Re: Reading the classics to improve fine-tuning

Edgar M. Krentz (
Thu, 24 Oct 1996 20:05:58 -0500

You responded to Carl Conrad (and, perhaps , to me also/. I want to
respond to what you wrote by interspersing your words with my comments

>I've had only a few brushes with classical Greek. I recently picked up Homer
>and found that it was way beyond me.

I'll guess that you were put off by the epic dialect, which uses
uncontracted forms, sometimes has a variant genitive singular and the like.
Homer is important, but not the place to begin.

>I also spent some time reading
>Aristotle's Rhetoric on the Perseus web site (, and
>found that it was quite readable if I took my time and used the lexicon and
>grammatical parsings. Alas, the response time was too slow, and the CDs are
>available only for the Mac. THE CD ROM CAN BE READ ALSO IN WINDOWS FORMAT,

If you cannot access this site, send me an e-mail message and I can send
you the programs and their sources for reading the TLG CD ROM. But let me
add that it was not really produced to make continuous text reading

>Is there any easy way in for little Greeks who want to read outside the GNT?

Unfortunately, NO. But we all began the same way, laboriously reading
texts, at first perhaps paging a school edition with built in vocabulary,
then graduating to the intermediate Liddell and Scott, and finally, as we
read more obscure texts, the LSJ unabridged. It's slow, it's arduous, but
there is no way around it. The effects of that are cumulative. You also
need curiosity, the willingness to look up forms in a good grammar of
classical Greek: Smythe or Goodwin-Gulick (recently reprinted in
paper-back). I don't have it at hand (I'm writing this at home and the book
is in my office), but there is an excellent little paperback produced by
two Italian scholars that analyses 14,000 verb forms (all of simple verbs,
not compound ones) and gives the dictionary form. My teachers of Greek made
us memorize the principle parts of some 200 irregular verbs; we had to do
five a period--and were quizzed each period. They wore a groove in my head.

>I can only read with lots of help! And I still wind up asking plenty of
>>questions would I really have a realistic chance with classical
>>texts? Can I get this kind of help with classical texts?
>Of course, time is the real problem. Reading *any* Greek takes real time
>for >me, and real effort. WELCOME TO THE CLUB! I *do* notice that the
>effort and >time are going down. But this is a lot slower going than
>reading in English.
>P.S., how hard is it to read Aristotle? Plato? Pseudo-Dionysius? The Church
>Fathers? Josephus? Philo? What else would be worth looking at?

Just as in English, so in ancient Greek, authors are of varying difficulty.
Plato takes a bit of getting used to, because his dialogues use some forms
of oral interaction that other texts do not. Josephus is more difficult.
You might want to start with Epictetus, whose Greek sentence length is
usually short, whose syntax is usually easy; but you will find that you
have to page the dictionary constantly until you know something of the
Stoic technical vocabulary.

Some of the church fathers are very difficult. Eusebius writes a learned
Greek. The Apostolic Fathers are relatively simple; Justin Martyr tougher,
Clement of Alexandria and Origen still more difficult. John Chrysostom's
Homilies are not too difficult, while his treatise of the priesthood is

One more easy text to read is Melito of Sardis' Paschal Homily.

Still another way to go--though I am not sure I recommend it--is to get a
volume in the Loeb Classical Library and compare the translation with the
Greek text. If you puzzle at it until you figure out how the translator
arrived where he/she did, you learn Greek too.

Sorry for this longer post. But I do like to encourage anyone who has the
interest to jump in the water and work to stay afloat.

Edgar Krentz, New Testament OR *****
Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago
1100 East 55th Street
TEL.: 773-256-0752 FAX: 773-256-0782