BMCR 2022.07.03

Sintaxis del griego antiguo

, Sintaxis del griego antiguo. Manuales y Anejos de Emérita, 54. Madrid: Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, 2020. Pp. 1150 (2 vols.). ISBN 9788400107239. €57,69.

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María Dolores Jiménez López, the coordinating editor of Sintaxis del griego antiguo, sets out two objectives for the study of ancient Greek syntax. The first is practical: to aid in the precise understanding of ancient texts. The second is theoretical: to offer a coherent explanation of linguistic phenomena and to compare Greek with other languages (xxxiii). She also reveals that the project that became Sintaxis started 17 years ago with the goal of providing an online resource for university students. From those limited beginnings has grown a vast and detailed pair of volumes. While the work still contains the essentials for undergraduates, the work’s intended audience has broadened to classical scholars, including those looking to undertake further research on Greek syntax, as well as linguists who wish to incorporate data from ancient Greek in their analyses (xxxiii). While it is possible to read the work at different levels, balancing such different audiences is inherently difficult. Given the awkwardness of locating the essential among the wealth of information presented, it is hard to imagine the work’s use by undergraduates, though it would be a useful resource for their teachers, and the wealth of secondary references provides excellent points of departure for further syntactic research.

Sintaxis is composed of two volumes and is divided into 28 chapters, written by 11 individual authors, all Spanish academics hailing most commonly from the Autonomous University of Madrid, but also from the Universities of Alcalá, Salamanca, and Santiago de Compostela. With only two exceptions, most chapters are single-authored, with most authors responsible for multiple chapters. Jiménez López wrote four chapters and a prologue in addition to serving as coordinating editor. In her prologue, she contrasts Sintaxis’ individualized model with the collective authorship of works like the Cambridge Grammar of Classical Greek. A happy consequence of this structure is chapters with individual points of view, sometimes contrasting with those of other chapters. A less happy outcome is that there is some repetition between the chapters, especially since each one is designed to be read on its own. For example, Functional Grammar (FG) concepts introduced in the second chapter are sometimes redefined in other chapters as they become relevant (e.g. on p. 46).

As the title suggests, the book covers syntax only, leaving out the phonology and morphology that a full grammar would discuss. The first volume (covering nominal syntax plus prepositions, adverbs, and particles) begins with an introduction by Crespo that covers the concepts, objectives, and methods of analysis behind the work. Then, after a brief introduction to functional grammar by Jesús de la Villa Polo and María Esperanza Torrego Salcedo, come chapters covering the attributes of the noun (gender, number, and case) and agreement by Mercedes Díaz de Cerio Díez. There are then chapters on the syntax of each of the cases (four by Daniel Riaño Rufilanchas and one by Díaz de Cerio Díez). Chapters follow on prepositions, adjectives, pronouns, the article, and quantifiers, some by Jiménez López and others by Julián Méndez Dosuna. The volume ends with Antonio R. Revuelta Puigdollers’ broad chapter on adverbs, particles, and interjections, which also covers sentence and discourse-level structures in a way complementary to the second chapter’s introduction to FG. The second volume (covering verbal syntax, coordination and subordination, and word order) begins with an overview of the verb, including person, number, and voice (Méndez Dosuna), tense and aspect (Villa), mood and modality (Revuelta), and nominal forms (Díaz de Cerio Díez). Revuelta then covers negation, coordination, subordination, and asyndeton. Luz Conti covers complement clauses, Jiménez López relative clauses, and Villa temporal and causal subordinate clauses. Next Revuelta discusses final, consecutive, and comparative clauses, while Villa covers conditions and concession. Last is Helena Maquieira’s contribution on word order. The first volume contains the editor’s prologue, and the second a bibliography, Greek and Spanish indices, and a list of passages cited.

Jiménez López compares Sintaxis explicitly to several recent works on the grammar and syntax of ancient Greek, such as The Cambridge Grammar of Classical Greek and Sintaxis del griego clásico, whose authors, Emilio Crespo, Luz Conti, and Helena Maquiera, also contributed to the present work (xxxiv).[1] As the difference in titles suggests, Sintaxis covers a broader diachronic range than its predecessors. While it retains a focus on classical Greek, especially Attic literature and the Ionic prose of Herodotus, it also frequently uses examples from epic, and to a lesser degree from Mycenean Greek, lyric poetry, Koine, and even inscriptions, if only to better illustrate classical syntax from a diachronic perspective (xxxv). The book covers Greek syntax from a variety of perspectives, but the dominant framework is that of functional grammar.[2] For those not familiar with FG, the second chapter helpfully offers a summary of the most basic concepts, including the articulation of the sentence in different levels and the distinction between semantic, syntactic, and pragmatic functions.

While every chapter of Sintaxis reflects FG, some chapters bring in other perspectives from cognitive linguistics and linguistic typology (xxxiv). In his overview of the objectives and methods of the work in its first chapter, Crespo situates the book in the history of the study of Greek syntax, beginning with the historical-comparative analysis of the nineteenth century and tracing the close connection between the study of Greek syntax and of syntax more generally through structuralism up to the advent of generative grammar in the middle of the twentieth century. He explains why Sintaxis avoids a generativist approach: reasoning from ungrammatical phrases is difficult to apply to natural languages of which one is not a native speaker (19). Despite this disavowal of a generativist framework, important contributions to Greek syntax from a generativist perspective do find their way into Maquiera’s chapter on word order, including Goldstein’s work on Wackernagel’s law in Herodotus and Devine’s and Stephens’ book on hyperbaton in Greek.[3] The authors of Sintaxis also frequently begin chapters with brief expositions of ancient grammatical theory accompanied by helpful primary and secondary citations, particularly in the series of chapters covering each of the cases (145, 193, 205, 251, 297). This willingness to approach questions from different angles is part of the intellectual diversity that is a key strength of the volumes.

Readers used to the traditional terminology used in many textbooks and in manuals such as Goodwin or Smyth should be aware that the organization of the work according to linguistic terminology may present some difficulty or at least require learning new names for familiar concepts.[4] For instance, indirect statement is handled as a subheading (estilo directo y estilo indirecto, listed in the table of contents but absent from the index) under the larger topic of complement clauses (construcciones completivas), clauses which fulfil the role of an obligatory constituent of the main predicate, usually subject or object, and include indirect questions, fear clauses, and other constructions as well as indirect statements. This may be contrasted with the approach taken in the Cambridge Grammar, which includes both a section on indirect statement (517-521) and a treatment of them under the heading of “complement clauses” (636-7). This is in keeping with the decision by the authors of the Cambridge Grammar, for purposes of accessibility, to frame their presentation of Greek syntax around familiar categories pertaining to external form instead of the more technical ones used by the authors of Sintaxis.

A work of such breadth is bound to have a few inconsistent passages. I was first intrigued, then perplexed by the suggestion made twice by Díaz de Cerio Díez that the dative of possession with eimí represents a different sort of possession than other ways of expressing possession in Greek, namely that it coincides with the category of inalienable as opposed to alienable possession (63, 305). This statement was supported by only a single Greek example, and it would have been helpful had this section been backed by the wealth of well-chosen citations found in the rest of the chapter. A promising secondary citation was provided to an article by Carmela Benvenuto in the Encyclopedia of Greek Language and Linguistics. Unfortunately, the Benvenuto citation in the chapter does not appear to match the only corresponding entry listed in the bibliography, judging by the mismatched page numbers. If, as seems likely, the citation given refers to a different article by Benvenuto in the same encyclopedia, then it is notable that Benvenuto reaches a very different conclusion than the one espoused by Díaz de Cerio Díez, namely that the possessive dative with eimí has a high tendency, just like the verb ékhō, to express alienable possession (and that by and large Greek does not definitely distinguish between alienable and inalienable possession). Less substantial issues include some inconsistencies in the table of contents and a few other missing citations without corresponding entries in the bibliography. All in all, however, Sintaxis succeeds in its dual goals of enabling the deep and precise reading of texts and orienting its readers to a broad array of subjects within ancient Greek syntax.


[1] Evert van Emde Boas et al., The Cambridge Grammar of Classical Greek (Cambridge ; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2019); Emilio Crespo, Luz Conti, and Helena Maquiera, Sintaxis del griego clásico (Madrid: Gredos, 2003).

[2] Simon C. Dik, The Theory of Functional Grammar, ed. Kees Hengeveld, 2nd ed., 2 vols. (Berlin: De Gruyter, 1997).

[3] David Goldstein, Classical Greek Syntax: Wackernagel’s Law in Herodotus, Brill’s Studies in Indo-European Languages & Linguistics, Volume 16 (Leiden: Brill, 2016); Andrew M. Devine and Laurence D. Stephens, Discontinuous Syntax: Hyperbaton in Greek (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000).

[4] William Watson Goodwin, Syntax of the Moods and Tenses of the Greek Verb (London: Macmillan & Co., 1889); Herbert Weir Smyth, Greek Grammar (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1920).