De-rusting language: what should I use to brush up on classical Greek?
May 19, 2013 5:45 PM   Subscribe

Once upon a time, I was a moderately fluent student of classical (Attic) Greek. That was 15+ years ago, and I'd like to get back to that point again. (With some specific goals in mind.) What tools can help me do that? I have been a fan of the awesome Perseus Project almost since they launched, and I've still got my trusty print edition of Liddell and Scott (and two sets of grammar books) but I'm not sure which other books or geeky tools might help me do what I want. (Details within)

My goal : to be able to translate text in a way that's reasonably enjoyable (i.e. doing more than a line every 20 minutes would be good), and with a particular attention to all the nuances of language - worldview, things that have particular social connotations, that kind of thing. I specifically plan to start working (once I've gotten some skill back) on Antigone, and after that, I suspect it will be some Euripides, some Homer, and some Plato.

What I'm looking for:

1) What are the really great textbooks for learning Greek these days? (I've browsed online, but it's hard to get a good sense of which ones would work best for me.) I used Athenaze, back when and I have a copy of the venerable if sometimes angry-making Chase and Phillips.

I really loved how Athenaze built from (very simple) created text into 'real' text remarkably quickly, and I liked how it integrated a variety of exercises and relevant background material. However, I'd like something that has a teacher edition as well (to check myself) and more workbook exercises, and it looks like laying hands on all three parts for Athenaze may be complicated. What's newer and does the same kind of thing?

2) What apps/websites/etc. should I be looking at? (I am Apple-ecosystem at home - phone, iPad, and computer - but could do Windows things from my work machine if they were awesome.) I probably do want something to help me quiz vocabulary, but I'm not sure which apps would do well with Greek.

3) Related to 2, best fonts for working in the Apple ecosystem for notes/etc?

4) I'm not sure I really want a full-blown formal course for credit anywhere, but this might be an area where there is some really useful MOOC or related project. (I do work at an academic library, but my campus doesn't teach classical languages at all.)
posted by modernhypatia to Education (8 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
I think this may be more elementary than what you want, but when I was toying with the project of trying to learn the language I was impressed by this tutorial site.

The textbook it goes with might be a useful review text for you, though.
posted by thelonius at 5:53 PM on May 19, 2013

I used Hansen & Quinn when I took Greek (~6 years ago). I think it's a good book for people who are already comfortable with the full grammatical framework (as I think you'd be). I still keep it as a reference, mostly because I didn't want to spring for a copy of Smyth. The translation bits are pretty fun, there's a lot of Menander fragments—you get to be translating real greek pretty quickly. Can't speak to a comparison with Athenaze, though.
posted by Maecenas at 6:15 PM on May 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

GreekKeys is a polytonic Greek keyboard layout for either Mac or PC. It gives you Unicode text, so any modern font or app will play nicely with it.

Speaking of fonts, the Greek Font Society makes some lovely free ones. Here's a much bigger list of Unicode polytonic Greek fonts — some free, some not.
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 6:23 PM on May 19, 2013

You might like reviewing with something like Hillard and Botting's Elementary Greek Exercises (English - Greek) and Elementary Greek Translation (Greek - English passages about Greek history). There may be answer keys available somewhere but I've never been able to find one on the internet... Both are good because they are very systematic about introducing grammar + vocab, allowing you to really focus. (They're in many ways the opposite of Athenaze, which I personally loathe, so bear that in mind.)

I second Hansen & Quinn, mentioned above. I also like Donald Mastronarde's book. I've never seen/used a teacher edition for any Greek books, so I can't help with that.

I also recommend reviewing by reading real texts -- I personally really, really like Geoffrey Steadman's series of texts with facing vocab and commentary, aimed at the intermediate student. He's done some Homer, Plato, Lysias, and Herodotus, and they're all very well done. Vocab is one of the big hurdles of Greek, I think, and those editions are so nice for not having to wade through dictionaries to read. There's a similar edition (facing vocab + commentary) of Longus' Daphnis and Chloe. (Many more choices for easy Latin readers; Greek there's less of, sadly: there's a few others around, but I haven't read them personally.)

I use "Flashcards Deluxe" for my iPhone for vocab flashcards -- it integrates well with quizlet and does spaced repetition.

You can set your keyboard on your Mac to "Polytonic Greek" to be able to type with accents, etc. -- but personally, I find it hard to remember what the special keys are for that, so if I have to type a lot of Greek, I use Unicorn to type it in beta code and convert it. If you don't already know beta code (I used to use that all the time, back in the days before the web had Unicode fonts standard), it might not be a big time saver for you. I have no problem with any normal Unicode font for Greek on my Apple products.

The Greekstudy mailing list has people doing different Greek learning/review things all the time -- both intro textbooks and reading texts. You might like some of what they're doing
posted by lysimache at 6:55 PM on May 19, 2013 [3 favorites]

Have you thought about living abroad for an immersion experience? Just kidding.

As you probably know, vocabulary rather than grammar is the key to proficiency. This article contains an ancient Greek frequency list that will give 80% coverage based on the corpus of the Perseus Project.

Assimil has an ancient Greek course, but it is French-based so you would be better off if you can read French. If not, then your Greek abilities should allow to you progress through it to reactivate your Greek. It begins with an assumption of zero Greek and proceeds from there.

I use Anki for spaced repetition.
posted by Tanizaki at 7:03 PM on May 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

If your library has access, the TLG is in some ways better than Perseus (more texts, cleaner interface, faster servers).

For a graduated re-introduction to reading the language, A Greek Boy at Home is old but good (it's not like the language itself has changed!).
posted by oinopaponton at 7:06 PM on May 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Forget about GreekKeys. If your OS X is up to date, you just have to add "Greek Polytonic" to your Input Sources (just search Input Sources in Spotlight) and like the servant of Odysseus, you'll see by the scar that what you thought of as an ASCII world was Unicode all along. Helvetica comes loaded with a good Greek typeface, Minion's is pretty nice, too. Times New Roman on OS X has a full set of polytonic Greek glyphs as well.

If you want really nice Greek typefaces, I like the ones from the Greek Font Society
I use GFS Porson for typesetting the greek in my papers on ancient philosophy. It's a lovely Greek, and looks wonderful in print, just like a nice Oxford text of Aeschylus or something.
posted by dis_integration at 5:23 AM on May 20, 2013

The University of Chicago has a "mirror" of Perseus which is not really a mirror but all the Perseus texts loaded into a faster search interface: the classics grad students I know all say that it's the only usable Perseus mirror. This will easily generate frequency-sorted vocab lists for you, even within texts by particular authors or from particular time periods.

There's also a newer thing from UChicago called ΛΟΓΕΙΟΝ which searches multiple classical dictionaries and shows you contextual usage examples from Perseus texts.
posted by xueexueg at 1:15 PM on May 20, 2013

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