John Brainard wrote:
At the risk of sounding stupid I as this question.
In Greek the Article is often called the Definite article. Is it correct to call it a Definite article or should we simply call it the article?
I don't think it's a stupid question. It's true that earlier Greek had only a definite article (ὁ, ἡ, τό) derived from the older weak 3d-person pronoun (there's a fascinating account by Bruno Snell in a book written half a century ago, The Discovery of the Mind
on the "invention of the article" in the 6th c. BCE.). But I think that the characterization of this article as "definite" is appropriate to distinguish its function from the function of an article that might mark a noun or substantive that is not specific or general. Koine Greek is beginning to use εἷς, μία, ἕν as an indefinite
article. Latin had neither a definite
nor an indefinite
article, but it developed both, the former from the demonstrative ille, illa, illud
, the latter, like Greek, from the numeral for one
-- unus, una, unum
, wherefore the Romance languages are well supplied with both kinds of article.
While it is true, however, that the definite article in Greek does not quite fully correspond to the usage of the definite article in English or another language, its usage is significantly distinct, I think, that it is right to characterize it as "definite." It does serve to mark
the noun or substantive to which it is attached as having a function that is different from the "unmarked" noun or substantive. For instance, Callimachus may have been referring specifically or even obliquely to the Homeric epics when he wrote "μέγα βιβλίον μέγα κακόν," but more likely he was telling his fellow "bookish" poets like Apollonius of Rhodes, not to go on writing big epic poems.
Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Retired)
ἄτοπον, ἔφη, λέγεις εἰκόνα καὶ δεσμώτας ἀτόπους.
ὁμοίους ἡμῖν, ἦν δʼ ἐγώ. Plato, Rep. 7 (515a)