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Greek or Latin?

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Greek or Latin?

Postby Qimmik » Sun Jun 29, 2014 12:42 pm

[Articles are] one of the many advantages that Greek has over Latin.


Without disputing mwh's assertion, I think it's worth pointing out that Latin has some advantages over Greek. Paradoxically, the lack of articles is one of them. Reading the slightly simplified Livy in the Latin forum, I was reminded of the concision and clarity of the best Latin prose. And the exquisite patterning of words that Latin poets such as Vergil and Horace achieve, taking advantage of Latin's capacity for radical hyperbaton, is impossible in Greek, cluttered as it is by articles--and by far too many particles.

I'm writing that tongue in cheek, of course. Both languages have an inherent capacity for expression in their own way, different as they are from one another. Tolstoy and Dostoevsky managed to write masterpieces of fiction in Russian, a language without articles. In fact, in the hands of a master, even English can be expressive.
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Re: Greek or Latin?

Postby mwh » Sun Jun 29, 2014 2:49 pm

Agreed. Latin does very well without all that "clutter." But don't go attacking Greek particles, the finest glory of the language!
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Re: Greek or Latin?

Postby mwh » Mon Jun 30, 2014 1:17 am

This does raise an interesting question, though. Does Latin really have greater capacity for hyperbaton than Greek? I would say not. And if it does, is it really freedom from articles that’s responsible? Greek poets rarely use them. (Or does this prove the point? It's in poetry that you get the most extreme hyperbata, and it's there that you don't have articles. Hmm.)

If the Vergilian hexameter is unmatched by anything in Greek (which it is), it’s the accentual patterning, inoperative in the Greek hexameter, that makes a crucial difference there. As for “exquisite patterning of words,” is Pindar’s, say, any less exquisite than Horace’s? Well, maybe it is; it’s less mannered, for sure. I have no interest in asserting Greek supremacy, though I do love its suppleness and precision, where Latin struggles. It would be fatuous to set up a contest between the two languages—no language is any better than any other—but certainly it’s interesting to set them side by side and see what use is made of their respective resources.
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Re: Greek or Latin?

Postby mwh » Mon Jun 30, 2014 1:34 am

Fatuous, but fun? We could take sides, argue one side or the other. That would be the Greek—and Roman—thing to do.

So far we have:

pro-Greek: articles
pro-Latin: no articles
pro-Greek: more particles
pro-Latin: fewer particles

Hmm. Each of these oppositions could be further debated.

But never mind that, here comes the winning goal. Add a couple more letters and here it comes … Participles!

No contest.
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Re: Greek or Latin?

Postby Qimmik » Mon Jun 30, 2014 7:26 pm

"Participles."

I think you got me on that one.

And I agree that Greek is more supple and precise . . . but when was the last time you read Cicero? Cicero was out to quell his feelings of inferiority by demonstrating that Latin could be just as supple and precise as Greek, even without articles (I think he specifically complains about the lack of them in Latin somewhere), and he came very close to success. And what about Seneca?
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Re: Greek or Latin?

Postby mwh » Mon Jun 30, 2014 9:30 pm

Well there’s nothing precise about Cicero’s letters or Seneca’s tragedies, but I realize it’s not those you have in mind. As far as their philosophical works are concerned (and less directly Cic’s oratorical) they’re all derivative and dependent on Greeks who could think for themselves. Sorry to perpetuate this stereotype, but there it is.

What Cicero was out to do was promote himself. He’s a one-man PR agency for himself. With his equestrian background he couldn’t help feeling inferiority vis-à-vis his class superiors, but I don’t see that as determining his Latin.

To take your question at face value, I make a point of reading some Cicero at least once a month (sometimes with a new commentary, more often without), though usually not much. There was a time I read a lot. I haven’t read it all and never shall. I have no admiration either for the person or for the career or for the style. His Latin has never wowed me, any more than Isocrates’ Greek. Seneca’s prose does, though.

Seems this thread has failed to catch fire. I didn’t mean to kill it.
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Re: Greek or Latin?

Postby Qimmik » Mon Jun 30, 2014 10:27 pm

mwh, I didn't mean for you to take my question at face value or to suggest that you don't read Cicero--it was a rhetorical device to qualify somewhat my concession that Greek is more supple and precise than Latin. I'm not sure I admire Cicero as a person or as a politician, either, but I do admire his mastery of Latin prose. I agree that he can be pompous, self-important, tedious, orotund, hypcritical and generally irritating, too. O fortunatam . . . But I think he had feelings of inferiority based on being a Latin writer and not Greek--he felt, exactly as you write, that Latin didn't have the precision and suppleness of Greek, but he tried to write Latin worthy of Greek.
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Re: Greek or Latin?

Postby Scribo » Mon Jun 30, 2014 11:22 pm

No, the thread is not dead. I'd contribute - it's curious to a comparison thread where the parties involved know both Greek and Latin - but I'm shattered right now. I'm sure that will degrade my writing even more (modern education: can produce a more than fair hand in Latin and Greek but no-one ever taught me to write English properly lol).

I remember someone once saying whoever claims Latin to be easier than Greek knows neither. Short and cute and something that has always struck me as correct: Greek has more morphology (easy) but Latin syntax is a nightmare. Oh god and the lexicon and the subtle twisting meanings. I feel bashful ever admitting it but I really dislike Latin. I mean it's a useful language for writing and I read Latin prose all the time but often the poetry stuff gives me a headache. I tore my way through authors like Virgil and Juvenal and even Seneca but Ovid...oh man Ovid (and sort of Lucretius) annoy me so, so, much. I honestly feel like I just can't handle it. Total opposite of Greek which is smooth as a...ok not the place for one of those jokes.

As for the superiority/inferiority complex I think that's complicated and I'll try to write something up tomorrow but I don't personally believe any Roman even slightly felt like that was the case.
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Re: Greek or Latin?

Postby mwh » Thu Jul 03, 2014 9:07 pm

Anyone who can produce a more than fair hand in Latin and Greek (so that's what modern education does?!) shouldn't need to be taught how to write English.

And yes, this is just an excuse for an attempt at reviving this thread.

Oh, and as to Latin's "subtle twisted meanings," where Latin does have it over Greek, I'd say, is in its figurative word use (very much in evidence in Cicero, whose Latin fails to wow me only because it's so obviously meant to).
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Re: Greek or Latin?

Postby Scribo » Thu Jul 03, 2014 10:31 pm

Eh my Classical education has been a lot better than my actual one. I've never got it when people claim they hate composition...

Latin vs Greek. Isn't this so wonderfully complex? I recall once a lecture on Greek religion where Romans vs Greeks came up and the lecturer at the time pointed out how odd modern dichotomies about Greeks and Romans in essence go back to protestantism. Rome doers (mired in the dirt of the secular and the real) Greek thinkers (sublime and pure). That sort of thing. To this day I laugh whenever I see people bring that crap up. Ah yes the Athenians, who won their arkhe via...philosophical debate. I mean that's not what we're talking about now, but it's interesting to bring up how we in general tend to think of these cultures.

Anyway, I've always wandered to what degree the Romans felt any sense of inferiority towards the Greeks and to what extent it was just a literary trope. Oh, I don't doubt there were no small few who felt envious but, let's be honest, the same people who were philosophers were also cleaning the toilets. It's odd how uncritically these ideas have been accepted by the vast majority of people. During the British Empire educated Britons could be and were very appreciative of their native subjects' cultural achievement. You have lot's of early Sanskritists speaking with envy about the lengthy continuity of Indic civilisation, it's wonderfully complex Philosophy/Mathematics/Grammar, all it's cultural achievements...I doubt a single one of them felt but a tiny bit of that at any time. The world is full of such parallels.

With the Romans themselves I'm always struck by how they saw culture as something to be used: taking a painting or a statue or capturing a few servi grammatici and so on (I think I read this in one of Fantham's articles). You can almost feel the physicality of it. We ought not to think in terms of docile wide eyed admiration but more in terms of...well a conquering people. It's nasty but there's the truth of it. Actually everything makes sense if you stop thinking in terms of "Greeks and Romans" and more "Eastern Mediterranean cultural Koine". Constant back and forth.

Anyway, back to the languages. Latin isn't just subtle it's supple in...odd ways. Syntax - particularly hyperbaton and then the myriad shades of meaning can be taxing. I like my Latin when it's rougher. I love Plautus' sex laden lines, I love Juvenal's Socraticae fossae (is it Socraticae fossae or Socratici cinaedi? either way, it works) and so on. I read Virgil and Lucan and, yes, the artistry is absolutely stunning but it's not engaging for me. I mean it's interesting, sure, and honestly I adore the final books of the Aeneid but....but...well actually I kind of think what turns me off about Latin literature is a lot of the criticism that has grown up around it. I mean look at the whole debate about the Harvard school of Virgil with the pro and the anti Augustanisms and how many voices bla bla....

I don't know. Hm it occurs to me I should probably post less, or less tired anyway, and at any rate hold back from this sort of paratactic verbal vomiting and come back when I have my points in order rather than treating this place like a blog. I think in two (three?) posts I've still failed to answer the question.
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Re: Greek or Latin?

Postby mwh » Sun Jul 06, 2014 2:35 am

And then Latin is stuck with all those hideously clunky gerundives and such, which Greek handles so much more gracefully, when it uses them at all.
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Re: Greek or Latin?

Postby Paul Derouda » Sun Jul 06, 2014 6:49 pm

I prefer oranges to apples and Greek to Latin. :) But I don't really know Latin, so that might be part of the problem. The thing is, the more you know a language, the more you tend to appreciate its niceties. I've even learnt to like German a bit.
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Re: Greek or Latin?

Postby jeidsath » Mon Jul 07, 2014 12:56 am

I have nothing personal to add here, but the following is from W.H.D. Rouse, writing to Ezra Pound:

I have a MS, style of Ulysses “The Anger of Achilles” — which the boys enjoyed as much as Ulysses, to my surprise, for the interest is so much psychological; and “The Golden a**”, which I take to be the ancient Pilgrim’s Progress, a great book not merely one that contains a lovely story — also “Roman Stories”, not nearly so good, because the Romans were cruel & coarse.


Letter from Rouse to Pound, 27 December, 1934. Page 5 of 7 in the pdf, but marked as page 2. http://brbl-dl.library.yale.edu/vufind/Record/3568283?image_id=1321604

EDIT: Note that it is the forum software that has bowdlerized "The Golden a**," not Rouse.
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Re: Greek or Latin?

Postby mwh » Wed Jul 09, 2014 6:41 pm

Paul Derouda wrote:I prefer oranges to apples and Greek to Latin.

Pithy.

By comparing oranges and apples you can learn a lot about each fruit.

The thing is, the more you know a language, the more you tend to appreciate its niceties. I've even learnt to like German a bit.

True enough. I thought German was an absolutely barbaric language, ugly in sound and grotesque in structure, until I discovered Rilke. But Chinese I fell in love with from the get-go, though I'm still far from appreciating its niceties.

Determined to keep this thread alive.
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Re: Greek or Latin?

Postby Paul Derouda » Wed Jul 09, 2014 8:04 pm

mwh wrote:I thought German was an absolutely barbaric language, ugly in sound and grotesque in structure

I had about the same preconception, perhaps partly because of my father, who is French and about your generation I guess. I heard only recently from him that he had actually studied Greek at high school. I did know that he had had some Latin, since from time to time he has complained about the "useless stuff" they were taught at school, like "rosa rosam rosae rosae rosa". Anyway, he told me that he was in a situation where he had to pick up a third foreign language, when he was already studying English and Latin, and the only way to avoid taking German was taking Greek. Needless to say, I don't think he ever learned much more than the alphabet and the one set phrase that he jokingly kept repeating (something like οἱ βάρβαροι πολιορκοῦσι τὴν πόλιν), although he was good at school in general. Anyway, it's funny that those were basically the choices you had in a high school in a moderately big French city in the sixties.

This is not to say that my father isn't an open-minded person in general, quite the contrary – I'd say that his opinion of German and the Classics are the exception that prove the rule. He actually went to marry a Finn and learnt to speak the language almost like a native, although when he started he was already around thirty.

Now, what was the subject of this thread again?
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Re: Greek or Latin?

Postby Qimmik » Thu Jul 10, 2014 11:15 pm

"until I discovered Rilke."

I'm with you there.
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