Occasional Surveys in the History of Greek Grammar: William Trollope (1842)

Trollope wrote his grammar with the goal of it functioning as a supplement to Buttmann, specifically focusing on the New Testament and the broader Hellenistic period.[1] The work is brief—just over 250 pages—but it provides a larger discussion of the tenses than Buttmann’s grammar did for Classical Greek.

Like Winer (and contrary to Winer’s first translators) Trollope views the usage of the tenses in the New Testament as “adher[ing] to the ordinary Greek usage.”[2] And with the trend, we have seen with Winer and Buttmann, Trollope expresses an awareness of both tense and aspect as a collection of complex semantic values. The aorist is the indefinite verbal form used in narrative, the imperfect is a past imperfective, “continuing during a past time, when or while something else took place,” the perfect refers to an event in that past whose consequences continue in the present, the pluperfect functions in the same manner with reference to a previous past time reference, and the future marks a future action. [3] Trollope also follows Buttmann in that he does not actually discuss the present tense, except in reference to how it is used for (or replaced by) other tenses.

Once again, more illuminating are the descriptions of how tenses are used for other tenses. Like Winer, they continue to be motivated and do not simply involve arbitrary interchangeability and more about specific syntactic and pragmatic situations. For example, Trollope observes that the imperfect can, at times, appears in the place of the aorist, but specifically in the context of spoken discourse when a narrative is relayed by an eyewitness.[4] At least, that is the explanation he came up with for the phenomenon. And technically, the explanation fits much of the data.  However, later grammatical work has proposed at least one alternative explanation. Robertson suggests that verbs of speaking and commanding take the imperfect when the action is conceptualized as being unaccomplished until the command is completed, the question answered, and so forth.[5] In either case, the question is significant because of its relationship to current debates on the nature of the historical present, which also is extremely common with verbs of speech. The question is whether the historical present involves a mismatch of both tense and aspect or only a mismatch of tense.

[1] William Trollope, A Greek Grammar to the New Testament and to the Common or Hellenic Diction of the Later Greek Writers (London: Whittaker & Co., 1942). As far as my own research goes, Trollope’s grammar is the first reference work on New Testament Greek to be written in English rather than merely translated. Despite this fact—one than makes Trollope an important work historically­—there appears to be little to no awareness of his work in later scholarship. In his preface, Trollope does not seem aware of the fact that Winer’s grammar had been already translated into English.

[2] Ibid., 129.

[3] Ibid., 129-30. Notably, Trollope provides a more extensive discussion of imperfect functions than any of the grammars we have seen thus far, including: the basic functions of the imperfect: progressive, iterative/habitual, and inchoative.

[4] Ibid., 132.

[5] Robertson, Grammar of the Greek New Testament, 882-3.