Conditional Clauses: Apodosis

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324. The secondary tenses or tenses of past time (aorist, imperfect and pluperfect), are used with κεν or ἄν to express a supposed consequence.

Il. 4.420 δεινὸν δʼ ἔβραχε χαλκὸς ἐπὶ στήθεσσιν ἄνακτος
              ὀρνυμένου· ὑπό κεν ταλασίφρονά περ δέος εἷλεν
              fear would haνe seized eνen the stout-hearted

This way of speaking of a conditional event ordinarily implies that the condition on vwhich it depended was not fulfilled. For if (e. g.) the assertion ἦλθεν he came is true, we can hardly ever have occasion to limit it by saying ἦλθεν ἄν he came in that case. Hence a past tense with κεν or ἄν naturally came to be used where the event in question had not happened, owing to the non-fulfilment of the condition.

The rule does not apply to events that occur repeatedly, or on no particular occasion; for there is no contradiction in saying of such an event that it happened when a condition was fulfilled. Hence the use in the iterative sense.

Hdt. 3.119 κλαίεσκε ἂν καὶ ὀδυρέσκετο

Thuc. 7.71 εἴ τινες ἴδοιεν . . . ἀνεθάρσησάν τε ἂν κτλ.

This use, however, is not Homeric. In Od. 2.104 ἔνθα κεν ἠματίη μὲν ὑφαίνεσκεν has slender authority, most MSS. reading ἕvθα καί. Another supposed instance is

Od. 18.263 ἵππων τʼ ὠκυπόδων ἑπιβήτορας, οἵ κε τάχιστα ἔκριναν
                   μέγα νεῖκος κτλ.

where the commentators (Fäsi, Ameis, Merry) take ἔκpιvαν as a gnomic aorist. The words as they stand can only mean "who would most speedily have decided mighty strife" (so Goodwin, § 244), but this does not suit the context. The difficulty is best met by reading οἵ τε; cp. § 283.b. An exceptional use of a different kind is

Od. 4.546 ἢ γάρ μιν ζωόν γε κιχήσεαι, ἤ κεν Ὀρέστης
                 κτεῖνεν ὑποφθάμενος

Here κεν marks the alternative (§ 283.b), either you will find him alive or (in the other case) Orestes has killed him (i.e. must have killed him). Thrown into a conditional form the sentence would be, "if you do not find him alive, then Orestes has killed him." So with an infinitive

Il. 22.108 ἐμοὶ δὲ τότʼ ἂν πολύ κέρδιον εἴη
                ἄντην ἢ Ἀχιλῆα κατακτείναντα νέεσθαι
                ἠέ κεν αὐτῷ ὀλέσθαι ἑϋκλειῶς πρὸ πόληος

In the protasis κεν with the indicative occurs only once.

Il. 23.526 εἰ δέ κʼ ἔτι προτέρω γένετο δρόμος[fn]See Leaf's note α. l.)[/fn]

This may be compared with the occasional use of κεν with εἰ and an optative (§ 313). The rarity of the use with an indicative need not be felt as a difficulty, cp. the oracle in Hdt. 1.174 Ζεὺς γάρ κʼ ἔθηκε νῆσον εἴ κʼ ἐβούλετο, also Erinna, fr. 4. 4, and Ar. Lys. 1098 (Hartung. ii. p. 240).

In later Greek the imperfect with ἄν may express either a continuous action which would haνe occurred at some past time, or an action (continuous or momentary) which woud haνe been occurring at the moment of speaking. The latter of these uses, as Mr. Gοοdwin points out (§ 435), is not Homeric. He sees an approach to it in ll. 24.220.

εἰ μὲν γάρ τίς μʼ ἄλλος ἐκέλευεν
were it anyone else who bade me

Another may be found in

Od. 20. 307 καί κέ τοι ἀντὶ γάμοιο πατὴρ τάφον ἀμφεπονεῖτο
                    (if you had struck the stranger)
                    your father would have had to busy
                    himself here with your burial in place of wedding

cp. also Od. 4.178 καί κε θάμʼ ἐνθάδʼ ἐόντες ἐμισγόμεθʼ, οὐδέ κεν ἡμέας ἄλλ διέκρινεν.

The imperfect without ἄν or κεν may express what ought to haνe been, if the meaning of fitness, obligation, etc., is given by the verb or predicate. Thus we have Od. 20. 331 κέρδιον ἦεν it would haνe been better. So in Attic with ἐχρῆν, ἔδει, and similar words.

The optative with ἄν or κεν, as we have seen (§ 300.c), is not infrequently used in Homer with the same meaning as the aorist or imperfect with ἄν has in later Greek. This is one of the points in which the use of the indicative gained on that of the optative.

Suggested Citation

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