[b-greek] Re: Greek Literary Styles

From: Carl W. Conrad (cwconrad@artsci.wustl.edu)
Date: Fri May 11 2001 - 09:58:04 EDT

At 11:47 AM -0500 5/10/01, Ed Garcia wrote:
>A group of friends and I have, for the past several years, been meeting
>weekly to read Koine Greek. Aside from the NT we have also read from
>Josephus, Philo, the Septuagint, some Apostolic Fathers and various other
>documents in Koine.

I applaud your enterprise warmly. Over the course of years on this list
I've been among several who have urged readers of the GNT to read other
Hellenistic literature both for its own sake and for the sake of enhancing
their understanding of the GNT as one corpus of documents in a sizable body
of contemporary Greek documents both literary and non-literary.

>Here is the question, one of our members wonders if there is such a thing as
>an "Alexandrian" style of Koine. By Alexandrian he means a smoother, more
>polished almost oratorical Koine than one finds in the NT or in say some of
>the early fathers (actually, we think we may have detected such Greek in the
>opening lines of the book of Hebrews.) He thinks he remembers hearing about
>something like this but isn't quite sure. Is anyone familiar with such a
>thing? I realize that this list typically deals with questions of grammar
>and syntax but I hoped that perhaps someone might have a thought on the
>subject - recommended reading would also be welcome. Thanks.

I won't try to say authoritatively (I couldn't!) that there is no
distinctive "Alexandrian" style of Koine, but inasmuch as Alexandria more
than any other Mediterranean city in the Hellenistic era would have to be
deemed the cultural capital of the Greek world (certainly not Athens, which
tended in the first century to be more a "university town" rather than a
cultural capital), I think one might expect more polished style in literary
texts from there. And yet on the other hand, I think that style tends to be
idiosyncratic in good writers, probably the more so in better writers.
There were several levels of Hellenistic Greek ranging from the lingua
franca of merchants to the rhetorical prose and exotic verse of "learned"
(SOFOI) poets like Philodemus and Meleager, both of whom came from the
Decapolis area across the lake from Galilee, as did the satirist Lucian of
Samosata. Such writers would have learned Greek grammar and rhetoric and
read the traditional classics in the GUMNASION. The author of Hebrews
writes good Greek and MAY have been "Alexandrian" but I don't think there's
any way to be sure about that. You're probably aware that in the .ater
first and second centuries a literary revolution occurred in the course of
which teachers urged students to write in the older Attic dialect and style
rather than in the more relaxed language and style of literary Koine;
Plutarch, Lucian, and perhaps Josephus were effected by this. There's
probably something more recent on this, but a classical work still worth
consulting is from the early 20th century: Eduard Norden's _Die Antike

Finally, regarding propriety of this question: we've generally been open to
questions about the Greek language generally, certainly Hellenistic Greek,
but also on the broader spectrum from Homeric (even Linear-B!) up to Modern
Greek, on grounds that there is a continuity to the language and that, even
if a synchronic perspective on it is of first importance, a diachronic
perspective on it also has its place.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics/Washington University
Home: 7222 Colgate Ave./St. Louis, MO 63130/(314) 726-5649
WWW: http://www.artsci.wustl.edu/~cwconrad/

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