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Offended by modern phonology in Ancient Greek classroom

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Offended by modern phonology in Ancient Greek classroom

Postby scrambledeggs » Sun Apr 04, 2010 2:43 am

Ok, the first thing I did was buy the Daitz CD's on pronouncing the restored classical way, and make sure I had it. I take great pains in correct phonology and accent since poetry should be read in that way, and also I find it to be the soul and beauty of the language, in the unique accent and sounds of each language, especially the elegant pitch accent which makes stress accents sound barbaric to me, and the unique "puhtah" of unEnglish sounds like φθ that starts a word,

I heard though, through the internet, a classroom recording of a teacher speaking Ancient greek to her class, I think in fact they are online transcripts, but all these βάρβαροι, (Hope I have that accent mark right), to my shock she was sounding WEIRD with arabic like "ch" and dental fricatives, when I realized she was using modern greek phonology entirely. I know my basic linguistics, languages change, and that is that, but something offends me about the incorrect use of phonology on Classical attic. Especially the modern greeks presumption that there is no difference between modern and ancient pronunciations.

Is it wrong for me to hold non-pitch accenters in contempt? I view the pitch accent and the restored classical method as something of great historical and aethetic value, but sadly it requires effort and scholarship to understand and accept that modern greek's pronunciations are anachronistic when applied to the age of Pericles.

Pericles simply did not go "cchhh"
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Re: Offended by modern phonology in Ancient Greek classroom

Postby modus.irrealis » Mon Apr 05, 2010 2:36 pm

I would say that being offended and contemptuous is a bit overboard ;)
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Re: Offended by modern phonology in Ancient Greek classroom

Postby thesaurus » Tue Apr 06, 2010 3:19 am

Yes, it's anachronistic and unfortunate, but it's also become a matter of tradition and habit that won't change anytime soon. As you say, a correct understanding of Ancient Greek phonetics is important for fully appreciating poetry and the language's rhythm. However, when it comes to reading, pronunciation (alas) falls to the wayside. People commonly adopt the method that is practical or expected of them. The way it distorts the language's character is surely overcome by the number of people who can learn the language more easily with a simplified pronunciation.

I've heard that Greeks don't really view Ancient Greek and Modern Greek as two separate languages, but rather treat them as a continuum. Given this viewpoint, it's natural that they continue to speak the way they do today while reading older texts.
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Re: Offended by modern phonology in Ancient Greek classroom

Postby Scribo » Wed Apr 07, 2010 2:39 pm

Calm down, I'd say being offended is a touch too far. In fact more a leap and a bound too far, I understand you may have a preference and, like me, feel that forcing modern phonology onto the ancient tongue is horrid, but none the less you're being a bit extravagant.

Incidentally I am familiar with mod Greek and the way it sounds and I do think it makes Anc Greek sound pretty awful and that the arguments for using a modern pronunciation are convoluted and erroneous. Still I'm far from OFFENDED...
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Re: Offended by modern phonology in Ancient Greek classroom

Postby Markos » Thu Apr 08, 2010 7:50 pm

You cannot control how you feel. Nothing wrong with being offended by how something sounds to you. I have no doubt that you get more out of Ancient Greek poetry by pronouncing it the way you think it was pronounced at the time. Would I get more out of Chaucer or even Shakespeare if I bothered to take the time to try to figure out how it was pronounced at the time and pronounce it that way instead of in a way which sounds fine and natural to me? Probably? Would I bother? No. Am I offended when Americans speak Shakespeare with an American accent? I'm not, but I understand why one would be.

I prefer a pronunciation which sounds the way I would speak Ancient Greek and is one that is easiest to understand. For me this is American Erasmianism. You probably know that many Modern Greeks are even more offended by Erasmian than you are by Modern Greek. It's all good. To be offended is to be human.
For what it is worth, I find reconstructed Attic to be by far the MOST dificult to understand when read aloud. I find the attempt to reconstruct the pitch accents annoying and a little silly.
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Re: Offended by modern phonology in Ancient Greek classroom

Postby Damoetas » Fri Apr 09, 2010 3:32 pm

I can certainly empathize with the feeling.... It always makes me cringe when I hear people read Greek with a bad American accent, or a bad British or German or French or New Zealand accent, no matter what style of Greek pronunciation they're aiming for.

But I think it's important to remember that we don't reeeeeeeally know what Classical Attic sounded like. Yes, we can be confident that Daitz and others have reconstructed the phonemes and pitch accents fairly accurately. But these are far from the only factors that contribute to the overall sound of a language (or it's "soul and beauty," or "elegance," as you put it). For instance, we can never know what range of allophonic variation existed between the phonemes. We can never know how sounds influenced surrounding sounds, except to a very limited degree -- for instance, we know from spelling mistakes in papyri and inscriptions that nasal assimilation happened across word boundaries: τὸν πρῶτον was pronounced τὸμ πρῶτον, τὴν κεφαλὴν was τὴγ κεφαλήν, etc. But many similar processes could have operated and never impacted the orthography, and we would never know about them. For instance, in modern English, we know from spelling that "it is" contracts to "it's." But if someone has never heard English spoken, would they ever guess that the "t" is usually dropped in "it would"? (At least in American English, at normal conversational speed.) We can only guess at the intonation contour across the course of a whole Greek sentence. We can not know how "forcefully" the syllables were articulated, whether people spoke with more or less throat constriction, advanced tongue root, or any of a whole range of phenomena that have a huge impact on the subjective impression of what a language "sounds like."

Does anyone think that reading a textbook description of the phonology of Thai, or Mandarin, or Italian -- even one written by a linguist -- would enable someone who has never heard those languages to pronounce them even remotely similar to how a native speaker would pronounce them in continuous discourse? Would they even come close to capturing what we regard as the "essence" or "soul" of their distinctive sound? I defy anyone to try. And until they do, no one has any right to be too conceited about the "purity" of their Ancient Greek reconstruction.
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Re: Offended by modern phonology in Ancient Greek classroom

Postby scrambledeggs » Sat Apr 10, 2010 2:09 pm

An excellent reply, and no doubt true, but I would add that while the details can never be known, still, we know that beta was a bilabial, and not a dental-labial. Therefore, whatever the failings of the restored accent may be, it is still more accurate by far in core phonology than modern Greek, or even worse, American-Englished Ancient Greek. That one method is imperfect should not make us conclude that it is still not the best available option.
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Re: Offended by modern phonology in Ancient Greek classroom

Postby rustymason » Sat Apr 10, 2010 7:34 pm

I have listened to some of the acclaimed audio of "properly" spoken ancient Greek and cannot believe that scholars have yet discovered the right sound which would have made so many claim Greek was a beautiful sounding language. Myself, I am constantly trying out new accents, combining Swedish and Chinese or Japanese pitch accents with Welsh and French pronunciations. These utterances come closer to something my modern European ears would prefer. I wonder how others' experiments along these lines have turned out.
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Re: Offended by modern phonology in Ancient Greek classroom

Postby Damoetas » Sun Apr 11, 2010 6:04 pm

rustymason wrote:I have listened to some of the acclaimed audio of "properly" spoken ancient Greek and cannot believe that scholars have yet discovered the right sound which would have made so many claim Greek was a beautiful sounding language. Myself, I am constantly trying out new accents, combining Swedish and Chinese or Japanese pitch accents with Welsh and French pronunciations. These utterances come closer to something my modern European ears would prefer. I wonder how others' experiments along these lines have turned out.


Hey Rusty,

That's an interesting suggestion.... What I personally aim for is not so much to make it sound like any specific modern language, but rather to subtract the features that are distinctively English. For instance, we know that the vowels would have been pure sounds, not glides. The t's and d's would have been dental, not alveolar. The unaspirated stops would have been unaspirated -- incidentally, I think that's a much harder feature for English speakers to reproduce: it's pretty easy to aspirate theta, phi, and chi; the trick is to de-aspirate tau, pi, and kappa, and to maintain the contrast consistently. (Listening to Hindi can help with that.) As far as the pitch accent, to me it seems kind of pointless to pronounce some kind of elaborate rising and falling contour, which is bound to come almost entirely from your own imagination. I just try to give the accented syllables a higher pitch -- and maybe give the circumflex a falling tone (as in Serbo-Croatian). It seems like that is as close as we can realistically get to ancient pronunciation; anything more specific is impossible to prove or disprove, and not really worth the effort.
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Re: Offended by modern phonology in Ancient Greek classroom

Postby rustymason » Sun Apr 11, 2010 9:04 pm

Good ideas, though much of what you said is 10 feet over my head. I'll investigate.
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Re: Offended by modern phonology in Ancient Greek classroom

Postby scrambledeggs » Sun Apr 18, 2010 7:27 pm

rustymason wrote:I have listened to some of the acclaimed audio of "properly" spoken ancient Greek . . .



I am glad you are listening and attempting to recreate the classical accent. However I am somewhat thrown off by your message in that you use the word acclaimed (in presumably a facetious manner), and place the word properly in quotes. Are you questioning the general historical linguistical validity of the restored classical accent? See Vox Graeca: The Pronunciation of Classical Greek by W.S. Allen, for an in-depth examination of how the experts have recreated the pronunciation.

In any case, I think the pitch accent, if not in fact then in spirit, is not so difficult that it requires you to imitate Swedish or Chinese prosody. In fact, you simply rise the pitch of your voice instead of the volume of it. It is not that difficult once you practice it for a few minutes.

In fact, your mention of Chinese seems bizarre to me, as the Chinese languages' tonal system is utterly different in every possible way from Greek and a simply pitch accent, and whatever accent Greek had.

I advise you to stop imitating Germanic or other Barbaric languages and instead try Daitz's Pronunciation and Reading of Ancient Greek: A Practical Guide to have what I think is the best chance of making a fairly close approximation of the Greek of Pericles and Cleon.
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Re: Offended by modern phonology in Ancient Greek classroom

Postby rustymason » Mon Apr 19, 2010 8:30 pm

Perhaps I am unable to separate myself from my environment and time. But I have listened to many recordings of ancient Greek, none of which I could listen to without wincing. We are told that foreigners heard a beautiful song of a language when listening to the Greeks speak. Unfortunately, this foreigner cannot report the same. No offense, just being honest.
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Re: Offended by modern phonology in Ancient Greek classroom

Postby quendidil » Thu Apr 22, 2010 9:05 am

rustymason wrote:Perhaps I am unable to separate myself from my environment and time. But I have listened to many recordings of ancient Greek, none of which I could listen to without wincing. We are told that foreigners heard a beautiful song of a language when listening to the Greeks speak. Unfortunately, this foreigner cannot report the same. No offense, just being honest.


While I wouldn't as far as reporting wincing, I'd tend to agree with you. At most, reconsructed Greek recordings sound ordinary if a little unnatural, at worst, they sound absolutely horrible; I'd put Daitz nearer to the latter end of the spectrum.
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Re: Offended by modern phonology in Ancient Greek classroom

Postby rustymason » Thu Apr 22, 2010 11:42 am

I feel like such a heretic.
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Re: Offended by modern phonology in Ancient Greek classroom

Postby Swth\r » Thu Apr 22, 2010 7:59 pm

At first some questions as a quick reply. When somenone reads Shakespeare, does (s)he have to pronounce the text the way Shakespeare spoke? And what about Homer? Does anyone have to read in a different way than when (s)he reads classic Attic? And what about Doric, Aeolic forms? An -A- in Sparta or in Thebes was really pronounced like an -A- in Athens? What about Pindar, or Sappho, or Archilochus?

These are the problem with languages not any more spoken ... And as I think there can be enough freedom to different pronounciation.

But I would like us to take under consideration the following thinking. In scholarship there is the tradition of writing Greek the way the texts have reached us, and not of course in capitals, or without separating or yphenating the words etc. Why should anyone ignore the phonetic developement in Greek up to now and take up the restored pronounciation as he only way to learn and speak Greek?

As Greek myself I have only one answer to the above: because the - so called- Erasmic, or better the scientifically restored by historical linguistics pronounciation makes indeed huge difference in comprehending poetry, metric, accentuation, rhythm, as already said. And nothing else... Nevertheless, this is only of scienticic-scholarly importance, not of aesthetic at all in my opinion.
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Re: Offended by modern phonology in Ancient Greek classroom

Postby Adelheid » Thu Apr 22, 2010 8:32 pm

I must confess that for me Ancient Greek has no sound at all. I have tried to read Homer out loud, following the meter, trying a pitch (and failing miserably at that last one, I have no clue), but when I do that, I fail to understand what I am reading.

Recently I listened to a rendering of Euripides' "Orestes Stasimo" by Atrium Musica de Madrid & Gregorio Paniagua (another rendering here).

Text is:

κατολοφύρομαι κατολοφύρομαι.
ματέρος αἷμα σᾶς, ὅ σ᾽ἀναβακχεύει.
ὁ μέγας ὄλβος οὐ μόνιμος ἐν βροτοῖς:
ἀνὰ δὲ λαῖφος ὥς
τις ἀκάτου θοᾶς τινάξας δαίμων
κατέκλυσεν δεινῶν πόνων ὡς πόντου
λάβροις ὀλεθρίοισιν ἐν κύμασιν.

Same effect. Although I liked it a lot, the whole atmosphere of the piece, I was unable to follow the text, even after having read the lyrics and having learnt them by heart for this purpose. Is this song doing anything with pitch anyway?
Last edited by Adelheid on Fri Apr 23, 2010 8:45 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Offended by modern phonology in Ancient Greek classroom

Postby Lex » Fri Apr 23, 2010 2:22 am

rustymason wrote:I feel like such a heretic.


You're not alone. I heard one of Daitz' recordings once, and, after I got done laughing, I got down on my knees and prayed to God Almighty that ancient Greek did not really sound like that. That's not because I think Daitz did anything in particular wrong, not being knowledgable enough to say, but simply because it sounded overly dramatized and silly to my ear. It sounded like a cross between the stereotypes of an old-timey southern (US) political orator and a Swede.

BTW, for those who hate hearing things in a poor accent, you'll love to hate Brad Pitt's Italian accent in Inglourious Basterds. But maybe that's just me. I am mainly of German extraction, and Germans don't have a good ear for Italian. :wink:
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Re: Offended by modern phonology in Ancient Greek classroom

Postby scrambledeggs » Fri Apr 23, 2010 1:40 pm

Two of you have cast doubt on the beauty of Daitz's accent. I have to agree that his recordings are off-putting, although not quite as horrible as some have claimed, but I also think he is deliberately overdoing it in order to demonstrate the accent for academic purposes. I also know he is not a voice actor but just really some college Prof trying to make an academic recording. They were also made in the early 1980's on tape. Since almost no one other than academics seems to know the restored accent, and the classics in the West seem to be strongly biased in favor of latin, he doesn't have much competition, so perhaps we are biased ourselves against the accent when a 30-year old recording of an academic has now become the standard for the pronunciation of Pericles (alliteration!)

In contrast about the Latin bias, there is a recent "fake Cicero" recording by John Hall, "Performing Cicero's Pro Archia DVD", where he is on camera, complete in authentic period Toga; there seems to just be a lot more interest in Living Latin rather than living Classical Greek.

I understand the feeling you get about Daitz, but I think it relates only to his own idiosyncratic style, and if performed by a voice actor or someone with a skilled ear (a Bard? Lyre player? That's what foreigners would have heard and remembered, I would think?), the inherit quality of the language would be expressed more effectively. To be blunt, the guy is a professor, and may have no musical training at all, for all I know. The guy is not a siren, for Phoebus' sake! (Allusion!)

I also think we shouldn't have exaggerated views of how beautiful it is; I still think it is beautiful, but in a more delicate sense, as with its careful pitches, and the distinctive circumflex pitch and delay, and the fearless consonant clusters, such as φθ starting a word (expose the Barbarians! Shibboleth!) but all words end in a vowel, nu, or sigma (I think). This to me gives Attic a distinct and delicate sound, and yes beautiful if spoken beautifully, as any language can be so if done so.

I think the better view is not that classical Greek is more beautiful than another language, but rather that its beauty is in its uniqueness of sound, and delicate-sounding pitch accent, which to me sounds quite the opposite as the rougher German-sounding stress accent that is present even in Latin. No one accuses Castillian or Parisian French of not being beautiful languages, but as fine as they are, the vowel lengths and pitches of Attic sets it apart in a certain way that I appreciate.
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Re: Offended by modern phonology in Ancient Greek classroom

Postby Scribo » Fri Apr 23, 2010 1:40 pm

Fully agree, I think that the scholarship on pronunciation is certainly valuable and an approximate sound is rather useful for working with poetry. Regardless 90% of the recordings I've heard have sounded absolutely ridiculous (there is some good stuff out there) and, as I mentioned earlier, getting "offended" by modern phonology is a massive over reaction. Spend your time on other things, like learning irregular verb stems and the third declension.
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Re: Offended by modern phonology in Ancient Greek classroom

Postby rustymason » Mon Apr 26, 2010 5:51 pm

Funny, but it seems to me that my Baptist preacher comes the closest to using the proper pitch and rhythm for ancient Greek. Maybe that's where that modern "preacher talk" way of speaking comes from, from attempts in seminary to produce that old time Greek speak. Ha, imagine the ancient Greeks all speaking like Baptist preachers!

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Re: Offended by modern phonology in Ancient Greek classroom

Postby 1%homeless » Sun May 02, 2010 7:42 pm

It is interesting that some say scrambledeggs is over-reacting. There have been quite a few occasions on the internet where I have witnessed Greeks reacting the same way towards standard classical pronunciation. I think it is only fair for scrambledeggs to hold modern greek pronunciation in contempt. ;-)
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Re: Offended by modern phonology in Ancient Greek classroom

Postby IreneY » Sun May 02, 2010 10:12 pm

So because some Greeks over-react to standard classical pronunciation it's OK for scrambledeggs (or anyone else for that matter) to over-react to modern Greek pronunciation?
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Re: Offended by modern phonology in Ancient Greek classroom

Postby Markos » Sun May 02, 2010 11:44 pm

Sure, I understand the principle that two wrongs don't make a right, but I also see the point that it is good for everyone to see that any pronunciation can sound offensive. I never realized that Classicists were offended by Modern Greek, and somehow I think this is good to know, especially since Scramble Eggs sort of apologized ahead of time. I always thought that I was the only one who thought that attempts to replicate the pitch accents sound a little silly. I am glad to hear others say that, even if I admit that what I mean is "silly to me." Freud talked about the "Neurosis of small differences," but it has been estimated that up to 96% of all human beings are neurotic.
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Re: Offended by modern phonology in Ancient Greek classroom

Postby IreneY » Mon May 03, 2010 2:09 am

My point is that no pronunciation is "offensive". No matter what language we're talking about but even more so for a language like ancient Greek. I've heard some foreigners pronounce modern Greek with very heavy X accent (where X stands for their native language). No "chhhh" at all (not that anyone pronounces chi like that or as in Arabic -I really wish I could pronounce the Arabic "h" sounds but I just can't), no "γ" you get the picture. I failed to be offended because who cares? I've also heard some very heavily accented English. Now wouldn't it be absolutely ridiculous to be offended in this case? Even worse than for my native language?
So even if the reconstructed pronunciation is more accurate than modern Greek, at least for Attic Greek of the classical era, I fail to see how modern Greek pronunciation can be considered "offensive". Or vice-versa obviously.
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Re: Offended by modern phonology in Ancient Greek classroom

Postby Markos » Mon May 03, 2010 4:03 am

I understand your point, Irene, and of course I agree. Penelope Cruz speaks English beautifully with a rather heavy Spanish accent, and no American would be "offended" by her English. But what I am suggesting is that to get to the point where we all agree that how we pronounce Greek means...nothing, we have to first admit that it sounds differently to us. People who get hung up on one pronunciation scheme over another really think that theirs sounds "better." To shake then from this conviction, we may need to tell them that we don't like the way it sounds, if only to wind up affirming that it is all good. Does that make sense?
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Re: Offended by modern phonology in Ancient Greek classroom

Postby Swth\r » Mon May 03, 2010 11:24 am

The problem aesthetically is that moden Greek and "Classical" pronounciation have a huge impact on the "acoustic image" of the language. Most of the times you may think that the difference is so vast that two different languages are spoken... The pronounviation with prosody is of course much more useful for scholars.
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Re: Offended by modern phonology in Ancient Greek classroom

Postby derekhmartin » Mon Apr 28, 2014 5:51 pm

I think it is perfectly acceptable to take offense at the incorrect, anachronistic pronunciation of a supposed teacher of Ancient Greek. Teachers have a duty to know their subject well and to accurately convey that knowledge to students. It seems that the current scholarly consensus on the pronunciation of Attic was settled some decades ago, so there is no excuse for a professional teacher to lack this knowledge. Nonetheless, I wonder if, when teaching students whose native tongue is Modern Greek, pronouncing the ancient language in the modern fashion makes the ancient literature feel more familiar, and perhaps even understandable, to young students who have not yet learned to decipher the older varieties of their language. If this is the case, then it is acceptable for a teacher to read texts to such students in this fashion, as a way to engage them, as long as the teacher makes it clear that the ancient language sounded quite different. Furthermore, the teacher should also recite the old Greek in its re-created native accent, so that the students understand the aural component, as we currently understand it, of the literary art of these venerated works.

I also found samples of the re-created accent of Attic to be quite ridiculous, and the rules that shape them ridiculously difficult to comprehend, when I first discovered them. But then again, when I first learned Spanish as a youngster, its pure vowels and the machine-gun like persistence of its syllables sounded ridiculous to my North American ears, and I felt "fake" when I tried to mimic its accent properly. As I continued learning and practicing, as well as conversing with native speakers, my ear for Spanish developed. I learned to appreciate its unique soundworld and to enter it at will. I found myself being struck with a flash of recognition of the beauty of the language when hearing the variety of forms of its literary art, from poetry to cinematic dialogue to creative cursing. Now my former childish bias seems quite silly, but that doesn't mean I've been cured of it. More recently, I've been learning Russian, and its soft consonants, vowel reductions, preposterous combinations of consonants and unheard of sounds such as the vowel ы, have been driving me crazy. Each language has its own soundworld that presents unique aesthetic and, in combination with its grammar and syntax, semantic opportunities. Pitch accents, as scholars understand their use in the ancient Greek and other ancient Indo-European languages, are going to sound very foreign to speakers of many, if not all, modern languages. Just because it is unfamiliar does not mean that it is ridiculous.

While it is true that we cannot know exactly how the ancient varieties of Greek sounded, that any re-creations of their sound are by definition artificial and that some new scholarly method or discovery may yet add new layers to our current understanding of their pronunciation, careful scholarship can make us nearly certain of many things, approximate in others and clear about what we do not know. The current consensus is based on well-documented analysis that one can follow if one has doubts about the conclusions that have been reached. This consensus also elucidates the craft of ancient authors within the forms of their literary work to which we now have access. Perhaps we are unable to thoroughly re-create the sound of these works as their authors and original audiences heard them, but it has been demonstrated that we can, by following the scholarly models, imitate most of what the ancients heard. One can be forgiven for not being able to perform perfectly a work composed in a foreign language, especially when one has no native models to follow. One should feel free to enjoy any literature in translation or to appreciate an historical language as a collection of morphemes that have, in much altered form, had a great impact on contemporary languages as well as contemporary life and thought. One may even recite ancient literature in what is known to be an incorrect fashion, to quote it, to cut and paste it, to add music to it, to make something new out of it (the performance posted by one of the commenters above, for example, uses a Modern Greek pronunciation, and I find its performance as a new work of music to be aesthetically pleasing). But to knowingly disregard the pronunciation that is correct as far as we know and to simultaneously claim that you are reciting Ancient Greek, that is dishonest, damaging to any attempt at an appreciation of these works in their original contexts and worthy of offense.
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