Aeolic θᾶς "until"

This is an RTFM question, and someone must have already worked out the answer to it; but that someone didn't work out the answer to the question in the 19th century, which would have let me look up the answer easily online. I'm actually halfway hoping that a reader will find the answer in their library, and let me know of the writeup.

The question is, what does θᾶς mean in Alcaeus, and why.

It's a tiny word of Aeolic. (At least, I think it's Aeolic.) The tinier the word, the more difficult it is to work out what it means. And θᾶς is not a word that turns up in the documents available in the 19th century: it isn't mentioned in the Ancient grammarians, or the fragments of Alcaeus known at the time. The word turns up in two fragments dug up at Oxyrhynchus:
  • κῆνος δὲ παώθεις Ἀτρεΐδα[.].[
    δαπτέτω πόλιν ὠς καὶ πεδὰ Μυρσί̣[λ]ω̣[
    θᾶς κ’ ἄμμε βόλλητ’ Ἄρευς ἐπιτ.ύχε..[
    τρόπην· ἐκ δὲ χόλω τῶδε λαθοίμεθ..[·
    But let him, kinsman by marriage to the Atreidai,
    keep on devouring the city just as he did with Myrsilos,
    until such time as Ares chooses to turn us
    to our weapons. This present anger may we put from our minds... (Page & Lobel fr. 70 lines 6–9; translation from A.M. Miller)
  • ...]ξηι δὲ θᾶς̣ κε Ζεῦς̣ [ "... until Zeus..." (Page & Lobel fr. 206 line 6)

Now, the translators know what θᾶς means: both the Loeb and the Miller render it as "until". Someone somewhere would have published how they worked out that θᾶς means "until". But without finding it anywhere obvious online, I don't have a citation for how they know what it means.

I can guess, which is why I have a blog.
  • θᾶς has a circumflex, which implies a contraction—i.e. that it goes back to something in proto-Greek like *tʰaos or *tʰaes
  • Attic Greek has a word for "until", which is ἕως /héɔːs/. That looks like it could be related.
  • Attic εω always makes you think of quantitative metathesis—that is, it should correspond to Ionic ηο, and proto-Greek, Doric and Aeolic *ᾱο.
  • Doric *ᾱο would have contracted to ᾱ, and would have taken a circumflex as a contract
  • And indeed, Attic ἕως /héɔːs/ corresponds to Epic ἧος, εἵως /hɛ̂ːos, héːos/, Doric ἇς /hâːs/, and Aeolic ἆς /âːs/, all meaning "until".
  • So an Aeolic θᾶς ends the same way as the Aeolic for "until".
  • But why is there an initial /tʰ/?
  • If proto-Greek had something like *ἇος /hâːos/, and we're trying to explain /tʰâːs/, the simplest explanation is /t + hâːos/. We already see /t/ prefixed to a lot of Greek pronouns and adverbs, as a demonstrative: ὅτε "when" > τότε "then", οἷος "of which sort" > τοῖος "of that sort", etc.
  • /t/ does get prefixed to ἕως, as a correlative counterpart to it: Attic τέως "in the meantime; for a while; (rarely) until".
  • The prefix also turns up in other dialects: Epic τείως (from εἵως), though the reading τῆος (from ἧος) has been metrically reconstructed in Homer.
  • Hesychius records Cretan τάως /táɔːs/ as meaning τέως. Cretan is an Archaic Doric dialect, and we would expect a proto-Doric /t + hâːos/ > */tâːos/; Kühner-Blass reports that Nauck thought the original Cretan form was indeed τᾶος, and somewhere along the line the word was respelled to match the ending of Attic τέως.

So we have an answer, right? θᾶς is derived from /t + hâːos/, like τέως is.

The problem is, none of the correlatives have /tʰ/ in them: the Doric is τάως, not *θάως, just as ὅτε goes to τότε, not *θότε. And even if correlatives did have /tʰ/, the last dialect you'd expect to find an initial breathing is Alcaeus' Aeolic, which systematically dropped its initial rough breathing (psilotic): remember that "until" in Aeolic is ἆς /âːs/, not ἇς /hâːs/.

So the derivation doesn't make sense for Aeolic, or indeed for proto-Greek; "for a while" should have been *τᾶς, not θᾶς. Because of the final two letters and the circumflex, I'm reasonably sure θᾶς is somewhow related to ἆς = ἕως, and I wouldn't be flabbergasted if the θ- turns out to have been a mistake. (The papyri in Oxyrhynchus weren't personally penned by Alcaeus: they reflect a standard later edition, which we guess introduced elements from the later Aeolic of Asia Minor, and could have distorted the language in other ways.)

If it does turn out to be something completely different, well, that will be a relief...


  1. One more piece of evidence linking θᾶς to ἕως: Alcaeus follows it with the indefinite particle κε, which corresponds to Attic ἄν; and his θᾶς κε has its counterpart in Attic ἕως ἄν, use with the subjunctive to indicate a potential endpoint ("until Ares turns us"—he hasn't yet, and he might not after all): θᾶς κ’ ἄμμε βόλλητ’ Ἄρευς τρόπην corresponds to Attic ἕως ἂν ἡμᾶς βούληται Ἄρης τρέπειν (τροπεῖν).

  2. Page in "Sappho and Alcaeus" p. 236 points out that the form θᾶς is protected by the metre in the second example. But the rest of the comment is a bit of a shrug of the shoulders: θᾶς equals ἕως; but Sappho has ἆς never θᾶς; whereas the papyri of Alcaeus throw up no certain example of ἆς, but instead at least one certain example of θᾶς. Presumably Hamm's Grammatik zu Sappho und Alkaios would have an answer.
    Cheers, Alex

  3. θᾶς has a circumflex, which implies a contraction

    That raises the question of how we know that it had a circumflex - Alcaeus didn't write with accents or breathings, did he?

    I suppose the answer is that the distinction survived long enough in pronunciation that when the text got transcribed with "modern" diacritics, people could still hear the difference and so would use the correct one, rather than guessing at which one to use with a (now) unfamiliar word, or simply picking one by analogy?

  4. Alex: Thank you, that's useful. The commentary again implies that it is obvious to Page what θᾶς means, but I'm not sure why it was that obvious. We know Sappho's Aeolic is "cleaner" than Alcaeus' (she avoids Epic features), which makes his predilection to θᾶς all the more strange.

    I've never seen Hamm's grammar, but it turns out to be held in offsite storage in both Monash and Melbourne University libraries. (It's fallen victim to Graeci sunt non leguntur, as well as Libraries are no longer in the book business.) I'm ordering it with some interest.

  5. Philip: indeed, no circumflexes in Alcaeus: well spotted. Even in the papyri, accents were sporadic for a long time; but if any text would have accents, it would be a literary edition like Alcaeus', since the point of inventing accents was to indicate prosody. I don't know for a fact that Alcaeus' papyri had accents, but I do remember that Sappho's did, because I've seen an instance in the modern edition of a grave dotted either side. (That was done to indicate deletion by the scribe—it's the ancient equivalent of crossing it out.)

    We know from inscriptional evidence that Alcaeus' Aeolic in the papyri can't be the same as the Aeolic he spoke, and we think that the canonical edition drew on contemporary Aeolic when it was redacted a few centuries later. (Buggered if I remember where I read it, but it was in the past week, probably when I was browsing the ANU library.) It would be far from impossible that Alcaeus' classical editors were guessing at the circumflex. For all we know, they could indeed have guessed at the circumflex in θᾶς matching ἆς, through the analogy you suggest.

    Which is why I'd be much more comfortable with this word, if I saw an explanation of it somewhere.

  6. Here’s a totally wild guess: it’s a product of a reanalysis made possible by Aeolic psilosis.

    Imagine we’re in the period when Aeolic is becoming psilotic, i.e. losing its initial h’s. We have the forms ἆς (with psilosis) and τᾶς, corresponding regularly to Attic ἕως / τέως. At this point, because of the h-loss in the former, it becomes easy to analyze τᾶς as being formed from ἆς by the addition of t-, which is historically wrong (they’re both inherited independently from PIE) but synchronically right.

    But since psilosis is still in progress, the form ἇς with rough breathing is also still around (or else gets recreated by what you might call hypercorrection, except that it isn’t hyper- in this case). So someone applies the ‘add t-’ rule to that, and voila: θᾶς. (Which should actually mean ‘so long’ (adverb) and not ‘so long as/until’ (conjunction); but as you point out, τέως is occasionally used for ‘until’ in Attic and Ionic too.)

    I don’t know if I believe this myself, and am curious to hear what Hamm has to say, but I thought I’d toss it out.

  7. Tom: Hm. I get it, it's a hypercorrection, it has a certain appeal. The most salient thing about Aeolic to later generations is its lack of rough breathing, so it's a strange hypercorrection to attempt in the later edition of Alcman.

    Could it be a hypercorrection contemporary to Alcman? Well anything's possible; but if crasis of definite articles was at all productive in Aeolic (which I don't know), that initial th- would be looking pretty lonely: Aeolic speakers would already be realising that the "add t-" rule doesn't aspirate any more.

    No word from Monash library on Hamm yet; offsite storage can be anywhere between 10 km and 200 km away...

  8. Hey, at least Monash and Melbourne both have the book, which is more than the University of California library system can say.

    I don't know about crasis of definite articles in Aeolic, but Sappho does have κὤττι, without aspiration as you'd expect. But then, crasis forms get continually created on the fly, while θᾶς would only have to be created once at the period when initial h- was still variable (and when crasis forms too would still have had aspiration), and then get passed down as a lexical item like any other. Just a wild surmise for lack of a better theory, anyway.

  9. The revised LSJ supplement dates from 1996, which means it includes θᾶς. Remember: our problem is that we found out about θᾶς from papyri of Alcman; that means θᾶς had not made it to the references on Ancient Greek now in the public domain (and online).

    The LSJ Supplement says this about θᾶς:

    θᾶς, Lesb. = Ion. τέως (q.v. I 2), Alc. 70.8, 206.6 L-P; cf. ἆς.

    Unpacking: whereas Lobel & Page just said that θᾶς means the same as ἕως, LSJ is explicitly saying θᾶς is a variant of τέως—in its use as a conjunction instead of an adverb, which shows up in Ionic, and which is defined in LSJ s.v. τέως I 2. It turns up twice in Alcaeus (the citations I gave), in the Lobel & Page edition; and θᾶς is comparable to (Doric) ἆς = Attic ἕως.

    So the association of θᾶς to τέως isn't just the crazy notion of Nicholas and Recht; it's made it to LSJ, which means a classicist has claimed it somewhere. But it still doesn't make me less nervous about the derivation of θᾶς from *τᾶος.

    Still no word from Monash library on Hamm. Offsite storage is at Bundoora, i.e. next to LaTrobe University campus, so just 30 km away. That's a mercy.

  10. An update on Hamm and on me, since neither has been forthcoming for a while.

    My limited experience is that you have a much better chance of getting a book from a library 500 km away than from storage 50 km away. Hamm did not turn up; when I queried it and pointed out that I'd received no notification, I was pointed to the recent mail outage on campus. I've requested it again as of Wednesday; no notification yet.

    I'm not really in a position to chase after it: I've had a couple of bouts of surgery and am currently laid up at home, and not in much of a mood to type at the moment. Nothing lifethreating (details on request), but all rather inconveniencing.

    I did want to write something about Angela Dimitriou's recent coinage of "godfathress", νονού, and the linguistic circumstances that explain it; but like the other five or six vague notions of posts I had (including the survey of accent and compounds I started in February), that will have to wait for at least a few more days.

  11. It's been a couple of days' wait indeed. :-) Today is my second day back at work; I was at University of Melbourne yesterday, and tracked down a copy of Hamm. I lied: it's not in offsite storage at Melbourne, just in an overflow room open half the week. To my surprise, I also found Preisigke's dictionary of papyrological Greek there—another book I'd unsuccessfully requested from Monash storage.

    And after all that, what does Hamm say about θᾶς? "The origin of the initial θ- is uncertain." Thanks a bunch...

  12. I've seen statements that the labiovelar changed to p in Aeolic in all environments. Would that mean that the Aeolic reflex of qaos should be pas rather than thas?

  13. The t- in τέως doesn't come from a labiovelar - it was a *t- in PIE. The Sanskrit cognate is tāvat.

  14. Does anyone know what happened to this blog? I miss it. Thanks.

  15. Sorry. What's happened has been a combination of illness (which knocked me off my routine in April), being busier in my several jobs, and entering into a relationship. Don't give up on me quite yet...

  16. I hope all goes well with you and that you find time to post on this wonderful site again. Thanks.

  17. 'Attic τέως "in the meantime; for a while; (rarely) until".'

    Your article puts me in mind of the modern Yorkshire/Derbyshire dialect usage of 'while' to mean 'until', e.g. "Can tha wait here while I come back." Perhaps the distinction between different conjunctions denoting the passage of time is less absolute than is sometimes thought.

    1. Tangent: This Yorkshire usage of "while" for other English dialects' "until" is particularly problematic when one sees the common sign on lavatories in trains: "Do not flush while train is in a station". It causes endless problems for the stationmasters in Huddersfield, Dewsbury and York.

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