I.1 General introduction

§1. The study of ancient Greek particles has been an integral part of the study of the Greek language from its earliest beginnings. Among the first parts of speech to be distinguished in Greek scholarship were the σύνδεσμοι (“combiners”), which include the later category of particles. [1] In the Renaissance, Matthaeus Devarius – a Greek scholar working in Rome – published a monograph on particles only sixteen years after Estienne’s Thesaurus Linguae Graecae, [2] and in the nineteenth century many great German philologists devoted considerable attention to particles and their forms, functions, and meanings. [3] In the second half of the twentieth century Greek particles have returned to scholarly attention, partly as a result of the developments in contemporary linguistics. In the Emmy-Noether project “The Pragmatic Functions and Meanings of Ancient Greek Particles,” carried out in the Classics department of the University of Heidelberg (2010-2015), we have traced more than two millennia of research on Greek particles, and taken stock of current work on particles, both within and beyond ancient Greek. Building on the foundations of this scholarship, in this monograph we undertake an analysis of particle use across five genres of ancient Greek discourse: epic, lyric, tragedy, comedy, and historiography.

1.1 The extent of the project

§2. The genres listed above are represented by the following works: for epic, Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey; [4] for lyric, Pindar’s Victory Odes; for tragedy, Aeschylus’ Agamemnon, Libation Bearers, and Persians, Sophocles’ Ajax, Antigone, and Oedipus King, and Euripides’ Bacchae, Hippolytus, and Medea; for comedy, Aristophanes’ Birds, Frogs, and Lysistrata; and for historiography, the Histories of Herodotus and Thucydides. [5] The selected corpus entails limitation: on the one hand it does not represent any of the genres completely, while on the other hand it excludes important genres of the Archaic and Classical periods, such as iambos, philosophical discourse, and oratory. Even so, the range of authors and texts we focus on represents complete and well-studied examples of five genres, it includes both poetry and prose, and it covers Greek literature from the earliest source (Homer) to the middle of the Classical period (Aristophanes). Thus, our corpus gives a representative cross-section of early Greek discourse, while at the same time comprising texts of each genre that are large enough to better understand the influence of genre on particle use.
§3. In practice, we are concerned especially with the particles that occur most frequently in our corpus. We consider particles both on their own and as components of different combinations, some of which have come to serve a new function (clusters). [6] Our analyses range from global, such as frequency patterns in different genres and discourse situations, to local, in the form of close readings of individual passages. The local and global dimensions of our research complement and inform one another. Finally, where relevant we address questions of textual criticism and diachronic development. However, our focus throughout is on the synchronic functions of a certain particle or particle combinations, across different genres, authors, contexts, and co-texts.

1.2 Goals

§4. Particles are pervasive in Greek literature, and the attentive reader knows how important they are for interpretation. In this work we offer new tools for making sense of these words. The readings we propose point to multiple phenomena that impact the force [7] of particles and particle combinations.
§5. This work has the following metascientific, theoretical, and analytic goals. Metascientifically, we aim to reveal the wealth of particle studies up to the present. No fewer than fourteen monographs on Greek particles have appeared between 1588 and 1995, [8] not to mention the hundreds of insights in dedicated articles as well as entries in grammars, thesauruses, and lexica.
§6. On the theoretical level, we aim to raise awareness of dimensions of language besides the syntactic organization of texts and the semantics of their content. We pursue this goal by paying attention to a wider range of parameters than is usual when segmenting and interpreting classical texts, for example the communicative strategies, cognitive processes, and interactional dynamics of language production.
§7. Analytically, we believe that it is important to take a holistic view of particles and particle combinations. By this we mean that in our analyses we intend to study particles in situ, within their co-text (co-occurring verbal features) and context, in order to identify and explain patterns of particle use. By context we mean the extralinguistic factors that influence the discourse in question, such as the occasion, the historical background, the explicit and implicit participants, and the speaker or writer’s attitudes towards the subject. In particular, we explore how the particles relate to the most global contextual factor of genre: their use can be connected to the overarching goals and formal conventions of epic, lyric, tragedy, comedy, and historiography.

1.3 The term “particle”

§8. The term “particle” is potentially infelicitous, but we have chosen to employ it nonetheless. In the current section we first outline the problems of the term, and then explain our reasons for keeping it. Cross-linguistically, the lexical category “particles” is ill-defined. [9] It is insufficient to say that particles are indeclinable, since many adverbs and prepositions are too. [10] The fact that many particles are monosyllabic is likewise not a defining quality: there are disyllabic particles, and many other kinds of words can be monosyllabic. Attempting to define them functionally would be an improvement, as by saying that particles do not contribute propositional meaning—they do not add content. However, particles can contribute to propositional meaning, and other words can work non-propositionally (e.g. sentence adverbs). As a result, the boundaries of the category we call particles are fuzzy.
§9. In the study of ancient Greek, a group of words has formed the core of the group of “particles” from the earliest scholarship, at which point all such function words, mainly including adverbs and conjunctions, were known as “combiners” (σύνδεσμοι). [11] Renaissance scholars retrieved the notion of σύνδεσμοι, and progressively refined and delimited it, by producing a more or less fixed list of particulae that we have inherited. [12]
§10. We have decided to retain the word “particle” instead of choosing some other term for the following reasons. First, “particle” is neutral with respect to the notions “conjunctions” and “adverbs.” We want to explore the relationship between the connective and adverbial functions of particles in a pragmatic perspective (as the next section clarifies), instead of regarding their syntactic role as either conjunctions or adverbs their raison d’être. Second, “particle” does not require a priori distinctions between words that have a propositional meaning and those that are only used non-propositionally. [13] On the one hand, the same lexical item can be used both propositionally and non-propositionally depending on genre or context. On the other hand, words can come to have a non-propositional value over time (e.g. τοι, ἰδού, λοιπόν). [14] Third, on a metascientific level it makes sense to retain a term that has survived centuries of scholarship, even if problems and unresolved questions continue to exist.
§11. Rather than working on a closed group of lexical items, we focus on particles in terms of a core and a periphery. The core consists of the list inherited from earlier scholarship, of which we have selected those that are most frequent in our corpus. The periphery potentially includes all other words or phrases that work non-propositionally in our corpus. By extension, discussions of other adverbials, connectives, and phrases used as metalanguage are mostly subsidiary, and our analyses primarily concern the “core” particles, such as δή and τε.

1.4 The discourse approach: key concepts

§12. Central to our monograph is the concept of discourse. This concept is anchored by the following key ideas: discourse is always situated, because it coincides with real utterances produced by people; [15] discourse is a process rather than an object, because it involves the negotiation of meaning; [16] discourse is often multimodal, an interaction between verbal and nonverbal media. [17] In line with these ideas, we regard discourse as a comprehensive concept. Additionally, we regard it as a superordinate concept: with respect to questions that are familiar to classical philologists and literary critics, “discourse” encompasses varieties in literary genre, in register, and in the level of textualization of works, [18] as well as poetry-prose distinctions.
§13. In our research, then, we apply Discourse Analysis, which in the words of Brown and Yule (1983:1), is “the analysis of language in use.” This kind of analysis does not restrict itself to formal properties of language: it considers language’s functions and manners in an effort to integrate the many ways in which utterances encode meanings. [19] A distinctive characteristic of Discourse Analysis is the consideration of language above the sentence level, that is, consideration of continuous blocks of texts on a larger scale. [20]
§14. The general perspective that informs Discourse Analysis is the pragmatic perspective on language. Pragmatics is “a general cognitive, social, and cultural perspective on linguistic phenomena in relation to their usage in forms of behaviour” (Verschueren 1999:7). Pragmatic analyses pay particular attention to two general phenomena: the ways in which the nonverbal context influences the syntactic and semantic choices of speakers, and the ways in which things are meant without being explicitly said. In other words, a pragmatic perspective illuminates the “how” rather than the “what” of messages. [21]
§15. The how of messages can be conveyed through something called metalanguage: in contrast to language, whose objects of reference are unrestricted, metalanguage is confined to communication about language itself, “about the process of using language” (Maschler 2009:1). A common conjunction like “and” can achieve a metalinguistic goal, in certain contexts:
1. Yesterday we went to the movies and afterwards we went to the pub for a beer.
2. Why didn’t Peter show up? And, where were you that night?
Van Dijk 1979:450
While in 1. “and” connects states of affairs (going to the movies and going to the pub), in 2. “and” connects the actions of the speaker (hence the metalinguistic value). Those actions consist in asking two questions that appear to have a joint purpose. Ancient Greek particles and particle combinations prototypically encode metalinguistic functions and meanings. Our chapters shed light on how particles signal, for instance, how the discourse is going to proceed, how traditional content is recalled, how accounts are segmented into manageable pieces, and how internal speakers exploit metalanguage. All these considerations illustrate the “doing of saying,” to recall Austin’s famous claim: [22] particles reflect metalinguistic action by marking, for example, narrative expansions and closings, or the insertion of evaluative or emotional comments.
§16. Discourse Analysis and pragmatics are particularly well-suited to the study of particles, as particles tend to be syntactically irrelevant and semantically unstable. Ancient Greek grammarians speak of the δύναμις (“force”) of combiners, rendered in later Latin works as the vis and potestas of particles. These terms convey the intangible quality of the discursive contribution of particles—what we regard as their elusive power to imply things left unsaid, as well as speakers’ ability of doing by saying.
§17. The pragmatic perspective is relevant to any type of text, including those that were meant to be read silently. Literary texts undoubtedly are actual language, not an abstract and atemporal set of linguistic forms. All texts reveal a complex interlacing between verbal and nonverbal elements that encode meanings. The pragmatic approach is especially useful for studying texts designed for performance, because of the prominence of nonverbal meanings, and the fact that performed language is embodied.

1.5 A discourse approach to ancient Greek particles

§18. From a discourse perspective, the ill-defined nature of the term “particle” may yield theoretical advances. Language use is not black and white: categories usually have fuzzy boundaries. The interface between the non-propositional and propositional values of the individual items indicates multifunctionality, and points to the essential fact that they work together with other words to signify (συσσημαίνειν). [23] Our approach is therefore the opposite of a lexicographic one, which attaches specific meanings to individual lexical items. On the contrary, particles can only express specific meanings in constructions together with other linguistic or situational features: particles in isolation are not “explanatory,” “indignant,” “progressive,” or the like. Moreover, a lexicographic approach would be limiting from the outset, because it is based on classifications that do not hold up in actual discourse.
§19. One important situation to consider is when a particle’s co-text includes another particle, in which case we speak of particle combinations. Whenever the function of a particle combination cannot be explained as a sum of its component parts’ functions, we call it a cluster. In these cases the different particles have a joint pragmatic function. An example is καὶ δὴ καί in several instances in Herodotus. In other cases, adjacent particles each have separate functions, as with καὶ γάρ in Homeric poetry.
§20. One of the features of the co-text that are essential for a particle’s interpretation is its position. The reason is that the position of a particle may be linked to its scope. By scope we mean the extent of discourse over which a particle’s contribution has effect. [24] When a particle is found in its first possible position – i.e. at the very start for prepositives such as ἀλλά, ἦ, or καί, or in peninitial position for postpositives such as γε, δέ, or μέν – it tends to have scope over its host unit. [25] Some particles (for example γε, δή, and καί) can also have smaller scope, over only an adjacent word or phrase; this is the most likely reading when those particles occur in a later position in a clause. In combination with other features, particles may also mark major transitions, or project large discourse units. Examples are γάρ marking the start of a new section in Thucydides, or οὖν marking a preliminary question in dramatic dialogue.
§21. The effect of a particle with small scope may have been partly prosodic, lending emphasis to the adjacent word. In fact, although particles are a verbal component of the ancient Greek language, several of their functions coincide with functions that in modern languages are fulfilled through paralinguistic means. That is, some of their functions may be best rendered in spoken English by intonation, while in written language they may be represented in the form of punctuation.

1.6 Guiding questions

§22. The following questions exemplify the key concepts, methodology, and approach that we have outlined in this introduction. These are questions we have asked ourselves individually and as a group, benefiting from an ongoing dialectic, which in turn has led us to further questions. Each time we have encountered a particle or particle combination in a new passage, and each time we have examined a stretch of text containing multiple particles, our primary question has been, what is going on in the discourse? This ranges from the level of the co-text to that of the context, and also to the overarching issues of genre.
  • Which linguistic features co-occur? In particular, are other pragmatically relevant elements, such as tense or anaphoric markers, co-present? [26] What does the whole co-signify?
  • What communicative goal lies behind the current stretch of discourse?
  • What is the scope of the particle(s)?
  • Who is involved in the current piece of communication (speaking ‘I’, addressees, interlocutors, co-present characters)?
  • Does the passage in question resonate with a preceding or following excerpt (not necessarily contiguous)? If so, what are the similarities and differences?
  • Does the current stretch of discourse have an expected or projected place in some large-scale pattern, such as a conversational sequence, a script, an argumentative scheme, or a generic topos?
  • To which macro-genre and to which sub-genre (if any) does the current discourse belong?
  • How is this communicative place realized in other works or in other parts of the same work?
  • Are there any linguistic patterns that recur in parallel examples? Can patterns and parallel examples illuminate ad hoc philological issues?
  • How do the same particles make sense in different genres?
It is through continual discussion and comparison of evidence that we have approached the effort to answer our overriding question: “what is here the discourse function of particle X?”

1.7 Outline of the work

§23. The monograph consists of five parts: I. Foundations; II. Particle Use in Homer and Pindar; III. Particle Use in Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, and Aristophanes; IV. Particle Use in Herodotus and Thucydides; V. Online Repository of Particle Studies (ORPS). The first part includes this general introduction, a chapter on particle studies from ancient scholarship to the Renaissance, a chapter on current approaches to particles and discourse markers, and the general conclusions. The second, third, and fourth parts explore co-textual and contextual phenomena associated with particles in epic and lyric, in tragedy and comedy, and in historiography. The final part (V) gathers summaries of the modern (post-1500) research on twelve particles, and is meant to be a searchable database.

1.7.1 Part I

§24. Soon after the classical period, many of the particles used in Homeric and Classical poetry had ceased to be current and begged explanation. Starting with the scholia to the Iliad, chapter I.2 (From σύνδεσμος to particula, by Mark de Kreij) tracks the history of the study of particles through early grammars, rhetorical works, and lexica, ranging from the third century BCE to the late Middle Ages. Although these early authors often employed different terms, or eschewed technical terminology altogether, many salient observations in modern literature can in fact be traced far back in time.
§25. Modern languages contain many lexical items that function similarly to Greek particles. These items – variously designated by terms such as “discourse markers,” “pragmatic markers,” and “discourse particles” – have been extensively studied in different theoretical frameworks. Our understanding of what writers and (represented) speakers do with Greek particles greatly profits from these studies, as they draw attention to different aspects of communication. Chapter I.3 (Approaches to particles and discourse markers, by Annemieke Drummen) discusses selected approaches and their application in the study of ancient Greek particles.

1.7.2 Part II

§26. In this part, particles are considered from the perspective of performance of epic and lyric. Chapters II.2 (Discourse acts) and II.3 (Moves) are devoted to the segmentation of discourse on a local and global level. Discourse proceeds in small steps, discourse acts, which are a crucial domain of particle analysis (II.2). Acts are equally important for understanding the hexameter verses of epic and the flow of lyric song. When groups of acts share a center of interest, they form larger segments of discourse called moves. These moves can take the form of embedded narratives or episodes within stories, but also include Pindaric gnômai and other metanarrative comments. Particles form an important part of the metalinguistic tools at the performer’s disposal when negotiating transitions between such moves in the discourse (II.3).
§27. Performer and audience are participants in an interaction, and parts of a larger culture and tradition. It is the performer’s task to maintain the body of inherited knowledge shared with the listener that reaches beyond the current discourse: the Homeric and Pindaric performances are always moments in the continuum of tradition. Existing and emergent assumptions about this shared knowledge, or discourse memory, are reflected in particle use (II.4: Discourse memory). One aspect of the negotiation of shared knowledge is the process of referent tracking, the cognitive activity of the audience to keep track of the characters in a discourse. A performer of epic and lyric employs multiple forms of anaphoric reference along with different particles to guide the listener in this process (II.5: Particles and anaphoric reference).

1.7.3 Part III

§28. The communication represented in dramatic texts provides a unique opportunity to investigate dialogic features of language use. Visible in the texts are linguistic reflections of the live interaction that occurred among different speakers co-present on stage. At the same time, each play consists of various parts that are situationally as well as linguistically quite diverse. These play-internal differences are explored in chapter III.2 (Varying one’s speech: Discourse patterns). For particle interpretation it is essential to know in which communicative situation a particle is usually found, and which features tend to co-occur.
§29. Chapters III.3 (Reusing others’ words: Resonance) and III.4 (Speaking in turns: Conversation Analysis) focus on the plays’ dialogic parts, applying different pragmatic frameworks that were originally developed for the analysis of modern spoken language. The process of resonance (III.3) concerns how playwrights and characters reuse verbal elements for specific pragmatic goals. Particles may indicate how such echoes are intended, or they may be echoed themselves. Conversation Analysis (III.4) investigates the structures and rules of dialogic interaction – essential determinants for understanding particles in drama. For example, the interpretation of particles depends on their position in a turn of speaking, in a pair of initiating and reacting turns, and in a series of such pairs. Finally, chapter III.5 (Reflecting emotional states of mind: Calmness versus agitation) discusses how particle use, together with other linguistic features, reflects a character’s calm or agitated state of mind.

1.7.4 Part IV

§30. The shaping of the historiographical texts of Herodotus and Thucydides does not depend on meter, music, and the physical presence of actors on stage. In order to articulate discourse, the two historiographers rely on resources that are more closely bound to the verbal level of communication. Still, there is the possibility that Herodotus’ Histories were publicly delivered; in that case several linguistic features would facilitate the aural processing of discourse. However minor the degree of performativeness may be, particles in Herodotean and Thucydidean discourse are hinges between content and its presentation. Some of their functions can be compared to those of paralinguistic marking, and often encode metalanguage.
§31. Chapter IV.2 (Multifunctionality of δέ, τε, and καί) discusses a major device for narrative progress in historiography: and-connectives. When observed in situ, δέ, τε, and καί in each work reveal a range of functions that is wider and subtler than what is commonly assumed. The syntactic dichotomy between conjunctions and adverbs can be overcome by the idea of a continuum from propositional to pragmatically enriched meanings. Chapter IV.3 (Discourse segmentation) sets forth first the relationship between prosody and punctuation, and the main differences between ancient and modern punctuation of ancient Greek texts. It also recalls ancient views on kôla and kómmata, together with the contemporary revival of the notion of prose colometry. The second part of the chapter focuses on the crucial role of particles and other linguistic features in identifying potential discourse acts and moves. Chapter IV.4 (Tracking voice and stance) analyzes occurrences of particles that mark one or more components of stance, that is, positioning, evaluating, and aligning. Ironic and polyphonic readings are investigated, as well as the contribution of particles to authorial assessments. Finally, chapter IV.5 offers a close reading of four excerpts (a narrative section and a speech for each author); it combines attention to segmentation, to voice and stance, and to and-coordination.

1.7.5 Part V (available online)

§32. The body of literature on particles before and after Denniston 1934 is much larger than most recent literature seems to be aware of. Notes on particles in modern commentaries tend to refer to Denniston first and foremost, and rarely to older or even to more recent works. A reason for this unduly limited focus may well be the lack of accessibility of the older studies on particles. Our online guides to particle scholarship were conceived with a view toward filling this gap in collective knowledge. They include all the discussions that we have been able to trace, from early modern scholarship to the most recent publications, concerning twelve of the most frequent or opaque particles in our corpus (ἀλλά, ἄρα/ἆρα, γάρ, γε, δέ, δή, ἦ, καί, μέν, μήν (μέν/μάν), οὖν (ὦν), τε) along with their combinations.
§33. The repository is ordered chronologically per particle and completely searchable. This organization allows for diachronic research (studies on a certain particle through time), synchronic research (studies on different particles by the same scholar), and associative research (study of a certain term, author, or combination within the scholarship on one particle or multiple particles).


[ back ] 1. Aristotle, Poetics 1456b20-21, see I.2.4 for the earliest scholarship on σύνδεσμοι.
[ back ] 2. Estienne 1572a-d and Devarius 1588.
[ back ] 3. E.g. Gottfried Hermann, August Immanuel Bekker, and Karl Brugmann.
[ back ] 4. For some quantitative analyses we have limited ourselves to a selection of four books of the Iliad and four books of the Odyssey.
[ back ] 5. For some quantitative analyses we have limited ourselves to a selection of the first two books of Herodotus’ Histories and the first two books of Thucydides’ Histories.
[ back ] 6. See below, §19.
[ back ] 7. See below, §16.
[ back ] 8. Devarius 1588, Hoogeveen 1769, Hartung 1832-33, Stephens 1837, Bäumlein 1861, Paley 1881, Des Places 1929, Denniston 1950 [1934], Labéy 1950, Thrall 1962, Blomqvist 1969, Thyresson 1977, Van Ophuijsen and Sicking 1993, and Redondo Moyano 1995.
[ back ] 9. See I.3 for a more elaborate discussion of the problems in definition in contemporary linguistics.
[ back ] 10. For example, in Indo-European linguistics the term covers all indeclinable parts of language, such as affixes, suffixes, and prepositions.
[ back ] 11. A recent team project carried out in Spain on ancient Greek has given the title “Conjunctive Adverbs” to its research (see Crespo 2009). Their idea that there is something between adverbs and conjunctions harmonizes with the ancient unifying notion of “combiners.”
[ back ] 12. The particles discussed by Bäumlein 1861 and Denniston 1934 (first edition of The Greek Particles) represent the core of the group of words currently regarded as particles.
[ back ] 13. It is primarily for this reason that we do not view particles as fully coinciding with “discourse markers”: as I.3 illustrates, discourse markers are typically defined on the basis of their non-propositional value.
[ back ] 14. See Cavallin 1941 for an analysis of (τὸ) λοιπόν as a word with non-propositional value.
[ back ] 15. This is the approach favored by Schiffrin in her 1994 monograph (Approaches to Discourse).
[ back ] 16. See Widdowson 1995:164.
[ back ] 17. “Multimodal discourse” appears first in Kress and Van Leeuwen 2001.
[ back ] 18. In Ong’s terms (1984:5) textualization starts “when someone devises a way of putting the words of a language into a script.”
[ back ] 19. Lakoff 2003 claims that Discourse Analysis has to rest on an interdisciplinary theory and method, from fields such as cognitive studies and socio-linguistics, as well as syntax and semantics.
[ back ] 20. Discourse Analysis shares this attention to blocks of discourse with narratology, a method that has been ever more prevalent in the study of ancient texts (e.g. De Jong 1987, 2001, (ed.) 2007, (ed.) 2012; Grethlein and Rengakos (eds.) 2009).
[ back ] 21. An aspect of the “how” of messages concerns the Topic and the Focus relations between words, which has been explored in several works on ancient Greek sentences (e.g. Dik 1995 and 2007; Scheppers 2011).
[ back ] 22. How to do things with words, Austin 1962.
[ back ] 23. The term συσσημαίνειν (“co-signifying”) is used by Apollonius Dyscolus and by Heliodorus when discussing σύνδεσμοι; see I.2 §§61, 64n131, and 83.
[ back ] 24. We discuss the scope of all particles according to this broad definition of “scope.” Other scholars call a specific group of particles “scope particles”; see, e.g., Van Emde Boas et al. 2019:692-694; Sicking 1986:125, 135, 138; Wakker 1994:307-342, 363-364.
[ back ] 25. Chapter II.2 shows that the host unit need not be a syntactic clause, but can also be a phrase.
[ back ] 26. The discourse sensitivity of tense is explored, for example, in Bakker 2007 and in Adema 2008; that of anaphoric choices is explored, for example, in Kroon 2009 and in Bonifazi 2012. In general, our approach subscribes Bakker’s (2010b) claim that the pragmatic dimension of ancient Greek texts is crucial—he points out in particular the importance of phenomena such as deixis, the anaphoric use of pronouns, and tense.