Horrocks is a beast that very few slay. His Greek: A History of the Language and Its Speakers is the standard treatment, but it’s over five hundred pages of dense prose. I’ve often wanted something more concise to recommend as a first step or overview so I was happy when a friend pointed me to Stephen Colvin’s A Brief History of Ancient Greek (Wiley-Blackwell, 2014). My friend described it as “one of the most interesting books I’ve ever read.”
Colvin himself desribes the book like this:
This book is designed to be accessible to readers who know little or no Greek. For this reason it aims to be a social history of the language rather than a purely linguistic history, which would be of interest to specialists only (there are other, excellent books for specialists).
Colvin’s 201 pages are punctuation by 10 chapters:
- The Indo-European Beginnings
- An Aegean Co-Production
- Mycenean Greek
- The Dark Ages
- The Alphabet
- The Greek Dialects
- Homer and the Epic Tradition
- The Language of Greek Poetry
- Bare Words: The Start of a Common Language
- Greek to Romaic and Back
I’ll report back when I finish it. It is at the top of the summer reading list.
You might be interested to know that Colvin has also published A Historical Greek Reader: Mycenaean to Koine (Oxford, 2008).