Significance of accents in ancient Greek

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Significance of accents in ancient Greek

Post by Pedanticus » Sun Oct 17, 2004 8:20 pm

What should I do with Greek accents, when reading ancient Greek aloud?

Is it a question of pitch? I presume it isn't stress.


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Post by Yhevhe » Sun Oct 17, 2004 8:37 pm


In that post there are very interesting links.


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Post by xon » Tue Oct 19, 2004 2:31 am

The whole accent thing seemed complicated at first, when it looked like a bunch of random marks, but now I understand it. One of the NT guides gave a different way of pronunciation called the English pronunciation and told about another kind, the Continental pronunciation. It didn't say which one was best, but that whatever you choose you should stick with. I am using what I believe to be Continental, from First Greek Book's Lesson One.

Does anyone here use the "English" pronunciation at all?

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Post by ThomasGR » Wed Oct 20, 2004 5:01 pm

The accent in anscient Greek was more melodic, rising tones and falling ones and even fluctuatings. The different signs were once useful for foreigners to keep the melody, but this knowledge is kompletely lost and we don't know anymore how to pronounce those signs. Therefore don't pay more attention than is necessary, or better ignore them :? .

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Post by chad » Thu Oct 21, 2004 12:20 am

hi thomas, what makes you say it's completely lost? basically we know how it sounded generally: dionysus of halicarnassus sets out the general structure of greek pitch: that's always been known. the only question comes down to the details of the relative pitch of adjacent syllables in different types of word and different points in a clause, and on this point we're on speculative ground only: the authoritative work is by devine and stephens, who have found patterns in some extant ancient greek poetry having musical/pitch notations.

our knowledge of greek grammar came about in the same way: people studying patterns in extant greek texts. the only difference is that there's a massive pool of ancient greek texts to see grammatical patterns in, whereas there's only a tiny pool of extant greek music, which reduces our confidence in the patterns found (but doesn't mean that they're wrong or valueless).

i.e. if you follow dionysus of halicarnassus you'll def. sound generally like an ancient greek: and it's possible (but not certain at all) that if you follow devine and stephens' principles while reading greek poetry (prose might be completely different), you'll sound even more like an ancient greek: but it's not lost.

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Post by Pedanticus » Fri Jan 28, 2005 10:13 pm

Thank you everyone for your help.

I tried out some of the methods of pronouncing accents in the links, but it wasn't always satisfactory. I was particularly puzzled by the suggestion that a grave accent was used to mark a syllable that was previously (but no longer) acute, and so should be pronounced at base level. This seems to lead to quite long monotonous stretches.

The suggestion in one link that an acute accent denoted an interval of a 'perfect 5th' (i.e. the interval at the beginning of 'Twinkle Twinkle Little Star', or 'Ah! vous dirai-je, maman') was interesting, but made Homer sound slightly psychotic. If the ancient Greeks spoke like that, however could the barbaroi have sounded?

Sometimes I wonder whether a pronunciation a little like modern Italian is the best bet, with the grave and acute each representing one half of the circumflex (so to speak).


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Post by nefercheprure » Sun Jan 30, 2005 10:44 am

Pedanticus wrote:... I was particularly puzzled by the suggestion that a grave accent was used to mark a syllable that was previously (but no longer) acute, and so should be pronounced at base level. ...
The accent marking system is sometimes said to have a simpler precursor: each unaccented syllable after the stress was marked by grave accent mark:


The acute, the only mark then was ommited in such case:


This use is said to be retained in disyllabic prepositions like περὶ. The preposition do not come with acute mark in the text anyway.

Hence the hypothesis could be emendated. The syllable before the grave gains an acute, unless it is marked with other accent mark. The grave marked syllable loses its accent.

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