Friday, May 06, 2011


The Big O

This is the story of the big o (o mega, or omega), with its sidekicks smooth breathing and circumflex accent (), as told by Jacob Wackernagel (1853-1938), Lectures on Syntax, ed. and tr. David Langslow (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009) pp. 390-391 (original Vorlesungen über Syntax, II 311):
In Attic, the use of is almost obligatory. For instance, it was observed by the Zurich philologist Arnold HUG (HUG & SCHÖNE 1909: 4 [on Symposium 172a]) that in the Protagoras, in the hundred-odd places where he has a personal name in the vocative, Plato always uses with it, and in the Symposium on 70 out of 78 occasions. In Attic, omission of is always striking, and often an expression of dislike or disdain. In On the Crown, Demosthenes always addresses his opponent Aeschines as Αἰσχίνη, never ὦ Αἰσχίνη (cf. LOBECK (1866) on Soph. Ajax 1154).

What is true of Attic, however, may not be regarded as true of Greek in general. The American philologist SCOTT has traced (1903; 1904; 1905) the use of from Homer down to the fourth century BC, and established inter alia that is not used in Homer in addresses of human to god, of wife to husband, or of servant to master; either expresses an emotion, or is familiar, and it is not seemly to make such an utterance to a superior—although, admittedly, KIECKERS (1908/9: 358–62) has shown that metrical factors also play a part here. Gradually thereafter becomes a standard ingredient in appeals and addresses generally. It may be by chance that the Odyssey has twice as many instances of as the Iliad, but it is certainly not by chance that in Sophocles it is proportionally six times more frequent than in Homer and Hesiod (three times in every five addresses, compared with one in every ten). For a detailed account of in Ionic and Attic prose, see now LOEWE (1925), and cf. LOEWE (1923: 82, 175–9).—On the other hand, is unpopular in lower stylistic registers of Hellenistic Greek, e.g. in the whole of the New Testament, amid hundreds of vocatives, it occurs only twenty-seven times (never, in keeping with the usage mentioned above, in appeals to God). The Gospels in particular (according to WELLHAUSEN 1904: 80) know the particle only in threats and laments (save Matt. 15: 28 ὦ γύναι, in amazement), and never with a bare vocative. Epictetus, another exponent of plain speech, reduces the use of even further (see JOHANNESSOHN 1910: 8 ff.; cf. 1925).—Obviously, then, the almost obligatory use of is a peculiarly Attic feature based on a development in which the other dialects did not share.23

23 On the use of in Greek, see now Dickey (1996: 199-206), who provides an excellent survey of research on the subject before and since W., and numerous new statistics from her own corpus. Broadly, her findings agree with W.'s observations, her own summary of herself (Dickey 2002: 225) being that 'it is likely that in the classical period most addresses in conversational Attic were preceded by this particle'. On the other hand, she amplifies W.'s allusion to metrical factors with the important consideration of avoidance of hiatus—that is, suppression of before words beginning with a vowel—which casts doubt on the interpretation reported by W. of Demosthenes' -less addresses to Aeschines, and hence on the whole notion that the use or omission of reflects the tone or stylistic meaning of the address, which Dickey reviews and rejects (1996: 203-6).
References:Scott (1904) finds that Aeschylus and Sophocles generally observe the following rules when using :
I. The interjection must be used when the participle is used in the vocative without the noun.
II. The interjection must be used in addresses, or apostrophe to inanimate objects, or abstract qualities.
III. The interjection must be used with an adjective in the vocative, when the adjective is used without a substantive, unless the substantive idea is given by the context.
IV. The interjection must be used in trimeter, when the arsis of the third foot is a monosyllabic vocative.
Scott (1905) 34, discussing Herodotus, says:
"Sir Walter" is the English equivalent for the vocative without the interjection, "Walter" for the vocative with it.

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