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I'm following an ancient Teach Yourself Ancient Greek course. This is from a (presumably highly simplified) version of Xenophon's account of Spartan education:

βελτιον γαρ ἐστιν, ὡς φασιν, ὀλιγον χρονον ἀλγησαντα, πολυν χρονον εὐδοκιμουντα εὐφραινεσθαι.

This book's explanation of the participles ἀλγησαντα (and εὐδοκιμουντα as well, I surmise) is as follows:

ἀλγησαντα is accusative, agreeing with "one" understood, and subject of εὐφραινεσθαι. "It is better, as they say, for one having suffered a short time (acc.) to enjoy having a good reputation for a long time". This is called the accusative and infinitive construction, and corresponds to a noun clause in English.

Firstly, unless I'm much mistaken, ἀλγησαντα is acc. m. s. (could be nom./acc. n. pl. but the explanation seems to say not). So why is it described as the "subject" of εὐφραινεσθαι, rather than its "object"? Also, εὐφραινεσθαι means "to enjoy", so I'm a bit baffled that you would "enjoy suffering" (although can't rule it out, given the notoriously kinky nature of the Spartans generally). Also, the English translation given by the author does not have "having suffered" as the subject/object of "to enjoy" and thus seems at variance with the explanation.

Clearly though, there does appear to be a sense of "better it is X ... in order to Y" conveyed by the entire sentence, though I'm not clear whether "in order to" is entirely implicit from "βελτιον ἐστιν...[participle 1], [participle 2]" or conveyed by some other element here.

But can someone say why these participles are in the acc. m. s. (if indeed they are)? What then is the implicit subject in the case of ἀλγησαντα: is it (a masculine) "one" as the book says? And what has turned it accusative?

I've also found what I hope is the real text, from here.

...καὶ ὡς πλείστους δὴ ἁρπάσαι τυροὺς παρ’ Ὀρθίας καλὸν θείς, μαστιγοῦν τούτους ἄλλοις ἐπέταξε, τοῦτο δηλῶσαι καὶ ἐν τούτῳ βουλόμενος ὅτι ἔστιν ὀλίγον χρόνον ἀλγήσαντα πολὺν χρόνον εὐδοκιμοῦντα εὐφραίνεσθαι.

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  • It mentions that in the paragraph, but more forcefully put by Smyth: "In general the subject of the infinitive, if expressed at all, stands in the accusative." Which TY Greek book are you using?
    – cmw
    Dec 17, 2022 at 18:28
  • Thanks. Teach Yourself Greek, Kinchin Smith and Melluish, first published ... 1947. But I don't quite understand why ἀλγησαντα would be the subject/object (surely object??) of the infinitive εὐφραινεσθαι. Unless the latter were to mean something more like "to experience"... Dec 17, 2022 at 18:43
  • ἀλγησαντα being the subject of εὐφραινεσθαι doesn't mean that suffering is what is being enjoyed (especially since ἀλγησαντα is in the aorist and therefore prior to the enjoying); εὐδοκιμουντα is what (or really how) is being enjoyed. The translation is a very close match to the Greek.
    – Cairnarvon
    Dec 17, 2022 at 20:54
  • Ah, aorist! The thing is, I can't find this verb, or this inflection of it, anywhere in Wiktionary (or a verb table for it anywhere on the Net). So I had surmised that it was in fact a future participle, due to the presence of the σ. Not that I understood what a future participle would be doing there... If it is aorist that changes quite a bit. Dec 18, 2022 at 8:33
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    If you don't know about it yet, the Perseus morphological analyser is very useful: perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/morph
    – Cairnarvon
    Dec 20, 2022 at 12:56

1 Answer 1

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Also, εὐφραινεσθαι means "to enjoy", so I'm a bit baffled that you would "enjoy suffering" (although can't rule it out, given the notoriously kinky nature of the Spartans generally).

A masculine participle wouldn't be used as an abstract noun. You'd need a neuter for that. And it wouldn't be aorist and be translating as "suffering" anyway. The subject is implied, but it refers to the one who is caught stealing: "the one who suffered for a short time..."

Greek has few ways to express the noun clause here. It could begin the clause with ὡς or ὅτι, the subject would be nominative and the main verb would conjugate. But Greek can also do what your book calls an accusative and infinitive construction, where instead of ὡς or ὅτι the subject of the clause is accusative and the verb is infinitive. In English, it's roughly analogous to "I want the house to be built soon" (except, of course, English nouns no longer inflect for case).

You actually get both in the original passage!

δηλῶσαι...ὅτι ἔστιν (to show that it is [better]) ὀλίγον χρόνον ἀλγήσαντα (that one, having suffered for a short time) πολὺν χρόνον εὐδοκιμοῦντα εὐφραίνεσθαι (enjoys having a good reputation for a long time).

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  • Thanks. I find the original, as explained by you, a little easier to get my head around than the Greek version given by the author of my book. The original seems to say "to show that preferring (βουλόμενος) that ... having suffered for a short time ... ". Though I still find the whole thing quite challenging. As is a frequent occurrence at my level. Dec 18, 2022 at 8:52

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