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This is both a review and a few brief comments on how Id suggest learning Greek if you dont have a teacher. Please note, if youre planning on learning the dastardly duo of Latin and Greek, Id highly recommend learning Latin first as its by far the easier language.
It should also be noted that this text teaches ancient Greek. Youll This review is for Peter. The height of Greek literature occurred at a point when the language was still working out its isolated-language complexities, meaning there are a lot of forms and idiosyncratic rules to learn. Greek was not a cohesive language at the time of the great Greek writers. Mastronarde teaches the version of Greek spoken in Athens hence, Attic , and knowing this dialect will allow you to read most of the big writers.
Once you know one dialect, learning the others can be accomplished without too much hassle by reading works written in those dialects with commentary, and learning the differences as they crop up. Greek is a highly inflected language. Greek might be a difficult language to learn without a teacher. Beyond that, Greek is a tonal language, meaning the pitch at which the syllables of a word are pronounced affects the meaning of the word. Far from it: aside from pronunciation, all of these difficulties are completely surmountable.
And pronunciation can be learnt if you can find competently-read recordings of Greek, or can just get ahold of a professor for a day or two. When learning Greek you just have to work very carefully, to make sure every aspect of the language is learnt well: Greek is one of those languages where even minor gaps in your knowledge will come back to bite you when you get to reading. Alright, enough chit-chat. Now to discussing this particular text for learning Greek. I consider Mastronarde to be the best text for learning Greek.
However, Mastronarde does some things in structuring this text which I think were mistakes. Mastronarde definitely knows his stuff. I know someone who knew Mastronarde once upon a time, and they say the man probably dreamed in Greek.
In inflected languages, nouns change their form depending on how they fit in a sentence. These systems of changes are called declensions, and memorizing them is a big part of learning the language.
The easier inflected languages, like German, have just one declension, and a lot of people consider that plenty hard enough.
Latin has five declensions. Greek, ladies and gentlemen, has forty-nine declensions. Except, not really. A lot of these declensions are variations on a theme and should be learned in groups. However, this is not how Mastronarde does it. He presents every declension individually. This is the first major flaw in my opinion of this text. I would advise you to not memorize these charts as Mastronarde presents them to you.
I would highly suggest memorizing the declensions in these units, one chart per set of declensions, rather than memorizing them individually. Your goal should be to memorize and assimilate the variations within each declension, so that the changes words take start to seem natural, and it becomes easier to recognize changes as indicative of a certain system of declension.
Similar to the way the changes nouns take is called a declension, the changes verbs take are called conjugations. In my opinion Mastronarde has two problems in the way he presents Greek conjugations: they spill into a million different variations on a theme, similar to the declensions, and he does not teach the principal parts from the beginning.
First off, all the different forms. I would highly recommend memorizing these endings, even before you know what they mean, so that you can develop a usable mental system for the Greek verbs. Principal parts are particular forms of a verb, which you memorize for every new verb you learn. Latin, for example, has four principal parts, which are often learned as: I love today, to love, I loved yesterday, and having been loved all my life. In any inflected language, these forms are essential to learn in order to be able to conjugate a verb.
Greek has six principal parts: the present, the future, the aorist, the perfect, the perfect middle, and the aorist passive. You need all these forms of every single verb you learn to be able to construct the other verbal forms, such as the future and pluperfect. However, this is a little intimidating at first, and Mastronarde only presents the principal parts as he introduces those forms of the verb. In my opinion this is a mistaken approach. Less intimidating, yes, but principal parts are essential to learning the language.
So I would very much recommend that, from the very first verb Mastronarde give you as a vocabulary word, you flip to the back and memorize all six principal parts for that word, even if you have no idea how those forms are used yet. Now what? The literature. There are the three great playwrights: Aeschylus, Euripides, and Sophocles. There are the three great historians: Herodotus, Thucydides, and Xenophon. There are the nine lyric poets. There are the great and not-so-great philosophers, especially Plato and Aristotle.
The only solution is to learn Greek and read them in their original. Not to mention, Greek is a gorgeous language. There are few languages on earth that are comparable to Greek in lyricism and capacity to express emotion. Learning to read Greek literature, however, is a process as much as getting through Mastronarde was a process.
There are some very nice anthologies of Greek literature designed for people who are just starting reading long passages of Greek, replete with vocabulary help and commentary.
This is published in two editions, an older one where the text and commentary are separated into two different volumes, and a more recent edition in a single volume. Either is fine. This is a good collection to get a brief taste of the different Greek dialects.
Plato is an excellent starting point for Greek prose. Then, oh yes, finally time for the playwrights! The typical order of introduction is Sophocles, then Euripides, then Aeschylus. Loeb editions have the Greek text on one side, and a translation in English on the facing page, as well as a minimal apparatus criticus. Loebs are a good way of transitioning from relying on the vocabulary help and commentary of an editor to reading independently, as you can refer to the translation when you encounter sticky spots.
You might also find a reference for Greek culture and names desirable at this point. Ionic Greek is probably best learned through Herodotus or Lucian. Pindar is probably the best choice for learning Doric Greek. Theocritus would be a good choice as well.
You could also learn with Bacchylides, but his work is rather fragmented and it might get confusing. Homeric Greek is learned surprise surprise by reading Homer. The reason to learn this dialect is to read Sappho and Alcaeus. The Spartans were not very big in the writing department. Learning Lacedaimonian Greek is not usually something that has to be taken up as a specific endeavor.
And those are the dialects. These are the standard texts of both Greek and Latin writers though the Latin ones are green. Homer will probably be the last station you stop at in learning Greek.
For reading Greek for leisure, Project Perseus has an excellent collection of texts. Good luck!
Introduction to Attic Greek