Infinitive with πρίν and πάρος

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236. This use is common in Homer.

Il. 1.98 πρίν γʼ ἀπὸ πατρὶ φίλῳ δόμεναι
            before they give back to her father

Il. 11.573 πάρος χρόα λευκὸν ἐπαυρεῖν
                before touching the white flesh

The tense is nearly always the aorist: the exceptions are,

Od. 19.475 πρὶν ἀμφαφάασθαι (a verb which has no Aorist)

Il. 18.245 πάρος δόρποιο μέδεσθαι

Perhaps however μέδεσθαι is an aorist: see § 31.2.

πρίν with the indicative first appears in H. Apοll. 357 πρίν γέ οἱ ἰὸν ἐφῆκεν. For the use with the subjunctive see § 297.

The origin of this singularly isolated construction must evidently be sought in the period when the infinitive was an abstract noun; so that (e g.) πρὶν δόμεναι meant before the giving. The difficulty is that a word like πpίv would be construed with the ablative, not the dative, as in fact we find ablatives used as infinitives in Sanskrit with purâ "before" (Whitney, § 983). It may be conjectured that the dative infinitive in Greek was substituted in this construction for an ablative. Such a substitution might take place when the character of the infinitive as a case form had become obscured.

It is held by Sturm (Geschichtliche Entwickelung der Cοnstructiοnen mit πρίν, p. 15) that the infinitive has the force of limitation: e.g. πρὶν οὐτάσαι "before in respect to wounding" before the time of wounding. But on this view the sense would rather be "too soon to wound." It is better to say, with Mr. Gοodwin (§ 623), that πρίν is quasi-prepositional, and if so the infinitive had ceased to be felt as a dative when the use arose.

The restriction to the aorist infinitive may date from the time when infinitives—or case forms on the way to become infinitives (§ 242) were chiefly formed from the same stem as the aorist. Cp. the aorist participles which are without tense meaning (§ 243.1).

Suggested Citation

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