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Is That A Fact? Language And Fact In Greek And Latin Constructions

  • Jerome Moran

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It is true that Greek and Latin writers use the indicative to assert a fact. This is not to say that what Greek and Latin writers assert by means of the indicative is a fact. This distinction is central to this article. There is widespread (in many grammar and course books) misunderstanding (or at least misleading explanation) of the information conveyed by the forms of certain Greek and Latin constructions. The misunderstanding seems to be the result of a failure to distinguish between a fact and the writer's attitude to a fact; between what is the case and what the writer says or implies is the case; between what can and cannot be deduced about what the writer knows and does not know about the facts in question from the way in which the writer expresses himself. The misunderstanding affects more constructions in Latin than in Greek. I shall begin with the Greek constructions.

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1 ‘State a fact’ is ambiguous between state that something is a fact (which does not entail that what is stated is a fact) and state what is a fact (which does entail that what is stated is a fact).

2 Actually, the older and bigger grammars such as Goodwin and Smyth usually show awareness of the distinctions, though they do not comment on them explicitly, no doubt because they did not think it necessary to do so. It has become necessary since then.

3 Smyth in particular gets hopelessly tied up in knots in his various attempts at an explanation.

4 I am not sure that ‘result’ is the right word to denote what is expressed by the infinitive. One reason for confusion here is that the word ‘result’ itself suggests something that did occur, so that it seems contradictory to say that a result was only a likely or expected one, or that a result did not occur.

5 See the list of them given by Eleanor Dickey in Appendix E (pp. 211-12) of An Introduction to the Composition and Analysis of Greek Prose (2016).

6 I haven't tested this — I'm not sure it can be tested — but if it is I'm prepared to wager that one would come across a number of such instances of what I call ‘evasive implication’ — implying by the form of an Unreal condition that what one knows or believes is false is true — if one trawled through the corpus of fourth century Athenian political and forensic oratory.

7 Regarding Woodcock's assimilation of ‘result’ to ‘effect’, and the main clause of a consecutive sentence to a causal clause, a consecutive sentence does not have the same meaning as a causal one. If a cause is best understood as the necessary and sufficient conditions of its effect, the same cannot be said of a result as of an effect: results of actions or occurrences do not have necessary and sufficient conditions. There is not the same kind of (logical) relationship between a cause and its effect and an action or occurrence and its result.

8 So a primary main verb is followed by a pluperfect (rather than perfect) and imperfect (rather than present) subjunctive. This distinction can only be made if the main verb is in a primary tense. If the main verb is in a historic tense, the distinction between a likely/unlikely situation cannot be made, as the forms of the subjunctive are the same in both cases: pluperfect, imperfect, periphrastic ‘future in the past’.

9 Actually, what Morwood says in Writing Latin, p. 102, is a good example too.

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Is That A Fact? Language And Fact In Greek And Latin Constructions

  • Jerome Moran

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