The Historical Present: φησί

The Historical Present: φησί

Postby Louis L Sorenson » March 3rd, 2012, 11:08 am

There is a plethora of entries on this subject in the B-Greek archives http://lists.ibiblio.org/pipermail/b-greek/, but none on the new forum [sic!]. A Google search for "Historical Present" can be found by entering on Google search: "historical present" site:http://lists.ibiblio.org/pipermail/b-greek/. One of the best modern linguistic descriptions of why the historical present occurs, and what it means, can be found in Stephen Runge's Discourse Grammar of the Greek New Testament (imoho). Chapter 6, page 125-143 cover the Historical Present.

Runge, quoting Porter, says that traditional grammarians explain three usages:
  • A. Dramatic Usage - by far the most common explanation
  • B. Tense reduction
  • C. Change of setting or character

Wallace says
"The reason for the use of the historical present is normally to portray an event vividly, as though the reader were in the midst of the scene as it unfolds."
(Wallace, Greek Grammar, 526).

Runge comments on Wallace' Statement as follows (p. 126)
In other words, [Wallace and Porter(?) say] it is the semantics of the verb form that create the effect, not the nondefault usage of the present form in the "wrong" context. This explanation has muddied the meaning of the verb form itself, leading to the proposal that the HP has no tense -- that it is, tense reduction. Although the vividness proposal is attractive due to its compatibility with modern English usage, it cannot account for the variety of usages observed in the NT


Runge's explanation is that the HP is a discourse feature, using the present tense to "elevate to a level of prominence" .
Both the imperfect and present tenses grammaticalize imperfective aspect, depicting action that is ongoing or incomplete. Imperfective aspect is generally associate across language with offline, nonevent information in narrative. In contrast, salient main events typically are communicated using the aorist or "perfective" aspect.... The Imperfect is the default means of signalling the offline information in a past time setting, freeing the present-tense form for use as a prominence marker (p. 130).


The HP's departure from the expected norm creates a break in the flow of the discourse. (p. 131)


In the case of the HP, I contend that the usage associated with discourse boundaries or paragraphing is best explained as the next step in the cognitive processing of discourse devices: segmentation for easier processing. The segmentation may be at discourse transitions - for example, the introduction of new participants into an existing scene. Alternatively, it may signal the transition to a new scene within the same narrative. In such cases, the HP functions as a processing device, making the discontinuity that naturally existed stand out even more as a guide to the reader or hearer.

This processing explanation holds true also for the use of the HP in quotative frames, particularly where there are unexpected turns in the conversation. The presence of the HP makes the discontinuity that was already present stand out all the more. (pp. 132-133).


I've been reading through Chariton's Challirhoe (see below), recently, and have come across some instances of what seem to me to be the historical present for the φημί (3s φησί-ν). φημί has only the present and imperfect ἔφην, no other tense forms are present. I'm trying to apply Stephen Runge's discourse analysis to these usages. Runge's examples nos. 82, 83, 84 deal with λέγει being used as a historical present. (Note, if the speech is direct speech or indirect speech - Greek will always keep the tense in the same tense as the original statement, as I understand, so those passages would have to be filtered out.)

Challiroe, is a Greek Syracusian beauty who gets captured by some pirates (πειρατῶν). (The book is written in literary Koine, and thus has direct application to New Testament Studies. It can be found on the Perseus website at http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3atext%3a2008.01.0668. It is secular Greek about a secular subject with no Semitic influences). φησί occurs 132 times in the book. φημί occurs so often that the reader (myself) merely passes over the tense form. Chariton does use ἐφη_ about 43 times. φημί is a little more complicated than λέγει in that φημί will usually never come first, it is usually inserted after a portion of a direct quote, with the remaining text following (e.g. Acts 25.22 αὔριον, φησίν, ἀκούσῃ αὐτοῦ.)

φημί (in some form) occurs in the GNT about 67 times; 47x as ἔφη, 18χ φησίν, and 1χ φασίν, which would hold up that the less frequent structures are more marked. What I specifically wonder, is can Runge's explanation handle the reverse usage frequency for φημί in Chariton's novel? Or is φημί tenseless and merely a stylistic variation? Here are a few examples. How far can the present of φημί be deferrred into a quote and still have it give the kind of segmentation/discourse transition that Runge sees happening. In addition, it often follows conjunctions such as δέ or οὖν which have already segmented the discourse. Or is it that some speech verbs that are so common, eventually lose their tense and discourse theory cannot be applied to them? And thus what is found in Chariton is an example of that? [Note, a search of Plato brings of 2375 instances of ἔφη_ and 172 instances of φασι_, which would tend to bolster the fact that φημί is marked]. Why is Chariton's usage so skewed? Here are a few examples from Chariton.

1.13.10
καὶ “χάριν σοι” φησὶν “ἔχω,
πάτερ, ὑπὲρ τῆς εἰς ἐμὲ φιλανθρωπίας· ἀποδοῖεν δὲ” ἔφη “πᾶσιν
ὑμῖν οἱ θεοὶ τὰς ἀξίας ἀμοιβάς.


1.14.2
καταπεπληγμένων δὲ αὐτῶν κατόπιν ὁ Θήρων ἑπό-
μενος προσῆλθε τῷ Λεωνᾷ καὶ “ἀνάστα” φησὶ “καὶ γενοῦ περὶ τὴν
ὑποδοχὴν τῆς γυναικός· αὕτη γάρ ἐστιν ἣν θέλεις ἀγοράσαι.


1.14.5
καὶ γὰρ ἐδεῖτο πολλῆς ἀναπαύσεως ἐκ λύπης καὶ καμάτου καὶ φόβου· Θήρων
δὲ τῆς δεξιᾶς λαβόμενος τοῦ Λεωνᾶ “τὰ μὲν παρ' ἐμοῦ σοι” φησὶ
“πιστῶς πεπλήρωται, σὺ δὲ ἔχε μὲν ἤδη τὴν γυναῖκα (φίλος γὰρ εἶ
λοιπόν), ἧκε δὲ εἰς ἄστυ καὶ λάμβανε τὰς καταγραφὰς καὶ τότε μοι
τιμήν, ἣν θέλεις, ἀποδώσεις.


1.14.9
κόπτουσα δὲ τῇ
χειρὶ τὸ στῆθος εἶδεν ἐν τῷ δακτυλίῳ τὴν εἰκόνα τὴν Χαιρέου καὶ
καταφιλοῦσα “ἀληθῶς ἀπόλωλά σοι, Χαιρέα” φησί, “τοσούτῳ
διαζευχθεῖσα πελάγει.


5.4.12
σιωπῆς δὲ γενο-
μένης ἔδει μὲν ἄρξασθαι τοῦ λόγου Διονύσιον τὸν κατήγορον, καὶ
πάντες εἰς ἐκεῖνον ἀπέβλεψαν· ἔφη δὲ Μιθριδάτης “οὐ προλαμβάνω”
φησί, “δέσποτα, τὴν ἀπολογίαν, ἀλλ' οἶδα τὴν τάξιν· δεῖ δὲ πρὸ
τῶν λόγων ἅπαντας παρεῖναι τοὺς ἀναγκαίους ἐν τῇ δίκῃ· ποῦ τοί-
νυν ἡ γυνή, περὶ ἧς ἡ κρίσις;
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Re: The Historical Present· φησί

Postby Eeli Kaikkonen » March 3rd, 2012, 12:07 pm

Louis L Sorenson wrote:There is a plethora of entries on this subject in the B-Greek archives http://lists.ibiblio.org/pipermail/b-greek/, but none on the new forum.


... except The Aspect of Historical Present 'Against the Grain' .
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Re: The Historical Present· φησί

Postby Louis L Sorenson » March 3rd, 2012, 12:23 pm

ἤνοιξα μἐν τὸ στόμα. ἐνέθηκα οὖν δὲ τὸν πόδα.

So I should be looking for my answer perhaps regarding the verb type? I'll have to read Rijksbaron on that.

Randall wrote.
RandallButh wrote:Consider Albert Rijksbaron, "Syntax and Semantics of the Verb in Classical Greek", 3rd ed, 2002, p. 24
"The historic present is only found with terminative (telic), not with stative (atelic) verbs."


But φημί a terminative (telic) verb, is not it?

Thanks for the link
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Re: The Historical Present

Postby Eeli Kaikkonen » March 3rd, 2012, 12:28 pm

Rijksbaron (The Syntax and Semantics of the Verb...) is worth quoting in length.
Strictly speaking this historic use conflicts with the fundamental value(s) of the present indicative (cp. § 3): unlike the imperfect and aorist indicative, the present indicative is, 'at heart', not suitable for the expression of past states of affairs. As a result of this special status the historic present has a specific effect, or rather, effects, for a number of nuances may be distinguished. It should be noted that in some of these the notion of 'present' may play a part to the extent that a 'pseudo-present' or 'pseudo-moment-of-utterance' is created: the narrator plays the role of an eyewitness. This does not, however, hold for all uses of the historic present.


For Rijksbaron HP "Marks decisive states of affairs", i.e. "states of affairs that are of decisive importance for the story" (§7.2) and "'Punctuates' a narrative", "dividing it into narrative units" (§7.3).

Apparently Rijksbaron doesn't see any incompatibility between 'pseudo-moment-of-utterance' and the present tense going 'against the grain' (as Buth put it).
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Re: The Historical Present: φησί

Postby Louis L Sorenson » March 3rd, 2012, 12:54 pm

Rijksbaron, The Syntax and Semantics of the Verb in Classical Greek, Footnote 1, p. 24

Note 1. The historical present is only found with terminitive (telic), not with stative (atelic) verbs (cp. §2). Thus the present indicative of verbs like βασιλεύω, εἰμί, ἔχω, οἶδα, ῥέω is never used as a historical present.


Does this really hold true?
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Re: The Historical Present· φησί

Postby Eeli Kaikkonen » March 3rd, 2012, 1:07 pm

Louis L Sorenson wrote:But φημί a terminative (telic) verb, is not it?


I think it is, but is it a problem? Telic verbs like λεγω (and φημί) can be used as HP, atelic like ειμι can't.
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Re: The Historical Present: φησί

Postby cwconrad » March 3rd, 2012, 1:15 pm

I know that this is altogether irrelevant to the endeavor to explain the nature of the Historical Present. Nevertheless, I do think it's an interesting fact that everyone who's gotten to a certain point in reading ancient Greek knows exactly what it is and can readily cite examples of it. Moreover, most of those who recognize it when it appears feel not the least need to understand why it functions as it does. "Seems almost as natural as breathing," he says.
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: The Historical Present: φησί

Postby Mark Lightman » March 4th, 2012, 2:48 am

Conrad: I know that this is altogether irrelevant to the endeavor to explain the nature of the Historical Present. Nevertheless, I do think it's an interesting fact that everyone who's gotten to a certain point in reading ancient Greek knows exactly what it is and can readily cite examples of it. Moreover, most of those who recognize it when it appears feel not the least need to understand why it functions as it does. "Seems almost as natural as breathing," he says.

Hi, Carl,

Your comments, though wonderfully perceptive and 100% accurate, are out of place here on the Greek Language and Linguistics Subforum. We do not discuss pedagogy here, nor do we ever question the fundamental assumptions of the discipline. We have, here on the Greek Language and Linguistics Subforum, what Rick Santorum would call a “different theology.” If you want to continue to make lucid comments that will actually help people learn Ancient Greek, you will need to do so on a different Subforum.

Remember the motto of the new B-Greek; good fences make good neighbors.

LoSo: Or is φημί tenseless and merely a stylistic variation?


Yes.
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Re: The Historical Present: φησί

Postby Eeli Kaikkonen » March 4th, 2012, 3:35 am

Mark Lightman wrote:Remember the motto of the new B-Greek; good fences make good neighbors.


Please, Mark, ironic sarcasm may sound funny to those who agree with you already, but it's a poor way to communicate, persuade and make friends. The problem isn't so much what is said but when, how often and how. We can continue this discussion with private messages if you want to.
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Re: The Historical Present: φησί

Postby RandallButh » March 4th, 2012, 7:41 am

Louis lemor:

Rijksbaron, The Syntax and Semantics of the Verb in Classical Greek, Footnote 1, p. 24

Note 1. The historical present is only found with terminitive (telic), not with stative (atelic) verbs (cp. §2). Thus the present indicative of verbs like βασιλεύω, εἰμί, ἔχω, οἶδα, ῥέω is never used as a historical present.

Does this really hold true?


Yes, as far as I know. Any exceptions will need a special look and will be found to be a kind of 'exception that proves a rule.'

PS: There was fun involved in 'louis lemor'. Lemor is the BH infinitive 'to say'. Louis L'Amour was also a famous US novelist of western and adventure stories.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading those stories in the African bush, so any implication should be taken as highly complimentary. It was a positive pun of allowable alliteration.
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