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Question
Hello Maria,
I was wondering the correct form and pronounciation of the Spartan phrase,
"Either with this or upon this." I  have ἢ τὰν ἢ ἐπὶ τὰς, but not sure if this is
correct. Thank you for any help that you can provide.

Answer
Hello Chris,

First of all there are two versions of this quotation from Plutarch’s  Apophthegmata Laconica (Sayings of the Ancient Spartans):the first is the one you mention, i.e. “ ἢ τὰν ἢ ἐπὶ τὰς “ (Latin transliteration “he tan he epi tas “), while the second is “ ἢ τὰν ἢ ἐπὶ τὰν “ (Latin transliteration “he tan he epi tan “), where the last word is in the accusative (τὰν / tŕn)  instead of the genitive (τὰς/ tŕs), since the preposition “ἐπὶ” (epě) meaning “on / upon “ can take either the accusative or the genitive.

This ancient Greek sentence means "Either this or upon this", i.e."Either with this or upon this” as well as  “Either bring the shield back or be brought home dead upon the shield“,  as a Spartan mother wished her son to return from war either with his  shield or on it, since if a soldier  returned home alive without his shield, it meant that he had lost it while running for his life and then he had been a coward.

Anyway here’s the pronunciation of each word of the above versions:

ἢ  (Latin transliteration “he” )is pronounced like the E in ‘attention”.
It means “either”.

τὰν  (Latin transliteration “tŕn”) is pronounced like TAN in “Tanagra”, the city of ancient Boeotia, Greece.
It is the accusative feminine singular, Doric form,  of  the definite article meaning “the” which implies the accusative feminine singular  “aspěda” (shield) and means literally “the (shield)“, as there is a verb "Bring back" e.g., which is understood.

ἢ  (“he” ) See above

ἐπὶ (epě ) is pronounced like EPI  in “epiphyte” but with the stress on the “i”.
It is a preposition which takes either the accusative or the genitive and means “on “ / “upon”.


τὰς (‘tas’ ) is pronounced like TAX in “taxonomy” but with a double S instead of the X.
It is the genitive feminine singular, Doric form, of  the definite article meaning “the” which implies the genitive feminine singular “aspědas” (shield) and means literally “the (shield) “, i.e. "on the shield".



τὰν ( “tŕn”, variant of “tas”) is pronounced like TAN in “Tanagra” and is again the accusative feminine singular, Doric form,  of  the definite article meaning “the” which implies the accusative feminine singular  “aspěda” (shield) and means literally “the (shield)“, i.e. "on the shield".

Finally note that the Doric was the dialect of ancient Greek spoken in the Peloponnesus and then in Sparta.

Hope all is clear enough.
Feel free however to ask me again.
Best regards,
Maria

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Maria

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I'll be glad to answer any questions concerning ANCIENT GREEK. So, do not ask me please questions regarding MODERN GREEK as it is different from Ancient Greek either in spelling/meaning or in pronunciation.

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Over 25 years teaching experience.

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I received my Ph.D in Classics (summa cum laude) from Genova University (Italy) and my thesis was about ancient Greek drama (Aeschylus).

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