Ancient Greek/Preface

At one time, all well-educated men (and they were almost always men) were expected to have at least a passing familiarity with Classical Greek. That age has passed, for better or worse, but many of the reasons that motivated the study of Greek are still forceful. Indeed, some of them are so common now as to seem trite and obvious: The people who used this language were the founders of Western civilization. They created bodies of thought that have profoundly affected the course of both intellectual and political history and are still influential to this day. They created and defined many of the forms that art continues to take. They laid the foundation for geometry, and invented the scientific method. To fully understand almost any area of human endeavour requires wrestling with the ancient Greeks.

Now one can do this by reading translations. Certainly innumerable Greek texts, including all the "important" ones, have been translated into all the major languages. But I hardly need to review the problems of translation here. It is a second-best alternative at any time, and in the case of a language two thousand years old that arose in a culture very different from our own, it sometimes seems an astonishing feat that we manage to render anything at all. It is perhaps only due to the inestimable influence of the Greeks' language and thought on our own that we manage it so well.

But by virtue of the fact that you are reading this, it's clear that you're considering an attempt at overcoming these obstacles by going directly through them, by studying Classical Greek. You may be wondering, though, is it for you?

Of course, there's no single answer to this question. If Greek is not your first foreign language, it should not present any shockingly new difficulties. It is a bit more complex in some ways than, say, Spanish or German - for example, it has nearly twenty forms of the definite article - but the principles are the same. There are verbs that must be conjugated, nouns that must be declined, and so on. The tremendous practice you gained in learning your other foreign language(s) will serve you very well in learning Greek. And as a bonus, you'll never have to worry about learning to understand native speakers: There are none!

If Greek will be your first foreign language, there are again advantages and disadvantages. Certainly the first few lessons may not be as easy as they would if you were learning, say, Spanish. And you're unlikely to find many other speakers among your friends, as you might with a modern language. But English has derived many words from Greek, and few of the principles of grammar are wildly different. Besides, if you don't know anyone else who reads Greek, you'll look all the more impressive by knowing how!

Before you begin, a word on prerequisites. This course assumes no previous foreign language knowledge. As I mentioned above, learning a third or fourth language is usually easier than learning a second, but all this course presumes is English fluency.

I have tried to avoid rote memorization where possible, but the fact is that memorization is impossible to avoid completely. Rules of grammar, of accent, even the alphabet itself must simply be memorized. This is not as difficult as many people seem to think, however, and the text will try to provide helps where possible.

Last modified on 12 June 2006, at 07:19