Book Nav

274. The Subjunctive in a simple sentence, or in the principal clause of a complex sentence, may be said in general to express either the will of the speaker or his sense of the necessity of a future event. Like the English must and shall, by which it may usually be rendered, it is intermediate in meaning between an imperative and a future. Sometimes (as in ἴομεν let us gο, or in prohibitions with μή) it is virtually imperative; sometiumes it is an emphatic or passionate future. These varieties of use will be best understood if treated with reference to the different kinds of sentence—affirmative, interrogative, negative, prohibitive, etc.—in which they occur.

275. In affirmative sentences the force of the subjunctive depends in great measure on the person used.

a. In the first person the subjunctive supplies the place of an imperative, so far as such a thing is conceivable; that is, it expresses what the speaker resolves or insists upon doing,

Il. 9.121 ὑμῖν δʼ ἐν πάντεσσι περικλυτὰ δῶρʼ ὀνομήνω

where the list of gifts immediately follows.

Od. 2.222 σῆμά τέ οἱ χεύω καὶ ἐπὶ κτέρεα κτερεΐξω
               πολλὰ μάλʼ ὅσσα ἔοικε, καὶ ἀνέρι μητέρα δώσω

The subjunctive expresses the decisive action to be taken by Telemachus, viz. to acknowledge his fatherʼs death: the future δώσω expresses what would follow as a matter of course.

Od. 12.383 δύσομαι εἰς Ἀΐδαο καὶ ἐν νεκύεσσι φαείνω

said by way of a threat.

Hence after a clause containing an imperative the subjunctive is used to show what the speaker will do as his part of what he desires to be done.

Il. 6.340 ἀλλʼ ἄγε νῦν ἐπίμεινον, ἀρήϊα τεύχεα δύω
             do yοu wait, and I will put οn my armor

Il. 22.416 σχέσθε, φίλοι, καί μʼ οἶον ἐάσατε κηδόμενοί περ
               ἐξελθόντα πόληος ἱκέσθ’ ἐπὶ νῆας Ἀχαιῶν,
               λίσσωμʼ ἀνέρα τοῦτον κτλ.

Il. 22.450 δεῦτε, δύω μοι ἕπεσθον, ἴδωμʼ ὅτινʼ ἔργα τέτυκται

So after the phrases ἀλλ ἄγε, εἰ δʼ ἄγε.

Od. 6.126 ἀλλʼ ἄγʼ ἐγὼν αὐτὸς πειρήσομαι ἠδὲ ἴδωμαι

Od. 9.37 εἰ δʼ ἄγε τοι καὶ νόστον ἐμὸν πολυκηδέʼ ἐνίσπω

On the phrase εἰ δʼ ἄγε see § 321.

To show that a purpose is conditional upon something else being done, the subjunctive may be qualified by the particle κε(ν).

Il. 1.137 εἰ δέ κε μὴ δώωσιν, ἐγὼ δέ κεν αὐτὸς ἕλωμαι
              If they do not give her, I will (in that case), etc.

Il. 14.235 πείθευ, ἐγὼ δέ κέ τοι εἰδέω χάριν
                οbey, and I will feel thankfulness

Il 16.129 δύσεο τεύχεα θᾶσσον, ἐγὼ δέ κε λαὸν ἀγείρω

Od. 17.417 τῷ σε χρὴ δόμεναι καὶ λώϊον ἠέ περ ἄλλοι
                 σίτου· ἐγὼ δέ κέ σε κλείω κτλ.

So tοο

Il. 1.183 τὴν μὲν . . .
              πέμψω, ἐγὼ δέ κʼ ἄγω Βρισηΐδα
              I will send her (as required), and then I will take Briseis

the subjunctive expressing the speakerʼs own threatened action, and κεν marking that it is the counterpart to what is imposed upon him. It will be found that κεν is used when the clause with the subjunctive is introduced by δέ, but not when it follows without a connecting particle. I. e. it is when the twο clauses are set against one another by δέ that it becomes necessary to express also the cοnditiοnal nature of the second clause.

This use of κεν with the subjunctive is not found except in Homer.

The first person plural is similarly used.

Od. 3.17 ἀλλʼ ἄγε νῦν ἰθὺς κίε Νέστορος ἱπποδάμοιο·
                   εἴδομεν κτλ.

And so in the common hortatory subjunctive, as φεύγωμεν let us fly.

b. Α subjunctive of the 2nd and 3rd person in an affirmative sentence is usually an emphatic future, sometimes approaching the force of an imperative. The only example of a pure subjunctive (i.e. without κεν or ἄν) in this use appears to be the phrase καί ποτέ τις εἴπῃσι and men shall say (Il. 6.459, 479; 7.87).

With ἄν we find

Il. 1.205 ᾗς ὑπεροπλίῃσι τάχʼ ἄν ποτε θυμὸν ὄληται

in effect a threat of what the speaker will do.

Il. 22.505 νῦν δʼ ἂν πολλὰ πάθησι φίλου ἀπὸ πατρὸς ἁμαρτών
but nοw he must suffer much, etc.

With κεν the examples are rather more numerous.

Od. 1.396 τῶν κέν τις τόδʼ ἔχῃσιν, ἐπεὶ θάνε δίος Oδυσσεύς
                 let one of them have this
                 (emphatic assent)

Od. 4.80 ἀνδρῶν δʼ ἤ κέν τίς μοι ἐρίσσεται ἠὲ καὶ οὐκί

Od. 4.391 καὶ δέ κέ τοι εἴπῃσι κτλ.

Od. 10.507 ἧσθαι, τὴν δέ κέ τοι πνοιὴ Βορέαο φέρῃσι
                   sit still, and her the breath of Boreas shall bear alοng
                   (solemn prophetic assurance)

Il. 9.701 ἀλλʼ ἦ τοι κεῖνον μὲν ἐάσομεν, ᾖ κεν ἴῃσιν
              ἦ κε μένῃ
              (let him go or let him stay)

Cp. Od. 14.183.

Note that where two alternatives are not expressed by the same mood, the subjunctive gives the alternative on which the stress is laid.

Il. 11.431-3 σήμερον ἢ δοιοῖσιν ἐπεύξεαι . . .
                   ἤ κεν ἐμῷ ὑπὸ δουρὶ τυπεὶς ἀπὸ θυμὸν ὀλέσσῃς

Il. 18.308 στήσομαι, ἤ κε φέρῃσι μέγα κράτος ἤ κε φεροίμην
                I shall stand firm, let him gain the victory
                (= though he shall gain) or I may gain it

Od. 4.692 ἄλλον κʼ ἐχθαίρῃσι βροτῶν, ἄλλον κε φιλοίη
                 a king will (is sure to) hate one, he may love another

A curious combination of optative and subjunctive is found in Il. 24.654

αὐτίκʼ ἂν ἐξείποι Ἀγαμέμνονι, ποιμένι λαῶν,
καί κεν ἀνάβλησις λύσιος νεκροῖο γένηται
he would straightway tell Agamemnon,
and then there must be a delay in the
ransoming of the dead

The subjunctive appears to express the certainty of the further consequence, as though the hypothetical case (αὐτίκʼ ἂν ἐξείποι) had actually occurred.

276. In negative clauses properly so called (i.e. distinguished from prohibitions) the subjunctive is an emphatic future. We find

a. The pure subjunctive (expressing a general denial).

Il. 1.262 οὐ γάρ πω τοίους ἴδον ἀνέρας οὐδὲ ἴδωμαι
              I have not seen I never shall see.

Il. 7.197 οὐ γάρ τίς με βίῃ γε ἑκὼν ἀέκοντα δίηται
              no man shall chase me against my will

Il. 15.349           οὐδέ νυ τόν γε
               γνωτοί τε γνωταί τε πυρὸς λελάχωσι θανόντα

Od. 16.437 οὐκ ἔσθʼ οὗτος ἀνὴρ οὐδʼ ἔσσεται οὐδὲ γένηται
                   there is not, there never will or can be, the man
, etc. (so 6.201)

Od. 24.29 μοῖρ ὀλοή, τὴν οὔ τις ἀλεύεται (cp. 14.400)

b. The subjunctive with ἄν.

Il. 3.54 οὐκ ἄν τοι χραίσμῃ κίθαρις κτλ.
            be sure that then your lyre will not avail you

Il. 11.386 εἰ μὲν δὴ ἀντίβιον σὺν τεύχεσι πειρηθείης,
               οὐκ ἄν τοι χραίσμῃσι βιὸς κτλ.

The reason for ἄν in these places is obvious: in the following instances it seems to be used because there is a contrast.

Il. 2.488 πληθὺν δʼ οὐκ ἂν ἐγὼ μυθήσομαι οὐδʼ ὀνομήνω
              but the multitude I cannot declare or tell by name

Od. 6. 221 ἄντην δʼ οὐκ ἂν ἔγωγε λοέσσομαι
                      (ἄντην is emphatic: cp. Od. 4.240, 11.328, 517)

277. In interrogative sentences the subjunctive generally expresses necessity, submission to some command or power.

Il. 10.62 αὖθι μένω . . .
              ἦε θέω κτλ.
             am I to remain here, or am I to run, etc.

Od. 15.509 πῇ γὰρ ἐγώ, φίλε τέκνον, ἴω; τεῦ δώμαθʼ ἵκωμαι κτλ.
                  where am I to go? to whose house, etc.

Od. 5.465 ὤ μοι ἐγώ, τί πάθω; τί νύ μοι μήκιστα γένηται
                 what am I to suffer? what is to become of me?

And rhetorically, with an implied negation

Il. 18.188 πῶς τ ἄρʼ ἴω μετὰ μῶλον; ἔχουσι δὲ τεύχε ἐκεῖνοι
                how can I gο into the battle? they have my arms.

Il. 1.150 πῶς τίς τοι πρόφρων ἔπεσιν πείθηται Ἀχαιῶν;

One or two passages given by Delbrück under this head should perhaps be classed as subordinate clauses. Α transitional instance may be seen in

Od. 22.166-8           σὺ δέ μοι νημερτὲς ἐνίσπες, ἤ μιν ἀποκτείνω . . .
                      ἦε σοὶ ἐνθάδʼ ἄγω κτλ.
                      tell me, am I to kill him, or bring him here?

Here the clause may be a distinct sentence; but not so

Il. 9.618           ἅμα δʼ ἠοῖ φαινομένηφιν
             φρασσόμεθʼ ἤ κε νεώμεθʼ κτλ.

because this does not express an actual but an intended future deliberation. So in

Od. 16.73 μητρὶ δʼ ἐμῇ δίχα θυμὸς ἐνὶ φρεσὶ μερμηρίζει
                 ἢ αὐτοῦ παρʼ ἐμοί τε μένῃ κτλ.

the form of expression is changed from the 1st to the 3rd person, as in oratio obliqua280).

278. With the prohibitive particle μή the subjunctive has the character of an imperative. We may distinguish hοwever

a. Direct forbidding, usually with the 1st person plural (answering to the hortatory subjunctive), and the 2nd person singular; sometimes also with the 3rd person.

Il. 4.37 ἔρξον ὅπως ἐθέλεις· μὴ τοῦτό γε νεῖκος ὀπίσσω
            σοὶ καὶ ἐμοὶ μέγʼ ἔρισμα μετʼ ἀμφοτέροισι γένηται
            I do not want this to become a quarrel

Od. 22. 213 Μέντορ, μή σʼ ἐπέεσσι παραιπεπίθῃσιν Oδυσσεύς
                   see that Odysseus dοes not persuade you

And with the 1st person singular.

Il. 1.26 μή σε κιχείω
            let me not catch you

Ιl. 21.475 μή σευ ἀκούσω

b. Fear, warning, suggestion of danger, etc.

Il. 2.195 μή τι χολωσάμενος ῥέξῃ
              (I fear he will, etc).

Il. 5.487 μή πως ὡς ἀψῖσι λίνου ἁλόντε πανάγρου
              ἀνδράσι δυσμενέεσσιν ἕλωρ καὶ κύρμα γένησθε
              see that you do not become a prey, etc.

Il. 22.123 μή μιν ἐγὼ μὲν ἵκωμαι ἰών, ὁ δέ μʼ οὐκ ἐλεήσει.

Od. 5.356 ὤ μοι ἐγώ, μή τίς μοι ὑφαίνῃσιν δόλον αὖτε
                (I hορe some god is not weaving, etc.)

Od. 18.334 μή τίς τοι τάχα Ἴροῦ ἀμείνων ἄλλος ἀναστῇ
                  see that a better than Irus does not rise up

The construction is the same in principle when a clause of this kind follοws a verb of fearing; and it is sometimes a question whether the clause is subordinate or not. Thus the older editors (including Wοlf) punctuated Il. 11.470 δείδαω, μή τι πάθῃσιas though δείδω were parenthetical. It is probable, however, that in such cases the clause with μέ has acquired a subordinate character, serving as object to the verb (thing feared); see § 281.

On the other hand, the clauses now in question are often explained by supposing an ellipse of a verb of fearing: μὴ ῥέξῃ fοr δείδω μὴ ῥέξῃ. This is open to the objection that it separates clauses which are essentially similar. For μὴ ῥέξῃ I wίll not have him do (hence I fear he may do) is identical in form with μὴ ῥέξῃς I will not have you do. In this case, then, we have the simple sentence μὴ ῥέξῃ, as well as the compound δείδω μὴ ῥέξῃ, into which it entered.

Similar questions may arise regarding final clauses with μὴ. Thus in Il. 1.586-7

τέτλαθι, μῆτερ ἐμή, . . . μή σε . . . ἴδωμαι

we may translate endure, mother; let me nοt see you, etc., or (bringing the two clauses more closely together) endure, lest I see you, etc. So in Il. 8.522, Od. 13.208. No clear line can be drawn between independent and subordinate clauses, for the complex sentence has been formed gradually, by the agglutination of the simple clauses.

The combination μὴ οὐ—prohibition of a negative—is extremely rare in Homer. In Il. 5.233

μὴ τὼ μὲν δείσαντε ματήσετον οὐδʼ ἐθέλητον

and Il. 16.128

μὴ δὴ νῆας ἕλωσι καὶ οὐκέτι φυκτὰ πέλωνται

the particles are in distinct clauses. It occurs in a final clause, Il. 1.28 μή νύ τοι οὐ χραίσμῃ κτλ., Il. 24.569, and after δείδω in Il. 10.39 δείδω μὴ οὔ τίς τοι κτλ.

The subjunctive in this use does not take κεν or ἄν, the prohibition being always regarded as unconditional.

It is well known that the present subjunctive is not used as an Imperative of Prohibition (with μή). The rule is absolute in Homer for the 2nd person. The 3rd person is occasionally used when fear (not cοmmand) is expressed; the instances are:

Od. 5.356 (quoted above)

Od. 15.19 μή νύ τι . . . φέρηται

Od. 16.87 μή μιν κερτομέωσιν.

The restriction does not apply to the 1st person plural, as Il. 13.292 μηκέτι ταῦτα λεγώμεθα. We shall see that a corresponding rule forbids or restricts the use of μή with the aorist imperative (§ 327).

279. Homeric and Attic uses. In Attic the use of the subjunctive in independent clauses is either hortatory, deliberative, or prohibitive. Thus the use with ἄν (§ 275.a), the use in affirmation (§ 275.b), and the negative uses (§ 276) do not survive.

Suggested Citation

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