My recent foray into Euclid’s Elements has rekindled my interest in Ancient Greece, so I have decided the time has come to have another bash at learning Homeric Greek. As well as being an interesting project in its own right, which will enable me to appreciate two of the classics of world literature (and, arguably, pillars of European culture) in their original language, I hope the exercise will enrich my understanding of Koine (aka. New Testament) Greek and provide a good doorway to other Greek dialects.
I already have some Homeric study material from a previous fling with the language, the main one being Clyde Pharr’s classic textbook Homeric Greek.
Working through some of the early exercises in the book this morning, I found a sentence which seems to demonstrate in quite an amusing way the range of variation possible in translating a sentence, due to the range of meanings of each word.
The sentence (lesson IV, no. 5) reads: καλη ἐστι θεα, ἐχει δε ψυχην κακην.
I don’t have a copy of the key to Pharr’s exercises, if such a thing exists, but I’m assuming the translation he had in mind was along the lines of the goddess is beautiful but she has an evil spirit (or perhaps an ugly spirit to contrast with her physical beauty).
However, καλη can mean good, beautiful or several other things (all generally positive) while κακη is bad as well as ugly, evil etc. and ψυχη can be spirit, soul,breath or life. So there are several other possible translations for this sentence, including the goddess is good but she has bad breath.
Two phone-related observations to finish with:
I wrote the bulk of this post using the WordPress app on my phone, though I finished it on my PC (mainly to access the polytonic Greek keyboard, so I could put the breathings on the Greek sentence – I decided to leave out the accents though). I notice that I seem to have written much shorter paragraphs than usual (indeed, several of them are just single sentences) and I wonder if this is largely due to the phone having a much smaller screen so a paragraph that is short on the computer screen looks quite long on there. As you will probably have noticed, the current paragraph (which I’m writing on the PC) is just about the longest one in the whole post.
Yesterday I discovered what appears to be quite a promising app to help with my study of Homeric Greek. It’s called Phlash Cards and is basically a set of flash cards designed to be used with Pharr’s textbook. I’ve not made much use of it yet, but so far it seems to be working well. It offers flashcards to test the vocabulary for each lesson (going Greek -> English or vice versa) as well as the paradigms for verbs, nouns etc. that are to be learned, and it has all the lines from the Iliad (all book 1, I think) that are introduced in the later lessons (as I recall from my previous outings with Pharr, the student is encouraged to memorise these).