Thursday, July 15, 2021

Particuliterate: Particles in Ancient Greek Epic

σύνδεσμος δέ ἐστιν φωνὴ ἄσημος ἣ οὔτε κωλύει οὔτε ποιεῖ φωνὴν μίαν σημαντικὴν ἐκ πλειόνων φωνῶν φεφυκυῖα συντίθεσθαι … ἣν μὴ ἁρμόττει ἐν ἀρχῇ λόγου τιθέναι καθ’ αὑτην, οἷον μέν ἤτοι δέ.

A particle is a meaningless sound, which neither hinders nor causes a significant sound to be made out of many sounds … which cannot fittingly be put at the beginning of a sentence by itself, like μέν and δέ.

Aristotle, poetics, 1456b38–57a4 (Greek text from Tarán and gutas, 2012)

The study of particles has progressed quite a ways from the preceding quotation from Aristotle’s Poetics. Particles are omnipresent in Greek texts of any time period, and so understanding them is critical to understanding Greek literature. Despite this, particles are given short shrift in almost all pedagogical materials for the Greek student, particularly language textbooks and student-oriented commentaries. A particle like δέ is described as simply meaning ‘and’ or ‘but,’ depending on the context. μέν is mentioned only in its connection with δέ. While these definitions are useful in that they don’t overwhelm students as they are just beginning their study of Greek, they quickly become insufficient.

While there is not much information in learning materials on Greek particles, there is a wealth of material elsewhere. In journals, monographs, conference proceedings, and reference sources, one will find a number of fascinating arguments about how to understand the meaning of particular particles. And yet, most students do not know where to look for these, and if they find them, the jargon and background information which the reader is assumed to know pose difficulty to the student just beginning to dip their toes into Greek scholarship.

This website is aimed primarily at that student. Its goal is to aggregate the discussion of particles, which is often spread out and hard to track down, into one place, where the views of various scholars can be summarized in a succinct and understandable manner. Particles entries include extensive hyperlinking to the Glossary page, which includes definitions for common terms and explanations of theories which underlie the arguments being described.

Yet this website is not only aimed at that student. Experienced scholars who wish to follow up on the summaries will find full bibliographies accompanying each entry.

In general, one particle entry will be added to the site each week. A schedule is provided in the Particle Directory page. Occasionally, the schedule may be disrupted by a desire to write a more general post not devoted to a single particle, or be delayed due to my other commitments, but regular updates can be expected starting on Apr 1.


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