Well, I managed, solo, to finish Athenaze, book one. I started around November 1st, 2006, and finished a week ago, last Monday. Needless to say, I feel a great deal of pride in this. When I started, I thought that I could get along using both Pharrâ€™s Homeric Greek, and Balmeâ€™s Athenaze. I was wrong, and studied only one book. Everyday, and I mean everyday, weekdays and weekends, workdays and vacation days, I read Athenaze. Sometimes as much as two hours, sometimes as little as twenty minutes, but always some amount of time. The family members here made fun of this new obsession, which took up all the free time that is normally used for my reading activities.
When I began, the easygoing first few chapters of Athenaze really caught me, and suited my purposes. I had the distinct impression of progressing. However, when I reached chapter 11 or so, the author tries to catch up lost time by accelerating the pace, and cramming more and more material in each of the remaining chapters. My learning pace really slowed down at that point.
In Athenaze book one, we are introduced to an interesting story developing around everyday life in a Greek rural family. Farming, fetching water, protecting livestock, recounting myths, going to festivities, seeing a doctor, taking a boat to nearby islands and the like. This is the real strength of the book, the way the story unfolds, and the increasing complexity of the language used from chapter to chapter. Then, somewhat artificially, we are exposed to a long expose of the nautical fight with the Persians. This is accompanied by a large amount of the vocabulary of warfare, not really related to the vocabulary of earlier chapters.
After having finished the book, I went through two full reviews in order to remind myself of some of the finer points and to some forms that I always seem to forget. And I forget very easily...
Now I am at a cross-road. I wonder what direction to take. I can go to book two of Athenaze, go to Homeric Greek, go to another grammar etc. However, I have tried reading some of the ancient Greek writers. I have downloaded the Cyropedia and the Anabasis by Xenophon, the History by Herodotus, theHistories by Thukydides, and a few other Greek texts. The Iliad still seems far too complex and out of reach at this point. Certainly I can read much more easily than say six months ago, but it is still not an easy process. Learning grammar makes reading easier, to a point. But when reading French or English texts,who uses a grammar? Is it an absolute necessity?
First things first, I acquired a rather large dictionary, the latest edition of the Grand Bailly (since I am french speaking). As a comment, years ago when first starting to read Charles Dickens, I used an English dictionary, giving meanings of English words with English words. If I read Victor Hugo in French, I use a French dictionary, explaining French words with French words. Why are ancient Greek dictionaries not written in ancient Greek? Is it that word to word translation is really a concern? I do not intend to translate (meaning I do not want to be a translator), I just want to understand what the author means.
In reading, I do not use electronic translation aids...I use paper, pen, dictionary, and a lot of patience. First, I always start by reading an entire paragraph a few times. This is followed by reading each sentence while trying to decipher it by concentrating on each word. I am not attempting auto-translating, but still want to know exactly what each sentence means. From letters to words, words to sentences, sentences to paragraph, paragraphs to chapters, chapters to books. It is very logical. Individual letters are not a problem, but words are still difficult. So, for each word that I dot not know (and that holds for most of them), I look up the dictionary.
Ah, the dictionary, so full of fascinating words that invariably it takes me off track so that I forget what it was that I was looking for while meandering through the pages. Why do I forget where is Theta? Then when I find a word that is a good candidate there is the matter of dialect (Ionic), contracts or no contracts, that is the question...Plus, I have to read all of three full columns in the dictionary page for the various meanings of the word in question, all written in 8 and 6 point fonts, only to find that it cannot be what I was looking for.
Now, is this verb at the aorist or at the imperfect ? What is this, an aorist stem or just the indicative present stem, or, most likely, an aorist generated from an unrelated stem? How do I find out? Is it really starting with alpha augmented to this eta, or an eta that was left unchanged (much different place in the dictionary)? Or perhaps it is starting with an epsilon with no change? It might be one of those irregular verbs ending in mi. Not all forms are in the dictionary. Maybe a duel case, not in Athenaze... Is this a 3rd declension noun or adjective, and as always, from one of those forms that I cannot seem to remember? I am prone to forget the meaning of those three letter prepositions, which can change meaning if followed by dative or genitive. And so it goes on and on. It is difficult to just read a sentence and know right away what it means.
Sometimes ten, fifteen or even thirty minutes elapse for a single word search... Then, after all the words are known, I still have to make sense of the sentence. Why is every clause of this particular sentence at accusative ? I speculate, maybe there is a weird grammatical rule I do not know yet (let us study Athenaze book two) ? Or maybe there is an implicit repetition of the logoi that say something at the accusative in the previous sentence, and which might (obviously?) continue here. I wonder, I wonder...
So, when someone asks me what I have done of my whole afternoon, I can proudly say that I have, really, read one full sentence in Herodotus. Three to five lines overall...At this rate, I will finish in more than five years. My interlocutors tell me that I should stick with French or English litterature.
They really do not understand the joys this ancient Greek language brings to the reader...So direct yet so subtle it is quite incredible.