Homeric, Classical, Koine...whats the REAL difference?

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Homeric, Classical, Koine...whats the REAL difference?

Postby Jordan Day » May 25th, 2014, 10:38 pm

One difficulty encountered by αὐτοδίδακτοι like myself is seeing the big picture. I've read everything in the NT except Romans, 1&2 Corith, and Hebrews. I am still very disappointed in my abilities after these 6+ years of studying. I try to read Xenophon (which is supposed to be an "easy" author) and I truly struggle. But at the same time, Xenophon doesn't seem to be a "different language". After I look up some unfamiliar words, the syntax usually makes sense. I've worked through much of Athenaze (a "Classical" grammar) and I see why someone like John Schwandt would feel free to use it to teach NT Greek. But other classical authors are nearly impossible for me to read. I haven't spent much time with Homer, but I hear he is different. Some grammarians like Wallace seem to lump him in with "Classical" (pg.14 GGBB). Others distinguish between "Homeric Greek" and "Classical Greek". But I think I have read somewhere on this forum that Josephus would likely have not made a distinction between "Classical Greek" and his own language. Would he have distinguished "Homeric Greek" from his own language? or would he think it was simply a different dialect? At what point does a dialect become a "different language"? Using "The Canterbury Tales" (middle English) as a comparison, is it more different? Obviously I can see some of the differences because I have a decent grasp on NT Greek, but I guess I need to hear from someone that has a firm grasp on BOTH.

What about so called "Byzantine Greek"?

What about Modern Greek? What time period did the radical shift take place that made it a "different language"?
I went to a NT Greek class at the local Greek Orthodox church, which was taught by a native Greek priest, and he surprised me when he said "Greek, unlike Hebrew, is not a dead language...it never died".
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Re: Homeric, Classical, Koine...whats the REAL difference?

Postby RandallButh » May 26th, 2014, 2:39 am

I went to a NT Greek class at the local Greek Orthodox church, which was taught by a native Greek priest, and he surprised me when he said "Greek, unlike Hebrew, is not a dead language...it never died".


That was a double silly comment by the priest. 1. He should have remembered the work that he went through in secondary school to read the classical authors and to learn classical morphology. 2. Hebrew didn't die. there have always been fluent speakers and users of the language in multiple dialects. And today modern Hebrew is significantly closer to biblical than modern Greek is to ancient Greek, thanks to the medieval merger of blblical and mishnaic Hebrew into rabbinic/medieval Hebrew and its continualtion in the haskala movement and modern Hebrew.
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Re: Homeric, Classical, Koine...whats the REAL difference?

Postby Stephen Carlson » May 26th, 2014, 3:52 am

Jordan Day wrote:I haven't spent much time with Homer, but I hear he is different. Some grammarians like Wallace seem to lump him in with "Classical" (pg.14 GGBB). Others distinguish between "Homeric Greek" and "Classical Greek". But I think I have read somewhere on this forum that Josephus would likely have not made a distinction between "Classical Greek" and his own language. Would he have distinguished "Homeric Greek" from his own language? or would he think it was simply a different dialect? At what point does a dialect become a "different language"? Using "The Canterbury Tales" (middle English) as a comparison, is it more different? Obviously I can see some of the differences because I have a decent grasp on NT Greek, but I guess I need to hear from someone that has a firm grasp on BOTH.

I started with Homer and eventually ended up Koine Greek. These nomenclatural issues often obscure more than they clarify, and there are no clear lines between dialects and language, particularly if they existed at different points in time. "Classical Greek" is a actually an umbrella term for a collection of different Greek dialects (Ionic, Aeolic, Doric, Attic, etc.) before the Hellenistic era, some of which are more similar to each other than others. Generally people think of 5th century BC Attic Greek in Athens when they hear the term "classical Greek" but it should be kept in mind that it is but one variety spoken in that era. Homeric Greek refers to the language of the Iliad and Odyssey and that it actually a mixture of mainly Ionic with some Aeolic elements as well as a bunch of later dialectal features. Despite all this, it thought to reflect, albeit less than perfectly, a kind of older 8th century BC, which lacks many grammatical innovations that are found in the Greek of the high classical period. For example, Homeric Greek does not use the article, its inflectional forms differ, and its verb tense forms behave a little differently (e.g. some past forms do not have the augment, the perfect has a different mix of preferred meanings, etc.).
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How Modern Greek became its own language and the effect on r

Postby Stephen Hughes » May 26th, 2014, 6:07 am

Jordan Day wrote:What about Modern Greek? What time period did the radical shift take place that made it a "different language"?

There wasn't a really radical shift at any particular moment. Of course in cases where social or family ties are looser, the younger generation are more free to make innovations than when communication is inter-generational. Children being raised by their grandparents (agricultural society) while the able-bodied go out to work results in less change, but that is only a part of it.

Bilingualism, has a direct effect on language development. One field of study in particular is of interest for the development of Modern Greek, that of the Balkan sprachbund.

In my limited studies of Balkan Languages, it seems that the Balkan sprachbund is played down in Modern Greek studies compared to how it is treated in Macedonian studies (македонски студии), but it is none-the-less recognised as having an effect on Greek at every level.

Here are some quotes from Wikipedia that you could take with a grain of salt,
no ancient dialects of Greek possessed Balkanisms, so that the features shared with other regional languages appear to be post-classical innovations. Also, Greek appears to be only peripheral to the Balkan language area, lacking some important features, such as the postposed article. Nevertheless, several of the features that Greek does share with the other languages (loss of dative, replacement of infinitive by subjunctive constructions, object clitics, formation of future with auxiliary verb "to want") probably originated in Medieval Greek and spread to the other languages through Byzantine influence.

The analytic perfect with the auxiliary verb "to have" (which some Balkan languages share with Western European languages), is the only feature whose origin can fairly safely be traced to Latin.

A common case system of a Balkan language is:
  • Nominative
  • Accusative
  • Dative / Genitive (merged)
  • Vocative

The future tense is formed in an analytic way using an auxiliary verb or particle with the meaning "will, want", referred to as de-volitive, similar to the way the future is formed in English. This feature is present to varying degrees in each language [within the Balkan Sprachbund].

The analytic perfect tense is formed in the Balkan languages with the verb "to have" and, usually, a past passive participle, similarly to the construction found in Germanic and other Romance languages

The replacement of synthetic adjectival comparative forms with analytic ones by means of preposed markers is common. ... Modern Greek: πιο (pió)

While our primary interest here is Biblical Greek, it is also interesting to see the development of Modern Greek in a more informed way.

The idea expressed about the directionality of time in
Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time wrote:The increase of disorder or entropy is what distinguishes the past from the future, giving a direction to time.

needs to be qualified by saying that the communicative and social needs of human beings are similar in all generations, so any move towards entropy is compensated for by either an adaptation of an existing element of the language or by borrowing.

RandallButh wrote:
Jordan Day wrote:I went to a NT Greek class at the local Greek Orthodox church, which was taught by a native Greek priest,

He should have remembered the work that he went through in secondary school to read the classical authors and to learn classical morphology.

Unlike the situation, described by Randall for those learning within the education systems in Greece and Cyprus, Greeks in the diaspora (about 1/3 of those who call themselves "Greeks") do not learn much (if any) classical Greek.

To illustrate that Modern Greek is a different language, consider this:

When I was a third year student majoring in Modern Greek, I accompanied a few of my classmates to a G.O. Church to do something about organising a community social event. They hadn't studied any of the classical language. One verse on the wall was
Μακάριοι οἱ καθαροὶ τῇ καρδίᾳ· ὅτι αὐτοὶ τὸν θεὸν ὄψονται.
They couldn't sense of it.

So much of it was unfamiliar to them. As compared to Koine Greek, the accents are no longer differentiated and there is no dative in Modern Greek. Words have also changed their meanings and connotations.

The accusative of καρδιά is in fact καρδιά, so τῇ καρδίᾳ would be understood as τη καρδιά (the heart as an object of a verb - but there is no verb here!).

A sentence with an object can not be a non-verbal sentence, so the three words, Μακάριοι οἱ καθαροὶ must be forming a nominal unit, that requires the structure substantive-article-adjective. Μακάριος was the name of a few saints, and the first President of Cyprus (and her Achbishop). Μακάριοι are the people, and καθαροὶ are their attribute.

The first phrase is meaningless because it has an object, but no verb. And it is strange because τη καρδιά has no possessive pronoun - τη καρδιά αυτών.

The ὅτι that we are familiar with is now written ότι only means "that", i.e. no longer "because". Like as in, "It is clear that ..."

Over the course of time, ὅτι in as far as it meant "because", came to mean "when" (cf. "The children felt happy because/when they swam at the beach.") The form ὅτε became redundant, and was "merged" (I'm sure Mike (Maubrey) has a word for that) into the non-"that" ὅτι, so in Modern Greek, the word for "when" is ότι too. You can quite easily tell them apart because of where they occur in a sentence. ότι "when" comes between phrases.That is what we have in this case, so ὅτι would be understood as "when".

Now, αὐτοὶ "they" would be taken to logically refer back to the those guys called Macarius.

The phrase να όψεται or ας όψεται means something like "Just wait and see how God is going to show him what evil he's done and what punishment he's going to get". In the plural it would relate back to those guys.

από το θεό means "by God", and so perhaps it could be construed that the punishment would really be from God.

Matthew 5:8 in Koine Greek, misunderstood from Modern Greek grammar wrote:Μακάριοι οἱ καθαροὶ τῇ καρδίᾳ· ὅτι αὐτοὶ τὸν θεὸν ὄψονται.
Macariuses the clean (will do something to) the(ir) heart, when they are going to see what sort of punishment they will get from God himself for the evil things they have done.

Definitely requires some study to make proper sense of Koine Greek.
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ὑμείς ὄψεσθε.

Postby Stephen Hughes » May 26th, 2014, 6:52 am

Stephen Hughes wrote:The phrase να όψεται or ας όψεται means something like "Just wait and see how God is going to show him what evil he's done and what punishment he's going to get".

The Modern Greek idiom suggests that
Matthew 27:24 wrote:ἰδὼν δὲ ὁ Πιλᾶτος ὅτι οὐδὲν ὠφελεῖ, ἀλλὰ μᾶλλον θόρυβος γίνεται, λαβὼν ὕδωρ ἀπενίψατο τὰς χεῖρας ἀπέναντι τοῦ ὄχλου, λέγων· Ἀθῷός εἰμι ἀπὸ τοῦ αἵματος τοῦ δικαίου τούτου· ὑμεῖς ὄψεσθε.
from which the idiom derives, was taken to mean that Pilate was referrng to the future judgement seat of God, rather than to the present trial that he was presiding over.
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Re: Homeric, Classical, Koine...whats the REAL difference?

Postby cwconrad » May 26th, 2014, 7:32 am

You've already had several different answers to your question. I could chime in with my own experience of studying New Testament Koine in my first year of academic Greek, moving on to read the Iliad of Homer in my second year, and then to read Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics in my third year -- but that's no help to you in understanding what you're asking, any more than reading the flawed Wikipedia account of the history of the Greek language. I think this is like asking, "What's the difference between chocolate, strawberry, and vanilla ice cream?" You can't get where you want to go by asking that kind of question. It might be a little more helpful to look at three or four pages of texts of several lines each from several eras of Greek from Mycenean or Homeric up to the modern demotic. It would be like looking at texts from Beowulf, the Magna Carta, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Whitman, Faulkner (just to list some literary texts of significance) and asking, "What's the difference between the "English" of these texts? There is no road map that will take you to distinctly segmented temporal and geographical dominions of a language; there are only the ways in which a language is spoken, heard, written (if written at all) and understood in a particular time at a particular place. You have to go there and listen to it and hear it and begin to make sense of what you hear and learn to talk to its speakers bit by bit. Historical linguists (or Linguistic historians?) can draw up lists of features and of geographical areas and time-periods in which the language in question is "more or less stable", and what they tell you is something that you may or may not find useful as an answer to your question. Such answers are abstractions based on somewhat arbitrarily-chosen criteria, approximations. But to know what Homeric Greek is you'll need to read a sizable amount of Homeric verse; to know what's Attic Greek you'll need to read some Xenophon and some Thucydides and some Sophocles and some Aeschylus. And so forth. This is a beginner's question, but I am not sure that a beginner in Greek can be given a very useful answer to the question.
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Re: Homeric, Classical, Koine...whats the REAL difference?

Postby Barry Hofstetter » May 26th, 2014, 8:28 am

Several people have already annoyingly given responses which contain elements of the response I was planning to send. However:

1) With regard to what the Orthodox priest said, he is both right and wrong. Randall is right in that a modern Greek speaker needs to learn Ancient Greek as a second language just like any non-native Greek speaker. There have been numerous and significant changes in the language. But if the priest meant that there has never been a time when Greek was not spoken, and that Ancient Greek has always been accessible (through study) to contemporay speakers of the language, then he's right. Even in the west a knowledge of Ancient Greek was never quite lost, although it became rare. After the fall of Constantinople, there was quite an influx of scholars who knew Ancient Greek into the west which supplied great impetus to the general recovery of the language and a great stimulus to classical studies.

2) As Carl suggests, the best way to see these differences is actually to read Greek authors who reflect them. The Romans, interestingly enough, often started with Homeric Greek when teaching the language, which seems counter-intuitive to us. A few years ago I was teaching a survey course in Greek authors which included Homer. As I was preparing, I came to realize that it was actually relatively simple syntax, particularly if it were rewritten in a prose word order without attention to meter. Yes, there are dialectical differences, but they are not huge. While this was almost certainly not the reason why the Romans started with Homer, it certainly makes sense. There is also a small body of vocabulary which shows up in Homer that also shows up in Koine Greek, but which fell out of favor with Atticists.

3) Beyond a certain level, as you are discovering, vocabulary is the big deal. I recently decided to revisit Lucian of Samasota, and I started with the De Morte Peregrini, on which I wrote my M.A. thesis in 1986. I was surprised and bit shocked on how much vocabulary I had forgotten since last I read it. It slowed me up considerably compared to reading the NT or the early church Fathers or the LXX. Perseverence here is the key, as with anything else. An author like Lucian can be difficult in this regard because he delights in using as much variety in vocabulary as possible, both to show how educated he is as well as to serve as a kind of ongoing literary device.

4) Byzantine Greek, like their politics, tends to be twisted and tortuous. They fell in love with long periodic sentences using lots of participles and subordinate clauses, and they also tend to use vocabulary with heavy use of compounds (I'm no expert in Byzantine Greek, this are simply my impressions). Since for them this Greek was largely artificial, it tends to be more difficult than the natural literary use of a Demosthenes or Isocrates.

Horrock's A History of the Greek Language and its Speakers might be helpful to you.
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What are expectations in studying Greek?

Postby Stephen Hughes » May 26th, 2014, 12:06 pm

Board index ‹ Beginners Forum

cwconrad wrote:This is a beginner's question, but I am not sure that a beginner in Greek can be given a very useful answer to the question.

I's sorry. I didn't pay attention to which sub-forum this was in.
Jordan Day wrote: I am still very disappointed in my abilities after these 6+ years of studying.

I only paid attention to this statement of experience.A question like how and when did Modern Greek develop is not one that often puzzles beginners. What makes Modern Greek a distinctive language? and by implication, are they mutually intelligible or would there be misunderstandings? Is also not an easy one to answer without referring to both forms of the language.

Thiat Balkan Sprachbund thing I mentioned all happened after the time of the New Testament. It is a standardisation of communicative features across whatever languages happen to be present. It is a little analogous to texting, where the same features are forced onto all languages. Another way of looking at it is that the people learning a language calque all sorts of structures from their first language to the other.

What were you expectations 6 years ago in studying Greek and your failings now that leave you with the feelng of disappointment?
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Re: Homeric, Classical, Koine...whats the REAL difference?

Postby Jordan Day » May 26th, 2014, 1:29 pm

Steven Hughes wrote:What were you expectations 6 years ago in studying Greek and your failings now that leave you with the feelng of disappointment?


First of all, I would like to thank ALL of you for your responses! They have all been very helpful.

Perhaps I set the bar too high...
As far as κοινή texts go, I expected that after 6 years of study I would be able to listen to an audio recording of practically any author and understand the vast majority of it (95%?). I've been using the Buth restored pronunciation scheme for over 2 years now so I can understand the Modern pronunciation just fine. So I have been able to listen to the audio recordings ("Ancient 1904 Ecumenical Patriachal Text Audio Non-Drama New Testament") on the faithcomesbyhearing.com website (a true full speed read in my opinion). The recordings are separated according to chapters. I primarily stick to the Gospels and Acts (narrative is easier for me to picture in my mind's eye). After reading along a few times (about 7) with the audio, I am able to re-listen to chapters without the text in front of me and understand 99%-100%. For a moment this makes me feel that my few years of study has paid off...that I am actually understanding the language. But then I go to the audio of one of the Petrine epistles or Jude and I can understand less than 30%!! It makes me feel that I am actually just memorizing entire chapters of the gospels in Greek, and playing the video of the narrative in my head at the same time, rather than actually UNDERSTAND the language like an ancient person would...who would have been able to hear any story or message for the first time and comprehend it at full speed.

As far as classical text go, I had heard that it wasn't too different, and I guess I expected to be able to read it at a speed that would at least be enjoyable, but instead i find myself "decoding" it into English at a slow pace (rather than actually reading it).
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The height of the bar. Memory and imagination.

Postby Stephen Hughes » May 26th, 2014, 7:29 pm

Jordan Day wrote:Perhaps I set the bar too high...
One detail from the biography of the American Expat and writer Paul Bowes is that his mother read Nathaniel Ha(w)thorne and Edgar Allan Poe to him at the age of four. They were definitely not children's story books. You can't adjust the text. the text is the bar. There is not much that we as readers can do about that.

Native speakers had the language, what we have is texts. When we are reading Hawthorne, Poe or one of the NT writers, what we have are fossils of the language that somebody once knew and wrote in. There was a living process that went on in the writer that in the end produced the texts. Bowes listened to those authours and was inspired to write.

Memory and imagination are similar uses of our thinking. The difference is the degree of freedom that we have. So, you studied for 6 years, you recognise the words and the structures of the text as you follow it through. That is using language with the least ammount of freedom or creativity possible - none.

Perhaps you don't need to aim for the other end of the scale - flights of fancy - but giving your language usage a little freedom might lift your spirits a bit. What you are doing now has served you well, so I'm not suggesting you replace it, but you may be ready to move out from strictures of only memorising into a little of the freedom of imagination.

Take this verse:
Acts 19:4 wrote:Εἶπεν δὲ Παῦλος, Ἰωάννης μὲν ἐβάπτισεν βάπτισμα μετανοίας, τῷ λαῷ λέγων εἰς τὸν ἐρχόμενον μετ’ αὐτὸν ἵνα πιστεύσωσιν, τοῦτ’ ἔστιν, εἰς τὸν χριστὸν Ἰησοῦν.
And let's see what freedom we can have in the language here.

  • What is the time reference (tense). It is expressed in the εἶπεν, so let's start there. Imagine Luke is a reporter live at the scene, what would he say instead of εἶπεν? He would use a present tense. You can both say that and write it down.
  • We know from the Gospels that John had disciples, so let's express that rather than just following Ἰωάννης μὲν ἐβάπτισεν βάπτισμα μετανοίας. Imagine that. What should we change? The number (the subject and the verb-form).
  • Who are the people he is speaking to? What could we (creatively) write or say to make what we are following in the text just that little bit more detailed? (there are quite a number of ways, so you could try more than one)
  • Now let's look at the command ἵνα πιστεύσωσιν. What is the verbal construction that would have been used to express the command in the second person - the direct command? You can write and/or speak it.
  • The phrase εἰς τὸν χριστὸν Ἰησοῦν makes clear who εἰς τὸν ἐρχόμενον μετ’ αὐτὸν is referring to. What are some other ways of describing Jesus? Keep the structure εἰς + accusative, because that is needed by the overall sentence. You could probably think of a dozen or more, but just 3 or 4 would be fine.
What have achieved by doing that simple type of paraphrase? We have used a little of our imagination (in a controlled but none-the-less creative way). Now, when we read this passage, we have something to think about in Greek as we read it - that is more like a native speaker would have done

Now, you could try that with a few other verses. It seems a little mechanical at first to do that, but after a while it will come naturally.
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