Meaning of the Middle

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8. The original force of the middle personal endings is "reflexive;" that is to say, they denote that the action of the verb is directed towards the agent.

Greek has no passive endings distinct from those of the active and middle; it is desirable therefore to speak, not of passive forms, but of the passive meaning or use of a form.

The chief uses of the middle are

  1. The use to signify that the agent is also the indirect object of the action—that the action is done by someone for or toward himself, or in his own interest.

    • ἕννυ-μαι
      I put (clothes, etc.)
      on myself
    • δέχο-μαι
      take to myself


    • ἄορ ὀξὺ ἐρυσσάμενος
      having drawn him
      his sharp sword

    • ἡρεῖτο τόξον
      took his bow with him
    • φερέσθω
      let him bear away
      (as his prize)
  2. The use in which the agent is the direct object of the action, as λούο-μαι I wash myself. This is comparatively rare.
  3. The intransitive use, in which the reflexive sense is faint, as φαίνε-ται appears (but φαίνει ἑαυτόν he shows himself). So, generally, when the action centers in the agent; as in verbs of bodily action (ἔρχομαι, πέτομαι, ἅλλομαι, οἴχομαι, etc.), and in such uses as λαβέσθαι to gain a hold (not to take a thing), δεδραγμένος clutching; ἐχεύατο threw her arms; also in verbs of feeling and thinking (αἰσθάνομαι, αἰδέομαι, βούλομαι, οἴομαι, μέμνημαι, ἐπί-σταμαι, μέλομαι, μέμφομαι, etc.). So in French,"je mʼaperçois" I perceive, "je me doute" I suspect, "il se peut" it may be.
  4. The reciprocal use.

    • ἀμειβόμενος
      taking his turn
    • λέγεσθαι
      to tell over (in talk)
    • ἀρέσκεσθαι
      to make friends with
    • νυσσομένων (Il. 14.26)
      as they pierced each other
    • ἐρείδεσθον (Il. 23.735)
      push each other, strive

    Hence the middle form of μάχομαι, French se battre and its equivalents, ἀγωνίζομαι, ἁμιλλάομαι, δικάζομαι.

  5. The passive use.


    • ἔχε-ται
      is possessed
    • ἔβλη-το
      was stuck
    • δέδε-το
      was bound
    • ἐκ-πέπο-ται
      is drunk up

    This is not a very common use of the middle. It may be illustrated from the similar use of some reflexive verbs in French, as "je me trouve" (I am found), "il se mange" (it is eaten).

    The middle is rather more common in Homer than in later Greek. For example, in the class of verbs of feeling and thinking we may add the Homeric ἔραμαι, γάνυμαι, ἔλδομαι, ἔλπομαι, ὄθομαι, ὄνομαι, στένομαι, κεχάροντο, ὀδύσασθαι. And the use is extended to verbs of seeing and hearing, as ὁρῶ-μαι (aorist ἰδέ-σθαι), ἀκούομαι (used as well as ὁρῶ, ἰδεῖν, ἀκούω), δέρκομαι, ὄσσομαι, σκέπτομαι, φράζομαι; cp. the Attic σκοποῦ-μαι I consider.

    Conversely, Homer has the active ὀΐω I think, expect, as well as the middle ὀΐο-μαι I harbor the thought, suspect (cp. the distinction in French between je doute and je me doute).

    Sometimes (esp. in Homer) the middle appears to be used because the verb implies acting arbitrarily, as a superior, etc.

    • βιάζομαι
      use force towards
    • σίνομαι, δηλέομαι, etc.
      I do mischief for pleasure
    • ἐφίλατο
      made a favorite of
    • δίε-νται
      run in a race
    • δίεσθαι
      to chase[fn]But δίον I fled.[/fn]
    • δειδίσσεσθαι
      to terrify
    • κέκλετο
      shouted in command[fn]Cp. Icelandic "heita" I promise, "heitaz" I threaten.[/fn]

    A use intermediate between the reflexive and the passive (pointed out by Riddell, Dig. § 88) may be exemplified in ἀπήχθετο got himself hated, incurred hatred, κτείνονται (Il. 13.110) let themselves be slain, λείπεσθε (Il. 23.409) get left behind; cp. Il. 13.525, 15.645, Od. 3.284.

    On the futures only used in the middle, see § 66.