Adverbs in -ως in Documents of Graeco-Roman Egypt

Nikos Litinas
Georgios Triantafyllou


Nikos Litinas
Georgios Triantafyllou


This book is part of an ongoing research to investigate adverbials in the ancient Greek language. This first volume is devoted to the use of the adverbs in -ως in texts from Graeco-Roman Egypt. It deals with lexicographical, papyrological and stylistic issues and may help to fill a gap in the research into the use of the Greek language in Graeco-Roman Egypt.

The adverbs in -ως are formed mainly from adjectives or participles and are characteristic for their ability to imply Manner (sometimes combined with other values, such as Time, Instrument etc.). Kretschmer and Locker (1963, 537-541) record c. 580 adverbs ending in -ως, while Foris (1970) has listed 4683 adverbs (1863 adverbs with -ῶς perispomenon and 2820 adverbs with -ως paroxytone), but certainly we have found many other adverbs that were not included in these works. Our aim was to provide papyrologists, epigraphists and philologists with a source of the attestations of adverbs in -ως and their meanings, use and sense in the documentary sources coming from Egypt. Therefore, this book functions, firstly, as a dictionary, since it provides entries on the Greek adverbs in -ως, which are attested in Egypt in the Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine period, and secondly, as a concordance of these attestations, which are arranged in a chronological sequence. We included rather extensive quotations of the text of the papyri or inscriptions (with spelling accuracy indicated either by following the rules of the use of the papyrological symbols, or by putting the correct form in brackets) in order to clarify the context in which the adverb is used, with the hope that this might be convenient and useful not only for classicists, but also for the general interested reader. This practice should allow readers simply to glance at the entry to check for themselves how a particular adverb was used in a particular context or in a variety of contexts. Likewise, we have also included translations of some passages when we considered that the understanding of the passage in a given context seemed confusing or problematic, or that a translation could help to indicate better how we should construct the adverb in the clause. In most cases we follow the translations (also in German, French or Italian) given in the first editions, and sometimes with our minor alterations.

In the era of the internet and digital humanities one may reasonably question the need for printed dictionaries, given the disadvantage that they cannot be updated frequently. Actually, there are several reasons to justify the present printed book. For this study we had to check the editions, the photographs and the commentaries of all the texts where the adverbs in -ως were read and restored in the papyrological and epigraphical sources (dated to the Graeco-Roman period) in Egypt. Our aim was to produce a database with all the certain attestations, free from proposed restorations or non-existant formations (although in some cases the interventions and proposals of the previous editors could be considered possible). In current databases, printed or online dictionaries, these restorations were offered as certain and as self-evident. When we finished this work, we observed that the result produced many corrections which could be published in many and various forms of articles or short papyrological notes, but could not provide a full understanding of the function of these adverbs. In addition, this work offers a number of rather minor additions and corrections to LSJ and its supplements. In cases where we are unable to understand the use or the general or specific sense, we write it explicitly in order that the reader might find a solution. The same is true of the cases where we are not certain about a reading or restoration and we cannot provide any solution. We did not sidestep the problem, but we used the adjective “debatable”, which may invite readers to extend our research and to try to restore the text with certainty. For these reasons, we have summarized and listed all these cases in the Index Videant doctiores! (p. 289).

At the same time, this book represents part of research into the language of the private letters in the Greek and Latin papyri. This research deals with the question “How many words (and of which parts of speech) were used in the everyday written language of the people in Egypt during the Graeco-Roman period?” The results of this research concerning the extent to which adverbs in -ως are used in the private letters were also incorporated in this book, which is the first work in a series of books or articles. In the general introduction the first part provides an outline of the main usage of the adverbs in -ως from antiquity to nowadays, and the second part explains the reasons for the necessity of studying this part of speech and focuses on specific aspects of the results of the research concerning the use of these adverbs in the private letters. The reason why private letters are chosen for this first study is because in most cases by sending a private letter written on a piece of papyrus or on an ostracon, people want to convey their thoughts and the reason they write in a few words. The same can be assumed, even if their thoughts are complex, especially when the writer expects the reader to know the basic details of a situation. Therefore, it is interesting to investigate the role of these concise adverbs (one word – one meaning) in the conciseness of these usually short private letters. In addition, to write a personal or business letter and send it to someone requires a certain relationship between the reader and the writer. It would be strange and illogical to assume that this relationship does not affect the register of the language. We examine if the certain use of the adverbs affects the communication. As it seems, most of the adverbs are found once in the private letters, which means that the person who used them had a certain purpose in mind. In such cases if the language of the rest of the personal private letter does not provide further details, we cannot say with certainty if the style is formal or informal, and therefore, to contribute to the purpose of the letter. In addition, the adverbs in -ως include a subjunctive sense when they are used, which sometimes confuses the clarity, so we have to assume that it was necessary that the recipient of the letter was well aware of the situation under discussion. If the rest of the text of the private letter or if the text which belongs to an archive with further available context allows, we can draw some conclusions. Otherwise, for the time being, we can only indicate the particular use.

The term “private letter” is used for all letters that are written between two individuals, even officials, for personal communication, and they are not part of official correspondence. In that sense, the business letters are also considered as private ones. “Private documents” include –apart from the private letters–  a variety of documents such as private transactions, contracts, receipts, etc. “Official documents” are those which involve officials and could have been written as part of a public procedure, e.g. official correspondence and circulars, petitions, tax documents, etc.

In his MA thesis in the University of Crete, Department of Philology, Rethymnon (2015) Georgios Triantafyllou worked on the adverbs in -ως which indicate Time, directly or indirectly, as they appear in the private letters. He wrote the chapter “The adverbs in -ως”, pp. 1-8, and the chapter concerning the adverbs indicating “Time” in Observations, on pp. 21-24. His work on the following 58 adverbs, after its update, has been incorporated here: ἀγρύπνως, ἀδιακωλύτως, ἀδιαλείπτως, ἀενάως, αἰφνιδίως, αἰωνίως, ἀκαίρως, ἀκωλύτως, ἀνελλείπτως, ἀνελλιπῶς, ἀνεμποδίστως, ἀνεπικωλύτως, ἀνόκνως/ἀόκνως, ἀνυπερθέτως, ἀπαύστως, ἀπερισπάστως, ἀπροόπτως, ἀπροσδοκήτως, ἀπροσκέπτως, ἀρτίως, ἄφνως, βραδέως, γοργῶς, διαταχαίως, διαφόρως, διηνεκῶς, δυενιαυσίως, δυσόκνως, ἐκπροθέσμως, ἐμπροθέσμως, ἐνδελεχῶς, ἐνιαυσιαίως, ἐνιαυσίως, ἐπειγμένως, ἐτησίως, εὐθέως, εὐκαίρως, εὐμαρῶς, εὐτάκτως, εὐχαιροτέρως, ἡμερησίως, ἡμερουσίως, μηνιαίως, ὀκνηρῶς, ὀψίμως, προθύμως, προπετῶς, πρωιμότερον, πρώτως, πυκνῶς, σπανίως, συνεχῶς, συντόμως, συχνῶς, ταχέως, ὑπογύως/ὑπογύιως, ὠκαίως (= ὠκέως?). He also studied the adverbials (τὸ) τάχος, κατὰ τάχο(υ)ς, which were incorporated in the entry ταχέως, the adverb παραχρῆμα, which was incorporated in the entry εὐθέως, and the adverb οὕτως. Nikos Litinas wrote the rest of the “General Introduction” and worked on the other 500 adverbs in -ως and their use in the private letters. He also wrote Appendix I (on p. 271) concerning the adverbs ending in -ί and -εί, -δην and -δόν. We studied all the examples of the adverbs in -ως occurring in the private letters which were published until 2016. Only some editions of papyri, which appeared afterwards as book editions or as journal articles were considered, therefore the evidence based on these publications is not extensively included. The total number of entries is 561. After the completion of our study, we were pleased to see that our primary results were true of all new instances provided in these new editions. The adverbs occurring in private letters are marked with an asterisk (*), which is placed after them in their entry.

As for the micro-organization of the entries, even though the adverbs are listed in alphabetical order, the structure of the entries is not the same, since it depends on the use in the private letters. It usually takes the following form: translation and the basic meanings and the various uses and senses that these adverbs could acquire within a certain context, based on LSJ, Bauer, Lampe and LBG, and the texts of the Greek inscriptions; attestation(s) in the Greek literature, and where we consider necessary, with full citations from Greek authors, earliest or latest attestations of the adverb, with remarks on its use and various possible points of interest, which are related to the position of the adverbs in the clause or the sentence, the syntactical constructions, the modified constituents, and other notes that could provide information for the user, such as concerning the style, the way the context contributes to a certain expected or unexpected meaning, collocations, morphological regularities or specificities. References to the secondary literature are made where necessary. This secondary literature is not included in the General Bibliography (p. v). We include expanded or explanatory pieces on entries concerning the use of the adverbs in the private letters. Since in most cases the adverbs in -ως occur only once or very few times in the private letters, the relevant passages are quoted. However, references are made to other types of documents as well, and occasionally there is a further discussion of adverbs in -ως in these documents. In this book, the entries concerning adverbs which are attested in documents other than private letters contain only the meaning and the occurrences of the adverb, and in some cases we have posed questions mainly concerning its sense and use, its position in the clause, and the modification it provides, especially when this is not clear. The purpose was to show that from the numerous adverbs which existed (as mentioned above, more than 4700 adverbs in -ως in the Greek language) and were probably known, only 558 were used in the everyday texts in Graeco-Roman Egypt, and almost half of them (228 adverbs, that is c. 41%) were used in private letters, and again almost half of them (c. 52%) are attested only once in the private letters (see p. 14). Obtaining results of a statistical analysis based just on a few surviving ancient findings would be flimsy and not convincing, but in our opinion, this comparative study is a reliable guide because it allows us to see which adverbs were used in each type of document and in which situations. When the adverbs occur both in the private and the official documents, only the results concerning the private letters are discussed, since these adverbs can provide a characteristic parallel or some additional information concerning the textual use of adverbs in the private letters. However, the study of the use of the adverbs in the official and legal clauses of the documents will appear in a future volume of this series. Such a study is uncommon in the papyrological editions, with few and recent exceptions, such as that of Thomas Backhuys in P.Köln XVI 651, pp. 199-202, 7-8n.

Furthermore, the comparative and superlative forms of the adverbs in -ως, which are attested in the private letters, are also discussed in order to indicate their morphological variations and how they are used ‒similarly or differently‒ from the positive degree. In some cases, when the positive degree of these adverbs does not occur in the papyrological documents, and we have examples of only the comparative or superlative degree, it is placed in rectangular brackets [ ]. In addition, in the following books or articles, studies concerning the use of the adverbs instead of other corresponding expressions, such as oblique cases, prepositional expressions etc. will appear. Some first observations were included in the entries, or see footnote 38 in the General Introduction.

The appendices concern the adverbs ending in -ί and -εί, -δην and -δόν, ghost-adverbs, and adverbs rejected and corrected. At the end of the book we have also included two indexes: (a) a reverse index of the adverbs, and (b) an index of the adverbs, in which we have also included the adverbs which should be disregarded, indicating them with a strikethrough text formatting.


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Online resources
Searching passages from the literary texts: the online database Thesaurus Linguae Graecae (TLG):

Searching passages from the papyri and ostraca and their dating:
Duke Databank of Documentary Papyri, DDbDP:
Heidelberger Gesamtverzeichnis der griechischen Papyrusurkunden Ägyptens, HGV:
PapPal (

Searching passages from inscriptions: Searchable Greek Inscriptions of the Packard Humanities Institute:

For the editions of papyri: Checklist of editions of Greek, Latin, Demotic and Coptic Papyri, Ostraca and Tablets:

Addenda and Corrigenda will be incorporated in the epub edition (forthcoming 2023)
Cover for Adverbs in -ως in Documents of Graeco-Roman Egypt

Details about this monograph

ISBN-10 (02)
Date of first publication (11)