ἰάομαι Why middle?

Semantic Range, Lexicography, and other approaches to word meaning - in general, or for particular words.
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Ruth Mathys
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ἰάομαι Why middle?

Post by Ruth Mathys » August 4th, 2017, 10:09 am

It just doesn't seem to fit the semantic profile of a typical MP verb. ἅπτομαι is the only word I can think of that comes close.

Ruth Mathys
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MAubrey
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Re: ἰάομαι Why middle?

Post by MAubrey » August 4th, 2017, 1:57 pm

The unpleasant answer is: "nobody really knows." Even at the time of the New Testament, it had already been a middle verb for 1000 years.

Some try to force it into a direct reflexive mold saying that somehow the subject benefits from the action, but that's quite forced and stretches the semantics to a breaking point. We can probably best treat it as a spontaneous process middle, just one that's also transitive.
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Ruth Mathys
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Re: ἰάομαι Why middle?

Post by Ruth Mathys » August 4th, 2017, 6:51 pm

I thought of ῥύομαι too, but it's a lot easier to read a middle meaning into that (especially once I looked the word up in LSJ).

So am I allowed to envisage some mystical process whereby there is a (non-agentive?) transference of power from the healer to the patient? It ties in with what I know of Greek healing cults.

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cwconrad
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Re: ἰάομαι Why middle?

Post by cwconrad » August 5th, 2017, 8:08 am

Apart from the direct question regarding why this verb is middle, there is a question of what explanation is really likely to be convincing. My own thinking is that ῦὰσθαι involves the deliberate exercise of a power within the command of the subject. It is comparable to ἐργάζεσθαι or even δύνασθαι.I don't think it matters much whether healing is conceived as a god-given power; it is a power under the control of the subject. Of course the exercise of this power doesn't require that the verb be in the middle voice, but the regular usage of the middle voice indicates acceptance of healing as the deliberate exercise of the healer's power. One might perhaps compare πολιτεύειν, "be a citizen" and πολιτεύεσθαι "exercise one's citizenship."
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οὔτοι ἀπ’ ἀρχῆς πάντα θεοὶ θνητοῖς ὑπέδειξαν,
ἀλλὰ χρόνῳ ζητέοντες ἐφευρίσκουσιν ἄμεινον. (Xenophanes, Fragment 16)

Carl W. Conrad
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Eeli Kaikkonen
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Re: ἰάομαι Why middle?

Post by Eeli Kaikkonen » August 5th, 2017, 9:27 am

cwconrad wrote:
August 5th, 2017, 8:08 am
My own thinking is that ῦὰσθαι involves the deliberate exercise of a power within the command of the subject.
Could it be that non-prototypicality of the action is also relevant? It's transitive, takes an accusative object, but according to LSJ in imperfective forms it means "try to cure, treat", not actually heal. It's no wonder considering that healing rarely succeeded (I believe), so the action affected the healer more than the patient. (No need to quote the sarcastic comment in a gospel account...)
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Re: ἰάομαι Why middle?

Post by Eeli Kaikkonen » August 5th, 2017, 9:36 am

Ruth Mathys wrote:
August 4th, 2017, 10:09 am
ἅπτομαι is the only word I can think of that comes close.
I once commented on ἅπτομαι: viewtopic.php?f=12&t=1290&p=17658&hilit ... %B9#p17658

I don't think it comes close to ἰάομαι.
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Ruth Mathys
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Re: ἰάομαι Why middle?

Post by Ruth Mathys » August 5th, 2017, 6:47 pm

cwconrad wrote:
August 5th, 2017, 8:08 am
the regular usage of the middle voice indicates acceptance of healing as the deliberate exercise of the healer's power. One might perhaps compare πολιτεύειν, "be a citizen" and πολιτεύεσθαι "exercise one's citizenship."
That's the exact opposite of Mike's suggestion of spontaneous process. Looks like I'll have to settle for "We don't know."
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RandallButh
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Re: ἰάομαι Why middle?

Post by RandallButh » August 6th, 2017, 3:50 am

Just a couple of comments.
1.
but according to LSJ in imperfective forms it means "try to cure, treat", not actually heal.
That special meaning is a 'red herring' (distraction) and a function of the imperfect rather than the lexeme. Consider ζητεῖν and ζητῆσαι. The imperfect will imply that they did not find what they were seeking, that they attempted to find something.
2.
When looking at the etymology of words in a language I always remember "We do it like that because that is the way they do it." I doubt if any first century Greek person could convincingly explain "why", beyond the Universal Grammar Rule #1 just quoted. Of course, they might come up with quite a few 'ad hoc' explanations if pressed. But they and we would all agree that ἰώμεθα is μέση, unless by fortune we were already ἰάθημεν.

And yea, a third
3.
The Greeks knew that our generation in the 21st century would need special help, so they came up with the word --
ἰῶ !!!!
Yo!!!! (Yo, dude, you'all get yourself healed and be helping others.)

So we have two-words/two-senses, ἰαθῆναι and ἰάσασθαι, that are like homonyms in the continuative: ἰᾶσθαι

y'gotta love the Greeks.
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Stephen Carlson
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Re: ἰάομαι Why middle?

Post by Stephen Carlson » August 7th, 2017, 3:39 am

Rutger Allan's dissertation on the middle voice has this to say about it:
Allan 2002:83 n.200 wrote:Assuming that the original meaning of ἀκέομαι was 'mend, repair', the middle inflection can be explained by the fact that you generally repair something for your own benefit. The middle inflection of the near-synonymous ἰάομαι may be analogous to ἀκέομαι. If we do not accept the explanation of ἰάομαι as analogous to ἀκέομαι, the middle inflection becomes somewhat problematic since it is not clear how the meaning 'heal' relates to middle semantics. Healing benefits the healed person, rather than the healer. Quite possibly, the meaning 'heal' developed from an indirect middle meaning such as 'save someone/something (so as to have him/her at one's disposal)', cf. the Homeric medium tantum ῥύομαι 'rescue, protect'.
No good etymology exists for this verb; otherwise we could be more confident that there had been a sense development from a good middle source.
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Stephen C. Carlson, Ph.D.
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