Dating Historical Eras of Greek

Biblical Greek morphology and syntax, aspect, linguistics, discourse analysis, and related topics

Dating Historical Eras of Greek

Postby cwconrad » February 26th, 2013, 8:13 am

MAubrey wrote:
cwconrad wrote:Considering the questionable dating of this Greek text (it really is questionable, isn't it? How old, in fact, is the Greek text here cited?) couldn't these perfect-tense forms (apart from the ptc. εἰδυῖα, of course), be understood as aorists?

That's a fair point, depending on the dating, it could be, though I'm inclined to view that shift as happening at least century or two later into the Byzantine period. Alternatively, I might be inclined to view this as involving the perfect to aorist shift in process, but not yet completed. That is, however we analyze this perfect here, it is precisely this kind of usage that motivated the death of the perfect and its "merger" with the aorist.


Well, inasmuch as this very interesting thread originally emerged from discussion of this particular passage in this particular text, I really would like to know what date or range of dates you're assigning it to. You say that you're "inclined to view that shift as happening at least a century [or] two into the Byzantine period." Where, as nearly as possible, do we draw these lines between eras? It seems ironic to me that linguists prefer (that's true isn't it) to speak of linguistic structures and usage in synchronic terms, and yet many of our problems of interpreting particular texts involves questions of accurate dating of the texts and reasonably accurate estimates of the direction, pace, and dating of the significant changes in structure and usage.I know there are some lines drawn between eras of Greek language: Homeric, Archaic, Attic, Hellenistic, ... But how much consensus is there on these questions? Perhaps the question belongs to a thread of its own in "Greek Language and Linguistics."
Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Retired)
… ἐπειδὴ καὶ τὸν οἶνον ἠξίους
πίνειν, συνεκποτέ’ ἐστί σοι καὶ τὴν τρύγα Aristophanes, Plutus 1085
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Re: Dating Historical Eras of Greek

Postby MAubrey » February 27th, 2013, 4:33 pm

I've moved this over the linguistics form.

I can only give you my answer as to how I deal with the question. I generally try to avoid making absolute statements about what the language looks like in a particular era. I think its pretty indisputable that the language is an evolving entity and that there are always artifacts of older usage that exist in later periods and embryonic usages that eventually develop into later phenomenon and all of that makes it difficult to tie down any particular grammatical question to a particular time period. If Caragounis' massive book on the history of the language contributed anything, it was the usefulness of looking both backward and forward for explanation for the development of grammatical structure.

When I talk about something occurring at a particular point in time, my reference to time is tied to specific historical events--Hellenistic: post Alexander the Great, Roman Koine: after 46BCE, Byzantine: rise of Constantine. Homer vs. Classical is a little easier since there is a bit of a gap where our access to texts is significantly more limited. And with that, my reference to usage is tied to: (1) comments by grammarians (in the case of the perfect & aorist, primarily the studies of the papyri by Mandelaras & Gignac) and (2) morphological searches in Perseus using Logos Bible Software. I've grouped texts by estimated dates of composition and the Perseus texts in Logos go from Homer through the 5th century.

I know that neither of those are comprehensive, but its something. I'd be interested in how other approach the issue.
Mike Aubrey
Canada Institute of Linguistics & Trinity Western University Graduate School
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Re: Dating Historical Eras of Greek

Postby MAubrey » February 27th, 2013, 5:01 pm

cwconrad wrote: It seems ironic to me that linguists prefer (that's true isn't it) to speak of linguistic structures and usage in synchronic terms, and yet many of our problems of interpreting particular texts involves questions of accurate dating of the texts and reasonably accurate estimates of the direction, pace, and dating of the significant changes in structure and usage.


I should add that the (very common) characterization of linguists wanting to discuss linguistic structures in synchronic tems isn't as accurate of a portrayal of the field. Or more accurately, its an accurate portrayal of the field for a specific segment of linguistics that follow the thought and view points of Noam Chomsky. And while that segment is probably both the loudest segment and also the most well known, it is by no means the largest segment. If anything, for the vast (maybe that's hyperbole) majority of linguistics the situation is precisely the opposite.

With that, most who emphasize synchrony over diachrony also tend to bring up often Saussure as well and his emphasis on his chess metaphor, where the history of the game isn't necessary for determining and evaluating the ideal best next move. But those same people miss the very important fact that Saussure could, "hardly have picked -- as he must have known -- an example of a domain where past events more inevitably, regularly, and evidently (if not uniquely) determine the present resulting state"
--Eve Sweetser, From etymology to pragmatics (Cambridge: University Press, 1990), 10.

(Stephen, if you're reading this, that's another book to read)
Mike Aubrey
Canada Institute of Linguistics & Trinity Western University Graduate School
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Re: Dating Historical Eras of Greek

Postby cwconrad » February 28th, 2013, 9:42 am

Mike, I appreciate your thoughtful responses to the questions I raised. It does indeed seem to me, as you note, that the focus on synchronic discussion of language usage-systems (is that an appropriate phrase? and if not, what's better?) doesn't seem to be tenable in reality nor observed seriously in practice. Yes, usage is in flux to a greater or lesser extent in many periods, certainly whenever and wherever cultural transitions are in process, something that is certainly the case in the Hellenistic era. Inasmuch as we don't have records of speech until relatively recent years, the documents upon which we rely for dating linguistic usage are necessarily preserved texts, including especially papyri of ephemeral documents, and epigraphical material. The papyri are pretty clearly the most significant evidence for linguistic change in antiquity.

I would guess that dating linguistic eras and dating significant linguistic changes is, to some extent, a "checken-or-egg" type of riddle. In the linguistic history of Greek, the differentiation between the language of the official scribes and the language of commerce and everyday discourse has to be important. Where are the lines to be drawn between eras in the "official" dialects of government business and records?

We speak of Homeric Greek as a major corpus of linguistic evidence, but the question may be asked (perhaps it's been answered adequately? I don't know), what is Homeric Greek evidence for -- inasmuch as it is an artificial language developed within a distinct cultural tradition and that it doesn't appear ever to have been spoken.

I guess that for the period in which we are most interested, the single most significant and interesting transition is that between the Koine of Hellenistic Greece and the Atticizing movement which has to be said to begin in the 1st c. CE.

I guess these reflections are not really very helpful; it's more a matter of questions raised than of answers of which we can really feel confident. Is Horrocks' 2nd edition really very helpful in this regard?
Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Retired)
… ἐπειδὴ καὶ τὸν οἶνον ἠξίους
πίνειν, συνεκποτέ’ ἐστί σοι καὶ τὴν τρύγα Aristophanes, Plutus 1085
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Re: Dating Historical Eras of Greek

Postby mwpalmer » April 29th, 2013, 8:36 pm

Carl and Mike:

I don't have a lot of time right now to write detailed responses to the things I read in the forum, but I want you to know that I enjoy reading your interchanges. They are refreshing!
Micheal W. Palmer
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