The Greek Classics

It is a vital question How was the word used in the Greek literature with which the Seventy were familiar, that is, the Greek Classics?

Some years since Rev. Ezra S. Goodwin(13) patiently and candidly traced this word through the Classics, finding the noun frequently in nearly all the writers, but not meeting the adjective until Plato, its inventor, used it. He states, as the result of his protracted and exhaustive examination from the beginning down to Plato, "We have the whole evidence of seven Greek writers, extending through about six centuries, down to the age of Plato, who make use of Aion, in common with other words; and no one of them EVER employs it in the sense of eternity."

When the Old Testament was translated from Hebrew into Greek by the Seventy, the word aion had been in common use for many centuries. It is preposterous to say that the Seventy would render the Hebrew olam by the Greek aion and give to the latter (1) a different meaning from that of the former, or (2) a different meaning from aion in the current Greek literature. It is self-evident, then, that Aion in the Old Testament means exactly what Olam means, and also what Aion means in the Greek classics. Indefinite duration is the sense of olam, and it is equally clear that aion has a similar signification.

In the Iliad and Odyssey Aion occurs thirteen times, as a noun, besides its occurrence as a participle in the sense of hearing, perceiving, understanding. Homer never uses it as signifying eternal duration. Priam to Hector says,(14) "Thyself shall be deprived of pleasant aionos" (life.) Andromache over dead Hector,(15) "Husband thou hast perished from aionos" (life or time.)

Dr. Beecher writes(16) "But there is a case that excludes all possibility of doubt or evasion, in the Homeric Hymn of Mercury, vs. 42 and 119. Here aion is used to denote the marrow as the life of an animal, as Moses calls the blood the life. This is recognized by Cousins in his Homeric Lexicon. In this case to pierce the life (aion) of a turtle means to pierce the spinal cord. The idea of life is here exclusive of time or eternity." These are fair illustrations of Homer's use of the word.

Hesiod employs it twice: "To him (the married man) during aionos (life) evil is constantly striving, etc.(17) ^schulus has the word nineteen times, after this manner: "This life (aion) seems long, etc.(18) "Jupiter, king of the never-ceasing world."(19) (aionos apaustau.)

Pindar gives thirteen instances, such as "A long life produces the four virtues."(20)(Ela de kai tessaras aretas ho makros aion.)

Sophocles nine times. "Endeavor to remain the same in mind as long as you live." Askei toiaute noun di aionos menein.(21) He also employs makraion five times, as long-enduring. The word long increases the force of aion, which would be impossible if it had the idea of eternity.

Aristotle uses aion twelve times. He speaks of the existence or duration (aion) of the earth;(22) of an unlimited aionos;(23) and elsewhere, he says: aion sunekes kai aidios, "an eternal aion" (or being) "pertaining to God." The fact that Aristotle found it necessary to add aidios to aion to ascribe eternity to God demonstrates that he found no sense of eternity in the word aion, and utterly discards the idea that he held the word to mean endless duration, even admitting that he derived it, or supposed the ancients did, from aei on according to the opinion of some lexicographers.

A similar use of the word appears in de Cslo.(24) "The entire heaven is one and eternal (aidios) having neither beginning nor end of an entire aion." In the same work (25) occurs the famous passage where Aristotle has been said to describe the derivation of the word, which we have quoted on page 7, Aion estin, apo tou aei einai.

Mr. Goodwin well observes that the word had existed a thousand years before Aristotle's day, and that he had no knowledge of its origin, and poorer facilities for tracing it than many a scholar of the present, possesses. "While, therefore, we would regard an opinion of Aristotle on the derivation of an ancient word, with the respect due to extensive learning and venerable age, still we must bear in mind that his opinion is not indusputable authority." Mr. Goodwin proceeds to affirm that Aristotle does not apply aei on to duration, but to God, and that (as we have shown) a human existence is an Aion. Completeness, whether brief or protracted, is his idea; and as Aristotle employed it "Aion did not contain the meaning of eternity."

Hippocrates. "A human aion is a seven days matter."

Empedocles, An earthly body deprived of happy life, (aionos.)

Euripides uses the word thirty-two times. We quote three instances:(26) "Marriage to those mortals who are well situated is a happy aion."(27) "Every aion of mortals is unstable."(28) "Along aion has many things to say," etc.

Philoctetes. "He breathed out the aiona." Mr. Goodwin thus concludes his conscientious investigation of such of the Greek classics as he examined line by line, AION IN THESE WRITERS NEVER EXPRESSES POSITIVE ETERNITY."

In his Physic(29), Aristotle quotes a passage from Empedocles, saying that in certain cases "aion is not permanent."

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