The dwindling group of proficient ancient Greek readers

The dwindling group of proficient ancient Greek readers

Postby Jonathan Robie » May 11th, 2011, 4:47 pm

In a recent private email, Carl said this (quoted with permission, as required on B-Greek):

THIS IS RIGHT AT THE CORE OF THE PROBLEM, I THINK. We have a dwindling group -- 100-200-300?+ people who are really proficient in ancient Greek in the world. I have no idea what the actual number might be. But the seminaries, by and large, have given up the effort. Secular colleges and university Departments of Classics are doing a better job of producing new scholars in ancient Greek than the seminaries and denominational colleges, by and large, but the secular Departments are suffering attrition too. I honestly believe that NT Biblical Scholarship is dependent increasingly upon two or three handfuls of competent Greek scholars who write the commentaries that others are dependent on -- and the give-away evidence is the fact that these commentaries always offer an English translation of the Greek text under discussion -- if they offer the Greek text at all; the commentators don't really expect the ultimate reader to be able to judge the underlying validity of the analysis of the Greek text. That's sad, but I'm afraid it's true.


Is Carl right? Are there really so few people who are proficient in ancient Greek?

Can B-Greek be helpful to this small group? What do they need to interact with each other fruitfully? Are they likely to use online forums like this?

Can B-Greek be helpful to the small group people who would like to become part of this group over time? If so, how? Do we need to be careful about how we relate to true beginners in order to make room for this to happen? That's one of the ideas behind the Beginner's Forum.

Would it be interesting to have "fishbowl" discussions among experts from this group, threads that are open only to invited members, so we can listen in on their conversations without pretending that we're all on equal footing?
ἐξίσταντο δὲ πάντες καὶ διηποροῦντο, ἄλλος πρὸς ἄλλον λέγοντες, τί θέλει τοῦτο εἶναι;
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Re: The dwindling group of proficient ancient Greek readers

Postby mwpalmer » May 22nd, 2011, 11:28 pm

Unfortunately, I suspect Carl is indeed right. While many study ancient Greek, the number of those who are actually proficient in reading it is quite small. And in recent decades even the number studying the language in any formal fashion has been shrinking.

It will be interesting to see what role internet resources could play in reviving the student of ancient Greek in the generation ahead.
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Re: The dwindling group of proficient ancient Greek readers

Postby refe » June 2nd, 2011, 11:30 am

How are you defining proficiency in this discussion?
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Re: The dwindling group of proficient ancient Greek readers

Postby cwconrad » June 2nd, 2011, 1:00 pm

See Policies: "Policy: B-Greek does require Greek" where it is spelled out what we mean by "a working knowledge of Biblical Greek." I would think it involves being able to read with minimal help from grammars and lexica, without "decoding" texts and analyzing them into all their bits and pieces to know what the text is saying as a continuous sequence. When I made the statement that Jonathan cited in the first post of this thread, I was thinking about the way commentaries nowadays with increasing frequency either don't display the Greek text of the passage under consideration or -- if they do display it -- they offer an English version because it cannot be assumed that the reader of the commentary will be able to handle the Greek text being discussed.
Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Retired)
… ἐπειδὴ καὶ τὸν οἶνον ἠξίους
πίνειν, συνεκποτέ’ ἐστί σοι καὶ τὴν τρύγα Aristophanes, Plutus 1085
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Re: The dwindling group of proficient ancient Greek readers

Postby MAubrey » June 2nd, 2011, 1:09 pm

refe wrote:How are you defining proficiency in this discussion?


We're talking about the ability to simply sit down and read a text without translating it into English (even in your head)--Car's "decoding," which is a rather accurate term. You could probably replace the word "proficient" with "fluent" and have a good idea of what kind of proficiency we're talking about.

I'm not there, though I hope to be in the next 5 years or so. I don't need grammars when I read, but when I get beyond the texts that I'm most familiar with (the NT, parts of the LXX, and parts of the Apostolic Fathers), I find myself quite reliant on the lexicon.
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Canada Institute of Linguistics & Trinity Western University Graduate School
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Re: The dwindling group of proficient ancient Greek readers

Postby jbbulsterbaum » February 27th, 2012, 3:06 am

MAubrey wrote:
refe wrote: I don't need grammars when I read, but when I get beyond the texts that I'm most familiar with (the NT, parts of the LXX, and parts of the Apostolic Fathers), I find myself quite reliant on the lexicon.


Sorry to jump-in as a newb, but after asking a few questions (for pointers) about starting Greek, i.e. how to approach, and then thinking on what I do know, and exactly what you mention here, I have been thinking it would probably be a very good idea to just go back as far as reasonably possible (i.e. likely Homer's dialect--though f Mycenaean had enough demonstrable relations and materials with which to work, that would also rock!), read, write, speak, say it aloud, imbibe, and immerse it in until drowned--or at least until one has no teeth left (poor books), then move through the periods.

Over at Textkit I was reading some laments by folks quite alright in their Greek who said they have always regretted that they did not just start with Homer and move up, or something along those lines. Perhaps it's just a good idea given his lit is so foundational to Greek (and many subsequent centuries of) education. Given that it's tonal, I finally ordered some phonetic books I have had on my Amazon wishlist or several years to establish some prereq work to reading about that system of pronunciation (I want to learn the various schemes of pronouncing distinctly), and I figure I should studying linguistics rather heavily on the side of these things to become familiar with the patterns of change from Homer to Plato, and Plato to Marcus Aurelius or a Paul.

Hopefully it will be as fruitful as the two weeks I was stuck in a motor home with my grandparents: they had a massive tome of the Greek and Roman mythologies (with critical notes and variants) and I read through it in just a couple days, and have had a much larger vocabulary since! : ) Like nailing down the details to start learning and learning well some ancient language, it can be a Sisyphean task!
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