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Difficulty of Homer?

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Difficulty of Homer?

Postby seanjonesbw » Fri Oct 12, 2012 9:58 am

While I was at university, I studied Koine as part of my Theology degree and can trot through most of the New Testament now without too much vocab-checking. I've been investigating Homeric on and off with Pharr for the past six months without getting more than my feet wet, but as have some more time as the Scottish winter approaches (no light, no heat) I'm going take a proper look. Something that I read again and again is that trying to tackle Homer after the New Testament is a very difficult task and not for the faint-hearted, with little backing-up of that claim.

My question is, why is this? Having looked through Pharr, the biggest differences I can see are the presence of the dual, some differences of inflection and a hugely different vocabulary set. Is the shock of all this new vocabulary seen to be the most difficult part for a student switching disciplines? If not, I'd be eager to know what pitfalls lie ahead so I can plot a route round them in advance.

Yours,
A lowly Koine reader
(Sean)
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Re: Difficulty of Homer?

Postby Polyidos » Sun Oct 14, 2012 3:35 am

seanjonesbw wrote:Something that I read again and again is that trying to tackle Homer after the New Testament is a very difficult task and not for the faint-hearted, with little backing-up of that claim.


I would strongly disagree with that assessment. For a long time most students began by studying Attic. Nobody made the same claim about them when they switched over to a study of Homer and I would suggest the same is true for somebody who started with Koine.

One good thing about Pharr's book is that he aims it at students who have not had any prior experience with Greek at all. In his introductory essay he makes his case that beginning with Homer is the best way to begin a study of Greek. Whether or not you agree, he starts by having students learn the Greek alphabet and goes on from there.

Since you already have a solid grounding in the language, you should be able to focus your efforts on the differences in the declensions, the vocabulary, obviously covering a different domain than NT Greek, and the areas of syntax which are more complex than NT.

There are some other issues which can be a problem for anyone. For example, the fact that lots of imperfect and aorist verb forms lack the augment in Homer.

I would say to throw caution to the wind and just jump in. Work your way through the first dozen lessons quickly (since you already know most of the material anyway) and head straight into the beginning of the Iliad. You can always return to this forum and ask questions as needed. Pharr's Greek to English exercises are mostly a recasting of that lesson's Iliad passage in more prose-like syntax so that when you go back to the poem you have a very good idea of the meaning and can overcome any issue of word order and possible ellipses while still achieving a decent understanding of the poem.

Given that Pharr's text only covers the first book of the Iliad, the matter of vocabulary won't be one of extremes and you will have begun to acquire a knowledge of Homeric 'formulas', to use the terms of Milman Parry, that will help ease your way through subsequent books.

I think it is a lot of fun and hope you will ignore the nay-sayers and give it a go.

Cheers.
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Re: Difficulty of Homer?

Postby seanjonesbw » Wed Oct 17, 2012 9:13 pm

Thanks so much for your reply, that's really great advice and I've plunged right in.
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Re: Difficulty of Homer?

Postby Markos » Mon Nov 05, 2012 6:23 pm

Is the shock of all this new vocabulary seen to be the most difficult part for a student switching disciplines?


Probably. The Homeric vocabulary is massive, much more difficult to master than that of the GNT.

I made the transition from Koine to Homer and it was hard and it took a long time. One of the problems I still have is that in the GNT prepositons come before and always go with nouns. In Homer the word order of prepositions varies, they often come after or are even quite distant from the nouns they modify, or they are used as adverbs, or they are "cut off" from verbs in what in the GNT would be simply compound verbs.

But with enough time Homer can be mastered and is worth every minute. Homer is like the girl the Beatles wrote about: "She's the kind of girl you want so much is makes you sorry. Still you don't regret a single day. Ah, girl..."

αυτης λυπουσης με ετι επιθυμω.
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Re: Difficulty of Homer?

Postby Qimmik » Wed Mar 20, 2013 4:24 pm

When I started studying Greek in 9th grade many years ago, the standard sequence was to begin by learning Attic Greek morphology and syntax, then in the second semester to read Plato's Apology and end the first year by tackling a book of Homer (Odyssey 9, in my case). So Homer is first-year Greek. There are a lot of strange forms and vocabulary, but you adapt to them quickly. And the syntax is usually not difficult at all. You'll have to put some effort in at the beginning, though.

One big help is to equip yourself with Cunliffe's Lexicon of the Homeric Dialect, which is readily available in paperback at a reasonable cost and is very reliable. It provides a lot of help with verb forms, too. Wilcox's edition of the Iliad is good for beginners, and there are a number of individual books in the Cambridge Green and Yellow series. They usually provide a summary of the grammatical difficulties.
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