For some time, I have been musing sporadically about genitive absolutes (eventually these sporadic musings will grow into an intentional project). For this post I will just use a sort of “common sense” notion of genitive absolutes: the subject of the genitive absolute differs from the subject of the main clause and the “absolute” construction is cast in the genitive case. Probably every part of this definition, save the part about the genitive case, is problematic in some way, but it suffices for now. Both in terms of the structure of the sentence and semantically, genitive absolutes are less connected to the main clause, or any element in it, than predicate participles in the nominative case are.
This common sense notion makes clear an oddity in a certain passage in Life of Adam and Eve (c. AD 100-300). The passage reads as follows:
καὶ τότε ταχέως πείσασα αὐτὸν ἔφαγεν (21.5)Text from Tromp, The Life of Adam and Eve in Greek, PSEUDEPIGRAPHA VETERIS ESTAMENTI GRAECE 6
The passage is straightforward, seemingly, and could be translated something like, “And when she had quickly persuaded him, she ate” (noting that the participle is feminine, thus “she”). Given the right context, it could even mean “she ate him (or it).” But, take a quick glance at the context, and things get a little strange:
1. ἐγὼ (Ευα) δὲ εἶπον· μὴ φοβοῦ, ἅμα γὰρ φάγῃς, ἔσει γινώσκων καλὸν καὶ πονηρόν. 2. καὶ τότε ταχέως πείσασα αὐτὸν ἔφαγεν, 3. καὶ ἠνεώχθησαν αὐτοῦ οἱ ὀφθαλμοί.
As noted, Eve is the one speaking in 1. The use of the masculine possessive pronoun in 3 indicates that Adam is the subject (technically “his eyes” is the subject). This requires that there be two distinct subjects in 2: the subject of the participle is Eve, while the subject of the verb is Adam. When the participle is nominative, this should not occur.
The participle here is not functioning as a normal nominative predicate participle, which agrees with its head noun (subject of sentence) in gender and number, but like a normal genitive absolute, which differs from the subject of the sentence which it is modifying.
The text of Life of Adam and Eve (LAE) is certainly not pristine as it has come down to us. Here are the following variant readings for the phrase in question:
- επεισα αυτόν φαγειν “I persuaded him to eat”
- επεισα τουτο φαγειν “I persuaded him to eat”
- πεισθεις τοις λογοις μου εφαγεν “being persuaded by my words, he ate”
- επεισα αυτον και εφαγεν και αυτος από του ξυλου “I persuaded him and he himself ate from the tree”
- πεισασα αυτόν επεισα και εφαγεν “persuading I persuaded him and he ate”
- επεισα αυτόν και εφαγεν “I persuaded him and he ate”
- ηπατηθη και εφαγεν και αυτος “He was deceived and he himself ate”
- οποταν δε εφαγεν και αυτος ο πατηρ σας “then your father also ate”
Being no expert in text criticism of works like LAE (or any other type, for that matter), my discussion here is not about the editor’s (Johannes Tromp) choice of this reading against any of the other possible ones. My interest was piqued by the abnormal syntax, being obviously anomalous to the “rules” of Koine Greek.
When to not use a genitive absolute
I’m wondering about the bigger picture of how genitive absolutes relate to nominative predicate participles in Koine Greek. This passage is perhaps testifying to a further wrinkle in this relationship in Koine Greek. The normal canons of grammar would clearly rule this text as wrong: when the subject of the participial clause differs from the subject of the main clause, the nominative case should not be used. If a feminine participle is going to be used here, then it “ought” to be in a genitive absolute construction. An angle of further investigation to take in accounting for genitive absolutes in Koine (especially how they relate to nominative predicate participle constructions) would be to look for more instances like this text where a genitive absolute is not used when it “ought to be.”
If this is not an isolated phenomenon (haven’t yet checked any of the papyri grammars on this, but it would surprise me if there weren’t more instances like it), it raises the further possibility that the genitive absolute as a construction was in process of transitioning between a living part of the language and being a trapping of learned Greek during the Koine period. Other evidence that could be read as pointing in this direction is the not infrequent use of genitive absolutes where the subject of the genitive absolute construction is the same as the subject of the main clause.
Someday I’ll hopefully look more into this. For now, it is simply interesting to see another wrinkle in the usage of Greek popping up outside the world of very educated writers who were more careful and consistent with hiding the way they really used the language when the wrote.
Isn’t this a case, meant by Kühner-Gerth in their Grammar Part II Vol. 2 Page 105:
§ 493. a. Nominativ des Partizips st. eines anderen Kasus.
1. Der Nominativ des Partizips wird häufig auf ein im
Dative oder Akkusative oder Genetive stehendes Substantiv
bezogen, wenn der Dativ oder Akkusativ oder Genetiv in grammatischer
Hinsicht zwar das Objekt, in logischer Hinsicht aber das
Subjekt ausdrückt, und durch diese Konstruktion das logische
Subjekt als Hauptbegriff hervorgehoben werden soll, … So besonders wenn das Partizip durch längere Zwischenglieder von seinem Bezugsworte getrennt ist. —
Part.Nom. (while expected Gen/Dat/Acc) points to a grammatical Object in Gen/Dat/Akk, whilst that grammatical Object is the logical Subject.
Thanks for the suggestion. I definitely need to spend some more time in Kühner-Gerth. Every time I poke my nose in there I find something new and interesting.
That being said, in this case I don’t think this passage from Life of Adam and Eve is an example of KG’s Nominativ des Partizips st. eines anderen Kasus. If I understand them right and am following their examples, what they are talking about is how a Greek writer could use a nominative participle instead of participle in another case (not gender) as a way to sort of “reset” the syntax of a complex sentence, making it much easier to carry on one complex sentence. Let’s take their example from Thucydides 3.36:
καὶ ὑπὸ ὀργῆς ἔδοξεν [αὐτοῖς] οὐ τοὺς παρόντας μόνον ἀποκτεῖναι, ἀλλὰ καὶ τοὺς ἅπαντας Μυτιληναίους ὅσοι ἡβῶσι, παῖδας δὲ καὶ γυναῖκας ἀνδραποδίσαι, [ἐπικαλοῦντες] τήν τε ἄλλην ἀπόστασιν…
and in their passion decreed to put them to death, not only those men there present but also all the men of Mytilene that were of age, and to make slaves of the women and children, laying to their charge the revolt itself… (Loeb translation)
According to the normal patterns of Greek, the participle ἐπικαλοῦντες should be in the dative case, as its head noun which it is in predicate relation to is the pronoun αὐτοῖς. This would lead to a really ugly continuation of the sentence, or necessitate beginning a new sentence. Instead of agreeing with the technical head noun, Thucydides uses a nominative participle that agrees with the implied subject of sorts, “them”, rather than the grammatical dummy subject of the impersonal verb. This is, I believe, the point which KG are describing when they say: “wenn der Dativ oder Akkusativ oder Genetiv in grammatischer Hinsicht zwar das Objekt, in logischer Hinsicht aber das Subjekt ausdrückt, und durch diese Konstruktion das logische Subjekt als Hauptbegriff hervorgehoben werden soll, wie z. B. in: δοκεῖ μοι = ἐγὼ ἡγοῦμαι.” The nominative participle brings the logical subject to the fore and allows the sentence to continue on using normal patterns of syntax.
The key to this usage, then, is at least two factors: 1) it is a strategy to avoid ugly syntactic complexities by getting a sentence back to a normal pattern, and 2) the participle has the same logical subject (as well as sharing the gender of its head noun) as the main verb, even if technically different grammatical subjects. I could certainly have missed something, but as I scanned through their examples, it appears that this category of usage occurs after the main verb, not before it, which makes sense of why it would be used in the first place.
By contrast to this, the example in Life of Adam and Eve has two clearly distinct subjects in play, both animate actors and, as it happens, the two main actors in the narrative at this point in time. Most significantly, the gender differs between the required head noun of the participle and the implied subject of the main verb, meaning that the head noun of the participle can’t be the subject of the sentence. That is why it “feels” like a genitive absolute: the participle has a distinctly different subject doing something distinctly different than the subject of the main verb. Also, it is noteworthy that this instance in Life of Adam and Eve is clearly not avoiding syntactic complexity, as the passage is simple and straightforward.
Thanks Nathtaniel, for the explanation (My Syntax-experience is not that good, I’m still working on that).
The normal canons of grammar would clearly rule this text as wrong: when the subject of the participial clause differs from the subject of the main clause, the nominative case should not be used. If a feminine participle is going to be used here, then it “ought” to be in a genitive absolute construction.
triggered me looking up the “Nom.Abs.” (I remembered, some text to mention this, but didn’t knwo which one, tis morning I found it:)
As You expect a Gen.Abs. in this case, could this then be a Nom.Abs. (Schwyzer-Brugmann, II, 403)?
An interesting idea. I’ve never seen “nominative absolute” used in this way in the English grammatical tradition (though it may be). When I started looking at the examples provided, it struck me that several of the texts cited are identical to those in sec 493 in Kühner-Gerth. At the end of Schwyzer-Brugmann’s first section of examples they point to that very place in K-G for more examples. This confirms in my mind that they are actually talking about the same thing, just under different terms and in a slightly wider perspective. They also add the helpful note that the phenomenon occurs both pre- and post-verbal, not just post-verbal as I had initially thought. I’m not really sure what the point is that Schwyzer-Brugmann are making in the second section of examples, under the title “Zweigliedriger ‘nom. abs.’. Perhaps it is meant to be examples of a nom. ptc. with accompanying noun at the beginning of anacoluthon?
Of course, there could be value in using the category “nominative absolute” to describe this text in Life of Adam and Eve, given that it is in the nom. case and is absolute (i.e., not syntactically part of the main clause). The difficulty with using this title is that nominative absolute is traditionally used to describe types of constructions that would now be called “left-dislocations” in language study. For example, “This guy that I know, he is coming”, where the left-dislocated element is syntactically removed from the main clause, but there is a resumptive pronoun which is part of the main clause. Nominative absolutes in Greek involve an element that is, in some way, part of the main clause. This is analogous to the participle use being discussed by Schwyzer-Grugmann, as indicated by their note: Vgl. … vor allem den partiziplosen absoluten Nom.
Which brings me back to the main reason that I find this passage interesting: the subject of the participle πείσασα is not a constituent of the main clause. That most of the textual variants express this passage as two distinct main clauses further testifies to this. To cite Cambridge Grammar of Classical Greek, this is the hallmark of a genitive absolute: “When the subject of the participle is not a constituent of the matrix clause(aka, “main clause”) it must be expressed separately. In this case, both the participle and its subject are added in the genitive case” (sec 52.32). That seems to describe what is going on here, minus the genitive case.
Maybe one should not forget the possibility, that the scribe or autor simply made an “error”. So You might be searching for a “grammatical rule” that doesn’t exist.
Naturally. Thus, the next logical place to look for similar examples is in the papyri where we can rule out legitimate errors introduced by scribes and where the “errors” in the text can be taken as firsthand evidence of actual Greek language in usage, as opposed to the employment of artificial literary rules. Given that genitive absolutes with the same subject as the main clause are common in papyri, I’m just speculating at this point that the dividing line between genitive absolute and normal nominative participles was breaking down in normal (that is, non-literary) usage of Greek during Koine period and onward. If the breakdown can occur in the direction of genitive absolutes occurring where a nominative participle would be expected, perhaps it also worked in reverse and nominative participles started also popping up where genitive absolutes would have been expected? It’s just a thought at this point. Next step in research project: to the papyri.