BMCR 2008.07.01

The Language of Literature. Linguistic Approaches to Classical Texts. Amsterdam Studies in Classical Philology. Vol. 13

, , The language of literature : linguistic approaches to classical texts. Master and use copy. Digital master created according to Benchmark for Faithful Digital Reproductions of Monographs and Serials, Version 1. Digital Library Federation, December 2002.. Leiden: Brill, 2007. 1 online resource (xiii, 251 pages).. ISBN 9789047421801 $142.00.

Table of contents

Most of the papers in this volume were given at the Conference on Greek and Latin Linguistics (Katwijk, 16-17 December 2005), held in honour of Albert Rijksbaron, to whom the book is dedicated. The conference aimed at building a bridge between literary and linguistic studies of texts in Greek and Latin by applying methods and models developed in the field of narratology and in that of discourse oriented linguistic analysis, to which the honoree has contributed widely throughout his scholarly career. The resulting volume shows that this is a fruitful area of research.

The book is well edited, with only few typos.1 It comprises a nearly complete list of A. Rijksbaron’s publications,2 an index locorum and a general index. The introduction by Allan and Buijs (pp. 1-6) and the single bibliography for all papers included contribute to its unitary character.

Irene J. F. de Jong “Sophocles Trachiniae 1-48, Euripidean prologues, and their audiences” (pp. 7-28) claims that, although Sophocles’ Trachiniae apparently starts with a monologue of Deanira, the nurse who is presumed to be on stage right from he beginning, though not addressed directly, is the narratee of her speech, making it into a dialogue. Signals for the presence of an addressee de Jong supposes to be narratorial interventions of the type Ἀχελῷον λέγω‘Achelous I mean’, and “interactional particles” like δή, which she understands as evidential “as you and I know”. Whether the use of tense-aspect forms really helps in determining the presence of a narratee”, as de Jong would have it, remains an open question, e.g. the historical present (HP) ἐκλύεται (l. 21) may indeed express that Deanira “relives” a decisive moment of her past, but does it necessarily follow that “thereby [she] make[s] her narratee experience it with her”? The Euripidean openings are interpreted as “diaphonic” monologues that contain signals of a narratee and invite the audience to feel addressed, although here, too, mute characters may be on stage and similar signs of an addressee are found.

Lukas van den Berge “Mythical chronology in the Odes of Pindar: the Cases of Pythian 10 and Olympian 3” (pp. 29-41) discusses the structure of Py. 10.29-49 and whether the slaying of the Gorgo and Perseus’ revenge on Polydectes on Seriphos occurred before or after his visit to the Hyperboreans, without arriving at a definite conclusion as to their sequence, but claiming that Pindar mentions Perseus’ arrival at Seriphos as a warning to his audience to avoid envy at the homecoming of the victorious Hippokleas. In the case of Ol. 3.12-35 he argues for two separate journeys of Herakles to the Hyperboreans. As for the chronology of events, it is, Berge claims, “not indefeasibly encoded” in either of the passages, but has to be inferred from context.

Suzanne M. Adema “Discourse modes and bases in Vergil’s Aeneid” (pp. 42-64) uses the classification of discourse modes proposed by Smith (2003) (narrative, descriptive, reporting, registering) with the addition of Langacker’s concept of “base” (Langacker 2001) to describe the use of tense forms in Vergil’s Aeneid. The “directing mode”, i.e. the registering mode which takes note of events happening at the moment of utterance, transposed to reference time, is found to be the most common in the text. The pretended position of the narrator is within the fictive past, which enables him to use the HP, posing as an eyewitness, although of course he remains the omniscient narrator who may add his own comments to the scene and switch back to his “real” present or to other discourse modes.

In a similar fashion, Caroline H. M. Kroon “Discourse modes and the use of tenses in Ovid’s Metamorphoses” (pp. 65-92) establishes three types, narrative, descriptive and reportive mode, the first two of which can be combined with both a story-internal position of the narrator and an external, retrospective position, which is the only possibility for the reportive mode. Kroon ties the lack of dynamicity in the Metamorphoses to Ovid’s preference for telling stories in separate “vignettes” in which the advancement of the narrative is rather local than temporal: as if an eyewitness were describing various simultaneous parts of one and the same scene. The frequent HP supplants either a perfect, highlighting main events in the story-line or “zooming in” on the scene of the events, or, more frequently, an imperfect describing states or progressive, habitual and iterative events. Similar to the “zooming in” in a narrative passage, the HP may be used to the same effect in descriptive passages to switch to a story-internal descriptive position, and to give a more detailed account of a bounded event given in the perfect (e.g. the description of Niobe’s petrification in 6.303ff. deriguitque malis followed by HPs). As there is no progression between these simultaneous parts of the same event, the overall effect is that of a static picture.

Rutger J. Allan “Sense and sentence complexity. Sentence structure, sentence connection, and tense-aspect as indicators of narrative mode in Thucydides’ Histories” (pp. 93-121) distinguishes an “immediate mode” in which the narrator pretends to be an eyewitness of the events and a “displaced mode” in which he looks back at past events from his present vantage point. The former is said to be displayed in a simpler sentence structure, less hypotaxis, less frequent use of participles, καί instead of δέ, and by the use of the HP. By contrast the displaced mode shows less parataxis and uses more imperfects (and pluperfects) to create a foreground/background structure. The choice of mode seems to depend on the part of the narrative it occurs in, the immediate mode being most frequent in the “peak” of the story-line, the displaced mode in its build-up and resolution (Allan here uses the frameworks developed by Labov 1972 and Fleischman 1990). A point Allan might have stressed a bit more is that in the “immediate” mode the author poses as an eyewitness, but remains in control of what he wants to recount and what to leave out. A true eyewitness account would probably contain much more material not pertaining to the main story-line.

Michel Buijs “Aspectual differences and narrative technique: Xenophon’s Hellenica & Agesilaus” (pp. 122-153) compares parallel passages in these two works and examines their different use of aspectual forms. He relates the different uses to the difference in genre, i.e. narrative in the Hellenica vs. encomium in the Agesilaus, with narrative episodes in the Agesilaus used as exempla to show the subject’s character through his deeds. Using Rijksbaron’s definition of the discourse function of the imperfect as opening up a framework for further elaboration on the same topic (Rijksbaron 1988:250-254), Buijs claims that an imperfect in the Hellenica is supplanted by an aorist in the Agesilaus (in five out of his six examples) to mark the end of the exemplum and return from the narrative to the “diegetic” mode, switching back to the viewpoint of the narrator, whereas the imperfect in the Hellenica marks the continuation of the story. For some examples this seems to make sense (e.g. Hell. 3.4.11-13, Ag. 1.14-17), in others one wonders if the difference in genre is really the motivating factor.3 Buijs is certainly right in claiming that any definition of aspect by which the opposition between the aorist and imperfect indicative always entails a different real world situation fails to explain his examples which all refer to the same real world situations respectively.

Jean Lallot “L’opposition aspectuelle ‘présent’ – ‘aoriste’ dans la grande loi de Gortyne” (pp. 154-167) finds that the text uses the aorist for verdicts in special cases, but the present for general prescriptions and in cases where the same verb is repeated which he describes as a kind of anaphoric use or ” ἀκολουθία“. Could this be a kind of topic continuity encoded by the imperfective aspect as denoting something unfinished either on the propositional or on the discourse level?

Gerry C. Wakker “Intentions and future realisations in Herodotus” (pp. 168-187) discusses the use of Greek μέλλω to indicate present intention or arrangement for the (relatively) future realisation of an event, with varying emphasis on either the intention or the realisation. In the latter case μέλλω fills the gap of the missing future of the past. Where μέλλω competes with the bare future Wakker claims that the former is used to focus on the changeability of the future, taking the perspective of the subject (e.g. who thinks (s)he can escape the predictions of an oracle).4 The degree of certainty about future events frequently seems to play a role, as in 8.70.2 where μέλλω refers to the subjects’ expectation of a future event that may or may not happen, but in case it does, the inevitable consequence is given in the future indicative. Both with μέλλω and the other verbs Wakker studies ( ἔρχομαι + future participle of a verb of saying, βούλομαι and θέλω) there are of course many contexts in which it is difficult to discern any difference in function.

Stéphanie J. Bakker “Adjective ordering in Herodotus: A pragmatic explanation” (pp. 188-210) takes a fresh look at the question after earlier scholarship (not only on Greek) claimed that adjective ordering depended on semantics (e.g. Fugier & Corbin (1977), Seiler (1978)). For Greek, cases of variation of the positioning of multiple adjectives attached to one noun seem to counterevidence these claims, and Bakker tries to establish the criterium of “informativeness” that triggers the position of the adjectives: “The more informative the adjective, the further to the left it is expressed.” No formal definition of “informativeness” is given, though. In the case of coordination, Behaghel’s “Gesetz der wachsenden Glieder” sometimes seems to interfere (e.g. Hdt. 7.83.2 χρυσόν τε πολλὸν καὶ ἄφθονον). Bakker sees the main difference between juxtaposed and coordinated adjectives in that the latter only modify the noun itself, whereas when juxtaposed one of the adjectives has scope over the rest of the Noun Phrase, e.g. juxtaposed beautiful (old cars) vs. coordinated beautiful and old cars. Thus Hdt. 8.73.2 Δωριέων μὲν πολλαί τε καὶ δόκιμοι πόλιες is interpreted as meaning ‘the Dorians have many, famous cities’, whereas a juxtaposed πολλαὶ δόκιμοι πόλιες would mean ‘many (famous cities)’ leaving open the interpretation that they also had many non-famous cities, which the coordination excludes. In general, this principle seems to work well, individual examples may of course always be open to different interpretations.5

Casper C. de Jonge “From Demetrius to Dik. Ancient and modern views on Greek and Latin word order” (pp. 211-232) discusses the approaches of Demetrius and Quintilian to ancient Greek and Latin worder order, interpreting both as talking about pragmatic rather than syntactic categories. He points out similarities between Demetrius’ treatment of Greek word order that claims that the περὶ οὗ, what the λόγος is about, should come first in a sentence, and Dik’s definition of the topic and its usual assigment to sentence-intitial position in Greek, and finds similar distinctions in Quintilian’s Inst. Orat. which talks about de quo loquimur and quod loquimur which look much like topic and comment in modern terms, and about materia as the topic and the uis sermonis which according to Quintilian is frequently found in the verb in sentence-final position. de Jonge interprets this as meaning that this position in Latin is the focus position, and since the verb is frequently focussed it is frequently in that position.

It is to be hoped that this stimulating collection of papers will further the interest that linguists and scholars in literary studies take in each other’s fields. As this volume shows in a remarkable way, there is much to be gained by a broader perspective.


Fleischman, S. 1990. Tense and Narrativity. From Medieval Performance to Modern Fiction. London.

Fugier, H. & J. M. Corbin. 1977. ‘Coordination et classes fonctionelles dans le syntagme nominal latin’, BSL 72, 245-273.

Labov, W. 1972. Language in the Inner City. Philadelphia.

Langacker, R. W. 2001. ‘The English Present Tense’, English Language and Linguistics, 251-272.

Leo, F. 1908. Der Monolog im Drama. Ein Beitrag zur griechisch-römischen Poetik. Göttingen.

Rijksbaron, A. 1988. ‘The Discourse Function of the Imperfect’, in Rijksbaron, A., H. A. Mulder, & G. C. Wakker (eds.). In the Footsteps of Raphael Kühner. Amsterdam. 237-254.

Seiler, H. 1978. ‘Determination, a Functional Dimension for Inter-language Comparison’ in H. Seiler (ed.). Language Universals. Tübingen. 301-328.

Smith, C. 2003. Modes of Discourse. The Local Structure of Texts. Cambridge.


1. E.g. the garbled quotation of Leo 1908 on p. 9: “entgegegen” for “entgegen”, “sie ist gewohn” for “sie ist gewohnt”, “in ihrer Erinnerungen zu wühlen” for “in ihren …”, on p. 23 the Greek text for example [12] is missing, p. 190 “Referentzfestlegende” for “referenzfestlegende”.

2. Addendum for 2006: ‘Over punten en komma’s, in het bijzonder bij Plato’, Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, and after the publication of the book under review, Plato. “Ion or: On the Iliad.” Edited with Introduction and Commentary by A. Rijksbaron. Leiden: Brill, 2007.

3. E.g. in Hell. 4.3.20-21 vs. Ag. 2.15-16 with ἐκέλευε vs. ἐκέλευσε. Here the aorist does not “close off” the narrative, since another imperfect ( ἐποίουν) follows, and one wonders how this command is to be taken as a peculiar trait of Agesilaus’ character (since no discussion of the kind follows in X.’s text).

4. The example of Kroisos’ dream about his ill-fated son Atys (Hdt. 1.34) is taken to show this difference, although it seems difficult to find more in it than the difference in question ( ὄνειρος … οἱ τὴν ἀληθείην ἔφαινε τῶν μελλόντων γενέσθαι κακῶν … σημαίνει τῷ Κροίσῳ ὁ ὄνειρος ὡς ἀπολέει μιν). In both sentences the recipient of the dream’s information is given in the dative. Is ἔφαινε really conative, as W. wants to have it, or rather opening a framework (in Rijksbaron’s sense) the following σημαίνει connects to? How is “the perspective of Croesus incorporated” in the first phrase as opposed to the second one?

5. E.g. Hdt. 9.22.1-2 where the point seems to be that Masistios is wearing a cuirass hidden under his tunic and that only when this is realized by his enemies is he killed by a stab in the eye. This, following B.’s principle, would explain why the noun comes first and the adjectives follow ( θώρηκα … χρύσεον λεπιδωτόν). Within the ordering of the adjectives one wonders if Hdt. really wants to make a strong claim about the fact that the cuirass is golden, and not of iron, as Persian ring-armour usually was (Hdt. 7.61), as it does not seem to make much of a difference in the event. Could this be another instance of Behaghel’s Law?