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Vocabulary: Thucydides vs. Aeschylus

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Vocabulary: Thucydides vs. Aeschylus

Postby pster » Sat Oct 06, 2012 11:59 pm

For months now, I have been memorizing 20 new words a day from Thucydides. And as of joining the Agamemnon reading group, I have supplemented that with 15 new words a day from Aeschylus. The most salient things I have learned are:

1) Thucydides has a reasonably large number of words for retreating.

2) But he has a staggeringly large number of words for stupidity.

3) Aeschylus has a large number of words for wailing.

I leave it to others to draw conclusions.

:D
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Re: Vocabulary: Thucydides vs. Aeschylus

Postby C. S. Bartholomew » Sun Oct 07, 2012 3:24 am

Memorizing words from a lexicon or as you run into them in the text?

I take it you generated a vocabulary list for both authors. Not sure what value it is to memorize glosses for words out of context. The current thinking on contextual semantic domains maximizes the significance of the co-text and the context (the total cognitive framework). This means that gloss memorization is no longer considered a path to understanding how a given lexeme functions within a text.


In working with Aeschylus I look up almost every word almost every time it occurs. If Aeschylus uses a word several times he will move between common meaning and obscure use in different samples of text. So there really isn't any such thing as knowing what a word means. Today I was working on four lines of the long Chorus in Agamemnon, here it is with some of the words I had to look into even though some of them were common like στόμιον which is used here in a strange way.

οἶον μή τις ἄγα θεόθεν κνεφάσῃ προτυπὲν στόμιον μέγα Τροίας
135
στρατωθέν. οἴκτῳ γὰρ ἐπίφθονος Ἄρτεμις ἀγνὰ
πτανοῖσιν κυσὶ πατρὸς
αὐτότοκον πρὸ λόχου μογερὰν πτάκα θυομένοισι·

ἐπίφθονος Act., bearing a grudge against, τινι A.Ag.133 (lyr.)

κνεφ-άζω, (κνέφας)
cloud over, obscure, A.Ag.131 (lyr.).

στρᾰτόω, στρατωθέν assembled as a host, A.Ag.133

προτύπτω forge beforehand, προτυπὲν στόμιον μέγα Τροίας A.Ag.132 (lyr.).

στόμιον Τροίας a bit or curb for Troy, of the Greek army, A.Ag.132 (lyr.).
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Re: Vocabulary: Thucydides vs. Aeschylus

Postby pster » Sun Oct 07, 2012 11:09 am

I don't doubt the results of the studies. But aren't those studies for living languages? What I would oppose to those studies are the studies that say one has to encounter a word 100 times before one learns it. Maybe I am wrong about it, but it seems to me that there are many many Attic words that I will not encounter a 100 times in this lifetime, especially if we don't include re-readings of a single passage.

(I have a longer response in draft that I will put up tonight or tomorrow.)
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Re: Vocabulary: Thucydides vs. Aeschylus

Postby C. S. Bartholomew » Sun Oct 07, 2012 3:25 pm

pster wrote:I don't doubt the results of the studies. But aren't those studies for living languages? What I would oppose to those studies are the studies that say one has to encounter a word 100 times before one learns it. Maybe I am wrong about it, but it seems to me that there are many many Attic words that I will not encounter a 100 times in this lifetime, especially if we don't include re-readings of a single passage.




I have no problem with learning what words mean by rote. But it is much bigger project than knowing a gloss in the target language. Take as an example τυγχάνω a very common word. The understand it one needs to learn about the cultural, religious, social, political setting in which it was used. Also the specific scenarios in which it was employed. μοῖρα is a word which shares a few semantic domains with τυγχάνω but there are large differences. Both of them tap in to a worldview that is very foreign to modernism in the west. But in the last fifty years the ascendancy of neopaganism in western popular culture has made it at least superficially less problematic for students to understand notions about fate in the world view of ancient Greeks. But assuming that twenty-first century street level mythology makes it less work for a student to understand the cultural framework of 5th century Attic Drama is hazardous.
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Re: Vocabulary: Thucydides vs. Aeschylus

Postby pster » Sun Oct 07, 2012 8:54 pm

I actually have the entire long LSJ entry on my card rather than just a mere "gloss" and I spend a fair bit of time working through the various meanings, especially those used by authors of interest. Indeed, for the last few months, one could say that I have been reading LSJ and looking up words in the original texts. It would have been unthinkable in the past, but software advances have made it practicable.
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Re: Vocabulary: Thucydides vs. Aeschylus

Postby C. S. Bartholomew » Mon Oct 08, 2012 5:12 pm

The experience of encountering a word embedded in a scenario within the ancient text, the use of commentary and other secondary lit. to aid in understanding the cultural framework which hosts the scenario, all of this and more is indispensable to acquiring a knowledge of what the word means and how it functions with the text/culture. LSJ, a wonderful book, I use it every day, is a product of 19th century philology.
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Re: Vocabulary: Thucydides vs. Aeschylus

Postby pster » Mon Oct 08, 2012 5:53 pm

I have not fully described, nor have I recommended, nor have I any interest in defending how I am approaching things these day. I was just telling a funny story. I was not trying to open a debate on neopaganism in the last fifty years of popular culture, nor the limitations of 19th century philology, nor anything else.
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Re: Vocabulary: Thucydides vs. Aeschylus

Postby John W. » Mon Oct 08, 2012 7:20 pm

C. S. Bartholomew wrote: I have no problem with learning what words mean by rote. But it is much bigger project than knowing a gloss in the target language. Take as an example τυγχάνω a very common word. The understand it one needs to learn about the cultural, religious, social, political setting in which it was used. Also the specific scenarios in which it was employed. μοῖρα is a word which shares a few semantic domains with τυγχάνω but there are large differences. Both of them tap in to a worldview that is very foreign to modernism in the west. But in the last fifty years the ascendancy of neopaganism in western popular culture has made it at least superficially less problematic for students to understand notions about fate in the world view of ancient Greeks. But assuming that twenty-first century street level mythology makes it less work for a student to understand the cultural framework of 5th century Attic Drama is hazardous.


While theoretically your approach no doubt has much to commend it, in practice one cannot wait until one has learned about "the cultural, religious, social, political setting in which it was used" before attempting to translate τυγχάνω (or any other Greek word). The more one knows about the context and background, of course, the better, and the richer one's understanding will be; but we also need to get on with the task of reading Greek literature as best we can, using such sources of knowledge as are available to us.

By the way, what, might I ask, is 'neopaganism'? As far as I am aware, the worship of the Olympian pantheon has not (yet) been revived, so I must confess to being at a loss as to the signification of this term.

Best wishes,

John
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Re: Vocabulary: Thucydides vs. Aeschylus

Postby John W. » Mon Oct 08, 2012 7:28 pm

pster wrote:For months now, I have been memorizing 20 new words a day from Thucydides. And as of joining the Agamemnon reading group, I have supplemented that with 15 new words a day from Aeschylus. The most salient things I have learned are:

1) Thucydides has a reasonably large number of words for retreating.

2) But he has a staggeringly large number of words for stupidity.

3) Aeschylus has a large number of words for wailing.

I leave it to others to draw conclusions.

:D


:D Sounds about right to me - and it would be interesting to try the same approach with some other authors!

On a (slightly) more serious note, I'll have to find out if there's a handy linguistic analysis available for Thucydides - in addition to those words you mention, I suppose words for intelligence, prudence and forethought - qualities which Thucydides regarded highly, and frequently praises - would also figure fairly high on the list.

I hope your reading of Thucydides is going well!

Best wishes,

John
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Re: Vocabulary: Thucydides vs. Aeschylus

Postby C. S. Bartholomew » Mon Oct 08, 2012 8:26 pm

One reason LS[J] worked in the 19th century, English school boys (Virginia Woolf studied at home) were given a thorough grounding in the the ancient classics. So LS could use all kinds of shorthand and assume that the reader could fill in the blanks. Unfortunately a thorough grounding in the the ancient classics is a thing of the past. I read Sophocles in High School because my sister left her college edition of the Grene-Lattimore Oedipus trilogy laying around. Didn't get any classics instruction in school at any level. ZERO. So the literary, cultural, social, historical background had to be acquired in self-study mode. Reading the long chorus in Agamemnon line 40ff over the last week or so has underlined the need for significant levels of cultural background, for example the role of Artemis in the story of Agamemnon external to this play.
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