Greek Wednesday: The Morphology of Tragedy, pt. 1: Peculiarities in Dialect

Adapted from Donald J. Mastronarde, Euripides: Medea (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 82-83. Unless otherwise noted, citations are from the Medea.

In dialogue, tragedy prefers a common Greek, Ionic, or old Attic coloring when everyday Attic is too provincial — that is, when normal, everyday Attic differs too much from common Greek or Ionic. Examples:

  1. Common Greek -σσ- for Attic -ττ-. For example: ἀπαλλάσσουσα for ἀπαλλάττουσα (27), θαλάσσιος for θαλάττιος (28), κρεῖσσον for κρεῖττον (123), πράσσοιτε for πράττοιτε (313).
  2. Common Greek -ρσ- for Attic -ρρ-. For example: ἀρσένων for ἀρρένων (428), θάρσει for θάρρει (926), Τυρσηνίδος for Τυρρηνίδος (1342).
  3. Attic replaces certain patterns of long vowel-short vowel in Common Greek (e.g. λᾱός) with similar vowels in the pattern short-long (e.g. λεώς). Tragedy either avoids these Attic forms (short-long; λεώς) completely, or these forms coexist with non-Attic (long-short; λᾱός) forms. For example: νᾱός replacing νεώς (Andr. 162), λᾱός/λεώς coexisting (Andr. 1089, 19). In proper names, both forms coexist: Ἀμφιάρᾱος/Ἀμφιάρεως, Μενέλᾱος/Μενέλεως. When both forms of a word are used, it is for metrical convenience. The Doric genitive singular and plural forms of ναῦς (νᾱός, νᾱῶν) appear in both dialogue and lyric (523, Tro. 122), while the Attic forms (νεώς, νεῶν) appear only in dialogue (Tro. 1049, 1047).
  4. Open, uncontracted forms of adjectives and nouns may be used, as well as their contracted forms. For example: χρύσεος (632) and χρυσοῦς (1160, 1186), τείχεα (Hel. 1162) and τείχη (Hec. 11), τείχεος (Phoen. 116) vs. λέχους (491) and ξίφους (1278).
  5. In verbs, εο or εου can contract to epic-Ionic ευ, rather than Attic ου; however, this is only found very rarely. For example: ὑμνεῦσαι from *ὑμνέουσαι (423).

In lyric passages, the language receives a superficial Doric coloring by substituting Doric ᾱ for η, when the η represents an original ᾱ of early Greek. For example, in one lyric section in Medea, we find δύστανος for δύστηνος (96b), ὀλοίμαν for ὀλοίμην (98), τλάμων for τλήμων (111), ματρός for μητρός (113), φωνάν for φωνήν (131), βοάν for βοήν (131), κεφαλᾶς for κεφαλῆς (144), καταλυσαίμαν for καταλυσαίμην (146), βιοτάν for βιοτήν (162), and ἐνδησαμένα for ἐνδησαμένη (162).

Words that are not native to Attic may appear solely in their Doric form, even in dialogue. For example: ὀπᾱδός (53), ἕκᾱτι (281), κυνᾱγός (Hipp. 1397), λοχᾱγός (Tro. 1260).

For metrical convenience, an epicism may be used for the common form of a word. For example: πτόλις for πόλις (Andr. 699), ἀπτολέμους for ἀπολέμους (643).


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