Ancient Greek Learning Blog #1 — The Beginning

Anyone who has known me for a while will know that I like learning languages and frequently learn those that most people — most normal people at least — would not study. To those, it should come as no surprise that I have taken up the rather gargantuan ordeal of trying to learn the Ancient Greek language, and so as to better track my progress over time and perhaps share some useful resources with you, I decided to start a sort of “Online Language Diary” wherein I will be posting — irregularly — things regarding what I have learnt.

Let us thus begin with the first post where I will be detailing the resources I have thus far found and which I am currently successfully using to study this fascinating language.

Firstly, it was paramount, obviously, to find a decent textbook which was suitable for an autodidact study of the language; something much easier said than done. After a lot of searching around and gathering advice, I finally settled on Hansen and Quinn's “Intensive Greek” — and was promptly staggered when it had arrived at my doorstep; for indeed, I had imagined it being intensive — it is, after all, in its title — but I did not expect to receive a book that weighed 3 pounds. I decided to simply go along with it and began studying the language using this book.

Shortly thereafter I realised wherefore they had called it intensive Greek, as this is a book which does not wait for you and which introduces a large number of grammatical concepts — and the accompanying inflexions to learn — right from the start; indeed, it introduces both the first and second declension plus the articles and their declension in the first chapter and then continues by teaching basically all verb forms (of which there are a myriad in Ancient Greek) over the following chapters.

I am generally someone that can learn grammar without much trouble, but even I found this rather overwhelming. I have, thus far, finished Unit 1 — which took me roughly half a week to accomplish, including all the drills and exercises which are found at the end of each chapter — and am now slowly beginning to work my way through the second chapter; therein you are introduced to verbs, tenses, moods, aspect, verb endings etc. I am honestly not sure whether or not I like this approach yet, but it seems to have worked when it comes to the declension of first- and second-declension nouns and the articles, for I am already rather good at declining those after merely half a week.

It is, generally speaking, my wont to learn a lot of grammar and, unfortunately, neglect vocabulary quite a lot; this leads to me knowing how the language works in detail, but this is of but little use if I only know of a few dozen words. To mitigate this problem, I thought of getting a Greek reader to accompany my rather grammatical book — and I believe to have found a few really good ones; but one of them is absolutely amazing, namely Lingua Graeca Per Se Illustrata. For those amongst you who know some Latin, this name may not be too unfamiliar, for indeed, there exists a book for learning Latin titled Lingua Latina Per Se Illustrata which aims at a rather “natural” way of learning the language. It does so by it being written entirely in Latin and beginning with very easy words and grammatical structures and slowly moving forward; this is complemented by margin notes, grammatical explanations — in Latin! — and some exercises.

I found this to be a really good way of studying a language, especially with an accompanying book discussing the language's grammar more in-depth, and was delighted to find out that there exists a version of this book for Ancient Greek as well, albeit made by a student in their free-time. This book — also known as Ἡ Ἑλληνικὴ γλῶσσα καθ᾿ αὑτὴν φωτιζομένη — is currently being written by Seumas Macdonald and is open-source! It is by no means as extensive as the book it tries to imitate, but I believe it to be an invaluable resource. There are still a few mistakes — such as “τὸ Α καὶ τὸ Β γράμματά ἐστιν.” where the word γράμματά has two accents instead of one (γράμματα). I am still not entirely sure whether that is perhaps an accentuation quirk, but I shall be sending him an email regarding this soon, so as to clear this matter up — and it has neither margin-notes nor any exercises or explanations, but I still believe it is a great companion to my Intensive Greek book.

The latter problems are somewhat mitigated by two spin-off projects, namely ὁ ἑταῖρος (lit. the companion) which strives to provide some “extra practice and reinforcement”. Another is Γραμματική καὶ μελετήματα εἰς Ἡ Ἑλληνικἠ γλῶσσα καθ᾿ αὑτὴν φωτιζόμενη (Grammar and exercises for Lingua Graeca Per Se Illustrata) which provides just what the title promises — grammar and exercises. Unfortunately, however, both of these projects do not appear to have seen any update for nearly a year, so they only have very limited use as companions to the original text.

Nevertheless, I am much indebted to their work, as this is going to make learning this language much more feasible than I had initially feared, as these will provide me with some more vocabulary to learn.

This is my current state: I have finished Unit 1, have slowly started with Unit 2 — which I am planning on finishing by the end of next week — whilst using the above-mentioned — and some additional ones if I find any — resources to learn some more vocabulary on the way.