As I have been collecting possible and definite periphrastic constructions in my dissertation work I have been making a note of the more interesting occurrences. Grammars usually give the basics of periphrasis and a few obvious examples. They do not usually luxuriate in recording the variety of different syntactic arrangements that periphrastic constructions are encountered in. Following are some examples of different syntactic arrangements periphrastic constructions appear in. Basically, periphrastic constructions can be and are used any way that “normal” verbs can be used. Examples like these solidify that periphrastic constructions syntactically function like “normal” verbs.
Before proceeding any further, a basic definition of periphrasis is in order.
Greek grammars use the term periphrasis to describe instances where a copula (usually a form of εἰμί, though a variety of other verbs do this as well; the exact list of such verbs is a “hot debate” in the grammars and studies) combines with a participle in such a way that they cease to make two predications, instead making only one predication. In English it is the difference between the following:
- “I was at the park running”. Two predications: “I was” and “running”
- “I was running at the park”. One predication: “I was running”
The problem with English comparisons (similarly in just about every modern Indo-European language which uses similar constructions) is that periphrastic constructions are obligatory in many places in our verbal system, while there are virtually no places in Koine Greek where a periphrastic construction was obligatory. Using periphrasis to refer only to these copula + participle constructions is completely arbitrary. Constructions with infinitives of the sort μέλλω + infinitive, or the various other future time referring infinitive expressions active in Koine are also periphrastic. The lexicons also routinely describe various other combinations as periphrastic, one of which we will see below. Here are some examples. For the sake of discussion, I am assuming these instances all are periphrastic in the traditional sense defined above.
Periphrasis in parallel with synthetic verb
Joseph and Aseneth 13.6 shows a periphrastic construction functioning in parallel with a synthetic verb, that is, they are at the same level of syntax:
ἰδοὺ τὸ ἔδαφος τοῦ θαλάμου μου τὸ κατεστρωμένον λίθοις ποκίλοις καὶ πορφυροῖς ὃ ἦν τὸ πρότερον καταρραινόμενον μύροις καὶ ἐξεμάσσετο ὀθονίοις λαμπροῖς.
Behold, the floor of my room, covered with varied-colored and purple stones, which formerly was sprinkled with myrhs and wiped with clean linen clothes.
This is rather unremarkable. The periphrasis functions in parallel with a synthetic verb.
Periphrastic construction with a predicate participle modifier
Periphrastic constructions can be modified by a predicate participle, just like main verbs. This can result in quite a pile up of participles:
2 Clement. 17:3 ἵνα πάντες τὸ αὐτὸ φρονοῦντες συνηγμένοι ὦμεν ἐπὶ τὴν ζωήν.
In order that all of us, being of one mind, may be gathered together into life
A similar construction is observable in Joseph and Aseneth 8:8, where the periphrastic construction in the main clause is modified by a genitive absolute:
καὶ ἦν ἀτενίζουσα εἰς τὸν Ἰωσὴφ ἀνεῳγμένων τῶν ὀφθαλμὠν αὐτῆς
And she was gazing at Joseph, having her eyes open
Periphrastic constructions are elidable
Like a main verb a periphrastic construction can be elided when it functions clearly in the next clause:
Barn 18.1 ἐφ̓ ἧς μὲν γάρ εἰσιν τεταγμένοι φωταγωγοὶ ἄγγελοι τοῦ θεοῦ, ἐφ̓ ἧς δὲ ἄγγελοι τοῦ σατανᾶ.
For over the one are stationed light-giving angels of God, but over the other are angels of Satan
The fairly common phenomenon of using a single copula across clauses to form multiple periphrastic constructions could be thought as a sub form of elision. In this case the copula is elided, as it is unnecessary to repeat, while the participle supplies the relevant semantic and aspectual information. As a rule, the subject remains the same in such instances (though it may even be possible for that to change). The next example illustrates this, as well as another interesting feature.
Periphrastic forms sharing same object
Periphrastic forms are able to share the same object, as seen in this example:
Jos. Asen. 2.1 Καὶ ἦν Ἀσενὲθ ἐξουθενοῦσα καὶ καταπτύουσα πάντα ἄνθρωπον.
And Aseneth was despising and spitting upon all men.
Both periphrastic forms have the same object, which is only given once.
Periphrastic form incorporating a periphrastic construction
A final interesting instance is an example of what appears to be a periphrastic construction incorporating a periphrastic construction. As is well known, ποιέω can be used in the middle-passive with a noun to create a periphrastic expression equivalent to the verb formed from the same root. Letter of Aristeas 187 yields a token which appears to be a periphrastic construction using the verb ποιέω in middle-passive voice with a noun, ἀνάπτωσις. This construction is part of a periphrasis with εἰμί.
ἦσαν γὰρ καθ’ ἡλικίαν τὴν ἀνάπτωσιν πεποιημένοι
for they were reclining at table according to seniority
This list briefly highlights the ways in which periphrastic constructions function in the same essential syntactic roles as synthetic verbs. They turn up doing just about everything that a normal verb does, at the level of syntax.