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Genitive: agent as modifier


εὔχομαι δὴ τὰς ὑποσχέσεις τοῦ θεοῦ παρελθεῖν εἰς τέλος

‘And I hope that the promises of God will be fulfilled.’ (J. AJ 7.373)

The genitive, usually animate, signals the macrorole of agent (or patient) as a modifier with a deverbative noun.

Lexical usage

The macrorole of agent includes a whole range of semantic roles. The specific role in any given case depends on the governing noun. If the governing noun expresses a perception, emotion or mental activity, the semantic role is experiencer.

Syntactic usage

It is not always possible to tell unequivocally whether a genitive signals an agent or a patient:

  • τὸ τοῦ ἐναντίου μῖσος ‘the hatred of/for the opponent’;
  • ἡ τῆς μητρὸς ἀγάπη ‘the love of/for the mother’.

The same noun can govern a genitive of the agent and a genitive of the patient at the same time. In this case the two genitives are usually separated by the noun. Usually Greek will avoid confusion by using a preposition.

  • τούτου γὰρ ἡ ἡγεμονία ἦν τῶν ὀπισθοφυλάκων λοχαγῶν (Xenophon, Anabasis 4.7.8) ‘of him [= of Nicias] was the authority over the spearmen’;
  • τήν γε τῶν ἐμφρόνων ζήτησιν τοῦ μέλλοντος (Plato, Phaedrus 244c) ‘the search of the prudent for the future'.


This genitive is traditionally called the subjective genitive because the content of these noun phrases can be converted into a sentence in which the original genitive becomes the subject: ἡ μάχη τῶν στρατιωτῶν 'the fight of the soldiers' - οἱ στρατιῶται μάχονται ‘the soldiers fight’. In reality the subjective nominative and genitive share a semantic role, not a syntactic function.

Example Sentences: 

κατὰ μὲν δὴ Δημαρήτου τὴν κατάπαυσιν τῆς βασιληίης οὕτω ἐγένετο, ἔφυγε δὲ Δημάρητος ἐκ Σπάρτης ἐς Μήδους

These were the events surrounding Demaretus' losing the throne, and Demaretus fled from Sparta to the Medes.

τῶν μὲν γὰρ ἀρχόντων ἔργον ἐστὶ τοὺς ἀρχομένους ταῖς αὑτῶν ἐπιμελείαις ποιεῖν εὐδαιμονεστέρους

It is the task of archonts to do their utmost to make their subordinates happier.

ἂν δὲ καὶ ἐξετάσῃ τις, πολλῷ χείρονα τῆς τῶν ἰδιωτῶν ὑπολήψεως εὑρήσει τὰ τῶν ποιητῶν.

Everyone who examined the matter would discover that the ideas of poets are much worse than those of your average person. ֍

ἐν ὄψει δὲ πάντων, ἃ μηδὲ ἰδίᾳ ποιήσειεν ἄν τις, θαρρῶν ποίει

Dare to do in the sight of all what one would not even do if one were visible at all. ֍

πῶς ποτε νῦν ἀποδεχόμεθα τήν Σωκράτους προτροπήν ἡμῶν ἐπʼ ἀρετήν;

NO DUTCH TRANSLATION [provisional translation]