Monday, March 04, 2013


Diminutives in the Begging Scene of Aristophanes' Acharnians

Aristophanes' Acharnians was performed in 425 B.C., in the sixth year of the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta. The play's hero, Dicaeopolis, weary of war, negotiates a private peace treaty with Sparta. The chorus, old men from the deme Acharnae, want to stone Dicaeopolis to death for this treasonous act. In preparation for making his defence, Dicaeopolis asks Euripides (lines 393-479) for various stage props from his tragedy Telephus, performed in 438 B.C. In that tragedy, which survives now only in fragments (numbered 696-727), Telephus may have argued in favor of peace between the Greeks and the Trojans, just as Dicaeopolis argues in favor of peace between Athens and Sparta.

Dicaeopolis uses diminutives to denote most of the stage props he wants Euripides to give him:
S. Douglas Olson, in his commentary on Aristophanes' Acharnians (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), pp. 181-182 (on lines 412-413), notes:
For the use of diminutives throughout the begging scene, Petersen 163; Dover on Nu. 92.
I don't have access to "Dover on Nu. 92," i.e. K.J. Dover's commentary on Aristophanes' Clouds (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1968). "Petersen 163" is Walter Petersen, Greek Diminutives in -ION: A Study in Semantics (Weimar: R. Wagner Sohn, 1910), p. 163, § 215, who writes:
Closely related to the use of a diminutive because of modesty is the use of one designating an object of which the speaker asks that it shall be given to him. This is already repeatedly mentioned by the Greek grammarians, e.g. in the scholia to Dionysius Thrax AB. 855, ἱππάριόν μοι χάρισαι· μειῶ γὰρ τὸ ζητούμενον ἵνα ἑτοιμότερον πρὸς τὸ δοῦναι ποιήσω τὸν ἔχοντα. Similarly Michael Syngelus ap. Cram. Anecd. 4.273.9, γίνεται δὲ τὰ ὑποκοριστικὰ ... δι' ἀναγκαιότατα [sic], ὡς ἐὰν ὃ αἰτῇ τις σμικρύνῃ, ἵνα μὴ μεγάλην ποιήσῃ τὴν χάριν· ᾧ κέχρηνται οἱ κωμικοί, ὡς ἔχει τὸ παρὰ Μενάνδρῳ λεβήτιον. The motive, then, as understood by the Greek grammarians, was the desire to appear modest in asking.
Here are my translations from the grammarians quoted by Petersen.

First, the scholia to Dionysius Thrax, in Alfred Hilgard, ed., Scholia in Dionysii Thracis Artem Grammaticam (Lepizig: B.G. Teubner, 1901), p. 226, lines 17-19 (cf. also p. 375, lines 3-5, and p. 539, lines 22-24):
"Kindly give me a little horse." For I disparage the thing asked for, to make the one possessing it more ready to give it.
Next, Michael Syngelus (or Syncellus), from the text in J.A. Cramer, ed., Anecdota Graeca, Vol. IV (Oxford, 1837), p. 273, lines 9-11:
Diminutives necessity, as if someone belittles what he asks for, to make the favor smaller; the comic writers used this, as the "little kettle" in Menander [Dyscolus 472].
By using diminutives, Dicaeopolis lowers the value of the items asked for, so that it might appear less of a sacrifice for Euripides to give them up.

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