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Overlap in Greek graded readers.

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Overlap in Greek graded readers.

Postby npc » Mon Feb 12, 2018 2:29 am

So to improve my Greek and keep in practice, I've got a bunch of those books that have adapted small passages in Greek intended for those students who have completed two semesters of Greek but aren't ready to tackle Attic literature head on. I imagine everyone knows what I'm talking about, but some examples are the books by Morice, Moss, Freeman and Lowe, etc..

In a couple of cases, specifically Morice's Morice's Stories in Attic Greek and Moss' A First Greek Reader, there is a LOT more overlap between these than I'd expect, or that I'd attribute to chance. Something is going on here, and I'm curious as to what.

Of course, we expect some overlap. It would be no surprise if anyone assembling such a book chose to adapt the first hundred words of Xenophon's Anabasis, so when that shows up more than once in these books that's no surprise. Similarly, some of these authors choose to adapt Aesop, and some of them will choose the same fables to adapt. I know Morice chose to do a free adaptation of a bunch of segments from Plutarch, and he took from Aelian and Pausanias with minor changes, so if someone else drew from the same sources, I'd also expect some overlap.

I'm going through Moss right now, and I've hit a segment were nearly everything is also found in Morice, published eight years earlier. Moss' stories numbered from the 60s to the 100s (and perhaps beyond, that's as far as I've gotten) all have nearly identical analogues in Morice, and in the same order (although with larger gaps between the similar selections in Morice than Moss.) In all cases, they are divided into the same number of exercises, and the longer stories are always split at the same point. The words are 90-95% the same and 95% of the word order is the same. Some punctuation is changed. Some of these come from Plutarch or Ovid and the like, but I can't find the orgin for many of these tales.

The most charitable rationale I can come up with is that this is coincidence and these stories are coming from some common source of which I'm unaware. The least charitable rationale is that Moss has plagiarized Morice. Given the publication dates, it looks to me like Moss started assembling his book, and chose to lift a bunch of stories out of Morice. He made a few changes to these, but wasn't very subtle about what he was doing. I'm trying to figure out what's going on and readily admit that I might be missing something fundamental. I can provide what I've documented so far, but maybe nobody cares.

So, I have a couple of questions:
1) Am I missing something? Is there some rationale that makes this all innocent (except that I'm spending my time translating stuff I've already done, which is hardly the worst thing in the world)?
2) Is this worth pursuing? Is it worthwhile documenting where these books overlap? Can anything useful be made of this?
3) Is this something that's well known, or perhaps was acceptable at the time these books were written?
4) It has been 130 years. Does anyone care if Morice has plagiarized Moss or not?
5) What do people think about this?

Basically, I noticed this, investigated a little bit, began to document a strong pattern, and now I don't know what to do about it, so I came here. I'm interested in advice, both just whether this might be of interest to non-professional classics aficionados as well as professional scholars.

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Re: Overlap in Greek graded readers.

Postby Markos » Wed Feb 14, 2018 12:33 am

ἀσπάζομαί σε.

Interesting observation. I did not know about this. I confirmed what you say by looking at the story of William Tell, which is virtually identical in Morice and Moss, and obviously cannot be explained by a common original source.

Morice in his preface gives credit to Sidgwick for help with the conception and execution of the book, so the only innocent explanation I can come up with is that both books are based heavily on his input.
npc wrote:Is it worthwhile documenting where these books overlap? Can anything useful be made of this?

I would be mildly curious to learn this: In the 10% where Morice and Moss differ in a given selection, which would you say produces the easier text? Which produces the better one?

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Re: Overlap in Greek graded readers.

Postby npc » Sun Feb 18, 2018 7:31 am


You correctly point out the exemplar of this, the William Tell story. As I recall, there are a couple of others in Morice that are obvious anachronisms that, if repeated, could also not possibly have come from a classical source.

It certainly seems possible that both books were independently generated based upon material that Sidgwick prepared. I don't yet have a copy of his volume, but it occurs to me that some clues to this might be present in that book. He might, for example, use pieces of some contemporary stories as examples. If they're subsets of some of these anachronistic stories in Morice and Moss, that might be suggestive.

Regarding the question of whose versions of the same stories are better, I don't have a strong opinion on that. They differ in three areas: (1) punctuation, (2) word order, (3) vocabulary. As you point out, they can be graded according to two criteria, which are easier for the student to translate, and which are more representative of Attic Greek usage. I don't feel competent to judge the latter, so I'll pass on that.

I haven't done an exhaustive comparison. I could embark on such a thing, but it would be time consuming, so I wonder how valuable it would be. Anecdotally as I scanned through the stories to verify some of the comparisons I've catalogued, I noticed that Morice seems to use a wider vocabulary, although I'm basing this on a very small sample size. Since punctuation would have been added much later than any Attic editio princeps, I would suggest that it's value should be judged against contemporary standards. Basically, the closer the Greek punctuation appears to what we might use in a contemporary language translation, the better. I haven't done this sort of comparison either, and doing so would be a lot of work, as I have been doing rough rather than polished translations.

Based on this, if there's something that I could do which you think would be valuable, even if it took some time, please feel free to suggest it. Alternatively, if there's something I could do that wouldn't take all that much time that might satisfy your curiosity, I'd be willing to do that.

Thanks for your input.
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Re: Overlap in Greek graded readers.

Postby npc » Sun Feb 18, 2018 7:52 am


Interesting. Certainly, plagiarism (assuming this is an example of such) is not a new concept. I would not be shocked to find the practice dated to as early as a few weeks after the invention of the written word.

The example you give is far more comprehensive. We know these aren't the only two examples of people taking credit for the work of others. I'm curious as to what it represents, though. Is this a statement about the times in which these are written? Morice and Moss are about 130 years old. The two examples you cite occur 200+ years before these. Is there some suggestion that the acceptability of this sort of thing has changed over time?

In any case, from my records it appears that Morice and Moss published their first editions within a decade of each other, Morice preceding Moss. I find it hard to believe that I was the first one to notice the overlap. I'm curious as to what the reaction at the time might have been. Also, if it was noticed, would we expect there to have been any record of this? These days, if a professor was caught doing something like this, I'd expect at a bare minimum they'd be hauled before a review board, and in many cases I expect they'd have their tenure revoked. Am I mistaken in this? Would this have been a likely response at the end of the 19th century? If so, might we find a record of it, even if its indirect? What little information I could find on Professor Moss suggests that he spent his entire career at the University of Illinois. Certainly, that's listed as the place of his passing in 1926, and he's listed as a member of the U of Illinois Faculty Greek Club in the Preface of the Loeb translation of "Aeneas Tacticus", but that's all I have on him.
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Re: Overlap in Greek graded readers.

Postby jeidsath » Mon Feb 19, 2018 2:13 am

At the time that Moss was publishing, Americans were famous for ignoring British copyrights. See the chapter in Anthony Trollope's biography about the postal treaty he negotiated with the U.S. (Trollope was a Post Office bigwig as well a famous novelist). It's surprising to see a textbook author do it though. Maybe he had permission, but I see nothing in the acknowledgements section.
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