hi, yes i can rank the attic authors you mention by difficulty, however before that i think it would be useful to outline what i think makes reading these authors difficult, and how to overcome the difficulties. this has become a long post so i'll break it up into sections.(A) ten points you need to have covered in order to be able to read a text without difficulty.
firstly, in order to read a text comfortably without help, i think you would need to have covered all of the following ground before you open the first page of the text:
1. you would need to know all the grammar/morphology used in the text, not just the most frequently used forms
2. you would need to be able to determine without looking up a dictionary/looking at a footnote etc. the meaning of every single word as you read it(not just the most frequent lexical items)
3. you would need to have an understanding of all the "antiquities" behind each word (a term i personally use to designate all the background knowledge you need to understand a word beyond its dictionary definition)
4. you would need to understand all the syntactical constructions used in the text
5. you would need to have an understanding of the typical word order (i.e. at the intra-clause level) and how it is/is not reflected in each sentence
6. you would need to be comfortable with all the different types of sentence structure used (i.e. at the inter-clause level)
7. you would need to know at a minimum all the rules of accentuation that give a clue to the meaning of a word/its function in the sentence
plus you would need to be comfortable with what i call the three "p"s:
10. pronouns (not their morphology, but what they are referring to in each case – this is not advance knowledge but the skill of consciously concentrating when you get to each pronoun to determine what it is referring to)
there might be other points that others would add (e.g. being able to use the critical apparatus). but for attic prose, i think that if you are missing any of the above ten points, even if you are strong in all the others, then you are going to hit a point (or several) in reading where you stall: i.e. where you don't get what the author is saying or where the sentence is going, and then you keep reading further in the sentence desperately looking for help and you get more lost because you can’t discern the meaning/syntactical use etc. of the previous words or the new words you’re reading, and then you conclude that you're not up to the level to read the text and you stop reading.
i put together the list of ten points above over time, by reading texts and hitting the point of stalling that i described above, and then asking myself on reflection why i stalled there.(B) why you stall, even if you work hard at your learning materials and with your commentaries.
no classics textbooks or learning materials that i've ever seen cover all the ten points above. if I’m right that you need to know the ten points above to read a text without difficulty (and this for me in practice is the case), then no attic textbooks or learning materials properly train you to read attic texts without difficulty:
- almost every textbook i've seen covers point (1) in detail, and gives dribs and drabs of the other nine (but never comprehensively).
- almost every commentary that i've seen covers dribs and drabs of points (2) to (10) (but never comprehensively), and no commentary ever seems to cover the key points that i need covered (because the commentator tends, in my opinion, to address the particular areas that they themselves, or their students in their experience, struggle with, whereas each of us studying classics has a unique package of partial mastery of the ten points above, and we may be strong in the areas that the commentators or their students struggle with, but weak in the areas that the commentator or their students find easy, and so the commentary is largely useless to us, although useful to the students of the commentators perhaps.)
so if you follow the time-honoured path of first finishing a textbook, and then reading a text with a commentary and a dictionary:
- before you read the text, you will only have covered point (1) plus whatever from points (2) to (10) was mentioned in the textbook, and
- as you are reading the text, your reading will continually be interrupted by checking whatever from points (2) to (10) the commentator thought fit to comment and looking up every word you don’t know,
i.e. at no point (and, especially, not before starting to read the text) will you have covered the points that you need to read the text without difficulty.
this is not particularly shocking, that learning materials do not cover what you need to read texts without difficulty; it means however that you need to identify your own personal weaknesses in each of the ten points listed above, and find ways to get stronger in each of those areas (rather than just saying that you are "intermediate" and reading books for intermediate students etc.).(C) how to improve.
it isn't possible (as far as i'm aware) to completely master all the ten points, and so any attempt to do so would mean that you’ll never get round to reading attic texts, the reason you study the learning materials in the first place. so you need to think about what practically you can do to best improve each of the ten areas in the time you have.
firstly you need to diagnose the areas in which you are weakest. the quickest way to identify your weaknesses is to read a text, see where you stall, and identify concretely each time you stall which of the ten points best reflects the reason you stalled there. do this with all the main attic authors and see if a pattern of particular weaknesses arises for you.
then, you need to:
- gain a base-level of competence in each of the ten areas, plus
- focus further (using larger specialised resources) on the particular areas where you found you are weakest.
you need to separate out the classics resources you use to constitute your "base level" knowledge (these should be short enough so that you actually read all of them) from the specialised ones that you should use for your focus areas (which i get the feeling are very rarely read all the way through). having a large 500-page masterpiece resource on your bookshelf that you'll probably never read all the way through is less useful for reading without difficulty than having read all the way through (in advance of reading your text) a less complete 50- to 100-page coverage of the same area.(D) base-level resources
To constitute my own "base level" knowledge in the term areas I personally used (i.e. read, re-read, summarised, diagrammed: anything which gets it into your head) the following:
(a) for verb grammar/morphology, although my favourite text is duhoux's le verbe grec ancien (2000), i would not recommend this for a base level knowledge of verbs (it is the kind of book which is very hard to read cover-to-cover, particularly if you are not a classicist and don’t have all day to dedicate to the classics): instead i would recommend the much shorter tiarks (1883), only 64 pages of content, available online: http://www.archive.org/stream/conjugati ... 8/mode/1up
(b) for the grammar/morphology other types of words, any textbook which groups the rules for nouns, together in one place, pronouns etc. all together in another place will be fine for a base level.
2. meaning of all words: you need to take two approaches here, firstly building up your base knowledge of grk vocab generally, and second studying in advance of beginning to read your text all the vocab used therein (a technique i swear by, but haven't seen recommended previously which is really strange to me because it works so well):
(a) firstly, to build up your base knowledge of grk vocab generally:
(i) study a list of attic words arranged by frequency (there are several of these available, and also can be generated through perseus, but you then need to look up the dictionary entries for the words one by one and read those entries in full),
(ii) study a list of attic words arranged thematically (e.g. the words for hand, foot, head etc. put together in one list): in french there is e.g. the lexique nouveau de la langue grecque (2006)
(iii) study the principles of word formation, so that you can identify new words built from words you know: start from smyth's grammar, part iii (formation of words), only about 30 pages of content: http://www.archive.org/stream/agreekgra ... 5/mode/1up
(b) secondly, you need to know all the words in advance, not just the most frequently occurring – whether a word occurs many times in a text or just once, if you don't know it when you get to it (and can't work out what it means), you're going to stall. therefore you need to study the vocabulary in advance – this is so evident to me that i am surprised that it is not widely recommended. many editions of texts already have word lists in the back; these can also be generated online for many texts. the aim here is to have all the words in your long-term memory, not your short-term memory. i tried the latter, i.e. reading through a word list, spotting the entries that i didn't know and looking them up, and then starting straight away to read the text – of course i forgot the words i had only just recently learnt. when instead i spent a while working through the word lists, looking up words i didn't know, using any memory technique that got the words into my head properly, testing myself, then putting away the list for a day or two (and working on something else), then coming back and testing myself again on the word list, etc. until i knew the words very well, then i found it much easier to read entire long texts without difficulty.
3. the "antiquities" (i.e. the background knowledge you need to understand a word beyond its dictionary definition): my personal choice for attic antiquities, dense enough to be really useful but not long enough to prevent you from finishing it (and which i am currently re-reading cover to cover), is JACT (1984), the world of athens: an introduction to classical athenian culture
4. syntax: the best coverage of attic syntax for my base level, which i have re-read many times, is the introductory notes (103 pages of content) in sidgwick's introduction to greek prose composition, available online: http://www.archive.org/stream/introduct ... 0/mode/1up
5. typical word order (i.e. at the intra-clause level): although topic-focus people may say that the analysis in this book looks at the wrong thing (sentence syntax rather than discourse), my personal choice for a base-level in grk word order is dover (1960), greek word order
6. different types of sentence structure (i.e. at the inter-clause level): start with the easily readable online article by hansen (1999) here: http://web.gc.cuny.edu/classics/gk701/rhetfig.htm
7. rules of accentuation: work through all the exercises in probert (2003), a new short guide to the accentuation of ancient greek
8. particles: the reflex to say "denniston" here, i think, is not right for a base level knowledge of particles: i really doubt that many people read this cover to cover. instead i recommend that, for a base level in grk particles, you read all the way through (only 74 pages of content): paley (1881), a short treatise on the greek particles and their combinations according to attic usage, available online: http://www.archive.org/stream/shorttrea ... 6/mode/1up
9. prepositions: although some of the texts that have appeared in the last decade and which i am currently working through (because prepositions are one of my weaknesses) – i.e. luraghi (2003) and bertone (2010) – provide a more detailed treatment, i would not recommend these for base level knowledge of prepositions (i really doubt that many people will read these all the way through) – instead i would recommend the much more readable (although written in 1800s-style english) adams (1882), the greek prepositions, studied from their original meanings as designations of space, available online: http://www.archive.org/stream/greekprep ... 9/mode/1up
10. pronouns (what they are referring to in each case): this doesn't require pre-reading but instead practice, e.g. working through a text and diligently noting every single time what each pronoun is referring to (i.e. write above the pronoun the grk noun that the pronoun represents) – if you don’t do this and get lazy when reading and assume (without concentrating) that a pronoun stands for something (whereas with a little bit of concentration you can see that, given its gender etc. it must represent something else), you can easily lose your way in the middle of a sentence.
i personally think that someone wanting to read attic prose without difficulty needs to have constituted a base level of knowledge covering the matters i describe above (or any other equivalents), but not e.g. reading a much bigger text for particles and assuming that you don’t really need to work on prepositions, etc.
for poetry, i think you need to constitute a separate specific base knowledge for each of the types of poetry that you read, e.g. for iambic poetry:
- for the syntax base level resource, i would replace sidgwick with moorhouse (1982), the syntax of sophocles
- for word order i would replace dover (1960) with something like my annotations to iambic composition exercises here (where i took statistics from helma dik on word placement in iambic poetry and turned it into a composition technique): http://mhninaeide.webs.com/grkiambiccomp-23-apr-06.pdf
- for the meaning of words i would include in the base knowledge pre-reading rouse (1899), demonstrations in greek iambic verse, available online: http://www.archive.org/stream/demonstra ... 1/mode/1up
etc.(E) ranking difficulty of authors.
it follows from what i’ve said above that the difficulty of any author for me will not be the same as for others: it will depend on whether the particular author’s style is heavy or light on the points where i’m weakest.
e.g. i am relatively weak on vocab for everyday objects, and so i find many parts of aristophanes harder to read than many historical passages of thucydides (although typically thucydides is seen as one of the hardest attic prose authors). if, on the other hand, someone is weak in the “antiquities” of philosophers such as plato (by “antiquities” again i mean it in the sense which i personally give it, being everything you need to understand a word beyond the dictionary definition, i.e. here all the philosophical conceptual background), they may find passages of plato much harder than more syntactically complicated passages of the orators.
therefore any ranking of the authors by difficulty, and more generally any set of notes/commentary on an author, is interesting to me primarily as an almost autobiographical confession of that person’s particular weaknesses - which is one reason why reading ancient scholia is really interesting.
I would rank (from hardest to easiest):
- aeschylus’s lyric (you need to distinguish in drama the chorus from the rest of the play – the chorus is much tricker) followed by
- the lyric of sophocles and euripides, then
- aristophanes and demosthenes (for different reasons: aristophanes because of the vocab and antiquities of common life, demosthenes because of the syntax), then
- thucydides (although some passages of thucydides are very tricky), then
- the iambic parts of aeschylus, then
- the iambic parts of sophocles, then
- the iambic parts of euripides, then
- aristotle then finally
as I noted above these lists are almost autobiograpical, e.g. i studied philosophy and law at uni but I’ve never studied formally the classics or classical literature, and so am more comfortable with the “antiquities” of philosophical and rhetorical texts than e.g. tragic choral verse steeped in ancient myth.(F) This technique I describe above shouldn’t be used all the time: you should mix up reading fluently with reading slowly and taking notes
one last note: the above only relates to improving your skill in reading a text without difficulty. this is definitely not the only way I read a text, e.g. i do lots of work with the dictionaries and large specialist works or author-specific works, working word-by-word through a text and making notes (in grk), without e.g. having learnt all the vocab in advance. I think it’s good to read in both ways from time to time, but they require different skills without doubt, and so when i hear classicists say that after X years of carefully working through texts word-by-word with commentaries and dictionary in hand, and have never been able to read texts comfortably without any assistance, and they despair, then i’d suggest that they start analysing if there are any major weaknesses in their “base” (which is entirely possible even after years of study according to the time-honoured method, because as I mentioned above I don’t think that classics learning materials train you to acquire a reading ability without difficulty, but rather to translate into your native language – something i never ever do), and that such persons wishing to learn to read without difficulty should think about trying the approach that i’ve outlined above, which i have not seen explained anywhere else so far and it has worked OK for me.
i’d be interested in hearing from others what techniques have worked for them outside the traditional “textbook + commentary + dictionary, translate” approach.