Discovering Ancient Greek and Latin
Discovering Ancient Greek and Latin

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Discovering Ancient Greek and Latin

10.2 Subject and object in Greek

In Greek, the subject and object are indicated not by their position in the sentence but by the ending of the word.

Κέρβερος διώκει Περσεφόνην (Kerberos diōkei Persephonēn)

Cerberus chases Persephone

In Greek the subject is placed in the nominative case, the object in the accusative case. Nouns are recorded in the dictionary in the nominative case, e.g. ‘τίμη’ (timē, ‘honour’) or ‘λόγος ’ (logos, ‘word’). Therefore if you are familiar with a Greek word, you already know its nominative singular form. Singular nouns in the accusative case in the first two declensions always end with a vowel followed by the letter ‘nu’ (ν), like Περσεφόνην (Persephonēn) in the example.

The chief use of the nominative and accusative cases is to mark subjects and objects. It is therefore helpful to think of the nominative case as the ‘subject’ case, and the ‘accusative’ case as the ‘object’ case.

Activity 48

If subjects and objects in Greek are marked by word ending rather than word order, what, if any, is the difference in meaning between the following sentences?

1. Κέρβερος Περσεφόνην διώκει (Kerberos Persephonēn diōkei.)

2. διώκει Κέρβερος Περσεφόνην (diōkei Kerberos Persephonēn.)

3. Περσεφόνην Κέρβερος διώκει (Persephonēn Kerberos diōkei.)

Answer

There is no difference of meaning because the word endings are identical in all three sentences. ‘Κέρβερος’ (Kerberos) is always the subject; ‘Περσεφόνην’ (Persephonēn) is always the object.

There may, however, be a slight change of emphasis. By shifting the object to the front, the writer of the third sentence might be trying to emphasise Persephone. You could bring this out in English by translating, ‘It is Persephone whom Cerberus chases’.

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