In fragments of Sappho, we see athematic (μι-verb) forms for what Attic would call contract verbs, like φιλημ(μ)ι and καλημ(μ)ι for Attic φιλέω, καλέω.

However, authorities seem to differ on how many μ's these forms should have, as discussed in the comments here.

So, which form is more correct? And if it is indeed φιλημμι, why does this happen, and does this gemination appear in any other forms (*φιλεμμαι, *φιλησσιν)?

  • From the comments on that other question, I take it the correct form is indeed φιλημμι with two μ's, but it seemed worth putting that part into the question itself in case I'm wrong about that (because I've definitely seen it cited with a single μ).
    – Draconis
    Commented Nov 10, 2020 at 1:53

1 Answer 1


Scherer and Thumb 1959 (v.2) call this use of the geminate μμ instead of a single μ Hyperaiolismen (cf. 'hyper-Lesbian' in Miller 2014: 243 ὄρημμι).

They write that

"Nicht selten sind Hyperaiolismen im überlieferten Text in den Papyri. So galt μμ für μ anderer Dialekte (ἔμμι, ἄμμες) als “aiolisch” und wurde deswegen nach langem Vokal geschrieben, wo es metrisch nicht störte" (p. 81),

(cf. Miller 2014: 243 “the extra -μ- is inserted only after η where the meter is not affected”).

Their examples are νόημμα, κάλημμι, πόημμεν, κλᾶμμα (cf. κλῆμα) (p. 82).

Hamm 1957 writes that forms with either a geminate or single μ have been attested (those forms that have been attested in papyri are marked with an asterisk in the passage below) (Grammatik zu Sappho und Alkaios):

“ Sporadisch erscheint Verdoppelung von Nas. (Liqu.) nach langem Vokal, besonders im Suffixanlaut): 1) Am häufigsten bei -μ- nach η und ω in festen Gruppen: α) bei den Verben auf -ημι, -ωμι [...]. Häufig aber auch in gleicher Stellung einfaches μ [...]” (p. 36).

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cf. "Aeol. φίλημμι Sapph.79, cf. Ead. Oxy.1787 Fr.1 + 2.24" (from the TLG entry)

cf. Grenfell and Hunt 1922 (The Oxyrhynchus papyri. Vol.15)" “The papyrus may of course have agreed with Athen. in the spelling φίλημμ', but κάλημι is written in Fr. 44. 4” (page 42, 24-25)

also see footnote 168 (p. 172) in Blümel 1982 (Die aiolischen Dialekte : Phonologie und Morphologie der inschriftlichen Texte aus generativer Sicht), "Die Papyrus-Texte bieten in der Regel -μι [...] auch die Endung -μμι vor."

see pp. 168-169 for a conjugation paradigm proposed by Blümel 1982

Also, there is a very famous example, τάρβημ(μ)ι is found in a second-century (AD) papyrus P. Oxy. 21 2304 (see Trismegistos metadata), the text is attributed to Alcaeus. As you can see, a second μ was added by another scribe (cf. "μ von zweiter Hand über das erste μ geschrieben", Scherer and Thumb 1959, v.2, p. 102, §16a):

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Hock 1971 writes the following in section 2.10 “Is the -mm- of forms like tárbēmmi genuine?” (pp. 98-101):

  • “In a number of forms with long vowel followed by m, nonetymological doubling of the m is found, almost exclusively after ē” (p. 98);

  • “Otherwise, one finds the expected single m after long vowels” (p. 99);

  • “In addition, with the exception of pepoḗmmenais above, all middle participles have single -m-, even after ē (such as euōkhḗmenos Alc.70.5). Altogether, there are nine such forms” (p. 100);

  • “It is true, the inscriptional khrēmma might be taken as evidence that the double mm was genuine. But as long as the exact date of this inscription is not known, the possibility cannot be excluded that it is one of the late, archaizing, and often hyper-Aeolicizing inscriptions of the Roman Imperial period” (p. 100);

  • “I will therefore in the remainder of this dissertation assume that the original and genuine East Aeolic forms contained a single -m- and not a double -mm-” (p. 101).

NB: Hock, Hans Henrich. 1971. The so-called Aeolic inflection of the Greek contract verbs. Doctoral dissertation. Yale University.

And of course, as TKR correctly surmised, the -μμι forms are not attested in Aeolic inscriptions since they're 1sg. forms - cf. the following quote from Hodot 1990 (Le dialecte éolien d'Asie: La langue des inscriptions, VIIe s. a.C.-IVe s. p.C, section 5. Les présents des verba vocalia):

“les paradigmes sont toujours incomplets : par example, les inscriptions ne livrent aucune forme de premiere personne du singulier pour ces présents. Dans les hypothèses qu’induit la description, il faut se garder d’extrapoler à partir des formes attestées, comme de conclure de la non-attestation d’une forme à l’impossibilité de son existence” (p. 193).


Holt Parker (Parker 2008, p. 457, footnote 122), discussing albeit the origin of the athematic conjugation of contract verbs in Lesbian and Thessalian, makes a very important note: he says that the relevant data are complicated by a number of factors – and I think some of those confounding factors also apply to our question:

  • the literary texts of Sappho and Alcaeus: “the usual vagaries of transmission" (cf. φίλημμ' and κάλημι or the examples from Hamm above) and "the tendency of Hellenistic editors to impose a uniform “Aiolic” [sic] color” - see the τάρβημ(μ)ι example above;
  • inscriptions: "the paucity of attestation in both Lesbian and Thessalian";
  • all texts: “the forms are very limited”.

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