How do I work out the meaning of a Greek text? How can I best understand the forms and vocabulary in this particular text?
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[1 Cor 14]  αδελφοι μη παιδια γινεσθε ταις φρεσιν αλλα τη κακια νηπιαζετε ταις δε φρεσιν τελειοι γινεσθε
I have two questions about "ταις φρεσιν":
(1) Does the plural have any meaning?
LSJ (Perseus) wrote:4. will, purpose, “οὔ τι Διὸς βέομαι φρεσίν” Il.15.194; “σῆς ἀπεστάτουν φ.” S.Ant.993, cf.OC1182.—In usage there is little or no distinction observable between sg. and pl., but the sg. is not found in Prose (exc. Heraclit. l.c.) or Com. (exc. in paratrag., Ar. Ra.886).
But it seems to refer only to that "semantic section" when the word means "intent".
(2) What does it mean in this context? Does it mean "the understanding (the mental faculties)"?
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The φρένες originally referred to the diaphragm (as the muscle controlling the lungs) thought of as the seat of understanding and particularly of moral insight. I'd give heed to the whole LSJ article on φρήν (I don't think I've ever seen this word in the singular, and it's one of the most common words in Homer and earlier Greek. It's closely related to adjectives in -φρων and their nominal derivatives such as εὐφροσύνη and σωφροσύνη, and to the important verb φρονῶ (lexical lemma φρονέω). I think that φρένες appears only once in the GNT -- in the passage you've cited -- but a review of the 26 instances of the use of the verb φρονεῖν in the GNT would repay the effort, I think.
οὔτοι ἀπ’ ἀρχῆς πάντα θεοὶ θνητοῖς ὑπέδειξαν,
ἀλλὰ χρόνῳ ζητέοντες ἐφευρίσκουσιν ἄμεινον. (Xenophanes, Fragment 16)
Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Retired)