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Learning Greek: Where to start?

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Learning Greek: Where to start?

Postby Philosophia » Thu May 15, 2014 10:59 pm

Hey everyone, I've been interested in classics for about a year and a half or so. I started teaching myself Latin last year, but when school started in the fall I had to give up on it because it was too much with all the AP Exams I had. I've recently been getting back into it and I've grown interested in learning Greek as well.

For you guys I have two questions. One, is it a mistake to take on Latin and Greek at the same time? I know French and Spanish to about an intermediate level so I'm pretty good with languages. Two, where do I start with Greek? I received a textbook I purchased off the recommendation of one of the textkit users (Introduction to Attic Greek by Donald J. Mastronarde). I've begun working on learning the alphabet and writing the letters today, but I'm not really sure what pace I should be working at, what books I should buy, resources I should be using, etc. I really hope to achieve fluency in reading, and it would be cool to converse with my friend who speaks modern Greek.

Anyway, I'd just like to thank everyone in advanced for replying. I really love the community that everyone works to create on textkit.
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Re: Learning Greek: Where to start?

Postby Qimmik » Fri May 16, 2014 2:10 am

Some thoughts:

It's helpful to have some Latin under your belt before you tackle ancient Greek. If your ultimate aim is to engage with ancient Greek literature at an advanced level, Latin is really essential because (1) classical Latin literature to a large extent illuminates Greek literature--almost every classical Latin author writes with a Greek literature in mind (this is less true of New Testament Greek, which can be learned independently of Latin)--and (2) much scholarship on ancient Greek, particularly that written before about 1850-1875, much of which is still relevant, is written in Latin (prefaces to many scholarly editions of ancient Greek authors, even those written though the 1970s, have traditionally written in Latin--but you also need to be able to read French, Italian and, above all, German, too). I would suggest having the equivalent of a year or so of Latin before you really throw yourself into Greek, but you can start learning some Greek even earlier. Also, Latin and Greek have a similar structure, but Latin is easier.

Mastonarde is very rigorous and thorough, but many students, especially those studying on their own, seem to dislike his approach. No real need to buy anything else until you've worked your way through Mastronarde, though. Maybe others have different recommendations; I learned with Crosby and Schaeffer many years ago, long before Mastornarde was published, and I wasn't self-taught.

Modern Greek is quite different from ancient Greek. You probably won't be able to converse with your friend if you learn ancient Greek, even if you use the modern Greek pronunciation for ancient Greek. (I wouldn't recommend that--too many ancient Greek vowels and diphthongs have merged--but you don't really need to pronounce ancient Greek precisely like an ancient Greek--after all, there are no native speakers--an approximately accurate pronunciation will do.) The two phases of the language aren't as far apart as many think, and anyone who has some ancient Greek can make out much modern Greek, but there are big differences.

Achieving fluency in reading is a long and arduous process. There are several dialects of ancient Greek, and my experience is that you really never achieve fluency in all of ancient Greek--you may achieve fluency in a specific author or a specific genre, but when you turn to something else, it takes a while before you are reading with something approaching fluency. You'll never outgrow your need for a dictionary and a grammar, though. Never forget that you're reading texts written 2,000+ year ago, in a very different society, and preserved by a very imperfect process of copying and recopying for most of that period. Ancient Greek is hard.

I'm sure there will be some who don't agree with what I've written. Let's keep an open mind, let them air their views, and see what they have to say.
Last edited by Qimmik on Fri May 16, 2014 2:21 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Learning Greek: Where to start?

Postby ailuros » Fri May 16, 2014 2:15 am

Hi Philosophia,

Your capacity to learn the languages meaningfully should be your guide. If you can handle both you should do it. If it seems like you can't, then pick one and work from there. The textbook you have should be good to start with. Perhaps it is best to continue to work through that without worrying too much about other resources. You don't need Liddell & Scott to work through a first year text, nor will you need Smyth. You can wait to get those after you finish the text and if you wish to continue in AG (then they are must-haves). You shouldn't proceed any faster than you are comfortable with. If you have extra time, reading anything about AG culture will help your understanding of the language and the people who spoke, wrote, and thought in it, whether history, literary studies, art history, archaeology, economics, or warfare. One thing, though: your AG studies may not help much in conversing in modern Greek. They're very different languages. I hope you have every success in your studies!
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Re: Learning Greek: Where to start?

Postby Philosophia » Fri May 16, 2014 2:32 am

First off, thank you both for your replies. I don't think you realize how much I appreciate it. In regards to both your responses, I have a few questions. What constitutes a single year of Latin (I used Wheelock's and Lingua Latina). I really like the points both of you brought up about learning two languages at once; one how learning Latin would illuminate Greek and then how I can really just go at my own pace. I'm going to be self teaching so there aren't any deadlines, so I think I might focus on Latin while learning basic AG. This way I can still learn AG because I really am excited about it, but still get the value of the illuminated texts by the time I can read them. Also, is there a way to progress to modern Greek from Ancient Greek?
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Re: Learning Greek: Where to start?

Postby letters » Sun May 18, 2014 1:34 am

I actually started Greek before Latin and found that doing it in that order was just fine. Latin was much easier with all that Greek under my belt, and the difficulty/'foreignness' of Greek made it fun to dive into. But whichever you choose to learn first, it's a good idea to stagger them a little bit.
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Re: Learning Greek: Where to start?

Postby mwh » Wed May 21, 2014 7:17 pm

Myself I rather like the idea of learning both languages together, especially if you already have some knowledge of French and Spanish. That way you can see not only what ancient Greek and Latin have in common but also what they don't. You'd benefit from a comparative grammar for that, either Andrew Sihler's or the older one by Carl Buck, but you might prefer to learn them independently and pick up on the comparative stuff for yourself. If one is to be undertaken before the other I'd really recommend ancient Greek first (and not just because it has that cool alphabet; it's more a matter of ancient Greek illuminating Latin than vice versa), but since you already made a start with Latin it will be best to go on with that. Focussing on Latin while getting started on ancient Greek as you propose sounds an excellent plan to me. Be aware that ancient Greek has not just the subjunctive but the optative too; on the downside (according to your point of view), it makes do without the ablative.

Going at your own pace is good too. You have to be disciplined, of course. You might want to commit to a certain amount of time per day or per week and hold yourself to it. The important thing is not to get discouraged when progress seems slow or when there seems no end to the new stuff they keep throwing at you. (With certain textbooks the optative come as a late and severe shock to the system.) There are people on these boards willing and able to help, as you've already found. Good advice there. Just don't expect to master either language overnight, or even in a single year. Some would say (I'm one of them) it takes a lifetime.

Modern Greek is basically ancient Greek without all the complications, but it can seem very different indeed. If you want to understand and converse in (modern) Greek, ancient Greek won't actually be much help. On the other hand, it's fascinating to see how the modern language has developed out of the ancient (with a little assist from Turkey when it comes to vocab). There's a nice little book by Robert Browning (no, not the poet) tracking the development from ancient to modern.
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