re: koin/ classical-difference

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Wed May 03 2000 - 09:40:26 EDT

I really don't disagree with what Randall has said here (and he says so
much so well and in such splendid language, be it Greek or English--and I
suspect he could muster a couple other languages as well, not to mention
Hebrew and Aramaic); I just want to quibble about a couple little items.

At 7:06 AM -0400 5/3/00, yochanan bitan wrote:
>christopher egrapsen:
>>what is the difference between studying koin greek versus the
>>classical greek?
>Same language, slightly different dialects (Attic has dual endings and a
>fuller use of the optative, to give the main structural differences.
>phonology was quite different, too. Already by Roman Koine length and many
>vowels had collapsed: ei=i, ai=e, w=o, oi=u.)
>>A siminary I know calls koin greek baby greek.

This of course was our original poster of the question, Christopher Eckel's
phraseology, and frankly, I love it! Our NT Greek is not just Koine, not
just Hellenistic, and certainly not grown-up Greek, but "baby Greek" or
"Koin baby Greek." I'm not being facetious at all here but quite serious: I
think that when I retire and move to Carolina permanently, the new dog or
cat we get is going to be called "Koin Baby Greek." If we read the Greek
that first-year students write, what else can it be called, whether it is
meant to be NT Greek or Classical Attic? It's always "baby" Greek, and it
always looks like a language that the student is "coining" as he goes
along. Wonderful phrase!

>This confuses the typical level of student attainment
>(which may apply equally to 1 yr 'classical' as well as 1 yr 'koine')
>with the language itself.
>Koine-Hellenistic Greek was a/the world-class language,
>and used for literature from the time of Alexander into the Byzantine

Quibble # 1: I know that any attempt to pinpoint the origin of Koine is
like trying to be precise about the date when "the Renaissance" really
began in Europe. But I've read somewhere that its origins preceded
Alexander and go back to earlier in the 5th and 4th centuries to the
emergence of a lingua franca when the Athenians had their Periclean
thalassocracy which later re-emerged after the end of Spartan hegemony in
the earlier 4th century, and a common (KOINH) dialect emerged with Attic
grammar and Ionic spelling--the Athenians made the island states within
their empire come to Athens for adjudication of disputes, but the people of
that empire were mostly Ionic-speaking Greeks. On the other hand, it may
well be that a Koine dialect was in the making from the very first time
Greeks decided there wasn't enough good soil for agriculture whether on the
mainland or in the Peloponnese and took to the sea and large-scale
Mediterranean traveling on merchant ships.

>It's vocabulary was 'awesome' (OUK ASH'MOU QHSAUROU' GLWSSW'N "not a an
>insignificant treasure of vocab" as one might turn a phrase).
>Naturally there were different 'registers' or levels of use, and many Koine
>writers used what could be called a full Atticizing style.
>Epictetus (Stoic philospher, 1CE), Paul, Luke, Appian (Roman historian
>1-2CE) and Plutarch (Roman-Greek biographer 1CE), CARITON (the prototypical
>romance novel, 1-2CE) all exemplify a literary Koine,
>KAI OU'TOI PAN'TES KATH'RGHSAN TA TOU NHPI'OU. (cf. 1Cor 13.11 =none wrote
>an "o-see, see-spot-run" greek)
>If only students could read these the way that students are expected to
>read Flaubert and Hugo !
>"if students would be able to read these things of Epictetus (etc), it
>would be good."

Quibble # 2: Yes, it's true that the stylistic range of Hellenistic Greek
(and perhaps that's the descriptive adjective that we ought rather to use
instead of Koine) is immense. On the one hand, there's the smooth-reading
LOUKIOS H ONOS falsely ascribed to Lucian with its grammar and vocabulary
that's a far cry from Attic and its fast-paced and racy narrative (well
worth the effort to read in the web version at, while the effort to
read Philo or Clement of Alexandria will test one's patience and skills no
little bit. But pick up an authentic work of Lucian of Samosata from the
second century A.D. and you'll think you're right back reading the Attic of
Plato or Xenophon, so strictly has the author bound himself by the
standards of the Second Sophistic NOT to write Koine. Jay Treat has a
pretty good compendium on differences between "Classical" and "Hellenistic"
Greek (more commonly termed "Attic" and "Koine" respectively) at

but the argument I've made repeatedly on this list is that all students of
Greek need to grasp that Greek was spoken and written long before, during,
and long after the composition of the books of the New Testament, that
there's a continuity to the language, and that, however much one may
imagine that one understands NT Greek without ever looking at Greek outside
the NT (or LXX), it CAN be argued that if NT Greek is ALL the Greek you
know, then you don't know much Greek at all. I'm not saying one needs to
master all three millennia of the language, but one ought to get a sense of
its breadth and continuity--to do so will certainly enhance one's sense of
the significance of the range of styles and vocabulary and syntactic usage
within even the narrow range of NT Greek authors. End of quibble. Applause
for Randall's statement.


Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics/Washington University
One Brookings Drive/St. Louis, MO, USA 63130/(314) 935-4018
Home: 7222 Colgate Ave./St. Louis, MO 63130/(314) 726-5649

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