Spatial Prepositions and Pedagogy II, Feet

Previously (Spatial Prepositions and Pedagogy I, Hands), we suggested that engaging students with physical bodies in language learning could be an effective tool for language learning beyond the traditional approaches of rote memorization and Greek flashcards. The goal, instead, is getting students into actual comprehensible input, where learning the language simply happens: the student learns the language because they experience it. Adopting immersion-based learning often feels like an impossible goal for the majority of Ancient and Biblical Greek and Hebrew teachers. But that does not mean you should simply give up on contemporary language acquisition methods. Engaging students in the classroom by acting out expressions and constructions in language with their own bodies is a simple and effective step in this direction, one that does not require you to start curriculum, much less your own language learning, from scratch.

So again we ask: What if instructors were able to build lessons for Greek prepositions around physical actions that students could perform themselves both in class and at home? Methods such as this help connect the meaning of the prepositions not to rote memorization, but to physical behavior and actions. Below are some of the more salient uses of Greek ποῦς, ‘foot’ with various prepositions that lend themselves to this type of experiential learning.

The simplest exercises involve putting things on your feet and taking them off. Luke has guidance for what prepositions to use in examples (1-2).

  1. εἰς τοὺς πόδας
    on his feet
    εἶπεν δὲ ὁ πατὴρ πρὸς τοὺς δούλους αὐτοῦ Ταχὺ ἐξενέγκατε στολὴν τὴν πρώτην καὶ ἐνδύσατε αὐτόν καὶ δότε δακτύλιον εἰς τὴν χεῖρα αὐτοῦ καὶ ὑποδήματα εἰς τοὺς πόδας
    Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet (Luke 15:22).
  2. ἀπὸ τῶν ποδῶν ὑμῶν
    off your feet
    καὶ ὅσοι ἂν μὴ δέχωνται ὑμᾶς ἐξερχόμενοι ἀπὸ τῆς πόλεως ἐκείνης τὸν κονιορτὸν ἀπὸ τῶν ποδῶν ὑμῶν ἀποτινάσσετε εἰς μαρτύριον ἐπʼ αὐτούς
    If people do not welcome you, leave their town and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them. (Luke 9:5).

We put on our shoes with εἰς and take them off with ἀπό. Notably, ἐκ is never used in the post-Classical period to mean remove something from one’s feet. Instead, there is an idiom ἐκ ποδὸς, which we will return to in a moment.

The preposition εἰς is also used with ποῦς in the context where things cling to our feet, such as dirt, dust, mud, and so forth, as in example (3).

  1. εἰς τοὺς πόδας
    to the feet
    Καὶ τὸν κονιορτὸν τὸν κολληθέντα ἡμῖν ἐκ τῆς πόλεως ὑμῶν εἰς τοὺς πόδας ἀπομασσόμεθα ὑμῖν
    Even the dust that clings to the feet from your town we wipe off as a warning to you (Luke 10:11).

Acting this usage out might not be a wise choice in a classroom setting. But if you have opportunity to take students for a walk after a storm, you could still have your students practicing saying things like: ὁ βόρβορος ὁ κολληθείς εἰς τὸ ἐμβάδιον (the mud that clings to the shoe).

As we saw with rings on fingers before, dirt, dust, shoes, and sandals, all cling to feet in a similar manner, such that the body part exerts control over them. This is why we also find occurrences with ἐν τοῖς ποσὶν ὑμῶν, meaning ‘on your feet’. In Moses’s instructions for the Passover, he says in example (4).

  1. ἐν τοῖς ποσὶν ὑμῶν
    on your feet
    οὕτως δὲ φάγεσθε αὐτό· αἱ ὀσφύες ὑμῶν περιεζωσμέναι, καὶ τὰ ὑποδήματα ἐν τοῖς ποσὶν ὑμῶν, καὶ αἱ βακτηρίαι ἐν ταῖς χερσὶν ὑμῶν· καὶ ἔδεσθε αὐτὸ μετὰ σπουδῆς· πάσχα ἐστὶν Κυρίῳ.
    Thus you will eat it with a belt around your waits and your sandals on your feet and staffs in your hands. You will eat it quickly. It is a Passover to the Lord (Exodus 12:11).

The preposition ἐν with ποῦς can also be used with a few different spatial relationships worth exploring. It can be used to refer to the means of travel, where in English we might say, “on foot” or “by foot”, as in (5).

  1. ἐν ποσὶν αὐτοῦ
    on foot
    Βαρὰκ ἐν κοιλάσιν ἀπέστειλεν ἐν ποσὶν αὐτοῦ.
    She sent Barak into the valley on foot (Judges 5:15).

It can also be used to refer to an area closely around the landmark when the trajector is plural or a mass noun. This space around the landmark is construed as under its control.

  1. ἐν τοῖς ποσὶν αὐτῶν
    at their feet
    καὶ ἐπορεύθη ὁ βασιλεὺς Ἰσραὴλ καὶ ὁ βασιλεὺς Ἰούδα καὶ βασιλεὺς Ἐδώμ, καὶ ἐκύκλωσαν ὁδὸν ἑπτὰ ἡμερῶν· καὶ οὐκ ἦν ὕδωρ τῇ παρεμβολῇ καὶ τοῖς κτήνεσιν τοῖς ἐν τοῖς ποσὶν αὐτῶν
    The king of Israel and the king of Judah and the king of Edom went and circled the road for seven days. There was no water for in the camp and there were the flocks and herds at their feet (4 Kingdoms 3:10).

A great opportunity to practice some imperatives, too, would be a prepositional phrase like: ἐπὶ τοὺς πόδας σου, where Acts 26:16 gives an ideal example in (7).

  1. ἐπὶ τοὺς πόδας σου
    on your feet
    ἀλλὰ ἀνάστηθι καὶ στῆθι ἐπὶ τοὺς πόδας σου
    ‘Now get up and stand on your feet (Acts 26:16).

Commands make for another opportunity for practical, non-memorization language learning, because you can gives commands to your students at unexpected moments, both reinforcing the meaning of verbs, the imperative mood, and in this case, not only the preposition ἐπί, but also the middle voice (body actions are natural middle voice expressions).

The idiom ἐκ ποδὸς which has the fascinating sense of following someone ἐκ ποδὸς: to follow them from their footprints and thus, close behind them, as in example (8).

  1. ἐκ ποδὸς
    close behind
    καὶ τραπέντας οὐκ ἀνίει διώκων Ἰώαβος, ἀλλʼ αὐτός τε ἐπέκειτο παρακελευόμενος τοὺς ὁπλίτας ἐκ ποδὸς ἕπεσθαι
    When they fled, Joab did not stop chasing them. Instead he pressed forward, calling on his troops to follow him close behind (Josephus, Antiquities 7.13).

The Brill Josephus translation and commentary project wrongly translates ἐκ ποδὸς with the English, “on foot”, referring to the manner of travel. Verbs of following are a necessary part of the idiom, footprints are construed as the source of the path to follow (see also: Polybius, Histories 14.8.13). This expression actually parallels another prepositional phrase: κατὰ πόδα αὐτοῦ, a common path expression where κατά with the accusative is used for non-dispersed and non-meandering paths. Here the feet of the people being chased are the path of soldiers giving chase, as in Judges 20:43 (example 9).

  1. κατὰ πόδα αὐτοῦ
    at their heels
    καὶ κατέκοπτον τὸν Βενιαμείν, καὶ ἐδίωξαν αὐτὸν ἀπὸ Νουὰ κατὰ πόδα αὐτοῦ ἕως ἀπέναντι Γαβαὰ πρὸς ἀνατολὰς ἡλίου.
    And they cut down Benjamin and they pursued him from Nova at their heels as far as before Gibeah toward the rising sun (Judges 20:43).

Depending on how comfortable you are with an active classroom, both these expressions could be readily acted out among students.

In more static expressions, παρά expresses proximity to a persons feet, as in examples (10-11).

  1. παρὰ τοὺς πόδας αὐτοῦ
    near his feet
    καὶ στᾶσα ὀπίσω παρὰ τοὺς πόδας αὐτοῦ κλαίουσα τοῖς δάκρυσιν ἤρξατο βρέχειν τοὺς πόδας αὐτοῦ καὶ ταῖς θριξὶν τῆς κεφαλῆς αὐτῆς ἐξέμασσεν καὶ κατεφίλει τοὺς πόδας αὐτοῦ καὶ ἤλειφεν τῷ μύρῳ
    As she stood behind him near his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears (Luke 7:38).
  2. παρὰ τοὺς πόδας τοῦ Ἰησοῦ
    near Jesus’ feet
    ἐξῆλθον δὲ ἰδεῖν τὸ γεγονὸς καὶ ἦλθον πρὸς τὸν Ἰησοῦν καὶ εὗρον καθήμενον τὸν ἄνθρωπον ἀφʼ οὗ τὰ δαιμόνια ἐξῆλθεν ἱματισμένον καὶ σωφρονοῦντα παρὰ τοὺς πόδας τοῦ Ἰησοῦ καὶ ἐφοβήθησαν
    When they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone out, sitting near Jesus’ feet, dressed and in his right mind; (Luke 8:35).

If you build up a larger set of vocabulary of objects from the Biblical text, using παρά+accusative would be an excellent answer to the question: “Where is [X]?” (Ποῦ [οὗτος];). And of course, depending on the what is near whose feet in the classroom, παρὰ τοὺς πόδας αὐτοῦ is one legitimate answer.

The preposition πρός is also relevant. This preposition is used when the trajector has an orientation that points toward the landmark (i.e. the object of the preposition). Thus, when someone falls at your feet, πρός is used to specify the orientation of the person facing toward the feet, as in example (12).

  1. πρὸς τοὺς πόδας αὐτοῦ
    at his feet
    ἔπεσεν δὲ παραχρῆμα πρὸς τοὺς πόδας αὐτοῦ καὶ ἐξέψυξεν
    At that moment she fell down at his feet and died (Acts 5:10).

There are probably some creative ways πρὸς τοὺς πόδας could be adopted in the classroom, though it might be best if teachers do not have their students falling down at their feet.

Finally, we can orient objects beneath our feet. When we add force and control to the situation, ὑπό is a natural choice, as in example (13).

  1. ὑπὸ τοὺς πόδας ὑμῶν
    under your feet
    ὁ δὲ θεὸς τῆς εἰρήνης συντρίψει τὸν Σατανᾶν ὑπὸ τοὺς πόδας ὑμῶν ἐν τάχει ἡ χάρις τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ μεθʼ ὑμῶν
    The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet (Rom 16:20).
  2. ὑποκάτω τῶν ποδῶν αὐτῆς
    under her feet
    Καὶ σημεῖον μέγα ὤφθη ἐν τῷ οὐρανῷ γυνὴ περιβεβλημένη τὸν ἥλιον καὶ ἡ σελήνη ὑποκάτω τῶν ποδῶν αὐτῆς καὶ ἐπὶ τῆς κεφαλῆς αὐτῆς στέφανος ἀστέρων δώδεκα
    A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head (Rev 12:1).

If it is simply the position underneath that is being highlighted, then ὑποκάτω works very well, as in example (14).

Understanding how different languages construe relationships with prepositions is an important part of language learning. The goal here is to illustrate how body parts and embodied action can be employed in useful ways for the purpose of language learning, both in grammar and the lexicon. Instructors may be able to use information like this to find creative ways to help students think about Greek prepositions beyond the use of flash cards.