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Optative in main clause without ἄν: plausible wish

Syntactical Level

κακῶς δ' ὄλοιντο πάντες οἳ τυραννίδι χαίρουσιν

‘May all those who support tyranny perish in an awful way!’ (Eur. 275)

The optative, often preceded by εἴθε or εἰ γάρ (poetic εἰ, αἰ or ὡς), signals a plausible wish.

Translation tips

The traditional translation of the plausible wish involves may... as an auxiliary (e.g. εἰ γὰρ ὄλοιτο ‘May he die.’). Sometimes it is better to translate it with the adverb hopefully (e.g. εἰ γὰρ ὄλοιτο ‘Hopefully he will die.’).

Historical background

The optative, introduced by εἴθε or εἰ (γάρ), is sometimes analysed as a conditional clause without a main clause: εἴθε φίλος ἡμῖν γένοιο... 'if you were to become our friend...' (Xen. HG 4.1.38).

Example Sentences: 

εἴθ’ ἐκχυθείη τὸ μύρον, ὦ Ζεῦ δέσποτα.

May she make utmost use of the myrrh, lord Zeus. ֍

μή μοι ἀνὴρ εἴη γλώσσῃ φίλος, ἀλλὰ καὶ ἔργῳ.

May one be a friend not in word, but in deed. ֍

μᾶλλον ἢ τὸ Δαρείου χρυσίον κτήσασθαι δεξαίμην πολὺ πρότερον ἑταῖρον

I would much rather acquire a friend than earn Darius' money.

ὄλοιτο μὲν μή· δεσπότης γάρ ἐστ' ἐμός.

May he not perish. He is, after all, my master.