Tuesday, July 27, 2010
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
Previously I shared with you some observations on the word order that is available thanks to an inflected language. This time there will be an observation of how the word endings (morphemes remember) can add ambiguity to a text, which, in the context of Euripides 'Medeia' is awesome and so so clever.
So, here is the quote:
ἀλλ᾽ οἵδε παῖδες ἐκ τρόχων πεπαυμένοι
στείχουσι, μητρὸς οὐδὲν ἐννοούμενοι
κακῶν: νέα γὰρ φροντὶς οὐκ ἀλγεῖν φιλεῖ.
But these children, having stopped playing with hopes, are coming, not having in mind of the evils confronting their mother, for it is unexpected of the children to love to reflect sorrowfully.
However there is an ambiguity in the Greek. This is the highlighted ending of μήτηρ. It is genitive, so a really natural translation is "the evils of Medeia", however we have no idea what are the evils of Medeia this early on in the play, so the sort of logical reading is a more objective (in the sense that Medeia is the 'object of evils') genitive, where it is more like the one above. But, not so fast, this is poetry after all. We should (and can) embrace the ambiguity, and perhaps try and allow for both. As we further read about these Medeia person, we begin to discover an unsavory character who goes on to kill her own children as a means to get back at her (ex)husband Jason. So, in some ways this ambiguity is foreshadowing the future evils, much like the earlier juxtapositioning of "νέον παλαιῷ" which got is to think about what are the older evils? Well, this ambiguity also invites us to ponder what could the 'evils of Medeia' be?
On another note, this ambiguity is annoying in other contexts, the bible for example (well particular Paul the apostle) uses this little phrase πίστις Χριστοῦ about eight times in his letters. What does it mean? Is it subjective or objective? (By the way, it is objective, people just like being contrarian). The difference is either 'Faith in Christ' (objective, i.e. Christ is the object of the faith) or 'Faith of Christ' (subjective, i.e. Christ is the subject of Faith and so its the faith of Christ). Your bible will translate it as 'in' most likely. Once again, they are right, and here are 100 reasons to think so. So there.
Monday, July 19, 2010
Slightly different to normal, but here is a small ἀπολογία for inflected languages, and why reading something in it's original language is a fantastic thing.
First, what is an inflected language? It is a language that relies on it's word endings to get across the person or tense of a verb, or number or gender of a noun (That is only an example, they do that and so much more in fact). We call these morphemes, they are the smallest parts of language with meaning, and basically all inflected languages use these on the end of words (sometimes the whole form of the word is changed, but for now we will stick with word endings) to tell you how to read them. The result is a flexible word order. I will give a small demonstration of this:
This is in english word order and is translated 'the woman persuades the man'.
Now, lets mess it up a bit...
τὸν ἄνθρωπον πείθει ἡ γυνὴ
πείθει ἡ γυνὴ τὸν ἄνθρωπον
These all still mean the same thing grammatically. No change is made by the order of their place. Now see where I have highlighted the word endings? They are the key to unlocking a Greek sentence.
So, observe this small excerpt from Euripides 'Medeia'
'ἀπωλόμεσθ᾽ ἄρ᾽, εἰ κακὸν προσοίσομεν
νέον παλαιῷ , πρὶν τόδ᾽ ἐξηντληκέναι.' (Medeia, lines 78-79)
Now the nurse (Τροφός) as just learnt that there is a rumour flying around that her mistress' kids and her mistress are to be exiled from Corinth. So she exclaims:
"We are destroyed, if this new evil is added to the older before this (older evil) has run its course" (My translation)
Now, that is all very well and good as a translation, and you have grasped the basic meaning of the nurse, and her anguish. What you will miss though is some of Euripides juxtaposition of new and old. The word for new is νέος and is here put right up against the word for old which is παλαιός. They are in purple above in the Greek quote. Now, Euripides invites his readers to speculate about what is the former (we have been introduced to Medeia's current state of mind) and why it is so bad so as to be compared to being exiled. Euripides here uses simple word order to pack quite a fantastic amount of meaning.
There will be observations from the Medeia to come; some more fantastic linguistic observations which will further demonstrate the fantwhismicallness of the inflected language.