrong. On the one hand, I’ve never seen in the grammars that I’ve searched anyone make the outright statement of the belief that temporal reference is possible outside the indicative. On the other hand, I certainly haven’t read everything…particular the substantial amount of 19th c. German scholarship.

Fanning cites: Georg Curtius (Die Bildung der Tempora und Modi im Griechischen und Lateinischen sprachvergleichend dargestellt [Berlin: Wilhelm Besser, 1846], 148-52) as the source of the attribution of the idea to Curtius, when he writes:

The breakthrough to a different approach under the influence of comparative philology began with the work of Curtius, who was perhaps the first to attempt a union between the new comparative linguistics and Greek philology as it was more traditionally conceived. In an early book (1846), Curtius argued that, in contrast to Latin, temporal meaning is limited in Greek to the indicative mood and a different type of meaning is expressed by the present and aorist verbal stems: that of durative vs. ‘quickly-passing’ action (Fanning 1990, 10).

Fanning then goes on to cite Curtius’ observed distinction between: ἐγίγνετο from γίγνομαι, ἐγεγόνει from γέγονα.

It’s just that already in 1835 Raphael Kuhner effectively made the same distinction (1835, 62, my translation below):

Kuhner 1835

Present. Past. Future.
I. Absolute γράφω ἔγραψα. γράψω.
II. Relative
a. Simultaneous Duration
γράφω. ἔγραφον. γράψω.
b. Finished Γέγραφα ἐγεγράφειν γεγραφὼς ἔσομαι.
c. Upcoming
Events
Μέλλω γράφειν. ἔμελλον γράφειν. μελλήσω γράφειν.

Now Kuhner’s approach to the verb isn’t exactly standard compared to what we have today, but it is certainly clear that he recognizes that past tense is predicated on the augment. Moreover, he goes on to explicitly state that for the infinitives and participles, temporal reference is only available with reference to either the speech time of the speaker or some other action. And when we move to the moods, we find no reference to temporal reference at all!

So maybe, at best, Curtius is the first one who explicitly stated the fact that tense is contained to the indicative mood, but I’m inclined to think that he isn’t the origin of the idea. It seems to have already been well established.

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