First Steps into Classical Greek

Five weeks left of classes, and we are just a few pages from the end of Crito. Spending the whole school year walking with the 10th–12th graders through Crito has provided me the first chance I’ve ever had to work slowly through an entire Classical Greek text. Each week I worked through a paragraph or two at least twice before class, I read it with the students in class, and then before moving to the next passage the following week, I would read back through it again. I learned so much this year.

The biggest gain was growing comfortable with the sentence structure and syntax. I think Crito would be considered a “1 John” for Classical Greek, but it is far more challenging for someone born and bred on Koine than anything in the NT. 2 Maccabees or Diognetus might be comparable, but dialogue is a completely different animal. Anyway, here are the resources I used:

  • Lysias I and Plato’s Crito, Geoffrey Steadman (PDF / Amazon)
  • Plato: Euthryphro, Apology, Crito, Phaedo, Loeb 36, Chris Emlyn-Jones & William Preddy (Amazon)
  • Plato: Crito, Introduction, and Commentary, Bristol Commentary, Chris Emlyn-Jones (Amazon)

The new Emlyn-Jones Loeb made getting the ball rolling much easier. Using this diglot as a teacher helped me get comfortable with the style much more quickly. Just to mention a few of the issues: all the little emphatic particles, lots of impersonal verbs, extensive use of verbal adjectives, the “οἷος τε + εἰμί” constructions, and the long, rambling questions.

One other note on getting used to the higher register of Classical Greek: For about a year and a half now I’ve been helping a student work through Keller and Russell’s Learn to Read Greek. We are a couple chapters into book 2. I’ve found the workbook exercises to be helpful because they are (1) copious in number and (2) realistically challenging. This is the grammar I recommend for people who are looking to make the transition from Koine to Classical, but only for those interested in a more thorough, longterm solution. The grammar is massive and really something closer to an elementary combined with intermediate grammar. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like it. LTRG, however, is the topic of another post.

Steadman’s reader is the only classroom resource we use. It is great because it doesn’t just provide vocabulary; it includes a ton of syntax help, as well. For the 10th graders this is the very first text they have read outside the New Testament, and Steadman’s thorough notes are a must. I can give them help in class, but they need something written down as they re-read. He provides free PDFs online, and he self-publishes his books so they are affordable. You definitely want to explore his website if you never have.

Finally, the Emlyn-Jones commentary was helpful from time-to-time, but the combination of the Loeb and Steadman would have been enough. The commentary is super concise and strikes a nice balance between linguistic and literary concerns.

I hope these resource notes are helpful and you are motivated to pick up a Crito text soon and see how much progress you can make this summer.