μη

Book Nav

358. μή is commonly used (as we should expect) with the moods expressive of command or wish, viz., the imperative, the subjunctive and the optative. These uses having been discussed (§§ 278, 281, 299, 303, etc.), it only remains to notice some idiomatic uses in which μὴ is found with the mood of simple assertion or denial.

With the Indicative μή is used in Homer

a. In the phrase μὴ ὤφελλον (or ὤφελον) would that I had not, etc. Logically the μὴ in this idiom belongs to the following infinitive (cp. § 355).

b. In οaths, to express solemn or impassioned denial.

Il. 10.329 ἴστω νῦν Ζεὺς αὐτός, ἐρίγδουπος πόσις Ἥρης,
                μὴ μὲν τοῖς ἵπποισιν ἀνὴρ ἐποχήσεται ἄλλος
                (I swear that no one else shall ride, etc.)

Il. 15. 36- ἴστω νῦν τόδε γαῖα . . .
          41  μὴ διʼ ἐμὴν ἰότητα Ποσειδάων ἐνοσίχθων
                πημαίνει

In this use μή denies by disclaiming (as it were) or protesting against a fact supposed to be within the speakers power (= far be it from me that, etc.). We should probably add

Il. 19.258- ἴστω νῦν Ζεὺς πρῶτα κτλ.
         261  μὴ μὲν ἐγὼ κούρῃ Βρισηΐδι χεῖρʼ ἐπένεικα

where the MSS. have ἐπενεῖκαι. The indicative form was restored conjecturally by Stephanus.

c. After ἦ, to express incredulity, etc.

Od. 6.200 ἦ μή πού τινα δυσμενέων φάσθʼ ἔμμεναι ἀνδρῶν
                 (surely you do not suppose it is anγ enemy!)

Od. 9.405 ἦ μή τίς σευ μῆλα βροτῶν ἀέκοντος ἐλαύνει;
                 ἦ μή τίς σʼ αὐτὸν κτείνει δόλῳ ἠὲ βίηφι;
                 (surely no one is driving off your sheep? etc.)

This is the common type of "question expecting a negative answer," viz., a strong form of denial uttered in a hesitating or interrogative tone. Compare the quasi-interrogative use of ἦ (§ 338) to indicate surprise or indignation.

d. After verbs of fearing which relate to a past event.

Od. 5.300 δείδω μὴ δὴ πάντα θεὰ νημερτέα εἶπεν

Here, as with the subjunctive (§ 281.1), the clause with μὴ passes into an object clause. The difference is that the indicative shοws the event to be past.

So perhaps

Od. 13.216 μή τί μοι οἴχονται
                   fear they are gone

but the better reading is οἴχωνται, the subjunctive being understood as in

Il. 1.555 μή σε παρείπῃ
              lest she have persuaded you
              (i. e. prove to have persuaded)

Od. 21.395 μὴ κέρα ἴπες ἔδοιεν
                   lest worms should (be found to) have eaten303.1)

Math. xvi.5 ἐπελάθοντο ἄρτους λαβεῖν
                  they found that they had forgotten
                  (Fieldʼs Otium Norvicense, Pt. 3, p. 7).

The use of the past indicative after verbs of fearing is closely parallel to the use in final clauses, noticed in § 325. While the clause, as an expression of the speakers mind about an event—his fear or his purpose—should have a subjunctive or optative, the sense that the happening of the event is matter of past fact causes the indicative to be preferred. Cp. the modal uses noticed in §§ 324-326, and the remark in § 323 as to the tendency in favor of the indicative.

The essence of these idioms is the combination of the imperative tone—shown in the use of μή—with the mood proper to a simple assertion. The tendency to resort to the form of prohibition in order to express strong or passionate denial may be seen in the use of μή with the optative in deprecating a suppositiοn (§ 299.e), and of μὴ with the subjunctive in oaths, as Od. 12.300, 18.56.

359. Conditional Clauses. The rule which prescribes μὴ as the negative particle to be used in every clause of conditional meaning does not hold universally. In Homer

a. When the verb is a subjunctive or optative μὴ is used, the very few exceptions being confined to οὐκ ἐθέλω (Il. 3.289, 15.492) and οὐκ ἐάω (Il. 20.139), which are treated almost as compounds (§ 355). Cp. the use of οὐκ ἐθέλω in final clauses.

Il. 5.233 μή . . . ματήσετον οὐδʼ ἐθέλητον κτλ.

b. With the relatives ὅς, ὅσος, etc. when the verb is an indicative οὐ is generally used.

Il. 2.143 πᾶσι μετὰ πληθύν, ὅσοι οὐ βουλῆς ἐπάκουσαν

Od. 3.348 ὥς τέ τευ ἢ παρὰ πάμπαν ἀνείμονος ἠὲ πενιχροῦ,
                 ᾧ οὔ τι χλαῖναι κτλ.
                 (a general description)

Il. 2.338 νηπιάχοις, οἷς οὔ τι μέλει κτλ.

So Il. 7.236, 18.363.

The only clear instance of μή is

Il. 2.301           ἐστὲ δὲ πάντες
              μάρτυροι, οὓς μὴ κῆρες ἔβαν θανάτοιο φέρουσαι·

where the speaker wishes to make an exception to what he has just said. In

Od. 5.489 ᾧ μὴ πάρα γείτονες ἄλλοι

we may supply either εἰσί or ἔωσι, the latter is found in the similar cases Od. 4.164, 23.118. But Hesiod uses μή with the indicative; see Theοg. 387, Op. 225.

c. With εἰ and the indicative οὐ is used when the clause with εἰ precedes the principal clause, as

Il. 4.160 εἴ περ γάρ τέκοι αὐτίκʼ Ὀλύμπιος οὐκ ἐτέλεσσε

and similarγ in Il. 9.435, 15.213; Od. 19.85; and the (eight) other places quoted in § 316. But when the clause with εἰ follows the other, μή is used, as in the sentences of the form

ll. 2.155 ἔνθα κεν . . . νόστος ἐτύχθη
              εἰ μὴ κτλ.

The only instance in which this rule fails seems to be

Od. 9.410 εἰ μὲν δὴ μή τίς σε βιάζεται οἶον ἐόντα,
                 νοῦσόν γʼ οὔ πως ἔστι Διὸς μεγάλου ἀλέασθαι

Here μή τις may be used rather than οὔ τις in order to bring out more clearly the misunderstanding of the Οὔτις of Polyphemus.

This curious law was pointed out by A. R. Vierke, in a valuable dissertation De μή particulae cum indicativo conjunctae usu antiquiore (Lipsiae, 1876). With regard to the ground of it, we may observe that a clause with εἰ in most cases precedes the apodosis; this is probably the original order. When it is inverted it may be that the use of μή instead of οὐ has a prohibitive character, as though the condition were added as an afterthought, in bar of what has been already said. In any case the inversion throws an emphasis on the clause, which would account for the preference for μή; see § 358.

360. Infinitive and Participle. It appears from comparison with the forms of negation in the oldest Sanskrit that the negative particles were originally used only with finite verbs. The negation of a noun was expressed by forming it into a compound with the prefix an- or a- (Greek ἀν-, ἀ-) and the infinitives and participles were treated in this respect as nouns. The first exception to this rule in Greek was probably the use of οὐ with the participle—a use which is well established in Homer.

οὐ with the infinitive is used in Homer (as in Attic) after verbs of saying, thinking, knowing, etc. (§ 237).

Il. 16.61           ἦ τοι ἔφην γε
              οὐ πρὶν μηνιθμὸν καταπαυσέμεν κτλ.

Od. 5.342 δοκέεις δέ μοι οὐκ ἀπινύσσειν

This use however is to be compared with that noticed above (§ 355), in which an οὐ which belongs in sense to the infinitive is placed before the governing verb; as οὔ φησιν δωσεῖν he says he will not give. Sometimes the Homeric language seems to hesitate between the two forms, or to use them indifferently: compare (e. g.)

Il. 12.106           οὐδʼ ἔτʼ ἔφαντο
                σχήσεσθʼ κτλ.

and (a few lines further)

Il. 12.125           ἔφαντο γὰρ οὐκέτ’ Ἀχαιοὺς
                σχήσεσθʼ κτλ.

Occasionally the negative is used with the verb and repeated with the infinitive.

Il. 17.641 ἐπεὶ οὔ μιν ὀΐομαι οὐδὲ πεπύσθαι (cp. 12.73)

Od. 3.27           οὐ γὰρ ὀΐω
               οὔ σε θεῶν ἀέκητι γενέσθαι κτλ.

It may be conjectured that the use of οὐ with the governing verb is the more ancient; the use with the infinitive is obviously the more logical.

361. μή with the Infinitive and Participle. The Homeric uses of this kind are few and simple in comparison with those of later Greek.

The infinitive when used for the imperative (§ 241) naturally takes μή instead of οὐ

Il. 4.42 μή τι διατρίβειν τὸν ἐμὸν χόλον, ἀλλά μʼ ἐᾶσαι.

An infinitive which stands as object of a verb of saying, etc., takes μή when it expresses command or wish.

Il. 3.434 παύεσθαι κέλομαι μηδὲ κτλ.
              I bid you stop and not, etc. (so 9.12)

Od. 1.37 ἐπεὶ πρό οἱ εἴπομεν ἡμεῖς μήτʼ κτλ.
               we told him before not to, etc.

So Od. 9.530.

δὸς μὴ Oδυσσῆα . . . ἱκέσθαι
grant that Odysseus may not come

Again, a dependent infinitive takes μή in oaths

Il. 19.175 ὀμνυέτω . . .
                μή ποτε τῆς εὐνῆς ἐπιβήμεναι κτλ.
                let him swear that he never, etc.

Compare

Od. 5.184- ἴστω νῦν τόδε γαῖα . . .
          187  μή τί σοι αὐτῷ πῆμα κακὸν βουλευσέμεν ἄλλο

and Il. 19.258 (but see § 358.b). So generally after verbs of promising, etc.

Il. 14.45 ὥς ποτʼ ἐπηπείλησεν . . .
              μὴ πρὶν κτλ.
              threatened that he would not, etc.

Il. 18.500 ὁ δʼ ἀναίνετο μηδὲν ἑλέσθαι
                refused to accept anything

(See Mr. Leafʼs note a. l.). This use of μὴ is evidently parallel to the use with the indicative, § 358. Compare also

Il. 19.21           οἶʼ ἐπιεικὲς
              ἔργʼ ἔμεν ἀθανάτων μηδὲ βροτὸν ἄνδρα τελέσσαι

where the μή may be emphatic (such as we must not suppose any mortal to have made).1 Or this may be an instance of the use of μή in relative clauses containing a general description (§ 359.b).

The use of μὴ with the participle appears in one Homeric instance.

Od. 4.684 μὴ μνηστεύσαντες μηδʼ ἄλλοθʼ ὁμιλήσαντες
                 ὕστατα καὶ πύματα νῦν ἐνθάδε δειπνήσειαν

Here μή belongs to ὁμιλήσαντες, and expresses a wish "may they (after their wooing) have no other meeting, but sup now for the last time." For the parenthetical μνηστεύσαντες and the repetition of the negative with ἄλλοτε, cp. the parallel place Od. 11. 613.

μὴ τεχνησάμενος μηδʼ ἄλλο τι τεχνήσαιτο

  • 1. This would be akin to the later use with verbs of belief. As to the verbs which take μὴ see Prof. Gildersleeve in the Am. Jοur. Phil. vol. i. p. 49.