Part forty-eight of a tour through Greek inflectional morphology to help get students thinking more systematically about the word forms they see (and maybe teach a bit of general linguistics along the way).

We previously introduced the (θ)η-aorists. In this post, we’ll mention the stem variants and then go over some counts.

In terms of stem variants, we first of all have δέω, where we find the infinitive δεθῆναι alongside the 1SG ἐδεήθην and 3SG ἐδεήθη. The infinitive form suggests a stem of δε-θη whereas the finite forms suggest a stem of ἐ-δεη-θη with an extra η.

Secondly, we have two 3SG forms of ἁρπάζω: ἡρπάγη and ἡρπάσθη.

Finally we have ἀνοίγω with its confused augmentation (which we’ve seen in other aorists) and also both a θ and non-θ form. Putting aside the ἠνοι- vs ἀνεῳ- vs ἠνεῳ- variation, we have 3SG ἠνοίχθη alongside ἠνοίγη and 3PL ἠνοίχθησαν alongside ἠνοίγησαν.

Notice that in both the ἁρπάζω and ἀνοίγω cases, we have a non-θ form with γ before the η. We’ll look at the letters we find before η and θη later in this post.

But first let’s do our usual counts of tokens and lemmas.

class # lemmas # tokens # hapakes
-θη- 250 954 130
-η- 34 79 19

As one can see, the non-θ forms are more rare lexically and the lexemes that do take them occur less frequently. They both, however, seem productive.

  -θη- -η-
INF 166 4
1SG 29 6
2SG 8 2
3SG 489 43
1PL 30 5
2PL 44 3
3PL 188 16

The distribution above is what we might expect except for the INF which are disproportionately -θη-. This is not due to a single lexical item (unlike the 3SG where ἀπεκρίθη dominates).

This will be worth further investigation but we have other things to cover first. For example, is there any phonological reason why a non-θ form might be used rather than a θ-form? We saw previously, for example, that the existence or absence of the sigma in the alphathematic aorists was largely (although not entirely) predicted by the preceding letter.

It turns out, at least in our text (we’ll look more broadly later) there’s quite a strong correlation between whether a θ is found or not and what the preceding letter is.

For example, if the preceding letter is any of the vowels ε η ι ο υ ω, then we always find the θη form in the SBLGNT. α is the only exception and even then only in one lexical item out of 14, the κατακαίω form κατεκάη. (Notably κατεκαύ(σ)θη is more common elsewhere but we’ll have to wait a little to discuss καίω forms in general)

If the preceding letter is σ, then we always find the θη form. This is actually the most likely letter to precede θ by far, followed by η.

ξ ψ and ζ don’t appear in (θ)η aorists in the SBLGNT. Nor do δ τ or θ.

Amongst the velars: κ doesn’t appear in (θ)η aorists in the SBLGNT but γ and χ both do. γ is always followed directly by η (and in fact the bigram γθ never appears in the SBLGNT at all). In contrast, χ always takes the θ form (which might be explained by an underlying κ or γ becoming χ because of the following θ but this doesn’t explain why the θ would be absent in the -γ-η- instances).

Amongst the bilabials: both π and β are always followed directly by η (and neither πθ nor βθ appear as bigrams in the SBLGNT). φ however is found both in θη and η forms with a slight preference for φθη over φη.

This leaves our resonances: the liquids λ and ρ, and the nasals μ and ν. The bigram λθ is definitely allowed in Greek but we only find -λ-η- aorists, not -λ-θη-. With ν and ρ we find both θ and non-θ forms. There are no μ examples in the SBLGNT, nor do we find the bigram μθ.

Here’s a summary with lexeme counts:

  -θη- -η-
α 13 1
ε 21 -
η 80 -
ι 17 -
ο 11 -
υ 26 -
ω 52 -
σ 108 -
ξ - -
ψ - -
ζ - -
τ - -
δ - -
θ - -
κ - -
γ - 12
χ 37 -
β - 2
π - 3
φ 16 10
λ - 6
ρ 6 8
μ - -
ν 16 3

Clearly there are some patterns here. Vowels, σ, and the aspirated stops strongly (or even entirely) favour -θη-. The non-aspirated stops seem to entirely favour a plain η. The resonances are a mixed bag.

There are definitely some correlations but it’s unclear what the casual relationship is. And it raises the important question of where the letter before the θ (or η) comes from in the first place. This relates more broadly to the question of the aorist stem. What is the relationship between the aorist stems used in the active, middle and (θ)η forms? In the next post, we’ll start to explore that. Then, after reviewing all our endings so far, we’ll move on to the even bigger question: what’s the relationship between the aorist stem and the present stem?