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Zeitschrift für antike Literatur und ihre Rezeption / A Journal for Ancient Literature and its Reception

Ed. by Föllinger, Sabine / Fuhrer, Therese / Reinhardt, Tobias / Stenger, Jan / Vöhler, Martin

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Volume 160, Issue 2


Re-experiencing the Past

The praesens pro praeterito in Non-narrative Discourse in Classical Greek Tragedy

Arjan A. Nijk
Published Online: 2016-11-02 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/phil-2016-5007


The aim of this article is to make a contribution towards a fuller understanding of the praesens pro praeterito (the present referring to past states of affairs, more commonly known as ‘historical present’) in Classical Greek by studying its use in non-narrative discourse in tragedy. The case of Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex serves as a framework for this survey. Taking the relevant present forms in this play as a starting point, three groups of verbs are subjected to close analysis: verbs of ‘dying’/‘perishing’, of ‘giving birth’/‘begetting’, and of ‘killing’. It is argued that the primary indicative forms referring to the past belonging to these verbs do not stand for perfects, as is often suggested, but retain their specific value: they construe the designated events as somehow part of the speaker’s ‘immediate reality’. Specifically in the Oedipus, the present is used by the protagonist and his co-operative interlocutors to highlight those facts that are crucial to Oedipus’ quest of finding out the killer’s, and with that his own, identity.

Keywords: Praesens pro praeterito; historical present; linguistics; Sophocles; Oedipus Rex


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About the article

Published Online: 2016-11-02

Published in Print: 2016-11-01

Citation Information: Philologus, Volume 160, Issue 2, Pages 217–250, ISSN (Online) 2196-7008, ISSN (Print) 0031-7985, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/phil-2016-5007.

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