Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2004.08.08

Emilio Crespo, Luz Conti, Helena Maquieira, Sintaxis del Griego Clásico.   Madrid:  Gredos, 2003.  Pp. 502.  ISBN 84-249-2697-8.  €33.25.  

Reviewed by Pedro de Blas, Columbia University (
Word count: 1527 words

According to the Preliminary Note to Sintaxis del Griego Clásico (SGC), this book attempts to remedy the lack of an intermediate Greek syntax manual that would fill the gap between elementary textbooks and lengthy treatises written more than fifty years ago. An integral part of such attempt is the incorporation of recent advances in syntax studies. Therefore, readers accustomed to manuals of comparable breadth of coverage, such as Smyth,1 or Goodwin,2 should be aware that SGC is very different from them in scope and content. SGC combines a descriptive approach to syntax with that of functionalism, cognitive linguistics, structuralism, and traditional grammar.3 This results in an abundant use of linguistic terminology and in the organization of the material in the book along linguistic categories that differ from the traditional ones (e.g. the construction of accusative plus infinitive after a verb of saying is not referred to in SGC as indirect statement, but as a completive structure). Consequently, the reader with a good knowledge of Greek and linguistic theory may welcome a new approach to Greek syntax and enjoy the relatively novel parts of the book that give individualized attention to matters such as ellipsis or word order, but the beginning or intermediate reader of Greek in searching for concise explanations of syntactic rules may find that such explanations are hard to find, scattered over different chapters, and difficult to understand.

SGC is divided into 44 chapters consecutively numbered and followed by a selective bibliography (pp. 459-62), index of contents (pp. 463-69), index of Greek words (pp. 471-86) and index locorum (pp. 487-94). Loosely speaking, SGC chapters on the categories of words and syntagmata correspond to what Smyth classifies under syntax of the simple sentence, and SGC chapters on the different types of sentence correspond to Smyth's treatment of the compound and complex sentences. The absence in SGC of a chapter on particles is regrettable, especially since the index of Greek words is definitely lacking in this respect and contains no entry for particles or combinations thereof as frequent as τοι, καὶ γάρ or καὶ μήν.

Chapters 1 and 2 are introductory and deal among other topics with the definition of "classical Greek" and of many of the linguistic categories that SGC uses in subsequent chapters. SGC is mainly concerned with Attic Greek, and marks Homeric and other syntactic features that differ from Attic when needed. Information on historical development or frequency of usage is given often, but not systematically. In Chapter 2, readers will do well to familiarize themselves with the definitions of word, syntagma, sentence (oración), and discourse, because the book is structured on that basis. Chapters 3 through 10 deal with Nouns (3), Adjectives and Adjectival Syntagmata (4), Pronouns (5), Numerals (6), Article (8), and Concord (10). The contents of these chapters are supplemented by two chapters on Concept Structure and Grammatical Number of Nominal and Pronominal Syntagmata (Chapters 7 and 9, respectively). Very significant parts of these chapters are not concerned with syntax in the traditional sense but incorporate substantial morphological and semantic information. For instance, Chapter 3 includes 4 pages (15-18) on the gender of nouns, and Chapter 5 includes the declension of personal pronouns and an extensive discussion of the deictic, anaphoric and symbolic properties of the meaning of pronouns. However, a full understanding of the important syntactic topic of the placement of the article requires reading two sections of Chapter 8 (8.3 and 8.4.5), the discussion of adjectives as modifiers (4.2.1) and predicates (4.2.2), and a section of the discussion of word order within the syntagma in Chapter 19 (19.3.1).

Chapters 11 through 16 deal with the functions of nominal, pronominal and adverbial syntagmata, and are mainly concerned with the use of cases. Again, there is much in these chapters that assumes a good knowledge of linguistic terminology and essential aspects of syntax that may give pause to beginning readers of Greek are not covered in unified fashion. For example, the genitive of personal agent with a preposition is not covered under the section where one would expect it, namely the section of Chapter 15 on the genitive of personal agent (15.3.5), but is mentioned within the discussion of the uses of the nominative (12.2.2), and the dative (16.3.13), where only ὑπό is given as the accompanying preposition. There is no caveat in either Chapter 12 or 16 about other possibilities of prepositions with the genitive as equivalent or nearly-equivalent constructions, but such equivalents are given in Chapter 17: ἀπό (17.6.6), ἐκ (17.6.10), παρά (, and πρός (

Chapters 17, 18, 19 and 20 deal with prepositions, apposition and correlation, word order within the syntagma, and adverbs, respectively. As can be inferred from the above, the contents of these chapters supplement, often essentially, those of the preceding ones. A more unified treatment of these topics and/or improved cross-referencing between chapters would have been welcome.

Chapters 21 through 28 deal with verbal syntax of the simple sentence and cover most topics adequately. The dense theoretical language of the preceding chapters gives way to a more straightforward treatment of tenses and moods, but we can only regret the scarcity of examples and the missing discussion of difficult points. For instance, the third person deliberative subjunctive is listed at 26.5.3 without an example, and the rare use of the second person deliberative subjunctive, excluded by Goodwin (289) but admitted on good grounds by Smyth (1805.b), at least when used to repeat a question, as in A. τί σοι πιθώμεθα; B. τι πίθησθε; (Aristophanes, Birds 164), is not mentioned in SGC.

Chapters 29 through 31 are again more theoretical and mostly concerned with the definition of sentence, statement and compound sentence. Chapter 31 includes an interesting discussion of parataxis that surpasses in clarity the one in Smyth. Chapters 32 and 33 deal with ellipsis and word order within the sentence, respectively. The discussion of ellipsis benefits from an individualized approach that Smyth lacks on this topic. The discussion of word order is also interesting, but the reader should keep in mind that the principles of word order within the sentence that are discussed in SGC are mainly derived from Homer and Attic writers. For example, the list given for the kinds of subordinate clauses that tend to precede or follow the main clause (33.4) includes 11 examples (out of 14) from Xenophon and Plato, and 2 more out of the 14 are in iambic trimeter, from which it is debatable whether rules about word order can be derived at all. The relative abundance of examples from Homer in the rest of the chapter gives rise to an analogous concern.

Chapters 34 through 43 deal with subordinate clauses. Indirect statement and clauses of effort introduced by ὅπως are dealt with in Chapter 36, entitled "Completive and Explicative Structures". There is no focused discussion of subordinate clauses in indirect statement. Apart from this omission, the discussion of subordinate clauses is succinct and interesting, although there are instances in which the rules given can generate confusion, for instance at, in which the rule for the apodosis of a past general conditional sentence is given as a past tense of the indicative with or without ἄν. The example given by SGC for the past tense of the indicative with ἄν is εἰ δέ τις αὐτῷ περί του ἀντιλέγοι ..., ἐπὶ τὴν ὑπόθεσιν ἐπανῆγεν ἂν πάντα τὸν λόγον (Xenophon, Memorabilia 4, 6, 13). As Smyth does at 2341, SGC should have included a warning not to confuse an iterative imperfect like the one in this example with an imperfect indicative with ἄν in the apodosis of a present contrary-to-fact conditional sentence, which readers of Greek will meet more often.

The book closes with a Chapter (44) on discourse, which is too short (9 pp.) to discuss stylistic problems at any length and contains a section on direct vs. indirect statement (44.4.9, the last in the book) that one might have expected to find in Chapter 36. At the very least, a cross-reference to the ὅτι recitativum discussed in this last chapter should have been included in 36.5.5, especially since the index of Greek words in SGC contains a single entry for ὅτι, and no sub-entry for its use in introducing indirect statement. We must also note that the entry in the index of contents for indirect statement (estilo indirecto) does not refer at all to Chapter 36, where a lot of the information on indirect statement is to be found. Instead, such information is referred to in that index under the sub-entry for completive and explicative clauses (oración, completiva y explicativa). This illustrates the extent to which the reader's familiarity with SGC terminology is assumed for the use of this manual as a reference work.

In conclusion, SGC is a welcome addition to the available handbooks of Greek syntax, and linguistically oriented readers may find much in it that is new in a book of this kind. Hopefully a second edition will make its contents more easily accessible to other readers. Improved cross-referencing between chapters, revised indexes of contents and of Greek words, and a glossary of linguistic terms would go a long way toward achieving that goal.


1.   Smyth, H. W. Greek Grammar, Harvard, 1920, many repr.
2.   Goodwin, W. W. Syntax of the Moods and Tenses of the Greek Verb, 1890, repr. William H. Allen, Philadelphia, 1992.
3.   See Preliminary Note in SGC IX.

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