Sunday, March 12, 2006


Privative, Asyndetic Adjectives

In a few passages of the ancient Greek tragedians, especially Euripides, we find adjectives compounded with alpha privatives and joined in asyndeton. In most cases these adjectives modify women bereft of support.

Sophocles, Antigone 876-877:
unwept, unloved, unwed
áklautos áphilos anuménaios
ἄκλαυτος ἄφιλος ἀνυμέναιος
Euripides, Andromache 491:
godless lawless graceless
átheos ánomos ácharis
ἄθεος ἄνομος ἄχαρις
Euripides, Iphigenia Among the Taurians 220:
unmarried, without a child, without a city, without a friend
ágamos áteknos ápolis áphilos
ἄγαμος ἄτεκνος ἄπολις ἄφιλος
Euripides, Orestes 310:
without a brother, without a father, without a friend
anádelphos ápatōr áphilos
ἀνάδελφος ἀπάτωρ ἄφιλος
Euripides, Hecuba 669:
without a child, without a husband, without a city
ápais ánandros ápolis
ἄπαις ἄνανδρος ἄπολις
Euripides, Hippolytus 1027-1028:
without fame, without a name, without a city, without a home
akleés anónumos ápolis áoikos
ἀκλεὴς ἀνώνυμος ἄπολις ἄοικος
Euripides, Trojan Women 1185:
without a city, without a child
ápolis áteknos
ἄπολις ἄτεκνος
An earlier example, not from tragedy, is Homer, Iliad 9.63-64 (tr. A.T. Murray):
ἀφρήτωρ ἀθέμιστος ἀνέστιός ἐστιν ἐκεῖνος
ὃς πολέμου ἔραται ἐπιδημίου ὀκρυόεντος.

A clanless, lawless, hearthless man is he that loveth dread strife among his own folk.
Walter Leaf and M.A. Bayfield in their commentary write:
Nestor alludes to the three foundations of early society: the relationship of the clan or φρήτρη (see on B 363); the common traditions of law embodied in the 'dooms' (θέμιστες) or inherited principles of justice administered by the king to the people (see on 99); and the common fire which formed the centre of the religion of the community. The man who stirs up strife within the circle of his own people, violates all these common bonds of the body politic, and destroys the roots of civil existence.
There are some similar privative, asyndetic adjectives in the first half of Milton's Paradise Lost:

unrespited, unpitied, unreprieved
unprevented, unimplored, unsought
immutable, immortal, infinite
unadmonished, unforewarned
unworshipped, unobeyed
unmoved, unshaken, unseduced, unterrified
In all of the Greek examples, the adjectives are pejorative. But in some of the examples from Milton, the adjectives express a good condition, e.g. the last example quoted, which describes the faithful angel Abdiel.

It's probably not a coincidence that the Greek examples include two of Milton's three favorite authors, according to Samuel Johnson's Life of Milton:
The books in which his daughter, who used to read to him, represented him as most delighting, after Homer, which he could almost repeat, were Ovid's Metamorphoses and Euripides.

Update. Tony Prost writes via email:
I recently completed a verse translation of the Paraphrase of the Gospel of John by Nonnos of Panopolis. Nonnos uses this literary device twice in his paraphrase, in the very first line,

"Ere time, ere space, ere speech, dwelt the archaic Word..."
  achronos Hn, akichHtos, en arrHtWi logos archHi...
1:1 (Ch 1, v.1)

and later in Chapter twelve when he is describing how

"A grain of wheat that falls upon the thirsty earth,
Unless it dies, lies fruitless there upon the spot,
Unsown, unused, unploughed, unharvested..."
  asporos, achrHistos, anErotos, ammoros harpHs
12:97 (Ch 12, v, 24)

<< Home
Newer›  ‹Older

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?