The Greek work opse meant late in Homer. By the time of Philostratus (3rd c. A.D.) it sometimes had the meaning of too late. Of course, if someone arrives too late for an event, they arrive "after" it.

Modern Greek doesn't have the word opse. My theory is that the adverb opse (late) morphed into a preposition (after). But, Greek already has meta meaning after. So, opse faded out of existence. Does my theory seem correct? Is it way off base? Your critique will be most valuable for my research.


ὀψέ has survived in Modern Cypriot Greek, as the adverb ψες "last night". (The deletion of initial unstressed o- is semi-regular; the addition of final -s to adverbs is also semi-regular.)

"late" > "(last) night" is a common semantic transition; cf Spanish tardes, and for that matter Ancient βραδύ "late" > Modern βράδυ "evening".

In Modern Cypriot, as in all other dialects of Modern Greek, the preposition and adverb for "after" is μετά, from the ancient preposition.

So while the two words coexist in Cypriot, they retain meanings close to their original function, and don't show evidence of competition. I believe https://linguistics.stackexchange.com/users/3345/user3345 is quite right, that the use of ὀψέ as a preposition is a one off in Philostratos, not a generalised usage.

  • 1
    ψες survives in Chalkidiki as well, as a relic of asia minor dialects such as Bithynian. – Midas May 21 '17 at 21:23
  • Midas: Yup, New Marmara being a prominent holiday destination there... – Nick Nicholas Jun 1 '17 at 1:21

It was actually used in both ways by Philostratos (e.g. Vita Apollonii: τὰς δὲ εὐεργεσίας ὀψὲ διδόναι). But I think we may call it a personal way of expression or a local variant, rather than an established preposition, because this usage didn't survive. The word ὀψέ had been mainly used as an adverb for more than a millennium after Philostratos; so we wouldn't call it loss of anything. We could just say that ancient writers didn't have the same sense of language (or even grammar level). The word could be used though in poetry in Modern Greek, but when writing in a mixed style, not in a standard one.


It is true that opse was used as a preposition meaning "after", even in Antiquity, if we are to believe Liddell-Scott-Jones, which is a highly reputable source:

4.) as Prep. c. gen.

ὀ. τούτων "after these things", Philostr.VA6.10, cf. 4.18;

so perh. ὀ. σαββάτων "after the sabbath day", Ev.Matt.28.1.—

I don't know what happened to opse as a preposition in later Greek, but I'll take your word for it that it disappeared. It is certainly possible that one factor working against it was the existence of meta + acc. "after"; however, the latter is both older and far more frequent than opse "after", so then how do you explain the fact that meta allowed such a competitor to rise at all, and why did it decide to oust opse later rather than sooner?

Certainly, meta "after" may have been a factor, but this is likely to be a very complex matter. For starters, perhaps opse "after" was used in a different register? It was never very common anyway, I believe.

  • Sometimes words just do weird things. Somebody might have just used opse as a preposition once (either intentionally or unintentionally), despite the existence of meta, and a few other people followed suit, and then everyone forgot about it. It's not particularly unusual to have an inceptive kind of change like this just stop and disappear. – Sjiveru Jun 25 '13 at 15:18
  • @Sjiveru: Absolutely. Sometimes factors can be pointed out, at other times they can't. – Cerberus Jun 25 '13 at 20:41

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