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ὥσπερ (ἂν) εἰ with a subordinate clause: comparison with a condition
οὐκ ἀλέγω, ὡς εἴ με γυνὴ βάλοι ἢ πάϊς ἄφρων
‘It doesn't bother me, like when a woman or a silly child hits me.’ (Hom. Il. 11.389)
Conjunctions are not infrequently combined with other conjunctions to compare the state of affairs in the main clause with another state of affairs. Within this category the comparison with a condition is the most important. For this reason we will focus on this construction in what follows. We may formulate the following rule: a subordinate clause, introduced by ὥσπερ (ἂν) εἰ, signals a manner which is applicable if the condition, expressed in the subordinate clause, is fulfilled.
Beside ὥσπερ (ἂν) εἰ - albeit rarely - καθάπερ (ἂν) εἰ is also possible.
The meaning of ὥσπερ (ἂν) εἰ can sometimes be weakened from a conditional comparison to a simple comparison, thus becoming synonymous with ὥσπερ or ὡς ‘like’. In this case many editors write it as one word: ὡσπερεί, ὡσανεί or ὡσπερανεί. In a later phase the meaning ὡσπερεί further weakens to ‘as it were’.
Comparative conjunctions are often combined with other conjunctions in order to compare the state of affairs in the main clause with another state of affairs. The following combinations occur:
- [comparison with a point in time] ὡς ὅτε or ὡς ὁπότε ‘as when’ (mostly in epic comparisons);
- [comparison with a hypothesis] ὡς εἰ or ὥσπερ εἰ ‘like if, as if’;
- [comparison with a manner] ἢ ὡς ‘than as’ (standard of comparison + manner).
Translate this construction as follows:
- ὥσπερ (ἂν) εἰ or καθάπερ (ἂν) εἰ ‘as if, just as if, even as…’;
- ὡσπερεί, ὡσπερανεί ‘just as’.
The use of moods and tenses corresponds to that of conditional clauses, introduced by εἰ. In practice mainly the optative (of the possible condition) occurs, irrespective of the time and mood of the main clause.
We are dealing here with an elliptical construction: a comparison is in fact being made with a condition. This means that between ὥσπερ (ἂν) and εἰ the same verb as that in the main clause could be repeated. Because of this, ἄν is used when the condition is plausible or possible. This also explains why ὥσπερ ἂν [sec. ind./conj./opt.] εἰ is more common than ὥσπερ [ind.] εἰ.
Latin uses quasi or uelut si with a comparable meaning.
ἠσπάζετό τε αὐτὸν ὥσπερ ἂν (sc. ἀσπάζοιτο) εἴ τις πάλαι συντεθραμμένος καὶ πάλαι φιλῶν ἀσπάζοιτο
He greeted him like someone who lived together with him for a long time and an old friend would greet him. [provisional translation]
φοβούμενος ὡσπερανεὶ παῖς τὸ κάεσθαι καὶ τὸ τέμνεσθαι, ὅτι ἀλγεινόν
[They behave like someone who doesn't want to go to the doctor], afraid like a child to be burned and cut because it hurts. [provisional translation]
ἤριπε δ’ ὡς ὅτε πύργος ἐνὶ κρατερῇ ὕσμίνῃ
He fell over like when a tower [fell] in a fierce fight. [provisional translation]