Stephen Carlson wrote:Hi David. I think Mike has been pretty busy for a while and your request about the finer nuances of the preposition ἐπί is something that would take a lot of effort to adequately respond to. Although there are some good, recent studies on the meaning of prepositions in Classical Greek (e.g., Silvia Luraghi, Pietro Bortone), scholarship on their Koine meanings has unfortunately lagged behind.
So your specific question about ἐπί is a pretty big ask. If people want to participate, that would be great, but I think on this question we're going to be limited by the same common set of reference materials--and equally frustrated by them. (LSJ is over a half-century old.)
Sure, I am in no hurry to get an answer. I just put this out for everyone in case anyone has some insight into any possible difference between the instances of each pair. Until then, I will stick to my working hypothesis that there is none.
Stephen Carlson wrote:As to the remark quoted in the original post of this topic, I don't recognize "arbitrary" as a valid linguistic or exegetical explanation. In fact, it is not an explanation at all but a refusal to provide an explanation or worse, a claim that no explanation is possible. For Koine Greek, we have no native speakers to consult and our understanding is naturally limited based on the nature of the surviving evidence. Sometimes, agnosticism is appropriate; sometimes we have to concede that, based on our current understanding of the evidence, we don't know what difference in function (semantic, pragmatic, sociolinguistic, etc.), if any, is meant by a particular difference in form. But admitting our ignorance on a particular point is not the same thing as claiming that it's arbitrary. The latter shuts down the investigation, while the former permits it to go on.
As far as I am aware, "Difference in form. Difference in meaning." is not an iron law of linguistics, but it is a helpful reminder not to give up too soon in one's investigation.
Actually I think that I am more particular about preserving differences in meaning than most translations, but more often than not, I finally have to give in to the evidence that two different forms are actually identical in function and emphasis, and differ only in length and how they sound. That happened too many times already, especially with prepositions, for me to dismiss them all as my ignorance. For example, I thought that perhaps "λεγει προς αυτον" emphasized a more directed speech but "λεγει αυτω" was the more generic one, however after looking at all the occurrences, I concluded that it was a non-existent distinction. I would be glad to hear if anyone has a plausible suggestion of a distinction, as I can find none, which probably suggests that the large majority of ancient Greek speakers also could not and thus did not distinguish them.
As an example of equivalent phrases in English, not a dead language, "it's" as used in your post is equivalent to "it is". You used "it's" once and "it is" twice. Was there a reason for the difference? I must say that if there was, I was oblivious to it; it escaped my notice even though I am a careful reader, which means that probably no one would have picked up a distinction either, before reading this paragraph. I only found it on a meticulous examination of your post to find an example. "it's" can mean "it has" also, but I don't consider that because no one would have mentally considered that option when reading your post, because the context agrees with the default "it is". Another example is "in order that" which is equivalent to "so that", where "so that" can also mean "with the result that" but it is so rare that it never occurs to the audience unless the default meaning fails to fit the context. All these imply that ultimately there is no distinction between such pairs in the mind of the audience except for the length of the phrase, the time it takes to say it and how the phrase sounds, given the appropriate context (including whether it is formal or informal). Phrases that are truly equivalent in all contexts are harder to find, but I remember seeing some: "with respect to" = "with regard to" = "in regard to". The first two are the most common and differ extremely slightly in Mathematics. The last two are really equivalent though "in regard to" is less frequently used. Another example I just found is "aforesaid" = "aforementioned", with the former less frequent but having exactly the same meaning.
Anyway here is a list of all such pairs involving "επι" I can find in Matthew alone (with sporadic examples from elsewhere):
(I have categorized them according to the semantic domains because other semantic domains seem to be restricted to a specific cases. I have also quoted only the relevant part of each verse.)
[Matt 19:28] "εν τη παλιγγενεσια οταν καθιση ο υιος του ανθρωπου επι θρονου δοξης αυτου
καθισεσθε και υμεις επι δωδεκα θρονους
κρινοντες τας δωδεκα φυλας του ισραηλ"
[Luke 20:30] "και καθισεσθε επι θρονων
κρινοντες τας δωδεκα φυλας του ισραηλ"
[Matt 9:9] "ειδεν ανθρωπον καθημενον επι το τελωνιον
[Matt 23:2] "επι της μωσεως καθεδρας
εκαθισαν οι γραμματεις και οι φαρισαιοι"
[Mark 11:2] "ευρησετε πωλον δεδεμενον εφ ον
ουδεις ανθρωπων κεκαθικεν"
[Mark 11:7] "και επεβαλον αυτω τα ιματια αυτων και εκαθισεν επ αυτω
[Rev 14:14] "και ειδον και ιδου νεφελη λευκη και επι την νεφελην
καθημενον ομοιον υιω ανθρωπου"
[Rev 14:15] "και αλλος αγγελος εξηλθεν εκ του ναου κραζων εν φωνη μεγαλη τω καθημενω επι της νεφελης
[Matt 14:25] "απηλθεν προς αυτους ο ιησους περιπατων επι της θαλασσης
[Matt 14:26] "ιδοντες αυτον οι μαθηται επι την θαλασσαν
[Matt 4:6] "επι χειρων
αρουσιν σε μηποτε προσκοψης προς λιθον τον ποδα σου"
[Matt 14:11] "ηνεχθη η κεφαλη αυτου επι πινακι
και εδοθη τω κορασιω"
on (object of thought)
[Matt 14:14] "ο ιησους ειδεν πολυν οχλον και εσπλαγχνισθη επ αυτοις
[Matt 15:32] "σπλαγχνιζομαι επι τον οχλον
over (in authority)
[Matt 24:45] "ο πιστος δουλος και φρονιμος ον κατεστησεν ο κυριος αυτου επι της θεραπειας αυτου
[Matt 24:47] "επι πασιν τοις υπαρχουσιν αυτου
[Matt 25:21] "ευ δουλε αγαθε και πιστε επι ολιγα
ης πιστος επι πολλων
Incidentally, I noticed that "επι την γην" is only used together when there is motion, but this does not hold for other objects, thus I hypothesize that it is necessary to distinguish between "on the earth" (position
) and "to the land" (destination
) / "on the ground" (direction
). For other objects that do not have such compatible multiple meanings, there is no necessity for any distinction and hence both the accusative and genitive are interchangeable when denoting position, as the above examples demonstrate.
And, Carl, is there any reference on the development of the syntax of the preposition that is available online? Or at least with respect to "επι" in the above-mentioned semantic domains? I am curious to know why certain domains are affected but not others, apparently.