Συνοδος Ελληνικη Day 7

I listened to a twenty-two year old speak for over an hour this morning (Sunday morning). Every word, apart from names, was in ancient Greek. You are probably like me and find that hard to believe. I too would have been skeptical eight days ago, but the σύνοδος has happened. I saw it, heard it, experienced it. I can’t undo this week.

I’m leaving the σύνοδος feeling like I have seen my future. I simply did not know this was possible. I could continue reading and teaching as I always have, but what I learned this week is that if I go that route, I and my students will read only a small fraction of the Greek that would be possible by learning to speak Greek fluently.

One of the objections that I had before this week, and one I frequently hear from others, is that this is a waste of time because you are just learning a bunch of words that refer to modern things you will never encounter in texts. This is one of the most unbelievable parts of it all — almost every single word I heard and spoke this week is in LSJ! It really is ancient Greek. Sure, there were no cars in the first century, but there were contraptions in which you sit and ride. A car is just a ἅμαξα (LSJ gloss: wagon). Christophe uses ancient Greek words, but he simply applies them to new contexts. Yet another aspect of the week I couldn’t have believed until I saw it.

Today (Monday), I started working through the Polis Greek book. The one other post I want to write is a post that lists everything I plan to do in the coming year to prepare for next year’s σύνοδος.

Συνοδος Ελληνικη Day 4

Today seemed to be a turning point. When we had discussions about texts and pictures, everyone was eager to talk and ask questions. The whole week has been marked by generosity, humility, and sincerity on be part of both the students and teachers. It’s really been remarkable. Until today, however, you could see and feel a sense of apprehension when Stephen or Christophe would stop speaking and ask if anyone has questions. Not only did people feel free to ask questions today, but we all had plenty to say.

The highlight of the morning was when Stephen had us discuss a story about a goddess that essentially took the life of her sons because their work was so difficult. By taking their life, she ushered them into a glory-filled, grief-free existence. I think every student in the class shared an opinion concerning whether it was right for the mother to do this or not. The thoughts shared were not just short little random bursts. Rather, when someone shared a thought, another would follow up with a question or an affirmation or another perspective. In short, we actually had a dialogue in which everyone participated. Stephen has done such a fantastic job leading us in these discussions this week.

The remainder of the morning we learned another host of everyday words. We moved from how to speak about getting dressed, to words that take us to the bus stop and then to work, which for most of us is a school of some sort. After lunch, Stephen directed our discussion of a few comedic pictures, and we worked in small groups of two or three to discuss them. Each time he cut us loose, I got lost in conversation with the person sitting next to me.

The biggest portion of the afternoon was spent with Christophe reading to us Hansel and Gretel. An illustrated version of the story in Greek was projected on the board, and Christophe read it to us slowly and in such a charmingly animated way. It was a long telling of the story, and almost all the vocabulary were common, Hellenistic words. The combination of the familiar vocabulary and Christophe’s ability to read in such a vivid way made the whole evening enchanting. We were not allowed to touch our lexica. Christophe was the lexicon. He would go to great lengths to explain the words by acting out the meaning or running to the kitchen to grab an example of the word. No English glosses were given, of course. Rather, he portrayed the meaning by acting out boisterous illustrations marked by a myriad of ancient Greek words. Greek flows out of Christophe like bourbon flows out of Kentucky. We spent about two and a half hours listening to this story and asking him whatever questions came to mind.

I left the σύνοδος today with a full heart and a worn out mind. Our teachers are such kind souls, full of so much life and joy. The students are here to learn and I cannot think of one situation I’ve been in that was marked by pretense. I have yet to find a good way to say the word “fun” in Greek, but Stephen did help me find a way to say something pretty close: ἀπολαύω τούτου, I’m enjoying this.

It’s time to relax a little before working on tomorrow’s readings.

Συνοδος Ελληνικη Day 3

Today was so much better. I drove home to see the family this evening so just a few thoughts tonight.

First thing this morning we all drove to the university arboretum, and after Christophe talked about the basic parts of a tree, we split off into our beginner and advanced groups. Walking together made a huge impact on how readily students were willing to talk with one another. I had a couple long conversations, and because these were with fellow students who share the same low-level conversational skills I was able to converse for about half an hour with understanding. This felt fantastic.

In the afternoon we discussed several pictures and texts, and Christophe continued to teach us everyday vocabulary. We talked about how to set a table for dinner and how to speak about getting up in the morning and getting dressed.

Yesterday felt like a disaster, but today felt like a success. The long conversations at the arboretum with fellow students is a highlight of the week. Yesterday, conversing in ancient Greek felt impossible, but today I was able to have a continuous half hour conversation. I also felt like I was able to more easily hear with understanding.

Εὐχαριστῶ τῷ θεῷ (καὶ τοῖς διδασκάλοις ἡμῶν περὶ τῆς μακροθυμίας αὐτῶν).

Συνοδος Ελληνικη Day 2

Well, I left the σúνοδος today wondering what I could use for an appropriate metaphor of violence. I said I was “dragged through the mud” yesterday. Maybe impaled works for today.

I spent about 15 minutes — felt like 60 — in front of the class completely at a loss as to what the teacher wanted me to do. I knew the vocabulary, but we were acting out a story and I just could not understand what it was he wanted me to do. I committed the cardinal sin. I got so frustrated at one point I was blurted out in English, “Say what?!” My mind was boggled. It was a mayday.

What really helped me turn the corner was when he started telling me, by writing the forms on the board, that εἶπεν is the aorist of λέγω. At this point I moved past my mind being boggled. The fact that I very well know how λέγω conjugates in all its tenses reignited my mind and allowed me to communicate again in Greek. I spat out λέγω’s principal parts and told him in Greek, “I know all the words, but what I don’t know is exactly what it is you want me to do.” He would slow down for a sentence or two, but then there would be another burst of quick speaking, and I was lost again.

It’s not his fault. I think this episode highlights the severity of my main problem, which I explained yesterday. Hearing is far more difficult than communicating. It’s not that vocab isn’t an issue, but we all have our own internalized Greek lexicon. I can use the words I know to communicate. Even still another person has a different lexicon. I do need to know more vocab, especially common, everyday, communicative words. I still feel, however, that my main issue is that hearing with understanding seems like a completely different skill than seeing with understanding.

Of course, all of this is very humbling, and when your inability to hear with understanding is on display in front of everyone, it’s humiliating, too. We could all use our egos lowered a bit, so that is fine. The question I’m left with here at the end of day two is this: Will I actually be able to do this? If I went to Jerusalem and did the two year Greek course, I’m sure I would have enough time to get out of this awful “I can’t hear well” phase. But will that happen by the end of this week? Probably not. So when I return home, what will I do?

Already, Dickey’s composition book seems so much more approachable — that’s a win. Earlier in the summer I began regularly listening to the GNT as I walk in the evening. I need to keep this up. I could frequent the forums and the Google Hangouts I have learned about this week — places online where people converse in ancient Greek. Will that do the trick? As I told one of the more advanced students today, “Σήμερον, τοῦτο φαίνεται ἐμοί ἀδύνατον.” Today, this seems impossible. It’s not; I know. But it seems that way.

I can very clearly see the gulf that Seumas has been talking about for so long — the gulf between the grammar-translation approach and communicative methods. Today it seems that communicating in ancient Greek requires completely different skills than reading through the lense of grammatical knowledge. I know, Seumas has been saying this forever, but I really feel the weight of the issue today.

Much of the day went really well, for the record. I enjoyed the other sessions where we spoke in Greek to describe the scenes portrayed both in Greek texts and in various images. I think we are headed to a garden of some sort to converse about plant life tomorrow. I’ll be driving some of the students, and I really hope that I can focus and not crash the car while people are trying to talk in Greek. I’m going to nurse my wounds and show up tomorrow ready for another beating.

Συνοδος Ελληνικη Day 1

I just finished day one of a journey I have been looking forward to all year. I am taking part in a conversational Greek class at UK this week. Day one was even harder than I expected. My brain is fried so I’m just going to offer a couple thoughts here because I promised myself I would post everyday about this.

I expected this to be difficult, and I expected that I would be a beginner of beginners when it comes to speaking and hearing ancient Greek with understanding. I underestimated just how difficult it would be to hear ancient Greek spoken at a conversational pace. That is the hardest part. If I have a few minutes, I can piece together what I want to say, but listening to those who are more advanced is very difficult.

One unexpected obstacle is the letter omicron. I have always said it like the short o in got. They insist I say it more like the long o in go. There are a lot of omicrons in a lot of words so I’m getting corrected on just about every sentence I speak! I welcome the correction, but what am I going to do in the coming school year? It seems I am going to have to shift my classroom pronunciation to /ō/ and ōmicron!

What did we actually do today? Well, the first couple hours were dedicated to introducing ourselves and learning how to say basic things like, “Get up, sit down, lie down, sleep, pick up the toothbrush (!), brush your teeth,” etc. Later in the day we spent some time talking about various animals and what they are capable of doing (jumping, swimming, etc.), and towards the end of the day we looked at some cartoons and provided captions in Greek.

One thing I was really curious about going into the meeting was what exactly we were going to do with the Greek texts that were given to us beforehand. We were emailed several texts and were instructed to read them beforehand. But what were we going to do in class? We certainly weren’t going to translate them into English! God forbid. When it came time for working through the first text, Christophe called on someone to read the text, he asked us questions about the text in Greek, and he had people act out the scenes using the vocabulary of the provided text but in the inflections necessary to actually carry out the actions in real time.

As I said, I have been beaten down and dragged through the mud today. I learned a lot, but I have a very long row to hoe this week. Beaten down but not dismayed. I’m determined to get better at this. I’ll let you know about day two tomorrow.

Critique textuelle de l’Ancien Testament Online

Charles Jones posted notice that the University of Zurich has made available all five volumes of Dominique Barthélemy’s Critique textuelle de l’ancien Testament.

There is nothing quite like this work. I’ve posted in the past on the Hebrew Old Testament Text Project, which led to these volumes, and on the unique role Bathélemy played in the committee’s work. These five volumes are the most comprehensive treatment of the textual problems in the Hebrew Bible ever produced.

In print, each volume is very expensive. I’ve always wanted to own copies, but with the price — a couple hundred bucks a piece if I remember correctly — there was just no way. To have each volume in a quality PDF is so fantastic.

Give them time to download. The files aren’t that big, but they took a bit longer to download than I expected. I should note that they are all in French. Here’s the permalinks:

  • Volume 1 (1982) Josué, Juges, Ruth, Samuel, Rois, Chroniques, Esdras, Néhémie, Esther
  • Volume 2 (1986) Isaïe, Jérémie, Lamentations
  • Volume 3 (1992) Ézéchiel, Daniel et les 12 Prophètes
  • Volume 4 (2005) Psaumes
  • Volume 5 (2015) Job, Proverbes, Qohélet et Cantique des Cantiques