Re: Grammatica Palaia

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Wed Jun 04 1997 - 09:57:59 EDT

At 12:25 AM -0400 6/4/97, Gregory and Carol Yeager wrote:
>Say, school's about out, and I'm about ready to embark on a classic
>Greek journey. I've picked up an ancient grammar by John Williams White
>"First Greek Book." Athenium Press, 1937. Anyone heard of it?
>It prepares one for Xenophon, I understand.
>I also picked up a while ago another used bookstore gem, the Anabasis,
>with an interlinear translation by Thomas Clarke, of the "Hamiltonian
>System." The book's copyright is 1887, but I cannot imagine a book in
>such condition so old. The introduction touts the system, simple
>interlinear reading, to be the wave of the future. Curious, but I don't
>think it actually turned out that way. Any ideas?

It has always been "the wave of Poseidon"--back in those days when
education was a privilege and almost everyone learned Latin first and
eventually moved on to Greek, the interlinear versions were called "ponies"
or "trots" and used by less competent students who couldn't parse the words
to supply the right translations for the right words in recitation. The
real "wave of the future," I suspect were the Loeb Classical Library
editions published by Harvard and Heinemann with facing Greek/Latin and
English: as the ability to read Greek and Latin has waned increasingly as a
self-understood element of education ever since the late 19th century, the
Loebs have been the mainstay for people who can barely manage the Latin or
the Greek but have an English version to rely upon as they survey the Greek
or Latin text.

>Anyhow, is Xenophon a good starting place for Classic Greek?

I guess it was in the old days when every boy went into the Boy Scouts as a
matter of course upon reaching the right age (I did, and I certainly don't
regret it). In those days Caesar was by the same right the "good starting
place for Classic Latin." I think most all high school students find
Xenophon's Anabasis and Caesar's Gallic Wars utterly boring these days,
although the real advantage of Xenophon and Caesar is that they write
relatively simple and unaffected (rhetorically speaking) Greek and Latin
respectively. I think the Anabasis and the Gallic Wars can be exciting
reading, IF one reads quickly enough to avoid getting bogged down to the
point of taking six weeks to read through the phases of a single battle.
When I've taught second-year Greek with Xenophon, however, I've found
students much more engaged by reading Xenophon's Memorabilia of Socrates,
which is in the same relatively simple Greek prose style.

>I find it amusing that White consistently defines Greek words with Latin
>words, expecting me to know them (I'd better!). He even compares Greek
>inflections with Latin ones. It must have helped students at one time.

It did indeed, because they had learned Latin grammar almost before they
learned English grammar, and moreover the Latin grammar was more helpful to
them with Greek than was English grammar.

>So, if any of the Great are disposed, when did the third singular
>epsilon ending become epsilon nu (Im thinking of Imp.Act.Ind)? I
>imagine it had something to do with movable nu, but when?

The NU was never part of the ending itself; rather it was regularly
attached to certain short-vowel-endings (3d sg. E, 3d pl. I, dat. pl. I) in
order to obviate a hiatus between a final short-vowel in one word and
initial vowel in the next word--or else to mark the end a sentence. It
appears that the more frequent use of this so-called "movable nu" set in
strongly in the middle of the 5th century. I've never tested the assertion,
but I accept it, that the incidence of "movable nu" in the text of
Euripides is about 3 times what it is in Aeschylus.

>Why and when did this "dual" verbal number fade away?

Not as early as one might think. When I started learning, I gained the
impression early on that the dual was found mostly in Homer. And indeed it
is frequent there, but then as I read through one dialogue of Plato after
another I was sort of surprised at how regularly Plato uses the dual
whenever he's talking about something that comes in pairs--and Plato writes
in the 4th century B.C. Poetry always archaizes and so is not good evidence
for contemporary usage. My sense is that the dual, like the optative,
disappears from the demotic pretty thoroughly in the Hellenistic era, BUT
with the Attic revival of the second century A.D., the dual continues in
use among well-educated Greek authors.

Now, who's for Grammatika Kaina?

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics/Washington University
One Brookings Drive/St. Louis, MO, USA 63130/(314) 935-4018
Summer: 1647 Grindstaff Road/Burnsville, NC 28714/(704) 675-4243

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