Aorist indicative: timelessness


The aorist indicative indicates that the state of affairs is of unlimited validity in time.

Lexical usage

The timeless aorist occurs in three types of context:
- in proverbs (= γνῶμαι), where it is called a gnomic aorist;
- in general truths;
- in Homeric comparisons (where the present indicative is also possible).

Syntactic behaviour

The aorist is used interchangeably with the present and perfect indicative. From the classical period onwards the use of the gnomic aorist decreases in favour of the gnomic present.
In an enumeration of repeated processes (which are usually in the present), the aorist indicative can be used to mark a crucial moment.

Historical background

In Homer the timeless aorist usually takes an augment (in 90% of cases, according to Bottin apud Duhoux); the identification of an aorist as timeless is, therefore, largely a matter of interpretation and translation. Furthermore, the use of the so-called timeless aorist in Homeric comparisons is often reflective of a past aorist in the main clause.
From the classical period onwards the timeless use of the aorist decreases in favour of the indicative present. The result is that Menander, in his γνῶμαι, uses the aorist only 8 times, as opposed to 287 present forms (Ruipérez apud Duhoux).

Frequential information

In Homeric comparisons the aorist indicative is less frequent than the present indicative, but more frequent than the perfect indicative (Duhoux 2000: § 342).

Example Sentences: