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The first sentence of the Apology of Socrates is:

Ὅτι μὲν ὑμεῖς, ὦ ἄνδρες Άθηναῖοι, πεπόνθατε ὑπὸ τῶν ἐμῶν κατηγόρων, οὐκ οἶδα· ἐγὼ δ' οὖν καὶ αὐτὸς ὑπ' αὐτῶν ὀλίγου ἐμαυτοῦ ἐπελαθόμην, οὕτω πιθανῶς ἔλεγον.

I've seen several different translations for the phrase ὀλίγου ἐμαυτοῦ ἐπελαθόμην:

  • I almost forgot myself.
  • I was almost carried away with myself.
  • I almost didn't recognize myself.
  • I almost forgot who I was.

What is he actually saying?

In context—"How you felt about the prosecution I don't know; as for me, they were so convincing that I almost ______, and yet almost nothing they said was true"—the most rhetorically logical thing for it to mean is something like "I almost forgot that I am who I am instead of who they said I am." But my view of what's logical and what Plato actually wrote don't necessarily have anything to do with each other.

In case it's helpful to know when answering, I know very little Greek—certainly not enough to read this sentence if I hadn't read it already years ago when I knew more than I do today. I know that ἐμαυτοῦ means "of myself" and λανθάνομαι is middle and means "I escape the notice of," though I'm not sure what flavor the prefix ἐπι adds. [EDIT: I see from Alex B's comment that λανθάνω, the active, rather than the middle that Socrates uses, is actually "I escape the notice of."] In the dictionaries I looked in, there was no entry for the verb as a reflexive.

Thoughts?

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    Might one read this as "I almost forgot about my own position"? – Cerberus Sep 25 '17 at 6:53
  • Oh, that makes a lot of sense—like, I almost forgot I was sitting in a courtroom on trial for my life. – Joel Derfner Sep 25 '17 at 9:08
  • This question was flagged as off-topic. I remind everyone that our tour, topic help page and meta discussions indicate that Greek is on-topic. – Joonas Ilmavirta Sep 26 '17 at 7:36
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Ἐμαυτοῦ is straightforward: it's a genitive singular reflexive pronoun, "of myself".

Ἐπελαθόμην is more interesting. This is the first-person singular aorist active indicative of ἐπι-λανθάνομαι. Λανθάνομαι means "to forget", but I've never seen this verb with the prefix ἐπι before, and LSJ doesn't even have an entry for it. However, there is an adjective ἐπίληθος, "causing to forget" with a genitive object (compare Λήθη). So the prefix doesn't seem to change the meaning significantly, and seems to just be intensive.

So I would translate this literally as "I really forgot myself", or more idiomatically "I really forgot who I was".

(PS: while the active λανθάνω does mean "to escape the notice of", the middle λανθάνομαι has the different meaning of "forget" in Classical times.)

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    Thanks so much. Where do you get the "really" from? – Joel Derfner Sep 25 '17 at 1:34
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    @JoelDerfner When a prefix doesn't seem to change the meaning of a word at all, I tend to treat it as intensive. – Draconis Sep 25 '17 at 1:40
  • LSJ does have an entry, but it's under ἐπιλήθω. For the middle they give the translation "let a thing escape one, forget, lose thought of", citing this Plato passage for this sense. (It doesn't seem to have an intensive sense -- it's just the normal way of saying "forget".) – TKR Aug 15 '18 at 4:06
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Montanari (an iPad app, in Italian) - you will need sense 2 medio (2 middle: forget, forget about); also available online in English (subscription only). It's called the middle voice.

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  • Montanari has an English translation now published by Brill (just a couple years ago). – C. M. Weimer Sep 24 '17 at 23:46
  • @C.M.Weimer I know! I have both the hardcover and the online version. – Alex B. Sep 25 '17 at 0:17

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