CRITICAL POST! Progressive Linear B grammar: active thematic aorist infinitives in Mycenaean Linear B: Phase 3

With the addition of this table of active thematic aorist infinitives:


we have completed the first 3 stages in the reconstruction of the grammar of natural Mycenaean Greek as it was spoken between ca. 1600 (or earlier) and 1200 BCE. These stages are: 1. the present infinitive 2. the future infinitive & 3. the aorist infinitive. Although there were other infinitives in ancient Greek, they were rarely used, and so we are omitting them from our progressive grammar.

While it is a piece of cake to physically form the aorist infinitive either in ancient alphabetic Greek or in Mycenaean Linear B, the same cannot be said for the innate meaning of the aorist infinitive. What does it signify? Why would anyone even bother with a past infinitive when a present one does just fine? What are the distinctions between the present, future and aorist infinitives in ancient Greek and in Mycenaean Linear B?


What is the meaning of the aorist infinitive or, put another way, what does it signify?

While the use of the present infinitive corresponds exactly with infinitives in almost all other Occidental languages, ancient and modern, the same cannot be said of the future and aorist infinitives in ancient Greek and Mycenaean, for which there are, in so far as I know, no equivalents in modern Centum languages.

The impact of understanding the future infinitive on grasping the aorist in ancient Greek.

First, the future infinitive. We feel obliged to review its function in order to prepare you for the even more esoteric aorist infinitive. The future infinitive is used when the sentence is in either the present or the future. How can it be used with a verb in the present tense? The reason is relatively straightforward to grasp. If the speaker or writer wishes to convey that he or she expects or intends the infinitive modifying the principle verb to take effect immediately, then the infinitive too must be in the present tense. But if the same author  expects or intends the action the infinitive conveys to take place in the (near) future, then the infinitive must be future, even though the main verb is in the present tense.  The distinction is subtle but critical to the proper meaning or intent of any Greek sentence employing a future infinitive with a verb in the present tense. The best way to illustrate this striking feature of ancient Greek is with English language parallels, as we did in the post on future infinitives. But to make matters as clear as possible, we repeat, here in the present tense, the 2 sentences I previously posted in Latinized Linear B along with the English translation. First we have,

Konoso wanaka eqetai qe katakause etoimi eesi.
The King and his military guard are prepared to set about burning Knossos to the ground.
Compare this with:
Konoso wanaka eqetai qe katakaue etoimi eesi.
The King and his military guard are prepared to burn Knossos to the ground. 

In the first instance, the subjects (King and military guard) are prepared to raze Knossos in the near future, but not right away. This why I have translated the infinitive katakause as – to set about burning Knossos to the ground.

But in the second case, the King and his military guard are prepared to burn Knossos to the ground immediately. The future does not even enter into the equation.

In the second example, we have:

Wanaka tekotono wanakatero peraise poroesetai.
The King is allowing the carpenters to soon set about finishing the palace.
(future infinitive)... versus   
Wanaka tekotono wanakatero peraie poroesetai. (present infinitive)...
The King allows the carpenters to finish the palace. (i.e. right away).

The distinction is subtle. But if you are to understand ancient Greek infinitives, including Mycenaean, you must be able to make this distinction. The question is, why have I resorted to repeating the synopsis of the future infinitive, when clearly the subject of our present discussion is the aorist or past infinitive? The answer is... because if you cannot understand how the future infinitive works in ancient Greek and Mycenaean, then you will never grasp how the aorist infinitive functions.

What is the aorist infinitive and how does it function?

The aorist infinitive describes or delineates actions or states dependent on the main verb which have already occurred in the (recent) past. It can be used with principal verbs in the present or past (aorist or imperfect), but never with those in the future. Once again, the distinction between the present and aorist active thematic infinitives is, if anything, even subtler than is that between the future and present infinitives. Allow me to illustrate with two examples in Latinized Linear B.


Wanaka poremio taneusai edunato.
The King was in a position to have put an end to the war (clearly implying he did not put an end to it).
Note that the main verb, edunato = was able to, is itself in the past imperfect tense.  But this sentence can also be cast in the present tense, thus:

Wanaka poremio taneusai dunetai. 
The King is in a position to have put an end to the war.
In this case, the use of the aorist infinitive is not mandatory. But if it is used, it still signifies that the aorist infinitive operates in the past, and it is quite clear from the context that he could have ended the war, but never did.

Compare this with the use of the present infinitive in the same sentence. 

Wanaka poremio taneue dunetai.
The King is able to put an end to the war (immediately!)
To complicate matters even further, even if the main verb is in the simple past (aorist) or the imperfect (also a past tense), you can still use the present infinitive, as in:

Wanaka poremio taneue edunato. 
The King was able to put an end to the war (right away).
This clearly calls for the present infinitive, which always takes effect at the very same time as the primary verb.

Although the analysis and synopsis above makes perfect sense to students and researchers familiar with ancient Greek, it is difficult for newcomers to ancient Greek to grasp the first time they are confronted with it. But patience is the key here. By dint of a large number of examples, it will eventually sink in.

So as the old saying goes, do not panic!