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Accents and Agony

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Accents and Agony

Postby J. A. Prufrock » Fri Aug 15, 2014 7:38 pm

Hey everyone, I've been around on text kit for awhile and I've finally made an account. I've been looking to learn ancient Greek for awhile now. I started with Mastronarde's book and found that it honestly was just quite dull and seemed better as a refreshed book than a book to learn on your own (I think this was its original purpose). I was pretty set on learning Attic Greek, but when I took a look at Clyde Pharr's book it really appealed to me because it seems to throw you into reading right away as the third lesson already has translating. I'm curious about the accents though; the accentuation in his textbook appears to be rather dense. I hope I don't offend anyone, but for a beginner it seems to me that a lot of the accentuation notes aren't of immediate importance.

So, are the accents critical for reading Homer in the early stages or can their rules and particulars be picked up along the way? Also, does anyone have anyone other resource recommendations or recommendations for using Pharr's book to learn Homeric Greek?
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Re: Accents and Agony

Postby Qimmik » Sat Aug 16, 2014 3:00 pm

1. If your aim is to read Greek, you don't need to have a complete mastery of the accents, although having at least a superficial, passive familiarity with the rules is helpful. I don't think it's unreasonable, given the difficulties of mastering Greek, to devote less attention to the accents and concentrate on grammar and vocabulary. Incidentally, the accents were added to texts long after the texts were written, at a time when the accentual system was changing from a tone accent to a stress accent and readers needed help with the older system. The main rules are clear, but even in antiquity there were disputes about some of the finer points, and it's not always clear that the grammarians who wrote treatises on accentuation knew what they were talking about.

2. Personally, I think it's easier to learn Homeric Greek (and other dialects) once you've learned Attic Greek than the other way around. (One of the permanent threads at the head of this forum advises you to learn Homeric Greek first even if your interest is philosophical Greek. Frankly, I think this is advice is couldn't be more wrong.) When you've learned Attic Greek, Homeric Greek seems very strange and difficult at first, but I think you quickly get used to the differences. Homeric Greek has an even more confusing proliferation of verb forms than Attic, and a lot of obscure vocabulary, but the syntax is actually much easier than Attic. Once you've got some reading in Homeric Greek under your belt, you build up momentum very quickly. If your interest lies exclusively in reading the Homeric poems, then by all means learn Homeric Greek first, but if you're interested in eventually reading Attic prose and drama, I think you'd be better served by starting with Attic and then moving to Homer. Others may disagree.
Last edited by Qimmik on Thu Aug 21, 2014 10:42 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Accents and Agony

Postby J. A. Prufrock » Sat Aug 16, 2014 11:00 pm

Thank you for the advice Qimmik! I find the explanations in Pharr's book to be rather complicated for someone just starting. I'd also prefer to learn Attic, but I'm about to enter my first year of university and don't really have money to buy and try different books. As long as you don't think learning Homer first will ruin my chances of reading Attic eventually I think I'm going to stick with Pharr's book and learn to read Homer.
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Re: Accents and Agony

Postby mwh » Thu Aug 21, 2014 11:08 pm

Hey John, or is it Alfred?

Accents. Since the accents play no part in the rhythm of the Homeric hexameter, I‘d ignore them, at least for the time being. You want to concentrate on learning to read metrically, and accents will only throw you off. My advice would be different if you were learning Attic.

Pharr. Many people, some on this board, have successfully learnt to read Homer with Pharr and think highly of the book. I don’t, because to me there's nothing more absurd than translating into and from Homeric Greek prose (an oxymoron in itself), as Pharr has you do. Homeric language has no existence outside of the Homeric hexameter; it’s the interaction of words and meter that makes it what it is. But each to his own, and Pharr does get you actively involved early on. Just bear in mind as you learn the vocab that Homeric composition is not a matter of individual words but of metrical phrases which fit into particular slots in the verse.

You’ll be able to learn Attic after Homer all right. Some of the grammar is a bit different, and the vocabulary, but Homer came first, after all, so you’ll be following the historical development.

One warning. Learning Greek is hard. Especially if you are doing it on your own. Greek is much more different from English than Spanish and French are. Of course it can also be fun, and intellectually satisfying, and the payoff is that you’ll be able to read ancient Greek literature in the original language, an experience quite different from reading it in translation. You say you’re a college freshman. How about signing up for a beginning Greek class, if one’s offered at your university? If not, you’ll have to carve out a fixed amount of time each week from your schedule, and stick to it. You’ve discovered this site, and know there are very helpful people here.

So go on, eat that peach!

Michael
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Re: Accents and Agony

Postby J. A. Prufrock » Fri Aug 22, 2014 2:22 am

Thank you very much for answering, and it's John :) I just had really enjoyed that poem. I actually had wanted to sign up for an intro to Greek course at my school, but unfortunately it was full and I got stuck taking Latin. The issue with my school is that it's rather tiny and intro to Greek is only offered in the fall, so I'd have to wait until next year to start which might conflict with my overall goal of taking the pre-med requirements and studying abroad for a semester.

I've no issue with studying hard especially when I have such wonderful people for guidance so I suppose I'll have to continue on my own. Do you have any recommendations for materials that are known to be solid because I have no problems spending money on essential or very helpful things, I just don't really want to waste money trying different books.
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Re: Accents and Agony

Postby mwh » Fri Aug 22, 2014 3:23 am

Pharr is designed as a stand-alone textbook, so you may find you don't actually need additional materials. But sooner or later you're going to need a dictionary. The recommended Homeric one is by Cunliffe (Lexicon of the Homeric Dialect), old but good, and reasonably priced on abebooks. That's just for Homer. For Greek in general (Homer included), you'll want to get yourself one of the abridgments of Liddell and Scott's Greek-English Lexicon. The reference grammar everyone uses is by H.W. Smyth, but that's primarily on Attic Greek and can be difficult to find your way around in, so I wouldn't bother with that until later. If you need a grammar beyond what Pharr provides, the Textkit library contains both Smyth and Goodwin, and my own preference is for Goodwin, though it's even older than Pharr (also in the library) and looks it, and hardly anyone uses it. Once you get further there are some excellent resources for Homer.

So the intro to Greek class is full. Some will drop, leaving spaces (is there a wait-list?), and in any case by speaking with the professor you might be able to sit in or even wheedle your way into the class. It's been known.

Oh, a word of warning about Pharr's historical introduction. It was written over a century ago, and back then no-one imagined the Myceneans were Greeks, which it's now known they were, so much of what Pharr says is out the window. (There's a nice book by John Chadwick on the decipherment of the Linear B tablets found at Mycenae and other sites both on the Greek mainland and on Crete, if you're interested.) I don't believe more recent revisions of Pharr correct this, but I could be wrong. Just start in at chapter 1. History changes, but Homer doesn't.
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Re: Accents and Agony

Postby Paul Derouda » Fri Aug 22, 2014 6:24 am

I'm one of those who learnt Homeric Greek before Attic with Pharr (although I did have some Koine under my belt). I can recommend the book from my own experience - most importantly because you get to read real Homer very soon. Just take everything the book says with a grain of salt and skip the English to Greek translations (I did).

Probably it's a good idea to ignore accents first. But if you learn to ignore them, it may be hard to learn not to ignore them later on. (Again, I'm speaking from experience.) It's a choice you have to make yourself.

Homeric syntax is a lot easier than Attic. The difficulties are the large vocabulary and the fact that it mixes different inflective forms promiscuously.

You can actually find Cunliffe's dictionary online:
http://www.tlg.uci.edu/cunliffe/
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Re: Accents and Agony

Postby J. A. Prufrock » Fri Aug 22, 2014 12:57 pm

I appreciate both of you taking the time to answer my questions, thank you. I'll see if I can sit in on the class or even just ask the professor if he can help me with things that I don't understand. It seems like most people interesting in classical languages are willing to help others learn so I doubt that he would mind. Also, thank you for posting that link for the dictionary, I'm sure I'll be using it quite a bit in the future and it's nice to have it on the computer.
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Re: Accents and Agony

Postby jeidsath » Fri Aug 22, 2014 1:20 pm

I don't know whether learning accents helps or hinders. I learned them from the start. Be wary of learning a simpler language than the actual Greek, and keep in mind the story of the graduate student, who after badly failing his exam came to his professor and told him, "but I know German!" He then showed his professor the entire notebook he had filled with a translation of a novel, each word mechanically looked up one by one. His professor then explained to the student that his years of wasted effort had not led to any actual knowledge of the German language.

The only thing I know about accents that you won't find in all the books, is that an acute on a long vowel is a rising pitch on the second half of that vowel, and a circumflex is the same thing on the first half. See βοῦς for a word where this becomes clear in declension.
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