Introducing Particuliterate

I am super excited to introduce a new student website, Particuliterate, by Eric Blum. This website emerges from Eric’s Schiff Undergraduate Fellowship at Brandeis University (a program that funds independent undergraduate research under a faculty member’s supervision).

Confused about what a particle is? We probably make it harder in the classroom than it needs to be. Eric provides a simple definition on his about page:

σύνδεσμος δέ ἐστιν φωνὴ ἄσημος ἣ οὔτε κωλύει οὔτε ποιεῖ φωνὴν μίαν σημαντικὴν ἐκ πλειόνων φωνῶν φεφυκυῖα συντίθεσθαι … ἣν μὴ ἁρμόττει ἐν ἀρχῇ λόγου τιθέναι καθ’ αὑτην, οἷον μέν ἤτοι δέ.

A particle is a meaningless sound, which neither hinders nor causes a significant sound to be made out of many sounds … which cannot fittingly be put at the beginning of a sentence by itself, like μέν and δέ.


Eric will be rolling out a new post about a different particle every week. Eric starting designing this project over a year ago, building on his own fascination with particles and his frustration with easily accessible tools to understand them. Here’s what he says about his website:

“This website is aimed primarily at that student. Its goal is to aggregate the discussion of particles, which is often spread out and hard to track down, into one place, where the views of various scholars can be summarized in a succinct and understandable manner. Particles entries include extensive hyperlinking to the Glossary page, which includes definitions for common terms and explanations of theories which underlie the arguments being described.”

I have learned a lot in discussing the project (and particles!) with Eric. He resisted my urge to name the site “Particle Man”, showing maturity and wisdom beyond his years.

In additional to the specific posts, this site has gathered electronic resources on particles and includes a useful glossary. For each particle, Eric will focus on Homeric examples and usage in part, but these posts will range from basic definitions, through usage from a perspective of grammaticalization, and to different readings based on historical linguistics and contextualization.

Here’s the first entry on δέ .

Check the site out and let Eric know you’re a fan.


Fun With Particles: ἄρα you surprised?

The particle ἄρα—translated often as “really”—has both consquential and explanatory functions (Smyth 1920 §2787) which are the regular meanings in Homer too (see Munro 1891, 316). Denniston (1954, 32) accords to the particle in Homer the expresion of “a lively feeling of interest” or even at times “surprise”. But, given the sheer number of occurrences in the Homeric epics, this may be problematic. The particle ἄρα occurs all the time in the Homeric epics (over 1800 times between the two for an average of 1:15 lines or so, see Denniston 1954, 33) but more sparingly in Hesiod.

How can this information help us judge the “Homeric character” of other hexameter poetry? The particle ἄρα appears 14 times in the 303 lines of the ‘Homeric’ Batrakhomuomakhia (BM) excluding the single time it occurs in the Prosodia Byzantina for a ratio of 1:21.64. For comparison, Hesiod’s Theogony exhibits a ratio of the same particle at 1:20.86 whereas the Works and Days’ ratio is a surprising 1:69 (see Zarecki 2007, 11 for these figures). For further comparison, the particle occurs 167 times in Apollonius Rhodes’ Argonautica (a ratio of 1:34.9); at a rate of 1:20.63 in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter and 1:34.11 in the Hymn to Hermes.

Where the particle appears in the BM limits its significance even more: given that many of its occurrences are in the highly formulaic speech conclusion ῝Ως ἄρ’ ἔφη (65, 177, 197, 277, 285) and that most are collocated in the last 100 lines of the poem during the rather ‘Homeric’ battle scene with two occurring in a formulaic death of a named character (e,g, Σευτλαῖον δ’ ἂρ, 209; cf. 226) and two appearing in the same metrical position as this following verbs (e.g. ὠργίσθη δ’ ἄρ’, 239; cf. 239). In fact, of the 14 total instances, only 2 occur before line 197. Hence, in the last 106 lines of the poem the particle occurs 12 times for a ratio of 1:8.83 which well exceeds that of either the Iliad or the Odyssey. (And this also leaves the ratio of the first 196 lines at a curious 1:98). Is the ratio in the last third of the poem an effect of the formulaic repetitiveness of this section, or is at feature of the parodist who chooses to exaggerate a Homeric tendency (if we can possibly divide the use of the formulae from the use of this particle specifically)?