Who rains? Poios vrehei? Ποιος βρέχει?

Apollodorus

Member
English UK
Who rains? Poios vrehei? Ποιος βρέχει?

I am intrigued by the Greek phrase βρέχει o θεός/vrehei o Theos (God rains). I don’t seem to find parallels in any modern European languages.

Obviously, in both Christian and pre-Christian tradition God is the controlling force behind natural phenomena. So, from a religious point of view, the phrase “God rains/is raining” is correct in quite a literal sense and must have been prevalent in the Middle Ages and before.

What I would like to know is, does this phrase have any other meaning than the literal one in Modern Greek? And, is it still in use (apart from in folk songs likeAndreas Lilikakis’ “Siga-siga vrehei o Theos”)?
 
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  • Perseas

    Senior Member
    Βρέχει is impersonal in Greek. It has therefore no subject.
    No, it's not in use, but I could imagine someone using it in a poem or in literature (though rarely).
     

    Apollodorus

    Member
    English UK
    Hi there, the reason I was asking is that Triantafyllides in his Modern Greek Dictionary says: βρέχει/αστράφτει ο θeós “God rains/ strikes lightning”.

    So, I assumed the phrase was still in use?

    If we go further back, Classical and Biblical texts have many examples:

    πάντες που οἱ ἄνθρωποι πρὸς τὸν θεὸν ἀποβλέπουσιν, ὁπότε βρέξας τὴν γῆν
    “all men look anxiously to God, to see when he will rain/ send rain on the earth” (Xenophon, Eco. 17.2)

    ὁ Ζεὺς γὰρ ἔβρεξε
    “Zeus rained” (Papyrus Oxyrhynchus 1482.6)

    καὶ Κύριος ἔβρεξεν ἐπὶ Σόδομα καὶ Γόμορρα θεῖον
    “Then the Lord (Yahweh) rained upon Sodom and Gomorrah” (LXX Ge 19:24)

    καὶ ἔβρεξε Κύριος χάλαζαν ἐπὶ πᾶσαν γῆν Αἰγύπτου (LXX Ex 9:23)
    “… and the Lord (Yahweh) rained hail upon the land of Mitsrayim (Egypt) (Ex 9:23)

    ὅτι τὸν ἥλιον αὐτοῦ ἀνατέλλει ἐπὶ πονηροὺς καὶ ἀγαθοὺς καὶ βρέχει ἐπὶ δικαίους καὶ ἀδίκους
    “For He makes the sun rise on the evil and the good and rains on the righteous and the unrighteous” (NT Mat 5:45)

    We find the same view in the writings of later Christian authors (see Philokalia, etc.).

    Am I right in assuming that βρέχω hasn’t always been impersonal? If yes, at what point has it become impersonal? And is Triantafyllides out of date?
     

    Perseas

    Senior Member
    Hi there, the reason I was asking is that Triantafyllides in his Modern Greek Dictionary says: βρέχει/αστράφτει ο θeós “God rains/ strikes lightning”.

    So, I assumed the phrase was still in use?
    Hello,
    yes, I saw that example in Triandafyllides’ online dictionary, it's a vernacular expression which I've met very rarely. I can't imagine someone using regularly "βρέχει ο Θεός" instead of "βρέχει" in order to describe raining.

    Just to clarify, "βρέχει" is impersonal when it describes the weather event. Otherwise it can be personal: Βρέχω το σφουγγάρι (I dampen the sponge).
     
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    Apollodorus

    Member
    English UK
    Funny enough, when I first came across it I took it for granted that it was an everyday expression. The penny dropped much later, when I noticed it only cropped up in the odd old song. The Greeks I’ve asked weren’t aware of it. As is often the case, it possibly survived in the countryside longer than in urban areas and maybe more among the older generations? But if Triantafyllides records it (and I don’t recall him listing it as a poetic expression) then it can’t have fallen out of use too long ago. But thanks for the clarification.
     

    Perseas

    Senior Member
    Triandafyllides and other dictionaries have recorded this as an expression, but it's not a common one ; you barely hear it even in everyday speech. Another similar folk expression is "ο ουρανός βρέχει" ("the sky rains"), but you wouldn't hear that in a usual conversation. The same applies to the folk proverb "Αν βρέξει ο Μάρτης δυο νερά ...", i.e. "If March rains ...".
    When we say "σήμερα έβρεξε πολύ" ("today it has rained a lot") we don't think of God or the sky as subjects of the verb.
     
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    Apollodorus

    Member
    English UK
    Yes, as a general rule, dictionaries record words and phrases that are current, everyday language. Where this is not the case, the normal practice is to mark the listed item as “regional”, “poetic”, “rare”, “obsolete”, etc. So, maybe Triantafyllides should have qualified his βρέχει o θεός as “rare” or “obsolescent”.

    When you go from a language that uses personal pronouns to one that tends to drop them, e.g., from English “it rains/it’s raining” to Greek “rains (βρέχει)”, you possibly feel that there is “something missing” and you sort of wonder who βρέχει. I suppose this is what prompted me to ask the question and that’s when I discovered that the phrase goes back to antiquity as can be seen in Liddle & Scott Greek-English Lexicon (LSJ) which, by the way, is an excellent reference.

    In any case, my guess is that in classical and medieval times when people said “βρέχει” they meant “o θεός βρέχει”. They didn’t need to expressly articulate this except in cases where it was felt that emphasis was needed. This is suggested by many texts from Pagan philosophers like Plotinus to the Christian Saints and Church Fathers.

    The Philokalia (Η Φιλοκαλία) says:

    “God’s providence controls the universe. It is present everywhere” – St Antony the Great, Vol 1, p 246

    “God controls the helm and directs all things as he wills … God sends the rain …He makes the sun rise … He provides fiery heat and suitable breezes …” St Neilos the Ascetic, Vol 1, p. 149

    (English text available online)

    And it wasn’t just religious people. St Augustine in The City of God gives a very detailed picture of how ordinary people in the Roman Empire saw the world that leaves absolutely no doubt. It was a totally different worldview to the modern one. Even if we don’t agree with it, we must acknowledge it as a historical reality.

    But I do agree that language is a reflection of ourselves and of the way we see ourselves and our environment. Language changes along with changes in our perception of the world around us. When people no longer see natural phenomena as controlled by supernatural forces then events like rain become “impersonal”.
     

    Apollodorus

    Member
    English UK
    I think one question that is left open is exactly how impersonal is an “impersonal” verb?

    Obviously, when they use (or used) the phrase βρέχει o Θεός the verb had a subject, o Θεός. But what happens when βρέχει is used on its own?

    As can be seen from the examples given in the previous post, the general worldview in Classical and post-Classical times assumed that meteorological phenomena were controlled by God.

    Since ancient times, God (Ζεύς, Θεός) had been regarded as the sky God and the force that controlled rain, thunder, etc. This didn’t change with Christianity.

    In fact, in Christianity God/Θεός is omnipotent (παντοδύναμος) and ruler of everything (παντοκράτωρας).

    The basic Christian creed or profession of faith that makes one a Christian says “I believe in one God, the Almighty Father”, Πιστεύω εις ένα Θεόν Πατέρα Παντοκράτορα.

    God is called Father, Πατέρας, because he creates, sustains and rules the world in the same way as a father may be said to be the creator, provider and ruler of a family. In antiquity, the father was the lord and master of the family, pater familias. He was never addressed by his personal name but only as “Father”. (This is still the case in traditional communities.)

    For the same reason, God/Θεός in the Bible is referred to as “Father/Πατέρας” and “Lord/ Κύριος”, to emphasise the fact that he is the supreme authority to whom the whole of creation, including mankind, owes unconditional obedience.

    Incidentally, the first and greatest commandment, η πρώτη και πιο μεγάλη εντολή, Jesus gave his disciples was “you shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind”, να αγαπάς τον Κύριο το Θεό σου μ’ όλη την καρδιά σου, μ’ όλη την ψυχή σου και μ’ όλο το νου σου.

    In a biblical sense to love God means first of all “always walking in his ways and keeping his commandments” in a show of obedience, of acknowledgment of his authority, in fact, as the only authority: “there is no other God but one”, δεν υπάρχει άλλος Θεός παρά μόνο ένάς (Προς Κορινθίους α’ 8:4).

    Now, bearing all this in mind, we can see that in the ancient worldview there was no one else, no other entity or power that could rain but God. Therefore, when a first-century citizen of the Roman Empire said βρέχει in Greek or pluit in Latin, he or she really meant o Θεός βρέχει/Deus pluit. They couldn’t have meant “it” because there was no “it” in their language.

    St Augustine of Hippo who himself uses the phrase “God/the Lord rains” scores of times, says very clearly:

    “[…] though we name Him not, He can be understood. For so we say, it rains, clears up, thunders, and such like expressions; and we do not add who does it all; for that the excellency of the doer spontaneously presents itself to all men’s minds, and does not want words.” - Exposition on the Book of Psalms, Psalm IX, 1

    Even if a person was not consciously aware of God presenting himself to his mind at the sight of rain or at the sound of thunder, this could still have happened subconsciously. Even today, when we see or hear thunder or lightning, or there is a thunderstorm, we instinctively become aware of a “higher power”, be it natural or divine.

    St Augustine not only exemplifies how people who analysed these matters viewed things in the early centuries of the Christian era, but his views became prevalent among later Christian thinkers and became an integral part of traditional grammars into modern times.

    The famous Brothers Grimm, who were leading philologists and lexicographers as well as folklore researchers in the 1800s, wrote: “to pluit and tonat one thinks of a Jupiter or a deus to whom one ascribes the origin of the rain, the thunder and the lightning” (Deutsches Wörterbuch, Vol. 3, p. 1112).

    So, it seems to me that the question as to whether weather verbs, i.e., verbs that describe meteorological phenomena, are really “impersonal” is, ultimately, a subjective thing. Verbs like βρέχει may not have an explicit subject in articulated speech, but they may still have one on a deeper, conscious or subconscious, level.

    While it is true that most modern Greek speakers don’t think of a supernatural power as the active agent when they say βρέχει, there is nothing to prevent them from doing so and it is reasonable to assume that some probably do.

    I’m guessing the same applies even more to thunder or lightning, which is why you can still see people crossing themselves (κάνουν το σταυρό τους) when they see or hear thunder or lightning.

    Similarly, people can only exclaim “O my God!”, “Θεέ μου!”, as an involuntary expression of fear, surprise or despair, if the word “God/Θεός” is already present in their mind on a deeper level that is close to their emotional side but not immediately apparent to their intellectual side.

    But this is just my personal opinion, people don’t have to agree with it.
     

    Apollodorus

    Member
    English UK
    So, it looks like the weather verb βρέχει vrehei does have a subject, namely, o Θεός, which is at times explicit as in βρέχει o Θεός/o Θεός βρέχει, God rains, and at other times implicit. When implicit, the subject may be conscious or subconscious, as explained above.

    Therefore, the question Who rains? Ποιος βρέχει? Poios vrehei? may be safely answered with o Θεός, at least in those instances where this can be shown to be the case.

    However, for the sake of completeness, it might be helpful to also look into how the action of raining is performed by the subject. In other words, what exactly do we mean when we say or think, “God rains”, o Θεός βρέχει?

    To find out, we must first look at the meaning of βρέχει.

    The LSJ states that the verb βρέχω is also used in the sense of “to send rain” and gives Matthew 5:45 as an example where (in the modern Greek version), it says that God (the Father) “sends the rain”, στέλνει τη βροχή.

    The Bible also says exactly how God sends rain. Being omnipotent, God could, of course, simply will rain to fall out of the blue sky or make plants, animals and humans subsist without water. However, he has created the world and the physical laws that govern it for a purpose. Therefore, he uses nature as a means of dispensing rain:

    God causes moisture to ascend to the sky; he brings forth wind that covers the sky with clouds; and he commands the rain to pour out a mighty downpour, etc. (Psalm 135:7, 147:8,18; Job 37:6).

    This, of course, is just one way of looking at it but it seems to be consistent with tradition - a tradition of more than two millennia - and I think it would be wrong for us to ignore or cancel it.
     
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    Perseas

    Senior Member
    So, it looks like the weather verb βρέχει vrehei does have a subject, namely, o Θεός, which is at times explicit as in βρέχει o Θεός/o Θεός βρέχει, God rains, and at other times implicit. When implicit, the subject may be conscious or subconscious, as explained above.

    Therefore, the question Who rains? Ποιος βρέχει? Poios vrehei? may be safely answered with o Θεός, at least in those instances where this can be shown to be the case.
    Talking about the weather, the question "ποιος βρέχει;" doesn’t make sense in Greek. It would sound very weird to a native speaker, if someone asked so.
     
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    Apollodorus

    Member
    English UK
    You're probably right there and I'm not disputing it. However, the question does make sense to the person who is asking it. It is part of the learning process, especially when it comes to learning a foreign language and you're trying to understand how native speakers think.

    Verbs are often descriptive of an action and actions tend to have a subject that performs them. This is undeniably the case in expressions like βρέχει o Θεός.

    Grammarians, philosophers, theologians and scientists have often asked this question - along with many others - and attempted to answer them.

    There is an extensive literature on the subject. See for example, Manfred Kienpointner, "Weather verbs in Latin, German and other languages", Etudes de linguistique latine, 2016, pp. 57-67.
     

    Perseas

    Senior Member
    You're probably right there and I'm not disputing it. However, the question does make sense to the person who is asking it. It is part of the learning process, especially when it comes to learning a foreign language and you're trying to understand how native speakers think.
    Sure, this is why I am saying that it doesn't make any sense. Since the verb "βρέχει" is impersonal, the question "Ποιος βρέχει;" seems to be out of place.
    On the other hand, you could ask, for example, "ποιος ρίχνει τη βροχή;" ("who throws the rain?", maybe?). Semantically and syntactically it would be valid.
     

    Apollodorus

    Member
    English UK
    On the other hand, you could ask, for example, "ποιος ρίχνει τη βροχή;" ("who throws the rain?", maybe?). Semantically and syntactically it would be valid.

    Well, in my view, phrases like “Ζεὺς ἔβρεχε”, “ἔβρεξε Κύριος”, “ο ουράνιος Πατέρας στέλνει τη βροχή”, “βρέχει ο θeós”, etc. show that the verb βρέχει can and does have a personal subject at least in these cases.

    The occurrence of phrases like “βρέχει ο θeós”, rare as it may be, suggests that “βρέχει” may still have an implied subject, if not an explicit one.

    Therefore, the question “ποιος βρέχει;”, “who rains?” would seem to be a legitimate one.

    Of course, we could ask "ποιος ρίχνει τη βροχή;", "ποιος στέλνει τη βροχή;" or maybe "ποιος κάνει τη βροχή;" etc.

    Alternatively, if we wanted to sound more scientific, we might want to ask “how does the phenomenon of rain occur?”

    However, in practice, this would amount to the same thing. I’ve found that very few people (Greeks or non-Greeks) actually worry about things like mainstream views on semantics.

    Even if the question is not at first understood, or seems to "make no sense", there is nothing to prevent the enquirer from explaining what he means and why he's asking that question.

    Likewise, even if the person whom we ask does not normally think of a subject in connection with the verb βρέχει, there is a high probability that they will think of one when they’re being asked about it.

    Also, do bear in mind that I’m taking a traditional approach here. There is a very long Greek tradition, started in the time of Plato or before and carried on by the Church Fathers, that gives various levels of meaning to language spoken or written.

    For example, a sentence may have (1) a physical/literal/historical meaning, (2) a psychic/moral meaning or (3) a spiritual/allegorical meaning, each meaning relating to its corresponding field of experience - according to the traditional tripartite division of man into a physical/sensual, intellectual and spiritual aspect.

    Additionally, as it's well-known, Platonic philosophers held that learning is a process of remembrance. Their belief that we live more than one life meant that asking and being asked questions serves the purpose of assisting us in remembering forgotten knowledge.

    We find a parallel view of learning in a long line of Christian thinkers like Augustine who, although they did not believe in metempsychosis or reincarnation, still saw learning as a process of remembrance in which a soul’s innate knowledge is illumined by a higher light or knowledge, bringing to the mind things until then regarded as “unknown” or forgotten.

    Remembrance and knowledge are closely interconnected in Greek tradition, both Platonic and Christian. The very words λήθη, “oblivion, forgetfulness, concealment” and αλήθεια, “un-forgetfulness, un-concealment, truth” are obviously related. Memory (μνήμη) and recollection (ανάμνηση) are the means by which we pass from oblivion and ignorance to knowledge and truth. And asking questions is the instrument that initiates, stimulates and supports this process.

    If by asking questions like ποιος βρέχει, we get answers that correspond more or less to the three levels of experience, awareness or knowledge, then maybe there is some truth in it. For example, one person might answer “nobody” because they can’t see anyone doing the action of raining. Another might do some thinking and say something like “nature”. And yet another might feel that “God” is the correct answer.

    So, in addition to the linguistic aspect, this may be an opportunity to put certain psychological and philosophical assumptions to the test. At the very least, it can make learners of Greek more aware of certain historical, cultural and religious-philosophical facts connected with the verb βρέχει they may take an interest in, which can’t be a bad thing.

    Incidentally, those who wish to familiarise themselves with the traditional view of these matters may find Ioannis Papachristou’s Memory, Oblivion and Recollection in Late Platonism useful.

    Augustine also makes interesting reading (De quantitate animae, On the Teacher, etc.) and, of course, so does the Philokalia, a collection of Greek texts written by Christian spiritual masters.
     

    Perseas

    Senior Member
    The occurrence of phrases like “βρέχει ο θeós”, rare as it may be, suggests that “βρέχει” may still have an implied subject, if not an explicit one.

    Therefore, the question “ποιος βρέχει;”, “who rains?” would seem to be a legitimate one.
    In "Χθες έβρεξε." (yesterday it rained) there is no subject, neither explicit nor implicit, because "έβρεξε" is impersonal. I guess it's like English "it rained", isn't it?
    Also, in "Χθες έβρεξε." the question "ποιος έβρεξε;" would make no sense. It would be understood only as a joke.

    Of course, there are many interesting things we could discuss, like these, but in my opinion they are outside the scope of this forum:

    Additionally, as it's well-known, Platonic philosophers held that learning is a process of remembrance. Their belief that we live more than one life meant that asking and being asked questions serves the purpose of assisting us in remembering forgotten knowledge.

    We find a parallel view of learning in a long line of Christian thinkers like Augustine who, although they did not believe in metempsychosis or reincarnation, still saw learning as a process of remembrance in which a soul’s innate knowledge is illumined by a higher light or knowledge, bringing to the mind things until then regarded as “unknown” or forgotten.

    Remembrance and knowledge are closely interconnected in Greek tradition, both Platonic and Christian. The very words λήθη, “oblivion, forgetfulness, concealment” and αλήθεια, “un-forgetfulness, un-concealment, truth” are obviously related. Memory (μνήμη) and recollection (ανάμνηση) are the means by which we pass from oblivion and ignorance to knowledge and truth. And asking questions is the instrument that initiates, stimulates and supports this process.
     
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    Apollodorus

    Member
    English UK
    Of course, there are many interesting things we could discuss, like these, but in my opinion they are outside the scope of this forum:

    Oh, I had no intention to discuss them here. I simply mentioned them by way of explanation and I gave a few sources for other forum members to do their own research, should they feel inclined to do so.

    Cheers, my friend, and God bless.
     

    Αγγελος

    Senior Member
    Greek
    Βρέχει is impersonal in Greek. It has therefore no subject.
    No, it's not in use, but I could imagine someone using it in a poem or in literature (though rarely).
    «Μη μου κρατάς κλειστή την πόρτα,
    βρέχει ο Θεός και θα βραχώ.
    Άνοιξε, αγάπη μου, σαν πρώτα,
    να μπω κι εγώ να ζεσταθώ.»
     

    Apollodorus

    Member
    English UK
    «Μη μου κρατάς κλειστή την πόρτα,
    βρέχει ο Θεός και θα βραχώ.
    Άνοιξε, αγάπη μου, σαν πρώτα,
    να μπω κι εγώ να ζεσταθώ.»

    That was exactly what I was thinking of.

    Poetry is the language of the soul, especially when it is set to music as seems to have been the case in Ancient Greece.

    Maybe poems and songs are trying to tell us something that we have forgotten while we're busy doing other things ...
     
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