"Ancient-Greek"-"Koine"

Christian Alexander

Active Member
As a classicist, naturally, Ancient-Greek is most likely on my list next to be serious study (I have dabbled quite a bit in the past).

But now I'm wondering -- is the main difficulty in going from classical to Koine in vocabulary?
I've heard that some people study Koine first ---- but, I certainly would much rather go through classical first (Plato! Aristotle! Homer! Archilochus! or at least what's left of him), but would like to also get around to the NT and whatnot.

I figured if there is potentially a decent discussion in this question, this would be a good place to ask.
 

Aurifex

Aedilis
Staff member
If you've spent some time studying Attic, with lengthy forays into Ionic, Doric, Aeolic and Homeric Greek as well, you won't have any trouble at all managing a transition to Koine. Spending time exclusively with NT Greek, on the other hand, and then plunging straight into, say, Pindar, will give you somewhat more of a shock.
 

Lyceum

Member
There's a difference between reading for comprehension and reading for philological investigation. This is a problem with our very didactive method, which we've inherited from a time when proficiency in Latin and Greek almost certainly led to some more philological work. Hence the insane concentration on morphology and syntactical rules etc which many students don't need.

So you can, coming from Attic, pick up the Bible and then meticulously note some of the Ionicisms (psilosis, shifts in consonantal clusters) in morphology and Hebracisms in syntax...or you can just read it. It depends what you're after. Incidentally of the examples you gave, only Plato is truly Classical. And even he borrows a lot from Ionic Greek cf to, say, Lysias who is more "purer" in his Attic expression.

I don't think either way needs to be too difficult, though I personally feel it better to get a firm basis in Classical Greek first. Actually personally I think Greek ought to be taught before Latin too but that's another conversation.
 
I wrestled with New Testament Greek for three years at university and never had any subsequent interest in it except in the light it could shed on Latin. I was nonetheless fascinated with the morphology of Greek and that interest caused me to study a bit of the Classical language. I was certainly glad that I had learnt Latin first.
 

Arca Defectionis

Civis Illustris
There's a difference between reading for comprehension and reading for philological investigation. This is a problem with our very didactive method, which we've inherited from a time when proficiency in Latin and Greek almost certainly led to some more philological work. Hence the insane concentration on morphology and syntactical rules etc which many students don't need.

So you can, coming from Attic, pick up the Bible and then meticulously note some of the Ionicisms (psilosis, shifts in consonantal clusters) in morphology and Hebracisms in syntax...or you can just read it. It depends what you're after. Incidentally of the examples you gave, only Plato is truly Classical. And even he borrows a lot from Ionic Greek cf to, say, Lysias who is more "purer" in his Attic expression.

I don't think either way needs to be too difficult, though I personally feel it better to get a firm basis in Classical Greek first. Actually personally I think Greek ought to be taught before Latin too but that's another conversation.

Judging from your proficiency in modern Greek, I would say that you have an unusual perspective that perhaps causes you to believe this, yet I somewhat agree, though for what is probably a different reason. Though Plato and friends are worth investigation, I think the simple fact that the NT was written in Greek is the most compelling reason to teach Greek, especially given the variation in English editions out there (I personally use the King James, but there are numerous points in that translation that aren't really as faithful as they could be to the Greek, despite the impressive team assembled to complete it), and knowing the word of Christ as exactly as possible seems to me more important than reading Cicero or Caesar (or, for that matter, Homer or Plato) - though the circumstances are a bit different, Muslims around the world study Arabic for this reason, despite the impoverished store of original Arabic literature and the difficulty of the language for non-Afro-Semitic speakers (aka most of the Muslim world).

Of course, by this rationale we ought to learn Hebrew as well, but given the overwhelming emphasis on the NT I think Greek takes precedence over Hebrew, and Hebrew seems more difficult as well.

To the extent that philology should matter in this discussion, Greek also affords the learner a more complete grounding in the philological world, because of the diverse phenomena with which one must familiarize himself to master it, and the heavier distinction between aspects. In Latin, all infinitives appear to be formed in the manner of Greek aorist infinitives, with the s-stem (ama-re > *ama-se, etc, vel-le > *vel-re > *vel-se, es-se, amavis-se; comparable to -σαι, and ama-ri > *ama-si, etc., comparable to -σθαι), whereas Greek has both the aorist infinitive seen in Latin and the simple infinitive of the Germanic languages (-ειν/-(ε)ναι, like -en in Germanic languages). But the merit of all this is debatable; as mentioned above, I think that the NT has to be the most compelling reason to learn Greek.
 

Lyceum

Member
Judging from your proficiency in modern Greek, I would say that you have an unusual perspective that perhaps causes you to believe this, yet I somewhat agree, though for what is probably a different reason. Though Plato and friends are worth investigation, I think the simple fact that the NT was written in Greek is the most compelling reason to teach Greek, especially given the variation in English editions out there (I personally use the King James, but there are numerous points in that translation that aren't really as faithful as they could be to the Greek, despite the impressive team assembled to complete it), and knowing the word of Christ as exactly as possible seems to me more important than reading Cicero or Caesar (or, for that matter, Homer or Plato) - though the circumstances are a bit different, Muslims around the world study Arabic for this reason, despite the impoverished store of original Arabic literature and the difficulty of the language for non-Afro-Semitic speakers (aka most of the Muslim world).

Of course, by this rationale we ought to learn Hebrew as well, but given the overwhelming emphasis on the NT I think Greek takes precedence over Hebrew, and Hebrew seems more difficult as well.

To the extent that philology should matter in this discussion, Greek also affords the learner a more complete grounding in the philological world, because of the diverse phenomena with which one must familiarize himself to master it, and the heavier distinction between aspects. In Latin, all infinitives appear to be formed in the manner of Greek aorist infinitives, with the s-stem (ama-re > *ama-se, etc, vel-le > *vel-re > *vel-se, es-se, amavis-se; comparable to -σαι, and ama-ri > *ama-si, etc., comparable to -σθαι), whereas Greek has both the aorist infinitive seen in Latin and the simple infinitive of the Germanic languages (-ειν/-(ε)ναι, like -en in Germanic languages). But the merit of all this is debatable; as mentioned above, I think that the NT has to be the most compelling reason to learn Greek.

Thanks for this, this is interesting. I think you do pick up something important (perhaps without realising it) in terms of interest and motivation. If someone wants to learn the Bible yet hates Catullus, Greek will be an easier road for them. I think we can agree on that even as I emphatically disagree with the notion of the Bible's importance here. I think, seeing as I'm not a Christian, we can hopefully agree to disagree and remain friendly.

I suggested that I'd prefer to teach Greek first for a few reasons actually. One is that I've came across one or two studies suggesting this to be better. Secondly I've taught Greek to the Latinless and found it much, much, easier than Latin to the...Latinless I guess. At least to get to a decent level. See, Greek appears difficult due to the amount of forms it has but once the grunt work is done acquiring syntax isn't that difficult. Latin has a decent amount of morphology but it really starts kicking people in the face where syntax is concerned I find. To be sure some of the difficulty in Latin can be avoided by forcing the student down a rigorous course of composition alongside his reading, but still.

In an ideal situation interest would dictate who takes what and when. Otherwise I'd very much like to start with a grounding in Attic > Lysias > Xenophon (or Plato) throughout the first year and then add Latin in the second while continuing with Greek. This gives students a firm grounding in Attic from whence to branch out and the chance for a rapid acquisition of Latin.
 

Arca Defectionis

Civis Illustris
Thanks for this, this is interesting. I think you do pick up something important (perhaps without realising it) in terms of interest and motivation. If someone wants to learn the Bible yet hates Catullus, Greek will be an easier road for them. I think we can agree on that even as I emphatically disagree with the notion of the Bible's importance here. I think, seeing as I'm not a Christian, we can hopefully agree to disagree and remain friendly.
Actually, I'm agnostic myself ;) I just think that, given the incalculable influence Christianity has had on Western civilization, the Bible is, from a nonreligious standpoint, probably the single most important and influential work in our history, and I would think not only that it outweighs Greek philosophy in terms of its influence, but that faithfulness to the original is particularly important when dealing with the Bible, whereas a mishandled turn of phrase may not be so destructive in Homer.

Of course, if you're Christian, then the Bible just becomes all that more important.

Lyceum dixit:
I suggested that I'd prefer to teach Greek first for a few reasons actually. One is that I've came across one or two studies suggesting this to be better. Secondly I've taught Greek to the Latinless and found it much, much, easier than Latin to the...Latinless I guess. At least to get to a decent level. See, Greek appears difficult due to the amount of forms it has but once the grunt work is done acquiring syntax isn't that difficult. Latin has a decent amount of morphology but it really starts kicking people in the face where syntax is concerned I find. To be sure some of the difficulty in Latin can be avoided by forcing the student down a rigorous course of composition alongside his reading, but still.
I know exactly where you're coming from. Both languages have a nasty tendency to jump around a lot more than I'd like, though in the context of poetry I can hardly complain, but Cicero's prose often takes me an awfully long time to decipher, whereas the Greek I've attempted to read (not much, mind you; bits and pieces of Isocrates, Apollodorus, Aristophanes, Plato, Aeschylus, Menander, Demosthenes - but I've yet to attempt an entire work) is much more tame in terms of word order. I do find myself spending far more time looking up words in Greek, but that's natural for an English speaker. The lack of an ablative case, however, can really frustrate the syntax on occasion.

Lyceum dixit:
In an ideal situation interest would dictate who takes what and when. Otherwise I'd very much like to start with a grounding in Attic > Lysias > Xenophon (or Plato) throughout the first year and then add Latin in the second while continuing with Greek. This gives students a firm grounding in Attic from whence to branch out and the chance for a rapid acquisition of Latin.

Of course interest should be the first factor. Of the (once again) very limited Greek I've read, I must say I found Isocrates and Apollodorus simplest and also quite enjoyable, though Aristophanes is quite a funny guy as well. Drama seems to be lighter reading, on average, than typical prose or epic poetry, though the reading I've done of Plato's Gorgias has been somewhat tricky. The trickiest I've attempted would have to be Plato, though I also read some of Longinus's On the Sublime and found it a real headache.

Perhaps this is just me, but I found that a lot of the Greek I read had some really profound wisdom in it, which I found in Latin as well, but not as readily. This is probably just the result of reading Martial and Catullus though :D
 
To the extent that philology should matter in this discussion, Greek also affords the learner a more complete grounding in the philological world, because of the diverse phenomena with which one must familiarize himself to master it, and the heavier distinction between aspects. In Latin, all infinitives appear to be formed in the manner of Greek aorist infinitives, with the s-stem (ama-re > *ama-se, etc, vel-le > *vel-re > *vel-se, es-se, amavis-se; comparable to -σαι, and ama-ri > *ama-si, etc., comparable to -σθαι), whereas Greek has both the aorist infinitive seen in Latin and the simple infinitive of the Germanic languages (-ειν/-(ε)ναι, like -en in Germanic languages).
I can certainly agree that Greek gives us many usefull insights into what is likely to lie behind Latin morphology.
I think that the NT has to be the most compelling reason to learn Greek.
Been there. done that, and some Hebrew as well while reading Theology; all the better to understand what St. Jerome was dealing with, but I still turn first to the Vulgate. :)
 

Lyceum

Member
Actually, I'm agnostic myself ;) I just think that, given the incalculable influence Christianity has had on Western civilization, the Bible is, from a nonreligious standpoint, probably the single most important and influential work in our history, and I would think not only that it outweighs Greek philosophy in terms of its influence, but that faithfulness to the original is particularly important when dealing with the Bible, whereas a mishandled turn of phrase may not be so destructive in Homer.

Of course, if you're Christian, then the Bible just becomes all that more important.
Oh I see, well I think I may be looking at it too much as a Classicist. One of the things about being a Hellenist, about REALLY looking at the Greek stuff is how this entire concept of a western tradition falls apart. Instead one tends to look at the Greeks themselves in an Eastern Mediterranean context, or the co-option of the Classical tradition by Germanics in the 9th century (hence our modern concept of Europe/the West) or the role of colonialism in forming western identities etc. Indeed these are all very important chapters in our intellectual history, but barely impact upon work as a Classicist.

If we thrust everything aside and look at things from the standpoint of a putative western tradition, then of course the NT is pretty important. Honestly the best, seriously, thing I ever did for my reading of English literature was to master to King James bible. It wields such an incalculable force over the formation of later English literary expression that I think it's a must.

I know exactly where you're coming from. Both languages have a nasty tendency to jump around a lot more than I'd like, though in the context of poetry I can hardly complain, but Cicero's prose often takes me an awfully long time to decipher, whereas the Greek I've attempted to read (not much, mind you; bits and pieces of Isocrates, Apollodorus, Aristophanes, Plato, Aeschylus, Menander, Demosthenes - but I've yet to attempt an entire work) is much more tame in terms of word order. I do find myself spending far more time looking up words in Greek, but that's natural for an English speaker. The lack of an ablative case, however, can really frustrate the syntax on occasion.

Of course interest should be the first factor. Of the (once again) very limited Greek I've read, I must say I found Isocrates and Apollodorus simplest and also quite enjoyable, though Aristophanes is quite a funny guy as well. Drama seems to be lighter reading, on average, than typical prose or epic poetry, though the reading I've done of Plato's Gorgias has been somewhat tricky. The trickiest I've attempted would have to be Plato, though I also read some of Longinus's On the Sublime and found it a real headache.

Perhaps this is just me, but I found that a lot of the Greek I read had some really profound wisdom in it, which I found in Latin as well, but not as readily. This is probably just the result of reading Martial and Catullus though :D

Ha interesting, you're meant to find Isocrates harder than Lysias etc! I suggested the authors I did largely due to perceived easiness and how well they work together in forming a sound, Attic, basis. Nothing wrong with jumping in to Aeschylus ktl but I'd assume it would be much harder. I'm honestly surprised you found Plato harder than Drama. Sometimes the metre alone can be a head ache.

I'm not one for ranking literary traditions, and I think Latin possesses as much profundity as any literature really. Seneca's letters and so on. On the other hand, how many languages can boast someone as funny as Horace or Juvenal?


I can certainly agree that Greek gives us many usefull insights into what is likely to lie behind Latin morphology.

Been there. done that, and some Hebrew as well while reading Theology; all the better to understand what St. Jerome was dealing with, but I still turn first to the Vulgate. :)

That answered a question of mine pre-emptively! I wanted to know if there's anyone who has gone through the traditional theological path (Greek and Hebrew) but prefers the Latin version. Could I ask why? out of curiosity I mean.
 
That answered a question of mine pre-emptively! I wanted to know if there's anyone who has gone through the traditional theological path (Greek and Hebrew) but prefers the Latin version. Could I ask why? out of curiosity I mean.
Probably because I am more of a mediaevalist than anything else , and being a somewhat reactionary Catholic, I have a deep love of the Tridentine Mass.
 

Christian Alexander

Active Member
This is a wonderful conversation -- exactly what I was looking for. Everyone's comments are exceptionally appreciated. A lot of the info/ideas I was wanting to know also.

Yet, the only thing I'd have to argue with -- is the importance of Cicero, the Poets etc etc downplayed in face of the Bible. Cicero alone was so popular throughout the ages that on more than one occasion figures of the Church, including the Pope, threatening to burn all of his works because they were being read more often than the Scriptures. Not to mention in both Prose and Poetry, we owe an unfathomable amount to the Latinists (and Greeks; but Latin seems to be more widespread throughout the middle-ages.); things which we learned from them which could have never been exacted anywhere else.
So, maybe it is worth saying -- as a Theologian I study both medieval-Christianity and Paganism -- but ironically, both my interests in Latin and Greek were initiated in my interest to come closer to the Roman and Greek 'pagans'. Reading the NT in either Latin or Greek, is more of a bonus. And I happily admit that reading the Latin Vulgate NT has helped me immensely in transitioning from studies-to-real reading. But the authors B.C., are where my greatest sight is set upon in those languages. Actually it was mostly Poetry that sparked me at first -- desire of Prose came along shortly. I was thoroughly impressed with Horace, and obsessed with the lamentable scraps of Greek lyric we have; but I'd gotten more into Aristotle and that was the bridge (for me) into interest of Greek-prose; Cicero in Latin was/is also something special for me, and I am infatuated with his philosophical works despite many others' opinions.

ADD: And I absolutely do love the King James' Bible myself. It is the only English version of the Bible I read. there is something moving about it's use of language, archaic and formal yet not blushing with colour -- adorned with plainness, so to speak. The only OT I read are the Psalmes -- so I personally have no interest in Hebrew, honestly. But I enjoy the NT greatly; especially the Epistles, Pavl writes some moving verses which are overlooked by most people to this day. Still, even that being said: I'd likely wish to go through the B.C. authors first.
 

Matthaeus

Vemortuicida strenuus
This is a wonderful conversation -- Cicero in Latin was/is also something special for me, and I am infatuated with his philosophical works despite many others' opinions.
Same here. It is also interesting that we know more about him than any other Roman, probably due to his excellent, prolific writing. Famous quote from Quintilian: ille se profecisse sciat cui Cicero valde placebit. And L. Laurand: Cicéron écrit la langue de tout le monde; mais il l'écrit mieux que personne. (Cicero writes the language of everybody, but better than anybody).
 

Christian Alexander

Active Member
And yet -- Cicero was called by one, the "Pagan Christian" -- a noble title in my opinion ;) and possibly not a bad example to follow
 

Christian Alexander

Active Member
Thanks for that link. Odd but a good read nonetheless.. ("Christianum me esse".. "mentiris!" lol)
 

Matthaeus

Vemortuicida strenuus
Putavi mortuos non posse pro vivis orare; immo vice versa se res habet, nonne?
 

Matthaeus

Vemortuicida strenuus
Ergo et homines pro sanctis et sancti pro nobis???
 
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