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Discovering Ancient Greek and Latin
Discovering Ancient Greek and Latin

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8.1 ‘Of’ and the genitive case

‘The daughter of Kadmos’ in Euripides’ Bacchae is ἡ Κάδμου κόρη (hē Kadmou korē), literally ‘the of Kadmos daughter’. There is no Greek word for ‘of’ here. Instead, the -ου (-ou) ending of the word Kadmos signals the relationship between ‘Kadmos’ and ‘daughter’. The ‘of’ relationship is frequently one of ownership, although here it is the relationship between a father and a daugher.

Here are some more examples:

Examples

  • Διὸς παῖς (Dios pais) – son of Zeus
  • τήνδε Θηβαίων χθόνα (tēnde Thēbaiōn chthona) – this land of Thebans
  • βασιλεὺς βασιλέων (basileus basileōn) – king of kings
  • Παῦλος δοῦλος θεοῦ, ἀπόστολος Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ Paulos doulos theou, apostolos Iēsou Christou – Paul, slave of god, apostle of Jesus Christ (Paul’s Letter to Titus, 1.1).

Unusually, English can also express this ‘of’ relationship through a change of ending. If we were referring to ‘the daughter of Martha’, we might choose to say ‘Martha’s daughter’, with an apostrophe followed by the letter ‘s’ tacked onto the end of the word ‘Martha’. This is a rare instance of English working just like Greek by modifying the ending of a word.

The genitive case

These endings are examples of the genitive case. Although the genitive case has a range of meanings, it is helpful when beginning Greek to think of it as the ‘of’ case.

Caution

English uses ‘of’ in a wider range of situations than Greek

  • I speak of many things

Note that ‘of’ in the above example does not express a relationship between two nouns. Instead it relates closely to the verb ‘speak’ and is similar in meaning to ‘about’.

Practice

Activity 38: the genitive case

In the following phrases, which noun would be in the genitive case in Greek?

Part a)

a) ‘Penelope, wife of Odysseus’

a. 

Penelope


b. 

wife


c. 

Odysseus


The correct answer is c.

Answer

Odysseus (Ὀδυσσέυς) would be in the genitive case:

Πηνελοπεία Ὀδυσσέως γυνή (Pēnelopeia Odysseōs gynē).

Part b)

b) The houses of Hades

a. 

houses


b. 

Hades


The correct answer is b.

Answer

Hades would be in the genitive case.

δόμοι Ἅιδου (domoi Haidou)

Part c)

c) ‘Caesar Augustus, son of a god’ [‘god’ being a reference to Augustus’ adoptive father, the deified Julius Caesar]

a. 

Caesar


b. 

Augustus


c. 

son


d. 

god


The correct answer is d.

Discussion

‘God’ would be in the genitive case.

Καῖσαρ Σεβαστός, θεοῦ υἱός (Kaisar Sebastos, theou huios)