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, Greek Grammar, 526)."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."
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.
καὶ “χάριν σοι” φησὶν “ἔχω,
πάτερ, ὑπὲρ τῆς εἰς ἐμὲ φιλανθρωπίας· ἀποδοῖεν δὲ” ἔφη “πᾶσιν
ὑμῖν οἱ θεοὶ τὰς ἀξίας ἀμοιβάς.
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.
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.
κόπτουσα δὲ τῇ
χειρὶ τὸ στῆθος εἶδεν ἐν τῷ δακτυλίῳ τὴν εἰκόνα τὴν Χαιρέου καὶ
καταφιλοῦσα “ἀληθῶς ἀπόλωλά σοι, Χαιρέα” φησί, “τοσούτῳ
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;