Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Teach Yourself Ancient Greek: Recommendations

For Ancient Greek, the field of excellent material is at once broader and narrower. There is no stand-out set of materials I would unhesitatingly recommend. Nonetheless, here are a few I have experience with and would recommend.

Randall Buth, runs a number of immersion courses (of which I have no experience), and produces innovative materials for Biblical Hebrew and Koine Greek. If you’re interest is particularly Hellenistic/Koine Greek, this is my number one choice. The materials are well-produced, and begin with picture-lessons with audio, before transitioning in Part 2 to a more dialogue-based and written approach. Buth uses a reconstructed Koine pronunciation, which I understand and appreciate but haven’t transitioned to (for a number of reasons). The materials are a little pricey (especially postage if you’re outside the US), but worth it if you buy the lot up-front. Buth’s materials are available from the Biblical Language Center

For those looking to ground themselves in Classical Greek, or after a more traditional approach, I have three recommendations.

The first is a very hard-to-come-by course by G√ľnther Zuntz, a German Classical scholar with impeccable Greek. The English version of his course is “Greek: a course in classical and post-classical Greek grammar from original texts”, in two volumes (Paperback ISBN 1850757208, Hardback 1850753415). I picked up my copy from my seminary library, and have it almost permanently borrowed. It has excellent original texts, comprehensive grammatical explanations, and exercises designed to instill both verbal and written skills. Zuntz insists you use a tonal accent, and expects you to be understanding metre and memorising verse from chapter 5 onwards.

The second is far more widely available, and is the Athenaze series. It’s in its second edition, and there are 2 volumes. There are also two workbooks available (the first is definitely worth it, the second maybe not so much), and a teacher’s manual (I’m not familiar with the latter). Athenaze would best be described as an inductive-grammar approach. It involves readings, then explanations, and moves from a quaint story of a Greek boy to the broader events of the 5th century history, and selections from ancient authors.

My third recommendation is Donald J. Mastronarde’s “Introduction to Attic Greek”. It is a far more traditional grammar book, notable for its comprehensive approach. Mastronarde figures you should just learn everything, right, from the start. I picked up Mastronarde while doing some 2nd year Classical Greek at university, having stepped into the program without their first-year course (on the basis of prior Koine), and found the JACT course virtually hopeless grammar-wise (the JACT materials make great readers though, see below), and Mastronarde saved me. Subsequently I took a grammar course taught from Mastronarde. Stick with him, and you’ll learn a great deal of grammar. I still refer to Mastronarde for a learner-oriented explanation of certain grammatical features.

Lastly, once you’ve got going, devote yourself to reading. If you’re interested in the New Testament, buy a Reader’s Greek New Testament (the Zondervan one is much cheaper, if you’re short on cash), and devote yourself to reading it. Buy the JACT textbook, and the following readers, and spend time reading a little each day. Whitacre’s Patristic Greek Reader is also excellent. Read, read, read. That is the key to moving from ‘I know some grammar’ to ‘I can read and use my Greek’, avoiding the pitfall of ‘I learnt some Greek but have forgotten everything but the Present Active Indicative paradigm’.


mike said...

What about Funk's Hellenistic grammar?

Seumas Macdonald said...

I don't have any experience with Funk's Grammar. I've heard some good things about it, but that it needs a reader to complement it. I suspect it's as difficult to come by as Zuntz's volumes.

Anonymous said...

How would you compare Zuntz and Mastronarde?

I am sorry to disturb the peace the post enjoys, but I am interested and would like to know more. I have just started (Attic) Greek not long ago. My "impression" from experience of others is that Zuntz is better and if you have it you can put down Mastronarde; both try to present everything the authors know to (beginning) students right from the start, but Zuntz still have better grammar and readings.

But this is just impression, and I would be grateful to hear from you.

Seumas Macdonald said...

I think Zuntz's great advantage is that he has a huge range of readings right from the start, and quickly moves to unadapted texts. Zuntz's grammar is more in depth, but like most who are operating with a fairly in depth grammatical knowledge, Zuntz's grammar notes are extensive and can be overwhelming.

Mastronarde has the advantage of being a solid textbook in a modern style. It's still grammar-translation focused, but it has good web support too.

I used Mastronarde in some university level courses, but I have only used Zuntz on my own, not in a course.

I just wish Zuntz was not so hopelessly out of print!

Paco said...

I do not know whether you are allowed to use it for class, but Zuntz's is available here:

By the way, I forgot to leave my name last time. I am teaching myself with both JACT and Athenaze, and plan to work through Zuntz's and Learn to Read Greek afterwards. I reached this place through Zuntz, and am now lured to read more ABOUT Greek than Greek per se.