Mary The Spinmeister

So I read another chapter of the Protoevangelium of James, chapter 10. I ran into two words in the chapter that I had to go to LSJ for, which is rare for this document. Both were verbs, and this is a good reason why all you Greek-geeks out there need to learn your rules for verb formation. When a word doesn’t show up in a Bibleworks search, you’re stuck, unless you can crack that nut with your brain.

Both words were synonyms, though the words look completely unrelated. They both mean to "spin", as in spin so as to make some type of fabric. In this case Mary was going to make a curtain for the temple. I actually don’t know anything about this form of textile production, so don’t ask. The first was the form was νήσει, as in τίς νήσει τὸ χρυσίον καὶ... (the text goes on to list a number of other things that must be spun). So where would you start? If your first inclination was to look for νήσω, not only are you wrong, but you really started in the wrong place. Sure, that could be the third-person present form of that word, but it isn’t. If you’ve stared at a lot of Greek, though, you have probably seen that -ησ- pattern a lot, and recognize that you more likely have a contract verb, either νάω or νέω, in a future or first aorist form (though the ending and lack of augment clearly makes this future). And if you went there, you were correct. In particular, it is the latter form. Remember, in contract verbs, almost without exception, the contract vowel lengthens in stems other than the present. So, in other words, this is a perfectly normal form. So the text given above is a question, "who will spin the gold and..."

The next form is ἔκλωσεν, as in Μαριὰμ δὲ λαβοῦσα τὸ κόκκινον ἔκλωσεν. Of course, just to show you that what I just said about strategy is not always true, my first inclination here was to go κλόω. That would be incorrect. So what next. How about just κλώ? Reasonable, yet also wrong. My next guess was to look for dental fallout. This is a reference to verbs whose stems end in a dental consonant, those formed with the tongue against the teeth, as in δ, τ, and θ. On a side note, somebody needs to describe the process of dental loss in Greek as denturization, or something similar. Anyway, with futures and first aorists, dental-stem-verbs generally loose their dental consonant, which gives you several options for this verb, κλώδω, κλώτω, and κλώθω. And the winner? The latter. You could translate this sentence "Now Mary, taking the scarlet material, spun."

So now you know, and knowing is half the battle.


Mike 2008-03-17 03:42:02

I had a similar occurrence working on Chrysostom - and I’m always a little worried that I won’t find it since he’s a patristic and I don’t have Lampe. If it comes to it, I might ask to borrow yours...;)

Eric 2008-03-19 11:18:46

I rent my Lampe out for a very reasonable fee: $15 bucks an hour. I’ve got to make up for that enormous pricetag!