I was reading through Plato's (incomplete) Critias yesterday and came across the following passage:

δίκης δὴ κλήροις τὸ φίλον λαγχάνοντες κατῴκιζον τὰς χώρας, καὶ κατοικίσαντες, οἷον νομῆς ποίμνια, κτήματα καὶ θρέμματα ἑαυτῶν ἡμᾶς ἔτρεφον, πλὴν οὐ σώμασι σώματα βιαζόμενοι, καθάπερ ποιμένες κτήνη πληγῇ νέμοντες, ἀλλ᾽ ᾗ μάλιστα εὔστροφον ζῷον, ἐκ πρύμνης ἀπευθύνοντες, οἷον οἴακι πειθοῖ ψυχῆς ἐφαπτόμενοι κατὰ τὴν αὐτῶν διάνοιαν, οὕτως ἄγοντες τὸ θνητὸν πᾶν ἐκυβέρνων. (Critias, 109b-c)

Lamb's translation:

So by just allotments they [i.e. the gods] received each one his own, and they settled their countries; and when they had thus settled them, they reared us up, even as herdsmen rear their flocks, to be their cattle and nurslings; only it was not our bodies that they constrained by bodily force, like shepherds guiding their flocks with stroke of staff, but they directed from the stern where the living creature is easiest to turn about, laying hold on the soul by persuasion, as by a rudder, according to their own disposition; and thus they drove and steered all the mortal kind.

I am unsure of the antecedent of the second, non-reflexive "αὐτῶν." I am unsure if it refers to (1) the gods' disposition or (2) the mortals' disposition.

In favor of the first reading:

  1. It makes more intuitive sense of the passage: the gods are directing mortals as they wish.
  2. There is no obvious plural antecedent: one would expect "αὐτοῦ" if it was meant to refer to "ζῷον."

In favor of the second:

  1. It's possible that Plato is establishing the contrast between force ("βιαζόμενοι") and persuasion ("πειθοῖ") by showing that the effect of the gods' ruling is that mortals will end up with the same disposition, and thus act according to it.
  2. Crucially, "αὐτῶν" is not reflexive. Earlier in the same sentence, the reflexive was used for the gods.

If my instincts are correct, this may boil down to a simple question: are there cases, such as this syntactically convoluted sentence, where the reflexive pronoun is not used, even though it is referring to the subject of the sentence?

2 Answers 2


Are there cases where the reflexive pronoun is not used, even though it is referring to the subject of the sentence?


Smyth, at § 1228.a, notes: “instead of the indirect ἑαυτοῦ etc., there may be used the oblique cases of αὐτός.” As an example, he gives:

ἐπειρᾶτο τοὺς Ἀθηναίους τῆς ἐς αὐτὸν ὀργῆς παραλύειν

he tried to divert the Athenians from their anger against himself

In the same section, he also says that when ἑαυτοῦ etc. occurs earlier in the sentence, αὐτοῦ etc. are “usual” instead of the direct reflexive. See the following:

τὴν ἑαυτοῦ γνώμην ἀπεφαίνετο Σωκράτης πρὸς τοὺς ὁμιλοῦντας αὐτῷ

Socrates was inclined to set forth his own opinion to those who conversed with him

Your excerpt does have a preceding ἑαυτῶν but it’s several clauses back which might be too far back for a pronoun acting as a direct reflexive - it's hard to say if Smyth has an upper limit in mind.

However, does the pronoun have to be reflexive in order for it to mean “according to the gods’ own disposition”, as both Lamb and Bury translate it, and as I’m inclined to favour?

I think yes.

My main argument for this is that the pronoun in question, αὐτῶν, is in the attributive position, between τὴν and διάνοιαν.

Personal pronouns in the genitive are always placed in the predicate position (outside of the article/noun group) (Morwood, p. 147; Mastronarde, p. 157; Dickey, p. 100; Smyth, § 1185 & 1201.1a).

Reflexive pronouns in the genitive, however, always occur in the attributive position (Morwood, p. 125 & 149; Dickey, p 100; Smyth, § 1184; 1201.2a) Indeed, Smyth notes that, “this is the only way in prose to express his own, her own” (§ 1201.2a) and this is what we see in your excerpt and in the example above (τὴν ἑαυτοῦ γνώμην / his own opinion).

Lastly, in an interesting reversal of your original question (are there cases where the reflexive pronoun is not used, even though it is referring to the subject of the sentence), Smyth states that sometimes the direct reflexive pronoun can refer to the object of a sentence (§ 1218)! He uses the following example:

τοὺς δὲ περιοίκους ἀφῆκεν ἐπὶ τὰς ἑαυτῶν πόλεις

but he dismissed the perioiki to their own cities

I don't think that this is the situation in your excerpt as there is no obvious plural object nearby to account for the plural αὐτῶν.

But note how even though the reflexive ἑαυτῶν in Smyth's example is referring to the object of the sentence, it’s in the attributive position, between τὰς and πόλεις, thus conveying the sense of “their own cities”.


Dickey, Eleanor, An Introduction to the Composition and Analysis of Greek Prose, Cambridge University Press, 2016

Mastronarde, Donald J., Introduction to Attic Greek, University of California Press, 1993

Morwood, James, The Oxford Grammar of Classical Greek, Oxford University Press, 2001

Smyth, Herbert Weir, Greek Grammar, Harvard University Press, 1956 edition


In the 1929 Loeb edition of Critias (trans. R. G. Bury, p. 266), there is a rough breathing on the second pronoun of your question:

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which indicates that it is a contracted reflexive pronoun and, therefore, indeed referring to the gods' disposition.

EDIT Of course, this isn't the definitive argument for a reflexive pronoun - it could be a typo or even an editorial emendation in response to the very questions you raise.

However, I feel that given your own arguments - the "intuitive sense" of the passage and the lack of any other obvious plural antecedent - it is the most probable interpretation.

Further, looking at your first argument for the second case, I wonder if in fact the contrast Plato wishes to make is not so much between force and persuasion, as between control of the body (as a herdsman controls his cattle) and control of the soul (as the gods control mortals) (πλὴν οὐ σώμασι σώματα βιαζόμενοι … ἀλλ᾽ …πειθοῖ ψυχῆς ἐφαπτόμενοι)

If so, then this is a third argument for the reflexive pronoun and the gods' disposition. For Plato is clearly comparing us to cattle but then contrasting how a herdsman raises his cattle and the gods theirs. If we take out all the similes, then we get something more like:

they reared us up ... to be their cattle and nurslings ... laying hold on the soul by persuasion ... according to their disposition

This rendering seems to me to make it clearer that only the gods could be the antecedent here.

  • Wonderful! Would you agree, though, that it has to be read with a rough-breathing in order for this reading to be acceptable? My primary problem was that the apparatus criticus of the OCT I was using did not even mention this alternative.
    – brianpck
    Feb 23, 2018 at 13:04
  • @brianpck Ah, I see your problem - sorry I didn't address it! I'll need a little time to formulate an answer but hopefully can report back later today.
    – Penelope
    Feb 23, 2018 at 23:21
  • @brianpck I posted a whole new answer that I hope engages more directly with your question!
    – Penelope
    Feb 24, 2018 at 4:21

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