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A mutant optative in Galen
I feel guilty, on occasion, that I blog about soft linguistics here—language and identity, spelling conventions, linguistic geography—at the expense of hard linguistics: phonology, morphology, even *shudder* syntax. It’s easy to post about diglossia, because it’s fun social stuff that everyone has an opinion about; it’s much harder to get worked up about optatives.
Because I’m about to have a lot of fun with Motorcycle Boy’s nickel summary of Greek diglossia, I’m going to post now on a mutant optative (or subjunctive) in Galen. It’s my serving of brussels sprouts, as it were.
Those of you that were following The Other Blog three years ago (I know, I know) would have caught sight of my posting there on φαῖο: I unearthed an athematic middle optative of φημί in the new edition of Moschus. Because the grammars documented the old edition of Moschus, and because my command of anything athematic or optative is shaky, I spent an hour trying to work out what it was.
… OK, for the non-classicists among you, once again, slowly. Verbs in Greek are formed by attaching endings to a stem. Normally, a vowel comes between the stem and the ending; it’s called a thematic vowel, and is either /o/ or /e/, depending on the person. There is an archaic class of verbs which has no thematic vowels, so they’re called athematic. As is usual with irregular verbs, these are high frequency verbs—φημί “say”, ἵστημι “stand”, τίθημι “put”, δίδωμι “give”; so people had learned them by rote, and they stuck around when other verbs got their added vowels.
We’re going to look at subjunctives and optatives, and there’s two further things to know about those moods. The subjunctive thematic vowels are long, /ɔː/ and /ɛː/, and *all* subjunctives are thematic, whatever their indicatives are. Which is just as well, because that way the subjunctives and indicatives are still distinguishable. So
|Thematic:||lú-o-mai “I am loosened”||lú-ɔː-mai “I may be loosened”|
|Athematic:||títʰe-mai “I am put”||*titʰé-ɔː-mai > tithʰɔ̂ː-mai “I may be placed”|
If the subjunctive didn’t get a thematic vowel, the subjunctive of títʰe-mai would still be títʰe-mai.
The second thing to know is that, over and above any thematic vowels (or the absence of them), the optative mood gets an extra /i/ or /iɛː/ added in. And while the present subjunctive uses the same endings as the present indicative (the “primary” inflections), the present optative uses the “secondary” inflections, which are in common with the imperfect. So the present imperfect of “loosen” is e-lu-ó-mɛːn, with a thematic /o/, and the optative present is lu-o-í-mɛːn, with both a thematic /o/ and an optative /i/.
Oh, and a third thing: proto-Greek /s/ between vowels did not stick around for long, and nor did most instances of two vowels next to each other.
To illustrate all this, this is how the middle voice (and passive voice) subjunctive and optative present are formed, with a thematic verb, and an athematic verb.
There’s one more annoyance, which is that athematic optatives from the 3rd sg down also turn up thematic: titʰeîto but also titʰoîto, titʰeímetʰa but also titʰeímetʰa. But we’ll ignore that, mercifully.
Now, if we put the athematic φημί into the same machine and crank the handle, we get:
And pʰaîo up there—φαῖο—was the form I failed to recognised in Moschus.
The thing about φημί is, Greek dialect used φημί in the middle voice, but Attic only used it in the active. So you have few instances of φημί in the middle: a fair few perfect participles (including one in Plato), a few middle aorists, and Homer has an middle imperative φάο and φάσθω and a middle infinitive φάσθαι. But we have no known instances of the middle present subjunctive of φημί; and until the new edition of Moschus, we had none recorded for the middle present optative ether. So out of that whole table I just gave, only the boldfaced form has ever turned up in literature.
(Grammarians knew how the rules worked, so they did make up pʰɔ̂ːmai: Heraclides of Miletus (Milesius) fr. 54 Cohn, Theodosius of Alexandria Canones isagogici de flexione verborum p. 97 Hilgard—although the latter intended it as an aorist. I have no evidence they made up an optative to match.)
We fast forward a few centuries to Galen. Galen is a medical writer who has a *lot* of text attributed to him. Partly because he was that prolific: “It has been reported that Galen employed 20 scribes to write down his words “, Wikipedia notes, to which a Wikipedia editor has inevitably added “Citation needed“. Partly because his stuff was useful, so copyists kept it around. Partly because he was a default medical author, for others’ writings to be attributed to.
Galen’s prose is supposed to be a workmanlike Koine, nothing too fancy. (The German word for it is Fachprosa, “specialist prose”—meaning scientific, as opposed to literary.) That said, he occasionally wanted to liven things up. And his misstep on one occasion that he did, gives us our second attested instance of a mediopassive optative of φημί.
Our instance comes from Galen’s commentary to Hippocrates’ Treatise on Joints. The Bibliothèque interuniversitaire de médicine, Paris V, have magnificently put online the old editions of Galen. Of course people have been reediting individual works of Galen since the 1820s Kühn edition, and must be furious people still refer back to what is a pretty crappy edition, even by 1820s standards. But I’ll refer to it anyway, given that it’s also the edition the TLG has, and it’s where I found this optative.
You can view the passage as published by Kühn; here it is again, with my rendering:
Ἀγαθοὺς πυροὺς τοὺς ἀρίστους δηλονότι λέγει. ταύτην γὰρ οἱ παλαιοὶ τὴν προσηγορίαν ἐπιφέρειν εἰθισμένοι κατὰ παντὸς τοῦ πρώτου ὄντος ἐν τῷ οἰκείῳ γένει. λέγουσι δὲ καὶ νῦν ἅπαντες οἱ περὶ τὴν σιτοποιίαν ἀρίστους εἶναι πυροὺς τοὺς πυκνοὺς τὴν οὐσίαν. οἱ γὰρ χαῦνοι πολὺ τὸ πιτυρῶδες ἔχουσι καὶ τὸ σταῖς αὐτῶν οὐ γίγνεται γλίσχρον, ὡς καὶ μυῶν. ὅλκιμον δὲ ὠνόμασε τὸ γλίσχρον ἀπὸ τοῦ συμβεβηκότος, ἐπειδὴ τεινόντων ἡμῶν αὐτὸ πρὸς τἀναντία μέρη, συνεχὲς μὲν οὐ διασπώμενον τοῦ μὴ γλίσχρου φθάνοντος διασπᾶσθαι κατὰ τὰς τοιαύτας ἐνεργείας. εἰ δὲ διασπᾶται, πῶς ἄν τις ἕπεσθαι φαίηται τεινούσαις χερσὶ αὐτό; εἰ δ᾽ οὐχ ἕπεται, πῶς ἂν ὅλκιμον ἔτι λεχθείη;
By “good wheat”, Hippocrates obviously means the best quality. The old-timers used to apply that description to anything which was the first of its kind. And nowadays everyone dealing with bread-making call “best quality” wheat whose substance is dense. Spongy wheat is very crusty, and its dough does not become sticky, like rats’ [?!] dough does. And Hippocrates calls sticky dough “ductile”, because of what happens when we pull it in opposite directions: it is continuous and does not break apart, while dough that is not sticky ends up breaking apart under that action. If it does break apart, how could one say that it follows along, when their hands stretch it? And if it does not follow along, then how could it still be said to be ductile?
As often happens with ancient commentaries, there is a fair ladling of the bleeding obvious in there. But what detains us is the verbs for “say” Galen uses at the end. The final λεχθείη is an aorist passive optative: “it would be said”, here meaning “it would be called”. Galen wants to use a different verb from λέγω in the preceding sentence, so he uses φημί, that old irregular verb, which by then would have been fast dying out.
For some reason, Galen wants to use a middle or passive optative, not an active. It’s hard to tell which of the two he intends, although that does not affect the form he uses, since passives and middles usually coincide (outside the aorist and future). If he’s going for the passive, which he does in the next sentence, then he means “how could it be said that it follows along, with hands pullng”—and with a nominative “someone” (τις) stuck mid-sentence doing nothing. If he’s going for the middle, the “someone” finds employment again: “how could someone say that it follows along, with hands pulling”; but then Galen has revived a quite antick middle of φημί.
Whatever he’s done, he cannot use an aorist for the optative: there has never been an aorist passive of φημί (outside the fertile imagination of grammarians: Theodosius of Alexandria loc.cit. p. 88 ἐφάθην, Etymologicum Magnum p. 496 Kallierges ἐφάθην ἐφάθημεν ἐφάθησαν), and the aorist middle is Homeric territory, and not the style he’s going for. So he has to use a present optative.
We know from the table above that the verb he should use is pʰaîto, φαῖτο. But that’s not what Galen comes up with. Instead, Galen does this:
- Optative passive of φημί. OK, the optative active is pʰaíɛːn, pʰaíɛːs, pʰaíɛː…
- [Correct: pʰa-iɛː-n, pʰa-iɛː-n, pʰa-iɛː-Ø]
- So my stem is phai-, to which I add…
- um… how does the optative passive go?
- … ɛːtai?
So Galen starts with an optative, and ends with the subjunctive suffix. Instead of optative pʰaîto or subjunctive pʰɛ̂ːtai, he has ended up with a mooshed-up pʰaíɛːtai.
Why? Well, several things:
- He’s in uncharted grammatical waters: remember, outside that one instance in Moschus, noone has ever seen a middle optative of φημί, and the copyists of Moschus didn’t believe it either—which is why the 19th century grammarians didn’t notice it.
- When people are in uncharted grammatical waters, they lurch for familiar forms. And already the subjunctive was more familiar than the optative.
- The active optative, which Galen knew well enough, has an extra /ɛː/ in it for its optative marker: pʰa-iɛː, not pʰa-i. So being in unchartered waters, he probably thought the passive should have an /ɛː/ in its suffix as well. After all, a native speaker would not know about the proto-Greek games with active optative /iɛː/ vs. middle optative /i/: they’d just know that there’s an optative ending -iɛː to imitate.
- And the correct pʰaîto doesn’t give him an /ɛː/, but the subjunctive ending -ɛːtai does.
- So the passive counterpart of -ɛː, um, must be -ɛːtai. Which is of course nonsense, because -tai is never optative, it’s only subjunctive: if he really wanted to keep his eta, he should have used -ɛːto, and come up with pʰaíɛːto.
- But Galen was not reconstructing the optative morpheme by morpheme from proto-Greek, like we are doing here. He’s lurching about using familiar suffixes. He *can’t* take titʰe-ɛː-tai and titʰe-i-to apart, and realise that the /i/ belongs there but the /tai/ doesn’t. He just knows about morphemes as fusional blocks, ɛːtai and oito, and he sort of knows that pʰai is an optative stem.
- And he comes up with what Motorcycle Boy, were he a pedantic grammarian, might call “a mutant puppy with two heads”.
Thanks to errors in Google Books OCR, btw, φαίηται shows up a lot more online than it’s supposed to, as a misrecognition of φαίνεται “it appears”. It also turns up in a second online copy of Galen, whose provenance I will not vouch for…
Before languagehat rightly corrects me . . .
"world-renowned" for "world-renown."
I usually don't screw up the English participles. 🙂
Thank you for tracking it down, N. I know you are a very busy guy.
Yes, Galen's commenting on Hippocrates' statements.
Happy to hear she's well! Inevitably, I tracked the quote down:
In Hippocratis aphorismos commentarii vii. Kühn (pfft) Vol 18a. p. 29
And the liver has haemorrhaging wounds, and for that reason people wounded that way end up dying before it heals over. I have said this, even if a vein is cut (?); so neither those claiming that surface wounds on the liver will heal, nor those who claim to have taken out lobes of the liver will heal, appear to be telling the truth. However we have often seen a wounded brain heal; once in Ionian Smyrna, while Teacher Pelops was still alive, we saw it heal after a considerable wound. But this is a very rare occurrence; and it is true that the very large wounds, which Hippocrates was accustomed to call "ruptures", bring death.
τὸ δ’ ἧπαρ αἱμοῤῥαγικὰς ἔχει τὰς τρώσεις, καὶ διὰ τοῦτο ἀποθνήσκειν φθάνουσιν οἱ τρωθέντες οὕτως, πρὶν αὐτὸ κολληθῆναι. τὸ δ’ οὕτως εἶπον, ἵνα καὶ φλέψ τις διακοπῇ, διὰ τοῦτ’ οὖν οὔτε οἱ τὰς ἐπιπολῆς αὐτοῦ τρώσεις ἰᾶσθαι λέγοντες οὔτε οἱ τοὺς λοβοὺς ἀφῃρηκέναι δοκοῦσιν ἀληθεύειν. ἐγκέφαλον δὲ τρωθέντα πολλάκις εἴδομεν ἰαθέντα καὶ ἅπαξ ἐν τῇ κατὰ τὴν Ἰωνίαν Σμύρνῃ, ἔτι γε τοῦ διδασκάλου Πέλοπος ζῶντος, ἐπ’ ἀξιολόγῳ τῇ τρώσει. τουτὶ μὲν οὖν
τῶν πάνυ σπανίων ἐστὶν, ἀληθὲς δὲ τὸ τὰς μεγάλας τρώσεις οἵας περ ἔοικεν ὁ Ἱπποκράτης ὀνομάζειν διακοπὰς ἐπιφέρειν θάνατον.
In the lobby of the Montreal Neurological Institute (MNI)—a world-renown institute!—if you look up at the ceiling you'll see a Greek quote that is attributed to Galen:
ΕΓΚΕΦΑΛΟΝ ΔΕ ΤΡΩΘΕΝΤΑ ΕΙΔΟΜΕΝ ΙΑΘΕΝΤΑ
I write this because my mother and I were at the MNI this afternoon for her annual CT scan. You see my mother a few years ago underwent brain surgery to remove a brain tumor (luckily benign) the size of a baseball. It was a successful operation, but there were some tense moments to be sure. She stayed about two weeks at the hospital, and there was not a day that I visited her that I did not stare up that quote. Likewise today.
I know this is off topic, but when I hear or read Galen's name that quote always comes to mind. Anyways, Galen was one smart Greek—a wounded brain can heal!
"he's not bringing his Homeric training to bear in writing his commentaries . . ."
Besides Homer, Galen's education would have consisted largely of reading, studying and learning to write like the Attic orators. He might have spoken koine in daily life but he would have had a rigorous formal training in the morphology and syntax Attic Greek (though probably not the pronunciation). And if I'm not mistaken, by Galen's era (2d or 3d c. CE), Greek grammar was already a highly developed discipline, having been elaborated in the Hellenistic era and even earlier.
Anyway, thanks for a thought-provoking post! I have to confess that I live near and work in Washington DC but don't have the time or energy to go to the Library of Congress to check out the Abballe text. First you have to go through a lengthy process to get an ID (I went through this process once a decade or more ago–it was bad enough then and I can only imagine what it must be like since 9/11); then you have to order the book and wait for them to bring the wrong book; then wait again in the hopes that on the second try the right book might appear . . . And I only have one life to give to solve this intriguing if minor problem in the text of Galen.
By the way, this ties in neatly with your post on 19th-20th c. diglossia in Greek. Diglossia began right after Alexander.
Maybe the text should be further amended to tain kheiroin teinousain. That would be really Attic.
@Bill: well, I won't say you've convinced me, but you've certainly shaken my certainty in this—especially with your alternate emendation. And of course, no need for you to beg leave to do so: I'm not a Classicist, and I'm not a professional scholar, and we live and die here by our argumentation.
I think there's a chance the form was middle/passive in the original, influenced by the following aorist passive λεχθείη. But it's only a chance, and it's a bizarre thing for Galen to have done. People do bizarre things when they're in linguistic discomfort, and I think that could even extend to a misplaced primary ending. But that contention is looking pretty impressionistic.
I'll note though that Galen is writing in Fachprosa, not Attic. So he's not bringing his Homeric training to bear in writing his commentaries—although obviously he can read Hippocrates' Ionic. So we shouldn't expect an Atticist's scrupulousness of him—*even if he knows better*. And at a time when the grammarians were still formulating grammar as we now know it, genuine confusion about the optative was possible.
But an emendation to πῶς ἄν τις ἕπεσθαι φαίη ταῖς τεινούσαις χερσὶ αὐτό is certainly possible, with less hypotheticals than my argument is presenting; and I should not have assumed the scribes to be native speakers of Greek. At any rate, this is now worth me getting in touch with Manetti about…
I'm not enough of a Hellenist to deserve a vote, but for what it's worth I tend to agree with Bill on this point.
To summarize my points:
1. Galen was a highly educated Greek who could read, write and probably speak and think in, Attic Greek (much as many educated Italians can read, write and speak flawlessly a language that differs dramatically in phonology, morphology, syntax and vocabulary from the language in which they conduct their daily lives). Galen's entire eduction would have consisted of Attic Greek and Homer. I find it hard to accept that he would have slapped a primary ending on a verb he intended to be optative, even if he wasn't sure of the exact form.
2. There's absolutely no motivation for a middle form here and, as you point out, middle forms of phe:mi are Homeric, archaic and poetic–completely out of place in prosaic medical treatise.
3. Two small errors can account for the strange form: dropping the sigma on the end of tais and then wrongly joining tai to the preceding word (maybe the sigma fell out before Greeks began to separate their words). The article strikes me as almost necessary here: po:s an tis hepesthai phaie: tais teinousais khersi auto. And phaie: is the normal 3rd pers. pres. opt. act. form of phe:mi
I'm not certain we can be sure that the strange form tells us anything about the evolution of the Greek language, either. We don't know when it arose–whether it was actually the product of someone who was a native speaker of Greek, or perhaps a non-native speaker scribe at work in a Roman scriptorium in late antiquity, or a Western European humanist scholar in early modern times.
Please don't take my remarks as contentious–I'm just offering a divergent point of view, and I offer it respectfully. I'm not a professional scholar and I'm sure you have a much broader and deeper knowledge of Greek than I do. I'm enjoying reading your blog and reacting to it when I think I might have something to offer.
I have been unforgivably idle in not finding out whether we have a better edition of the Commentary on Hippocrates On Joints [De Articulis] than the crapola 1820s edition—crapola enough that it has no app crit, so we don't know what the scribes did. There's a 70 pp book about the manuscript tradition, and (thank you, Google Books, and Clavis commentariorum der antiken medizinischen Texte), there is a new edition: Abballe, M. 1972. I quattro commentari al trattato delle articolazioni di Ippocrate. Rome. With D. Manetti and A. Roselli announcing a new edition as of 2001, but those announced editions don't always happen. Daniela Manetti's home page still has it as In Progress.)
So I could try and get hold of Abballe's edition (which is in only 3 libraries in the US, Library of Congress one of them, and is in no library in Australia). I won't, because my concern is not so much whether Galen came up with the optative (although I suspect he did), but that *someone* came up with such an optative. For the same reason, I don't want to write to the University of Florence to ask Prof Manetti her opinion…
If you were going to form a 3rd pers. pres. opt. med-pass., the normal form would decidedly be φαῖτο, as I argue; and if you forgot about athematic verbs—and I wouldn't blame people by Galen's time, the thematic form would be φάοιτο; at most a hybrid φαίοιτο. So the φαίηται is not just odd because its -ται is subjunctive: the whole -ηται is subjunctive, but it's stuck on to an optative stem φα-ι-. Yes, that could be scribal ignorance; but a middle subjunctive, φάηται, would be just as bizarre here as an optative. (And it would be syntactically wrong: the conditional here calls for an optative, like the next phrase uses.)
So the verb form is still of much interest, and still displays an uncertain, lurching analogy, hybridising subjunctive and optative. And that hybridising, I believe, is not mere incompetence, but real discomfort with an obsolescent verb, an obsolete voice of that obsolescent verb, and an obsolescent mood of the obsolete voice of that obsolescent verb. Under the circumstances, I'd be surprised if it isn't Galen's own error, but it's of interest even if it isn't.
@Bill: Good questions; not sure you'll like the answers, but here goes.
This *could* easily be textual corruption; in fact as I was writing, I was thinking of saying "Galen or someone along its textual transmission". I didn't bother, because Galen isn't Sophocles. Or rather, because I take a more mediaeval than classical philology approach here. The classical philology approach is, Sophocles knew Ancient Greek, the scribes did not, so whatever the scribes came up with is bogus and of no interest. The mediaeval philology approach is, the author is no more competent in the language than the scribes, so an authorial version of the language does not get privileged over the scribes—who did not particularly respect the precise text of the original anyway, the way they did the classics. And I think Galen is closer to the latter than the former.
One of the not-real-grammar annoyances I had with Smythe is that it was not explicit enough about dialectal usage, like Kühner & Blass is. Unfortunately the verb volume of Kühner & Blass is not online (p. 211), but the story is that a middle voice of φημί is attested in Homer, turns up in Moschus and some other Homerising texts and Herodotus, but is very rare in Attic, and really has no business being in someone as late as Galen, even as an affectation. There's certainly no way that a middle voice τίς ἂν φαῖτο was a fixed phrase that survived anywhere.
So if Galen made the verb middle, he was being innovative for no clear reason—though I suspect he was contrasting it with the aorist passive of the following λεχθείη, and don't see why else he'd do it. And if a scribe did it, they were being even more innovative. I'll assume Galen by lectio difficilior—if not indeed lectio insanior 🙂
@Peter: Oddly enough, someone actually gave me van de Laar's verb phone book as a present. (See perfunctory book review.) It's a reference, not a read, and I didn't have something I immediately needed to refer to it for.
But what it presents was intriguing after a fashion. If you look at the Greek verb system synchronically, by the time of Attic, you can tell yourself a story that the aorist and present stems are derived regularly from an underlying verb stem, with affixes. If you ignore a little irregularity here, and a little odd phonology there, that story is accurate.
But if you go back to the etymologies as van de Laar does, the correspondences of presents and aorists are more haphazard. The two stems get thrown together in the one verb ultimately, but started out more independently. (I don't remember, but isn't the relation of perfective and imperfective verbs in Slavic often similarly haphazard?) It took much analogy to weld this into the grand inflectionality of the Classical Greek verb system.
But then, anything beautiful about morphology is achieved through analogy anyway.
Of course, Smythe is suitable for most purposes, not just plebeian ones. But if you need to account for every verb form in every dialect of literature, as I've had to, the gaps in Smythe, while inevitable, are annoying. My snideness (which Bill's picked up on) is that noone's seen the need to pen a new Grand Grammar of Ancient Greek since Schwyzer (who has had the ill fortune, unlike Kühner–Blass–Gerth, not to be online).
(Link to the Old Perseus display. Because New Perseus displaying Kühner –Blass 2 MB of text at a time does not constitute progress, it constitutes something else…)
Ah yes, the scholarly Kühner grammar. . . .
Thank you, BD. For this plebeian, the Smythe and Goodwin grammars will do.
The more I think about it, use of a middle form of phemi seems odd–is it widely attested anywhere else? By the same token, "tis an phaie:" seems like a fixed phrase with a somewhat archaic coloring that might well have survived after other forms of phe:mi had more or less dropped out of the language (although ephe: and "ephe: d'hos" might well have had a continuing existence, too).
Peter, I think Smythe is really excellent for my purposes and for most purposes, but our host, whose work requires a higher level of morphological precision that can only be found in much heavier German tomes, has cited it with (not entirely serious, I suspect) disdain.
I feel guilty, on occasion, that I blog about soft linguistics here—language and identity, spelling conventions, linguistic geography—at the expense of hard linguistics: phonology, morphology, even *shudder* syntax.
I'd like to recommend Margaret Alexiou's (George Seferis Professor of Modern Greek Studies, Harvard) After Antiquity: Greek Language, Myth and Metaphor. An enjoyable read, N. There's even a chapter on Greek polyglossia.
Of course you'll probably be overwhelmed by guilt. No problem. I have just the remedy for that: H.M.F.M. van de Laar's Description of the Individual Greek Verbal Systems. 😉
(see Smythe–yes, I know, not a "real" grammar, but that's all I have at my disposal–sec. 783)
Or maybe the original read simply: "tis an hepesthai phaie: tais teinousais khersin auto;" with the normal active optative form.
Can we be sure this form isn't a textual corruption? Singular present active optative forms in phaie- are regular (see Smythe–yes, I know, not a "real" grammar, but that's all I have at my disposal–sec. 783) although medio-passive forms of phemi are rare if not unattested elsewhere. If you were going to form a 3rd pers. pres. opt. med-pass., wouldn't the normal form be phaieto? Really, the only thing that is strange about this form is the "primary" ending -tai instead of the "secondary" ending -to. And couldn't that be chalked up to the ignorance of some scribe along the transmission route, who somehow read the word as a bastard subjunctive, rather than that of Galen? I don't know anything at all about the textual tradition of Galen but I wonder whether the strange form couldn't simply be the error of a scribe copying the work at a time when phemi had passed out of the language and optatives weren't in common use, either.
Thank you! And *noone* remembers their optatives. As you'll find by perusing any Byzantine author. 🙂
Very nice presentation! I wish I could remember all my Greek optatives learned so many years ago. You have a superb site here.