This paper examines the distribution of thematic infinitive endings in early Greek epic in the context of the long-standing debate about the transmission and development of Homeric epic diction. Ιn Homer we find both Ionic -εῖν and Aeolic -έμεν, the latter mostly occupying the biceps of the fourth or the fifth foot, conforming to the well-known preference for a dactylic word-end before the bucolic dieresis and before the sixth foot. Forms in -έμεν have been viewed either as (1) remnants from the “Αeolic stage” of epic diction, not “ionicized” by Ionian bards, because contracted Ionic -ẹ̄n (< *-ehen) would otherwise fill the biceps, resulting in an undesirable spondaic foot, or as (2) products of secondary “aeolicization”, whereby Aeolic -έμεν from the neighboring tradition was substituted for the metrically inept Ionic -ẹ̄n.
This paper provides a novel argument in favor of the second solution (the “diffusionist” approach), starting from the fact that there are no aorist infinitives in -έμεν in Homer which would scan as υ υ - before a consonant or caesura (e.g. *βαλέμεν): instead we find unexplained forms in -έειν (e.g. βαλέειν). It is argued that this artificial “distraction” should be viewed as an actual analogical innovation, resulting from a proportional analogy to the “liquid futures” in *-ehe/o-:
inf. fut. βαλεῖν : βαλέειν = inf. aor. βαλεῖν : Χ, where X is resolved as βαλέειν
As the paper proceeds to argue, the total absence of aoristic -έειν from Hesiod is unlikely to be coincidental: this artificial form must have been a product of specifically East Ionic Kunstsprache (aor. inf. in -έειν are absent from epichoric Ionic) and was unknown in the different Ionian school of epic poetry where Hesiod may have been trained.
Returning to the debate about the stages of Homeric epics, this paper argues that the striking avoidance of anapaestic aorist infinitives in -έμεν cannot be adequately explained under the “Aeolic phase” theory: it remains unclear why in the process of Ionicisation an Ionian singer would replace an archaic/foreign form in -έμεν by a form in -έειν which likewise did not belong to his vernacular (e.g. *βαλέμεν δέ → βαλέειν δέ). Artificial forms generated by the preference for dactylic word-end in certain metrical contexts abound, but there are no cases in Homer where an Aeolic form can be suspected to have been replaced by a metrically equivalent artificial form. Under the “diffusionist” approach, however, it can be plausibly supposed that in the cases where contraction of *-ehen to -ẹ̄n distorted the meter, the Ionian singers were nevertheless able to continue employing traditional formulae by replacing the former *-ehen before a consonant (e.g. *βαλέhεν δέ) by a form in -έειν (e.g. βαλέειν δέ), created and embedded in their own poetic tradition. But -έειν could not be used if the resulting form had a cretic shape (*ἐλθέειν - υ - ), and therefore the Ionian singers had to resort to borrowing Aeolic aor. inf. ἐλθέμεν. The “aeolicization” theory is thus able to fully explain the distribution of Aeolic έμεν and Ionic -έειν in Homeric epics.