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297. In general, as we have seen (§ 236), πρίν is construed with an infinitive. If, however, the event is insisted upon as a condition—the principal verb being an imperative or emphatic future—the subjunctive may be used.

Il. 18.134 ἀλλὰ σὺ μὲν μή πω καταδύσεο μῶλον Ἄρηος
               πρίν γʼ ἐμὲ δεῦρʼ ἐλθοῦσαν ἐν ὀφθαλμοῖσιν ἴδηαι
               do not enter the battle before you see me coming hither

Od. 10.174 ὦ φίλοι, οὐ γὰρ πρὶν καταδυσόμεθʼ ἀχνύμενοί περ
                   εἰς Ἀΐδαο δόμους πρὶν μόρσιμον ἦμαρ ἐπέλθῃ

So Il. 18.190, 24.551, 781; Od. 13.336, 17.9. The subjunctive is used in these examples without κεν or ἄν, because it is not meant to lay stress on a particular occasion when the condition will be fulfilled. When such an occasion is contemplated Homer sometimes uses πρίν γʼ ὅτʼ ἄν before the time when (Od. 2. 374, 4.477).

Il. 16.62 οὐ πρὶν μηνιθμὸν καταπαυσέμεν, ἀλλʼ ὁπότʼ ἂν κτλ.

The use of πρὶν ἄν with the subjunctive is post-Homeric.

It is evident that a conditional clause of this kind can only occur after a negative principal clause. "Do not do this before I come" makes my coming into a condition, and a condition which may or may not be realized; but "do this before I come" is merely a way of fixing the time of doing.

This construction is usually explained from parataxis: thus it is held that in Il. 24.551

οὐδέ μιν ἀνστήσεις πρὶν καὶ κακὸν ἄλλο πάθῃσθα

stands for

οὐδέ μιν ἀνστήσεις· πρὶν καὶ κακὸν ἄλλο πάθῃσθα

you will not raίse him, sooner shall you suffer passing into "you will not raise him before you suffer." So Sturm (p. 26), and Goodwin (§ 624). But

  1. This use of the subjunctive in a principal clause without κεν or ἄv, whether as a future (§ 275.b) or as an imperative, is not Homeric, and therefore cannot be used to explain a use which is only beginning in Homer.
  2. And the change from you will not raise, you wίll suffer before you dο to you wίll not raise before you suffer is not an easy one; it involves shifting πpίv as an adverb from one clause to another.
  3. Above all it is probable that the new construction of πpίv with the subjunctive was directly modeled on the existing use with the infinitive: that is to say, πρὶν πάθῃσθα simply took the place of πρὶν παθεῖν when a more definite conditional force was wanted. This is confirmed by the analogy of the later change to the indicative. Thus in Aesch. P. V. 479

    πρίν γʼ ἐγῶ σφισιν ἔδεξα

    is used instead of

    πρὶν ἐμὲ δεῖξαι

    because the poet wishes to make the assertion ἔδειξα. So with the transition from the infinitive tο the indicative after ὥστε (Gοοdwin, § 585); the finite mood is not a survival of parataxis, but is used when the infinitive is not sufficiently positive.

Note— In the Law of Gortyn πρίν κα with the subjunctive is repeatedly used after an affirmative principle clause; see Baunack, Die Inscrift von Gortyn, p. 82.

Suggested Citation

D.B. Monro, A Grammar of the Homeric Dialect. Carlisle, Pennsylvania: Dickinson College Commentaries, 2014. ISBN: 978-1-947822-04-7.