Optative: Introduction
According to the grammar books, the optative has two different meanings, epistemic, as found in conditional clauses, and wish. I argue that these meanings have been misunderstood in their traditional explanations, and that there are more meanings.
Optative: Epistemic
The optative is used in unreal conditionals which seem to express the least likely proposition. But in fact there are many examples where event is not unlikely. All optatives share the speaker’s belief that the event is unreal. I propose a new definition of the optative: a marker of negative epistemic stance, which requires a new diagram of the continuum relationship between optative and indicative.
Optative: Wish
Some scholars describe the optative of wish as a weaker imperative. Some examples confirm this claim. But these are not prototypical: prototypical optatives have no agent, as opposed to the prototypical imperatives. In this construction again, the optative is not ‘more irrealis’: it is used in both realisable and unrealisable wishes.
I 3.220 φαίης κε ζάκοτόν τέ τιν' ἔμμεναι ἄφρονά τ' αὔτως. You’d call him a sullen fellow or just a plain fool.
I 6.141 οὐδ' ἂν ἐγὼ μακάρεσσι θεοῖς ἐθέλοιμι μάχεσθαι. I would not like to fight the blessed immortals.
I 5.273 εἰ τούτω κε λάβοιμεν, ἀροίμεθά κε κλέος ἐσθλόν. If we took them both we’d win ourselves great fame.
I 1.20 παῖδα δ' ἐμοὶ λύσαιτε φίλην, τὰ δ' ἄποινα δέχεσθαι, Release my darling child, and accept this ransom
I 7.132 αἲ γάρ, Ζεῦ τε πάτερ καὶ Ἀθηναίη καὶ Ἄπολλον,
ἡβῶιμ' ὡς ὅτ' ἐπ' ὠκυρόωι Κελάδοντι μάχοντο
If only, Father Zeus, Athena and Apollo, if only I were as young as when they fought by Celadon’s rapids
I 1.17 Ἀτρεῖδαί τε καὶ ἄλλοι ἐϋκνήμιδες Ἀχαιοί,
ὑμῖν μὲν θεοὶ δοῖεν Ὀλύμπια δώματ' ἔχοντες
ἐκπέρσαι Πριάμοιο πόλιν, εὖ δ' οἴκαδ' ἱκέσθαι·
Sons of Atreus and well-greaved Achaeans, may the gods who dwell on Olympus give you Priam’s city to plunder, and a safe passage home.

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