Diving into Plato’s Philosophy

Last week, I read more of The Republic Book I in Greek and started Book VIII, which I’m reading in English. In Book I, Plato continued to set up his dialogue as Socrates and the others go to Polemarchus’ house, where they will soon begin their discussion on justice. In my Book VIII readings, I started exploring Plato’s political philosophy. This chapter lays out the four inferior constitutions (timocracy, oligarchy, democracy, and tyranny), as contrasted with Plato’s ideal aristocratic regime, which he describes in previous sections, calling it “Καλλιπολις” or “beautiful city.” Plato predicts a progression of one regime to the next, starting with aristocracy and ending with tyranny, the worst type of constitution. It was fascinating to look closely at Plato’s logic. When talking about the transition from aristocracy to timocracy, he describes a certain number, often called the “geometrical” or “nuptial” number, for which he gives a complex, and ambiguous, formula to calculate. He says that this number determines the best time for children to be born, but parents are ignorant of it, so children are born at the wrong times. This starts a process in which the wrong people are chosen to lead the aristocracy, and thus there is a civil war among the ruling class, leading to a timocracy that falls between aristocracy and oligarchy. Though I already knew Plato used very abstract logic, I was still astounded by the degree to which his arguments seem to deviate from real-world observations. I’m very interested to learn more about where these ideas came from, such as he first conceived of the geometrical number. This week, I’m reading the rest of Book VIII in English, focusing more of my time on that than Greek translation so I can get a better idea of what I want to study the rest of the semester.

First Week of Plato in Greek

This week, I started reading Plato in Greek, which felt like an amazing reward for my summer of studying grammar and vocab. My first time translating a real Greek text was somewhat slow going, but I expect it to speed up as I read. In my reading, Plato sets up his dialogue. Socrates, the narrator, and Plato’s brother Glaucon go to Piraeus, an Athenian port city, to see a festival. There they run into some of the main characters — Polemarchus, Adamantus, and Niceratus. They want Socrates and Glaucon to join them for a conversation, and thus Plato establishes the impetus for the dialogue. I’ve posted my (very literal) translation for this section in the new “Plato Book I Translation” page, which I’ll continuously update as I progress through the text. This week, I’m going to read more in Greek from Book I in addition to some in English from Book VIII. Book VIII has a lot of Plato’s ideas about governance and the ideal constitution, which I’m especially interested in studying, but these ideas also heavily connect with those in Book I about ethics and justice. Next week, I’ll write more about Plato’s philosophy in my readings.

Finishing Introductory Greek

This is my last “learning Greek” blog post for the summer. Today, I’ll start reading Plato, and I’ll do weekly posts about the content and translation. In these past few weeks, I finished the last 7 chapters of Athenaze. The major topics included:

  • Uses and forms of the optative mood
  • Conditionals
  • Adverbial accusatives, the accusative of respect, and the accusative absolute
  • The perfect tense, including meaning and all forms
  • The pluperfect indicative

There were a lot of fascinating concepts in these chapters, and I won’t write in too much depth about any. Two that were especially interesting to me, especially because they don’t have Latin equivalents, are the use of reduplication in verb forms and the optative mood. Reduplication means that, for some forms of a verb, the first letter is actually repeated at the beginning. Usually in Latin and Greek, an ending or beginning is added to the verb stem that is constant among a set of nouns and does not depend on the stem itself. However, for many perfect and pluperfect verbs, the first letter of the stem is repeated at the beginning. For example, the first person singular perfect active indicative form of the verb with stem -λυ- is λελυκα, meaning that the λ from the beginning is repeated. The optative mood was also an interesting new concept to me. Latin has only three moods, the indicative, imperative, and subjunctive, but Greek ads the fourth optative mood. Many of its uses are very similar to uses of the subjunctive in Greek and Latin. For example, the optative can function in a similar way to the jussive subjunctive, meaning it expresses a wish such as “let this happen.” It can also be used in subordinate clauses, but in these cases it is translated the same as a subjunctive would be in its place. I’ll be interested to see whether I find places where the optative is really “useful” (though of course that’s a tricky word to use in linguistics) or if subjunctive verbs really could replace it without losing meaning.

Exploring Subjunctive Verbs and Constructions

These past two weeks, I got through chapter 23 of Athenaze. The major grammar topics included:

  • Forms of verbs ending in -μι, including δεικνυμι and ιημι
  • Forms of subjunctive verbs in the present and aorist tenses
  • Various uses of the subjunctive: hortatory subjunctive, deliberative questions, negative commands, purpose clauses, conditional clauses, fearing clauses, and indefinite relative and temporal clauses
  • Indirect statements and questions

A topic that I’ve written about repeatedly on this blog is the relationship between Greek and Latin grammar, and how their similarities can help me better understand both. These similarities were striking this week as I dove into usage of the subjunctive mood and formation of indirect clauses. Every use of the subjunctive I list above is also used in Latin (with the possible exception of indefinite clauses, though Latin at least has a very close counterpart in relative clauses of characteristic), which I found incredible for languages with such different vocabularies. One use especially jumps out at me as being extremely similar to Latin, which is the fearing clause. In this construction, there is a verb of fearing (like “I am scared”) followed by a clause with a subjunctive verb stating what is being feared. In both Greek and Latin, the clause uses a word that usually negates a verb (like “not”) where English doesn’t. For example, if translated word-by-word, they would say “I fear that this will not happen” when we mean “I fear that this will happen.” Before, I thought that this was just an unexplained quirk in Latin and didn’t think about it much, but seeing it also appear in Greek made me further consider how it might make sense. I realized that maybe it’s a problem in how we render the construction into English. Instead of negating the meaning of the fearing clause in our translation and using it as an indirect statement (“I fear that this will happen”, removing the not from the original sentence), maybe we should take it as “I fear for this not to happen,” meaning that you hope it does not and fear it will. Subjunctive clauses often have the sense of purpose (“so that…”), and this meaning gets closer to that idea (“I fear so that this will not happen” is close to “I fear that this will happen”). I can’t be sure that my explanation is correct, but at least thinking about the similarities in Greek and Latin helped me make better sense of this seemingly-odd construction in both languages.

Genitive Absolute-ly Not Possessive

Last week, I spent time reviewing grammar and vocab from Athenaze Book I, but this week I moved onto Book II, covering chapters 17 through 19. The major grammar topics included:

  • -θη- 1st aorist passive and 1st future passive verbs
  • -η- 2nd aorist passive and 2nd future passive verbs
  • Verbs with both long and short vowel stems, including διδωμι, τιθημι, and ιστημι
  • The genitive absolute construction

The topic that interested me the most is the genitive absolute. This construction uses words, usually a noun and a participle, in the genitive case, which otherwise can denote possession or motion from, independent of the meaning of the rest of the clause to describe some circumstance related to it. For example, for the sentence “The soldiers having been defeated, we surrendered,” you could say the first clause with “των στρατιωτων νικηθεντων,” the words for the soldiers and the aorist passive participle all in the genitive case. Those words are detached in meaning from the rest of the sentence; you could take them out and the rest would be grammatically correct and still make sense, but they describe a circumstance of the main clause. In Latin, there is an extremely similar construction called the ablative absolute, which uses these words in the ablative case, Latin’s case of adverbial relation, for practically the same meaning. Greek doesn’t have an ablative case, which is especially sad because it’s my favorite case in Latin, but it also means that the extensive uses of the ablative have to fit into fewer cases in Greek, often in the dative. I might be getting side-tracked here, but, seeing that Latin often has the same forms for the dative and ablative, I wonder whether in a common ancestor of the languages the cases were the same but broke into two in Latin. Alternatively, since Proto-Indo-Euorpean had at least eight cases, including both dative and ablative, it’s possible the cases gradually condensed and Greek was further along that process. Back to the main point, it’s interesting that Greek uses the genitive for absolute phrases, and I wonder about the relationship between this and Latin’s ablative absolutes. I don’t know how the two languages have such similar constructions but use seemingly unrelated cases for them. I’m not sure whether this is just a natural construction for any language to use and the cases are arbitrary or if the similarity results from Latin and Greek’s common roots.

The Passive Voice is Learned

This week, I finished Athenaze Book I. Over the next few days, I’m going to take some time to review everything I’ve learned so far, including vocabulary and forms, before moving onto new material in Book II later in the week. This week, the major topics included:

  • Comparative and superlative adjectives and adverbs
  • Demonstrative adjectives
  • Athematic 2nd aorists
  • The passive voice

Though it’s only been briefly covered so far, I’m excited that I got to the passive voice. In the passive, the subject receives the action of the verb, and there is no direct object. In Greek, passive verbs have the same form in the present and imperfect tenses as middle verbs. As I continue reading, it’ll be interesting to see how often it’s ambiguous whether a verb is passive or middle. It seems like it should be clear in most cases. For example, if there is a direct object, the verb must be middle since passive verbs cannot take direct objects. On the other hand, if there is the word υπο, which means “by,” followed by a genitive of agent (so a phrase like “the sandwich was eaten by the man”), or if there is a dative of means, then the verb is almost certainly passive. If there aren’t any of these signifiers, I suspect it might not really matter. For example, there isn’t much difference between saying “wakes up” or “is woken up” (either would have the form εγειρεται), if the second isn’t accompanied by an expression of agent/means/instrument. We would probably treat such a phrase as the middle voice, but both convey the same meaning, so it’s hard to know for sure whether the verb is really middle or passive (it’s hard to say if that question even means anything because I’m sure the Greeks were not thinking about whether a verb was middle or passive, but I suspect there was a distinction in their underlying grammar because some of their tenses actually did have different forms). Anyway, I’m definitely looking forward to seeing more passive verbs in my readings.

I Was Learning the Imperfect Tense

This week, I got through chapter 13 out of 16 of Athenaze Book I, meaning I’ll hopefully finish in the next week. The major topics included:

  • More types of verbs with a thematic second aorist
  • Verbs with a sigmatic first aorist form (including indicatives, imperatives, infinitives, and participles of the active and middle voices)
  • The imperfect tense
  • Relative pronouns and clauses

A lot of my effort this week, as well as probably the weeks ahead, has been spent on recognizing verb forms. One difference between verb conjugation in Latin and Greek is that forms vary not just in their ending but sometimes their beginning. For example, verbs in the aorist and imperfect tenses add the letter ε before the stem, or, in the case that the stem already begins with a vowel, the ε will lengthen that vowel, following a certain set of rules. At first I was thrown by this, but I’ve actually come to appreciate it. Whereas in Latin the ending of a verb has to communicate its tense, voice, mood, person, and number, the augment to the beginning of a word can give you information about its tense separate from those other characteristics. This can make it slightly easier to recognize a verb form, though it does mean I have to be careful to distinguish verbs that actually start with an ε or other vowels in their un-augmented form from those that start with that vowel because of the augment.

Many New Verb Forms

On with Athenaze! This week, I did Chapters 9 and 10 and the first half of chapter 11. The major topics included:

  • Present, active participles
  • More third declension noun forms (including stems ending in ντ, vowels, and diphthongs)
  • More uses of the genitive case and the article
  • Future tense verbs, in the active and middle voices, including indicative and imperative verbs as well as participles and infinitives
  • Aorist verbs, including so far active and middle forms of verbs with a thematic 2nd aorist

What I find most intriguing from this week’s grammar topics is the aorist. This explanation might not be perfect (no pun intended) because I just got to this topic, but Greek generally divides what is just one tense, the perfect, in Latin into two tenses, the perfect and the aorist. In Greek, the perfect tense describes completed action that has an ongoing effect, such as “I have run” — yes, the running was done in the past, but this emphasizes the enduring result that I now have run. The aorist, on the other hand, describes a simple action, such as “I ran.” This is making me think a lot about the difference between tense and aspect, which the textbook has brought up. I’m not sure where this distinction lies, such as whether the aorist is considered a tense or an aspect or both, but the real difference between aorist and perfect is not when the action happened — after all, they both describe past time — but how that action is being looked at. A good example of aspect is the difference between saying “I was running,” progressive, and “I ran,” aorist. They each show that the running was in the past, but the first describes it as something ongoing while the second as something already done. It’s almost like the first places the speaker in the time of the action while the second speaks from a strictly present perspective looking backwards. Hopefully as I learn more about this I’ll get my thoughts more organized, and it’s definitely something I’m excited to dive into in the coming week and beyond.

My First Weeks of Greek

Over the Summer, most of my posts will focus on what I’m learning in Greek (in the Fall I’ll start studying works of political philosophy in Latin and Greek; you can see my full plan on the “About” page). For the Summer, I hope to get through Athenaze, a Greek textbook, books I and II. Additionally, I’m studying vocabulary outside the textbook with the Dickinson College Commentaries Greek core vocabulary list. In my posts, I’ll try to outline the major concepts I’ve been learning and sometimes expand on one or more and what I find interesting about it.

Over the past couple weeks, I’ve gone through 8 out of 15 chapters of Athenaze Book I. The major topics in grammar so far include:

  • Definite articles
  • Nouns of all three declensions and genders
  • Indicative, imperative, and infinitive verb forms in the present tense and active and middle voices
  • First/second declension and third declension adjectives
  • Personal, reflexive, and interrogative pronouns
  • Most recently, present middle participles

The concept I’ve enjoyed learning about the most is the middle voice. In English, as well as Latin, there are two voices of verbs — active and passive. In the active voice, the subject does the action of the verb, like in the sentence “Ken like hats.” In the passive voice, the subject receives the action of the verb, like “hats are liked by Ken.” Greek has a third, middle voice. Many times these verbs can be reflexive, meaning their implied object is the subject itself. For example, εγειρει, the active form, means “he/she/it wakes up” something else, but εγειρεται, the middle, means “he/she/it wakes up” (wakes itself up). However, there are non-reflexive ways to use middle verbs, often that use direct objects in the accusative case. φοβεω, the active form of the verb, means “I terrify” something, but φοβουμαι means “I fear” something when used transitively (taking a direct object). This really gets at the sense of being in the “middle” of active and passive verbs. The passive translation would be “I am scared” by something, but the middle form uses that something as the direct object of the verb. Thus, it has a more passive meaning but still takes a direct object. Since the middle voice is totally new to me (other than Vergil sometimes using passive verbs with a middle sense in Book II of the Aeneid), I’m really excited to dive into its various uses and meanings.