Monday, September 1, 2008

Oh Classical Greek, why do you hurt so good?

At East Carolina I'm taking a class on Classical Greek and basically our whole class is translating Philostratus' Life of Apollonius of Tyana. If you're unfamiliar, Apollonius was a charismatic miracle-worker from the first century CE who lived in Cappadocia. Philostratus wrote his biography of Apollonius in the early/mid 3rd century. I believe this is the largest surviving biography from antiquity.

What am I learning? That Classical Greek writers anticipated students later translating their works and figured they'd use the most obscure forms of nouns that they could dig up. I'm sure of it. On top of that, they use the wildest verbs I've ever seen. I've been reassured by my professor that the first part of any text from antiquity is always the most difficult to read. Lets hope chapter 2 proves to be easier.


Esteban Vázquez said...

All the best in your study of Classical (and Hellenistic) Greek! I am Classicist by training myself, and I know first-hand the delicious pain of these texts. Regarding the verbs, I became (in)famous in my program for creating a master list of verbs in any given text with full morphological analysis. (Once my professor exclaimed "Ah, out comes the list! For those who don't know it, he lives for that list.") You might try it; I find it most helpful in getting me through sight-reading in class, since after all, nominal morphology is usually sufficiently obvious (but every so often a noun will require a note in the verb list!).

As for your professor's comments, trust them, because this is absolutely the case! I gave much the same input to my godson, whose first Greek teacher I was, and who completed this summer an English translation of a previously untranslated Greek patristic text for his doctoral program. It's always that first chapter/section that gives the most problems, so plow through it and enjoy the rest! :-)

Josh McManaway said...


I appreciate your comments - they definitely help. And that verb list is an excellent idea! Our professor is actually trying to get us out of the mindset of parsing every verb we come to. He just wants us to read for comprehension, which is somewhat difficult for me to do. When we did Greek at Southeastern, we would break down a sentence by finding the subject, finding the verb that agrees with that subject, translating prepositional phrases, then piecing together the sentence. This is certainly not what you want for just reading through, but I'm having a hard time breaking the habit.

Esteban Vázquez said...

Sorry, my bad--suffer greatly! And enjoy every bit of that pain! ;-)

I found that working on the verb list freed me to actually read the text with understanding, because I would do all the philological "legwork" beforehand, and I could just go to class and deal with it at the level of comprehension. If you try it, let me know your experience!

It has often occurred to me that in many seminaries/theology programs, intermediate and advanced Greek is approached as an exercise in grammatical labeling and reading the text qua is altogether neglected, whereas in Classics programs reading comprehension is emphasized to the neglect of grammatical categories. Thus we end up with biblical scholars who can't sight read the Greek texts but can masterfully apply the elusive "epexegetical" label, and Classicists who can instantly give you the gist of any given text, but have no idea what "anarthrous" means. For myself, I refuse to be either/or!

Josh McManaway said...

I'm going to try that with the list for this next round of translating and see how it works. I think that would be to my benefit.

Something I've having an issue with is identifying kernel types and clause types. I know the first year Greek class here uses Seligson's, "Greek for Reading" whereas I used Black's "Learn to Read New Testament Greek." Any hints on learning that stuff?

Esteban Vázquez said...

I'm afraid that the only way to get a handle on those is to review Seligson's grammar--this nomenclature ("kernels," "sames," and the rest), as I recall, is exclusive to her linguistic approach to teaching Greek grammar, and not found in other textbooks.