Ancient Greek Learning Blog #4 — Time for a dictionary and Ancient Greek keyboards on Linux

Perhaps I should preface this by stating these are my own opinions of the dictionary that I bought and that I have by no means been compensated for saying what I shall be saying.

I have been on the search for a small yet comprehensive-ish dictionary for my Greek studies and have thus been scouring various forums to explore the different options that are available. I'm on a rather tight budget myself, so I was rather hoping to find something that would not put a hole into my wallet, yet it appears as if a large number of Ancient Greek dictionaries have a somewhat higher price-point; this is especially true for the dictionary I have seen many people recommend, namely the LSJ (Liddell & Scott) dictionary. It is, I would venture to say, one of the most comprehensive — if not the most comprehensive — of Ancient Greek dictionaries that can be bought; yet, its price-point is reflective of its comprehensiveness, for a complete volume of LSJ goes for over €150. There exist a number of abridged versions costing between €30 and €50, depending on what kind of abridged version it is and where you buy it, yet that was still a tad too high for me. This is, I believe, especially true since I am by no means an expert in the language yet — and won't be for a long time to come —, so a perhaps more beginner-friendly dictionary would have been in order — and that, I believe, I have found.

As I was looking through Reddit — a site which, by the by, I tend to have blocked, as I do with all other social media; yet it can, at times, be rather helpful to look through when on the hunt for certain bits of information, hence my unblocking it from time to time —, I came across several people mentioning the Pocket Oxford Classical Greek Dictionary, and it appeared to be exactly what I had in mind. Its price, too, was more than reasonable, costing a mere €13 and I thus immediately decided to buy myself a copy which arrived today. I must admit, though, that I was more than surprised by the package, for the pictures that I saw of it made it seems as if it was a rather bulky yet compact book; what I did not expect, however, was a book the size of a decently-sized novel. It most definitely lives up to its name of being pocket-sized, for it has barely any weight to it and small enough dimensions for you to easily carry it around where ever you go — is that not what you do? carry around a dictionary with you at all times? — so that I had somewhat feared for its complexity.

Yet my fears, it appears, were unfounded, as it is just the right size for me in terms of complexity. It is laid out in a very pleasing and accessible manner so that finding terms, their gender and declension is an easy task to accomplish. I especially enjoy the list of the 101 most commonly used irregular verbs at the end of the book — yet again, the topic of verbs follows me where ever I dare go and I fear that I will once be dreaming about it; and what nightmares those will be … — which will be most helpful. It does contain some further grammar points, but not enough to be worth mentioning; for a more complete grammar, they do offer the Oxford Grammar of Classical Greek of the same format which I am intending on buying as well — next month, that is. There shall then be a post regarding that.

Fumbling around with keyboards

But indeed, what use is a dictionary if one is unable to type the words located therein on a computer — something I do quite frequently for creating new flashcards? I had been having this exact problem and finding a keyboard that supports Polytonic — i. e. several tones — Greek on Linux was rather difficult. As some of you may be aware, I am a user of Linux — Manjaro Linux to be exact — and have completely expelled Windows from my private life. My old installation still dwells within some hard-drive I have in my shelf, but it hasn't been used in probably half a year. Unfortunately, however, finding a Polytonic Greek keyboard was a much more difficult task on my Linux installation than it would have been on Windows; for, indeed, Windows comes pre-bundled with such a keyboard, so that you are able to simply install it as you would any other keyboard in the Windows settings.

This is somewhat different on Linux — actually, drastically so. I am, at present, using Manjaro XFCE and had been using the regular XFCE keyboard managing tool. It did come pre-bundled with a Polytonic keyboard, but for some reason, it didn't work quite as I had expected. I believe the problem was me being unable to put several things on top of the letters (i. e. a breathing mark and an accent would not have been possible) so that I ditched it. Instead, I found Keyman which have a rather impressive selection of keyboard layouts to choose from (even an Ancient Egyptian one I shall have to try out at some point), including one for Polytonic Greek. Unfortunately, no binaries for keyman seem to exist for Manjaro — neither in its official repositories nor in the AUR — so that I was forced to install the program from source which, unfortunately, took a while. Thereafter I was able to open its configuration to download and install the Polytonic keyboard; and upon having finished that, I was required to forego the in-built XFCE keyboard manager and, instead, install ibus.

Once I was done with all that, I was finally able to use the Greek Polytonic keyboard which allowed me to put several accents and breathing marks on top of a vowel or diphthong; and additionally, it automatically changes kh into χ or th into θ without you having to press their respective buttons.

Overall update

Before I end this post, I would like to briefly expand upon the work I have been doing — which is not much, I'll admit. I've been working through the third Unit's exercises — with which I'll be done tomorrow, I'd hope —, whereafter I will have to finish the Review and the two Examinations. I will most likely be writing a short analysis of Greek verbs sometime soon so that I can more easily remember the different principal parts of a verb and I will also begin slowly working my way through Xenophon's Anabasis. To do so, I shall start by studying the most commonly used words used in the book as detailed on the first pages of the book I mentioned previously. I have already copied those used on the first page into a .txt file and will be converting it into an Anki set I can study after finishing this post.

I don't believe I will be beginning Unit 4 this week and, instead, focus rather on revising what I have thus far learnt; especially since the Review and Examinations are coming up next.