The use of the optative in Iliad 2,1-493


  • Filip De Decker Universiteit Gent



optative, modal uses, Homeric syntax, subjunctive, verbal morpho-syntax, mood and modality


In this article I address the use of the optative (appearing alone or in in contrast with the subjunctive or indicative) in Iliad 2,1-493 (the part before the Catalogue of Ships starts). This part of the book describes Agamemnon's (failed) attempts to rouse the army and Odysseus' intervention to restore the damage caused by Agamemnon's blunder(s). In these lines there are about 110 subjunctive and optative forms, and they provide a small but reliable corpus of instances in different constructions and are therefore sufficient to serve as basis for an investigation and can be used to check if results acquired in other investigations can be confirmed or refuted. As the optative is the mood with the widest array of uses (from the unreal to the almost-certain-future), I focus on the passages in which the optative is used, either alone or in contrast with the subjunctive or indicative. I start by briefly discussing earlier scholarship on the issue, then I outline how I catalogue the forms, paying particular attention to the (metrical and palaeographical) overlap between subjunctive and future forms and finally I proceed to the actual analysis, addressing also textual and philological issues. My research hypothesis is that the subjunctive is used to describe events that the speakers and/or narrators considered to be more likely to happen, while the optative refers to what is (remotely) possible or wished for, but thought to be less probable. I also argue that while the optative is often used in iterative contexts and after past tense verbs, this does not mean that the optativus iterativus and optativus obliquus were distinct categories as the former obtained its iterative meaning from the context and the latter was more often than not only due to the lower degree of probability (in other words there is no strict consecutio modorum nor attractio modorum).


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