Infinitive as Apparent Subject

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234. In the impersonal uses the infinitive appears to stand as subject to the verb

ἀργαλέον ἐστὶ θέσθαι
= making is hard

οὐ μὲν γάρ τι κακὸν βασιλευέμεν
to be a king is not a bad thing

This construction however is not consistent with the original character of the infinitive. It is plain that ἔστιν εὕδειν can never have meant "sleeping is," but "there is (room etc.) for sleeping" and so ἀργαλέον ἐστὶ θέσθαι is originally, and in Homer, it (the case, state of things, etc.) is hard in view of making. It is only in later Greek that we have the form ἀργαλέον ἐστὶ τὸ θέσθαι, in which θέσθαι is an indeclinable neuter noun.

The process by which the infinitive, from being a mere word of limitation, comes to be in sense the subject or object of the principal clause, can be traced in sentences of various forms.

  1. With a personal subject.

    Il. 5.750 τῆς ἐπιτέτραπται μέγας οὐρανὸς Οὔλυμπός
                  τε ἠμὲν ἀνακλῖναι πυκινὸν νέφος ἠδʼ ἐπιθεῖναι

    the meaning "to them is entrusted the opening and shutting of the thick cloud of heaven," is expressed by saying "to them heaven is entrusted for opening and shutting the cloud."

    Il. 1.107 αἰεί τοι τὰ κάκʼ ἐστὶ φίλα φρεσὶ μαντεύεσθαι

    Il. 4.345 ἔνθα φίλʼ ὀπταλέα κρέα ἔδμεναι

    Meaning you love to prophesy evils (to eat roast flesh, etc.).

  2. The impersonal form (ἀργαλέον ἐστί) only differs from the other in the vagueness of the subject, which makes it easier for the infinitive to become the subject in sense, while it is still grammatically a wοrd limiting the vague unexpressed subject.

    The use of a neuter pronoun as subject

    τό γε καλὸν ἀκουέμεν
    the thing is gοοd, to listen

    may be regarded as a link between the personal and impersonal forms of expression; cp. § 161, footnote, also § 258.

  3. Similarly an infinitive following the object of a verb may become the logical object.

    Il. 4.247 ἦ μένετε Τρῶας σχεδὸν ἐλθέμεν
                  dο you wait for the Trojans for their cοming on?
                   i. e. for the coming on of the Trojans

    Il. 14.342 Ἥρη, μήτε θεῶν τό γε δείδιθι μήτε τινʼ ἀνδρῶν ὄψεσθαι
                     do not fear any οf gods οr of men for their being about to see

    i. e. that any one will see: cp. Od. 22.39, 40.

    Α further development of this use leads, as we shall see, to the accusative with the infinitive.

  4. Again, the infinitive sometimes takes the place of a vague unexpressed object. Thus οἶδε νοῆσαι means knows (enough) to perceive; the full construction being such as we have in Il. 2.213

    ὅς ῥʼ ἔπεα φρεσὶν ᾗσιν ἄκοσμά τε πολλά τε ᾖδει . . ἐριζέμεναι
    who knew (had a store of) words wherewith to wrangle

    So too δίδωμι with an infinitive is originally construed as

    Od. 8.44 τῷ γάρ ῥα θεὸς πέρι δῶκεν ἀοιδὴν τέρπειν

    Il. 11.20 τόν ποτέ οἱ Κινύρης δῶκε ξεινήϊον εἶναι

    thence it comes to mean "to give (such a state of things) that some event shall happen," i. e. to grant the happening; as δὸς τίσασθαι grant that l may punish. In such a passage as Il. 3.322

    τὸν δὸς ἀποφθίμενον δῦναι κτλ.

    we may take τόν with δός or as an accusative with the infinitive δῦναι.

    A neuter pronoun, too, may serve as a vague object, explained by an infinitive.

    Il. 5.665-6 τὸ μὲν οὔ τις ἐπεφράσατʼ . . . ἐξερύσαι

    Cp. Od. 21.278 καὶ τοῦτο ἔπος κατὰ μοῖραν ἔειπε, νῦν μὲν παῦσαι τόξον κτλ.

  5. The infinitive may also be equivalent in sense to the genitive depending on a noun.

    Il. 7.409 οὐ γάρ τις φειδὼ νεκύων κατατεθνηώτων
                  γίγνετʼ ἐπεί κε θάνωσι πυρὸς μειλισσέμεν ὥκα

    i.e. there is no grudging about the appeasing of the dead. Hence is developed an idiomatic use of the genitive parallel to that of the Accusatiνus de quο; see Shilleto on Thuc. 1.61.1.

Suggested Citation

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