Learning poetry

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Xyloplax
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Learning poetry

Post by Xyloplax » Tue Feb 26, 2019 2:00 pm

Hi, I'm at the intermediate stage in Greek (I've read A Greek Reader for Schools, Hayes and Nimis' edition of Pseudo-Lucian's The Ass, A Greek Prose Reading Course for Post-Beginners Vol 1: Lysias 1, and am working on Vol 2: Plato's Crito). I'd like to line up a gentle intro to Greek poetry. I find poetry incredibly hard to penetrate at this stage. Any recommendations for good books, even if it's an intro textbook that is strong on poetry?

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seneca2008
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Re: Learning poetry

Post by seneca2008 » Tue Feb 26, 2019 4:29 pm

Why don’t you read a tragedy? Medea is an excellent play which is quite approachable. Mastronade has written a helpful commentary in the Cambridge green and yellow series

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Re: Learning poetry

Post by C. S. Bartholomew » Tue Feb 26, 2019 4:39 pm

Xyloplax wrote:
Tue Feb 26, 2019 2:00 pm
Hi, I'm at the intermediate stage in Greek (I've read A Greek Reader for Schools, Hayes and Nimis' edition of Pseudo-Lucian's The Ass, A Greek Prose Reading Course for Post-Beginners Vol 1: Lysias 1, and am working on Vol 2: Plato's Crito). I'd like to line up a gentle intro to Greek poetry. I find poetry incredibly hard to penetrate at this stage. Any recommendations for good books, even if it's an intro textbook that is strong on poetry?

Been there. After a few years of Koine decided to bring the seven volumes of R. C. Jebb home from the Seattle Library and dig into Sophocles. It wasn't difficult, it was impossible. Euripides is somewhat more accessible. You're going to need a lot of help. Some of the help you receive will not be that helpful. Most reference books on attic tragedy are written for scholars (classical philologists). Gently introductions? They may exist. I have used the Green Cambridge Commentaries. They are helpful. But at the beginning you will probably need more extensive hand holding than they offer. The main problem is the assumption that you have a background in classical philology.

I'm only posting this to let you know your not having an unusual experience. My early experience with Greek tragedy was like free climbing El Capitan.
C. Stirling Bartholomew

donhamiltontx
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Re: Learning poetry

Post by donhamiltontx » Tue Feb 26, 2019 6:08 pm

If you want to try drama, I agree that Mastronarde's edition of Medea (along with Geoffrey Steadman's intermediate-friendly edition) is a good place to start. Others argue that the best place to start is Homer.

As an intermediate learner myself, I found Medea challenging, to say the least, Homer not so much. Yet at any rate, I prefer getting my feet wet in the conventions and meters of Greek poetry by reading shorter poems such as are found in the Greek Anthology. The poems of the Anthology can be found at Perseus and in addition in a Loeb edition. There is also a Penguin translation, but only of some of the anthology, in a Penguin classic edited by Peter Jay called simply The Greek Anthology. Another selection of poetry is Douglas Campbell's Greek Lyric Poetry: a Selection of Early Greek Lyric, Elegiac and Iambic Poetry published by the Bristol Classical Press.

Finally, I would mention The Penguin Book of Greek Verse edited by Constantine A. Trypanis. Included in it are excerpts from Homer and the Athenian dramatists, but many other poets are represented as well. Trypanis has made literal translations of all the poems.

By the way, both the Greek Anthology and Trypanis' book range both before as well as far after classical times.
ἐς Τροίαν πειρώμενοι ἦνθον ᾿Αχαιοί,
καλλίστα παίδων: πείρᾳ θην πάντα τελεῖται.
Theocritus, Idyll 15

Callisper
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Re: Learning poetry

Post by Callisper » Tue Feb 26, 2019 6:52 pm

This may not be what you're looking for, but my recommendation is: don't. You have read a minute amount of prose (Lysias 1, Crito, Pseudo-Lucian The Ass) and probably struggled your way through that. I don't mean to sound critical and I hope that's not how I come off - everyone starts as a beginner, and what you have been doing so far sounds good and can work. But jumping too early into poetry (or, in most cases, being thrown in) is, from what I've seen, the number one reason beginners get quickly discouraged and lose hope of ever reading the language properly. Imagine a comparison to your native language/literature and you'll understand why I'm counseling a lot more comfort with prose before attempting poetry.

So my recommendation is: more Plato, Lysias, and (if you like) easy koine authors like Lucian - throw in some Xenophon - and then move on to some other orators. By the time I had the courage to read my first tragedy, I could read an oration (short to medium-length) in more or less one sitting, with extremely limited if any help (dictionaries, grammars) as to the basic meaning of the Greek. The tragedy in question was typical 'gate-way' poetry (Medea). (For the record, I had no choice but to read it; it was on my syllabus; otherwise I'd have kept on with prose.) And it was still difficult. I was disappointed how much help I needed from dictionaries and grammars. Greek tragedy is a step up even for someone whose command of prose is definitely coming along. I cannot imagine how it would appear to someone who has only read three very short pieces (one of which was Pseudo-Lucian).

Of course, your tolerance and expectation for outside help - that is, how often you are prepared to go to the lexicon - may be very different from mine. But I have worded this post strongly because in my experience not many people have the fortitude and resilience to go from as little experience with Greek (prose) as you have now, to comfort reading poetry, just by jumping in and keeping at it in spite of having to look up 2-3 words per line (!).
C. S. Bartholomew wrote:
Tue Feb 26, 2019 4:39 pm
After a few years of Koine
^ Please note the timescale. How much prose do you think C.S.B got down in that time, only to find the transition to poetry extremely challenging?

Now I know some might say 'well, Callisper, Greek poetry is hard'. It is true that no-one will find their first dip in Greek poetry a total breeze, but what I do not agree with is the implicit assumption that the only way to get better at reading Greek poetry is by reading Greek poetry. The first foundations should be laid - and a lot of them - in prose. That can and will really smooth things for you later.

Edit: on what poetry to start with - I second Euripides over either Sophocles or Homer. I haven't thought through the possibility of starting with lyric (inc elegy etc) because I just haven't seen that done but it might well end up working better.

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Re: Learning poetry

Post by Paul Derouda » Tue Feb 26, 2019 7:38 pm

I would definitely recommend Homer. Homer is a lot easier than any tragedy. Homer is the foundation of pretty much all classical Greek literature, so whatever you're reading, you'll probably profit from having read Homer before. And once you have some Homer under your belt, tragedy will be much easier (although it will still be very difficult). In my opinion Homer is much easier most Attic prose, though it's of course different.

Xyloplax
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Re: Learning poetry

Post by Xyloplax » Wed Feb 27, 2019 2:19 am

seneca2008 wrote:
Tue Feb 26, 2019 4:29 pm
Why don’t you read a tragedy? Medea is an excellent play which is quite approachable. Mastronade has written a helpful commentary in the Cambridge green and yellow series
Yeah, by poetry I really meant anything in the metrical poetical style, so that covers actual poetry, comedy, tragedy, etc. And since Mastronade was my main textbook, I will be happy to use his commentary. Thanks!

Xyloplax
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Re: Learning poetry

Post by Xyloplax » Wed Feb 27, 2019 2:44 am

Callisper wrote:
Tue Feb 26, 2019 6:52 pm
This may not be what you're looking for, but my recommendation is: don't. You have read a minute amount of prose (Lysias 1, Crito, Pseudo-Lucian The Ass) and probably struggled your way through that. I don't mean to sound critical and I hope that's not how I come off - everyone starts as a beginner, and what you have been doing so far sounds good and can work. But jumping too early into poetry (or, in most cases, being thrown in) is, from what I've seen, the number one reason beginners get quickly discouraged and lose hope of ever reading the language properly. Imagine a comparison to your native language/literature and you'll understand why I'm counseling a lot more comfort with prose before attempting poetry.

So my recommendation is: more Plato, Lysias, and (if you like) easy koine authors like Lucian - throw in some Xenophon - and then move on to some other orators. By the time I had the courage to read my first tragedy, I could read an oration (short to medium-length) in more or less one sitting, with extremely limited if any help (dictionaries, grammars) as to the basic meaning of the Greek. The tragedy in question was typical 'gate-way' poetry (Medea). (For the record, I had no choice but to read it; it was on my syllabus; otherwise I'd have kept on with prose.) And it was still difficult. I was disappointed how much help I needed from dictionaries and grammars. Greek tragedy is a step up even for someone whose command of prose is definitely coming along. I cannot imagine how it would appear to someone who has only read three very short pieces (one of which was Pseudo-Lucian).

Of course, your tolerance and expectation for outside help - that is, how often you are prepared to go to the lexicon - may be very different from mine. But I have worded this post strongly because in my experience not many people have the fortitude and resilience to go from as little experience with Greek (prose) as you have now, to comfort reading poetry, just by jumping in and keeping at it in spite of having to look up 2-3 words per line (!).
C. S. Bartholomew wrote:
Tue Feb 26, 2019 4:39 pm
After a few years of Koine
^ Please note the timescale. How much prose do you think C.S.B got down in that time, only to find the transition to poetry extremely challenging?

Now I know some might say 'well, Callisper, Greek poetry is hard'. It is true that no-one will find their first dip in Greek poetry a total breeze, but what I do not agree with is the implicit assumption that the only way to get better at reading Greek poetry is by reading Greek poetry. The first foundations should be laid - and a lot of them - in prose. That can and will really smooth things for you later.

Edit: on what poetry to start with - I second Euripides over either Sophocles or Homer. I haven't thought through the possibility of starting with lyric (inc elegy etc) because I just haven't seen that done but it might well end up working better.
I very much appreciate this sort of expectations setting for the post-beginner. I was wondering how long I should wait, so I think I will take my time before heading in this direction. I encountered some abridged and simplified poetry in one of my intro texts (I think in the readings section of A Greek Primer--and it was the last one and the only poetry and I remember saying...maybe that's a hint) and I was stunned at how much harder than the prose it was. I have plenty of prose commentaries to choose from (Steadman, Hayes and Nimis, Byrn Mawr, Cambridge, etc) so I will indeed get those to be easier reading first. I think the your suggestions and that of others here are great (except Homer....I am very hesitant to invest time in learning all the variant Homeric morophology and definitions that can vary wildly from the Attic usage, but from the simplified Homeric modeled after the Odyssey in Thrasymachus and a peek into a few lines of the Illiad, I noted that the syntax is actually surprisingly pretty straightforward, it's everything else that makes me run away). Meanwhile if I pick up a copy of the Cambridge Oedipus Rex on my shelf my wife got me, and I flip to the commentary, it's not commenting on most of the things I need help on and assumes a level of competence I simply don't have yet.

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Re: Learning poetry

Post by jeidsath » Wed Feb 27, 2019 2:55 am

Homer is the key to the rest of Greek poetry.
Joel Eidsath -- jeidsath@gmail.com

mwh
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Re: Learning poetry

Post by mwh » Wed Feb 27, 2019 3:59 am

Xyloplax, You will undoubtedly find poetry less impenetrable when you have more prose under your belt, as Callisper says, but I don’t see any harm in getting a taste of it now, even though you don’t really have adequate preparation for it. (I rarely have adequate preparation for the things that I read.) Poetry is in meter, so you‘ll need to understand how that works. Other than that, it’s basically like prose. I stress basically.

The least difficult Greek poetry is Homer, which as Paul says is foundational: every Greek schoolboy was brought up on Homer. Up to this point you’ve only read Attic or Attic-like prose, very different from Homeric epic, so it will be quite a jump, as you well recognize. Homer, and epic in general, uses different forms (largely pre-Attic), which can be initially confusing, and its own vocabulary. It’s a language all of its own. But you’re right to say that the syntactical structure is quite simple, and the narrative moves in a straightforward way. And however much prose you read beforehand it will not prepare you for the shock of coming to Homer from prose. But the shock quite quickly wears off.

If you really don't feel you can face Homer and prefer to start with Attic poetry it will be best to start with verse that is not too far removed from prose—Menander or Euripides, say (but not the choral sections, which are high lyric). Platonic duologue has some affinity with Euripidean. The Medea is perhaps too challenging a play for your first. The Alcestis maybe? Shorter and slighter, and fun, and an excellent introduction to tragic convention even if not a proper tragedy itself. But for now I think you should just sample.

These should be your choices I’d say, Homer or tragic iambics. Lyric is too difficult. Archaic elegy is not but is hardly inspiring, and later elegy is too intertextual. Epigrams tend to be too cryptic. And anyway all these follow from Homer.

I seem to remember that the JACT Reading Greek book introduces Homer nicely towards the end, with annotated selections.

Xyloplax
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Re: Learning poetry

Post by Xyloplax » Wed Feb 27, 2019 6:50 pm

mwh wrote:
Wed Feb 27, 2019 3:59 am
Xyloplax, You will undoubtedly find poetry less impenetrable when you have more prose under your belt, as Callisper says, but I don’t see any harm in getting a taste of it now, even though you don’t really have adequate preparation for it. (I rarely have adequate preparation for the things that I read.) Poetry is in meter, so you‘ll need to understand how that works. Other than that, it’s basically like prose. I stress basically.

The least difficult Greek poetry is Homer, which as Paul says is foundational: every Greek schoolboy was brought up on Homer. Up to this point you’ve only read Attic or Attic-like prose, very different from Homeric epic, so it will be quite a jump, as you well recognize. Homer, and epic in general, uses different forms (largely pre-Attic), which can be initially confusing, and its own vocabulary. It’s a language all of its own. But you’re right to say that the syntactical structure is quite simple, and the narrative moves in a straightforward way. And however much prose you read beforehand it will not prepare you for the shock of coming to Homer from prose. But the shock quite quickly wears off.

If you really don't feel you can face Homer and prefer to start with Attic poetry it will be best to start with verse that is not too far removed from prose—Menander or Euripides, say (but not the choral sections, which are high lyric). Platonic duologue has some affinity with Euripidean. The Medea is perhaps too challenging a play for your first. The Alcestis maybe? Shorter and slighter, and fun, and an excellent introduction to tragic convention even if not a proper tragedy itself. But for now I think you should just sample.

These should be your choices I’d say, Homer or tragic iambics. Lyric is too difficult. Archaic elegy is not but is hardly inspiring, and later elegy is too intertextual. Epigrams tend to be too cryptic. And anyway all these follow from Homer.

I seem to remember that the JACT Reading Greek book introduces Homer nicely towards the end, with annotated selections.
Thanks for this. I will have to figure out what direction I want to take. I actually want to read Homer, but I am not sure I will have the time, frankly, to prep for it (for example, I'm halfway through Wheelock...). However, I do have the JACT Reading Greek book, but I never actually finished it, as I was using other texts and my use of RG petered out for whatever reason. It might be a good idea to finish it just as a review in general.

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