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161. Impersοnal Verbs. It is evident that in a language which distinguishes the person and number of the verb by the ending, it is not essential that there should be a distinct word as nominative. ἐσ-τί (e. g.) stands for he is, she is, it is; the person or thing meant by the ending may be left to be gathered from the context. In certain cases, however, the subject meant by an ending of the 3rd person is too indefinite to be expressed by a particular noun, such as the context could supply to the mind. For instance, in the sentence οὕτως ἐσ-τί it is sο, the real subject given by the ending -τι (in English by the word it) is at a particular thing already mentioned or implied, but a vague notion—"the case," "the course of things," etc.[fn]See Riddell's Digest, §§ 95-100: Sigwart, Impersonation.[/fn] Verbs used with a vague unexpressed subject of this kind are called personal.

The vague subject may be a plural.

Il. 16.128 οὐκέτι φυκτὰ πέλονται
                 the case no longer allοws of flight

Od. 2.203 ἶσα ἔσσεται
                 things will be eνen

A neuter pronoun used as the subject sometimes gives a vague meaning, not far removed from that of an impersonal verb.

Il. 1.564 εἰ δʼ οὕτω τοῦτʼ ἐστί
                if this is sο[fn]Cp. οὕτως ἐστί it is so[/fn]

ἐσθλὸν καὶ τὸ τέτυκται
it is a good thing too

An impersonal verb is often followed by an infinitive, or dependent clause, which supplies the want of a subject. See § 234.2

162. Nominative in the Predicate. In certain cases the predicate of a sentence may be limited or modified by a nominative in agreement with the subject. This is especially found

  1. With adjectives of time.

    ἑσπέριοι ἀφίκοντο
    they came in the eνening

    ἐννύχιος προμολών
    coming forth by night

    εὗδον παννύχιοι
    slept all night

    χθιζὸς ἔβη
    went yesterday

    Such adjectives seem to answer most nearly to the genitive of time within which, but may also express duration, as πανημέριος and παννύχιος.

  2. In describing the attitude, manner, position, etc., in which an action is done

    παλίνορσος ἀπέστη
    stood off with a start backwards

    ὕπτιος οὔδει ἐρείσθη
    was dashed face upwards on the ground

    so πεζὸς εἰλήλουθα, λάβρος ἐπαιγίζων, πρόφρων τέτληκας (Cp. προφρονέως), ἀμετροέπης ἐκολῴα, etc.

  3. The pronouns ὅδε and κεῖνος are sometimes used instead of adverbs of place.

    Il. 5.604 καὶ νῦν οἱ πάρα κεῖνος Ἄρης
                    now tοο yonder is Ares at his side

    Il. 10.434 Θρήϊκες οἵδ’ ἀπάνευθε
                      here are the Thracians apart

    Od. 6.276 τίς δʼ ὅδε Ναυσικάᾳ ἕπεται

    So οὗτος in Il. 10.82 τίς δʼ οὗτος κτλ.

  4. With verbs meaning to be, to become, tο appear, tο be made, called, thought, etc.

    κάρτιστοι τράφεν
    they were nurtured the mightiest, (i. e. to be the mightiest)

    εἰσωποὶ ἐγένοντο νεῶν
    they came to be in front of the ships

    ἥδε ἀρίστη φαίνετο βουλή
    this appeared the best counsel

    In all such cases the nominative which goes with the verb not only qualifies the notion given by the verb stem, but also becomes itself a predicate (i. e. the assertion of an attribute). E. g. κάρτιστοι τράφεν implies that they were κάρτιστοι. A noun so used is called a secondary predicate.

    The use of εἰμί as the "logical copula" is merely a special or singular case of this type of sentence. The verb has then little or no meaning of its οwn, but serves to mark the following noun as a predicate. The final stage of the development is reached when the verb is omitted as being superfluous.

  5. With impersonal or half-impersonal verbs meaning to be, etc.; the predicate being

    (a) A neuter adjective

    μόρσιμόν ἐστι
    it is fated

    νεμεσσητὸν δέ κεν εἴη
    it would be worthy of indignation

    οὔ τοι ἀεικές
    it is not unmeet for you

    with a pronominal subject.

    ἐσθλὸν γὰρ τὸ τέτυκται
    it is a gοοd thing

    In the plural

    οὐκέτι φυκτὰ πέλονται
    there is no more escaping

    Cp. λοίγια ἔργα τάδʼ ἔσσεται this will be a pestilent business.

    In one or two instances the Adverbial form in -οως is used in phrases of this kind.

    Il. 11.762 ὣς ἔον εἴ ποτʼ ἔον γε
                     such I was if I was

    Il. 9.551 Κουρήτεσσι κακῶς ἦν
                    things went ill for the Curetes

    Il. 7.424 διαγνῶναι χαλεπῶς ἦν
                   it wαs hard tο distinguish

    Il. 11.838 πῶς τʼ ἄρʼ ἔοι τάδε ἔργα

    Od. 11.336 πῶς ὔμμιν ἀνὴρ ὅδε φαίνεται εἶναι

    This may be regarded as older than the neuter nominative, since it indicates that the verb is not a mere copula, but has a meaning which the adverb qualifies. Cp. Il. 6.131 δὴν ἦν liνed long (= δηναιὸς ἦν); also the adverbial neuter plural, as Thuc. 1.25.4 ὄντες . . . ὅμοια, 3.14.1 ἴσα καὶ ἱκέται ἐσμέν.

    (b) An abstract noun

    Il. 17.556 σοὶ μὲν δὴ Μενέλαε κατηφείη καὶ ὄνειδος ἔσσεται
                    εἰ κτλ.
                       to you it will be a humbling and reproach if, etc.

    οὐ νέμεσις
    it is no wrong

    οὐκ ἄρα τις χάρις ἦεν
    it was no matter of thanks

    εἰ δέ μοι αἶσα
    but if it is my fate

    with a pronominal subject

    λώβη τάδε γʼ ἔσσεται
    this will be a shame

    The use of an abstract noun instead of an adjective is a license or boldness of language of which we have already had examples; see § 116 and § 126.

    It is worthwhile to notice the tendency to import the ideas of obligation, necessity, etc., into these phrases.

    οὐ νέμεσις
    it is not (worthy of, a mαtter of) indignation

    ὄνειδος ἔσσεται
    it will be (grounds for) reproach

    So in Latin vestra existimatio est equals it is matter for your judgement.

    The Latin idiom called the Predicative Dative (Rοby, Pt. II. pp. xxv-lvi) may be regarded as a less violent mode of expression than this nominative, since the dative is a case which is originally adverbial i. e. construed with the predicate given by the verb stem. In other wοrds, dedecori est is a less bold and probably more primitive way of saying it is disgraceful than dedecus est; just as κακῶς ἦν is more primitive than κακὸν ἦv.

  6. The ordinary use of the participle belongs to this head.

    διαστήτην ἐρίσαντε
    parted after having quarrelled

    In this use the participle qualifies the verb stem, and at the same time makes a distinct assertion; see Chapter X.

163. Interjectional Nominative. The nominative is not unfrequently used in Homer without any regular construction, as a kind of exclamation.

Il. 5. 405 σοὶ δʼ ἐπὶ τοῦτον ἀνῆκε θεὰ γλαυκῶπις Ἀθήνη,
               νήπιος, οὐδὲ τὸ οἶδε κτλ.
                 fool! he knows not, etc.

Similarly σχέτλιος cruel! δύσμορος the unhappy one! (Od. 20.194); and so Il. 1.231 δημοβόρος βασιλεύς! Cp. the interjectional use of αἰδώς shame! (Il. 5.787, 13.95, 16.422).

A similar account may be given οf one or two passages in which commentators generally suppose anacoluthon

Il. 10.436 τοῦ δὴ καλλίστους ἵππους ἴδον ἠδὲ μεγίστους·
                λευκότεροι χιόνος, θείειν δ ἀνέμοισιν ὁμοῖοι
                   whiter than snow they are! etc.

and so in the equally abrupt

Il. 10.547 αἰνῶς ἀκτίνεσσιν ἐοικότες ἠελίοιο

Il. 2.353 ἀστράπτων ἐπιδέξιʼ ἐναίσιμα σήματα φαίνων
               (he did sο I tell you) by lightening on the right, etc.

Od. 1.51 νῆσος δενδρήεσσα, θεὰ δʼ ἐνὶ δώματα ναίει
                an island (it is) well wooded, and a goddess has her
                dwelling there!

These forms of expression, when we seek to bring them under the general laws of the grammatical sentence, resolve themselves into predicates with an unexpressed subject. On the logical propositions of this kind see Sigwart (Logik, I. p. 55). The predicate, he shows, is always expressed in a word (or wοrds); but the subject, when it is of the kind which would be expressed by a pronoun (it, this, etc.) may be indicated by a gesture. The simplest examples of the type are the imperfect sentences used by children, such as horse! for this is a horse. When such sentences are introduced into literary language, they give it an abrupt and interjectional character, as in the examples quoted. We might add the phrases such as οὐ νέμεσις it is no wrong162), in which the want of a verb makes the expression somewhat interjectional. Compare, for instance, οὐ νέμεσις with αἰδώς, Ἀργεῖοι shame on you, Greeks! also the so-called ellipse in commands, as ἀλλʼ ἄνα but up!

Suggested Citation

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