Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Classical Greek Texts designed for reading

Today arrived in the mail a copy of Herodotus' Histories Book 1: Greek Text with Facing Vocabulary and Commentary by Geoffrey Steadman. This is one of a number of texts that Steadman has already released, including Plato's Symposium and Homer's Odyssey 6-8, with more on the way. Let me now tell you the genius and advantage of Steadman's texts.

1) Steadman has taken an out-of-copyright text, in this case from 1908, and used this as the basis for his text. It is very good to have these texts available

2) Steadman next has analysed the text through Perseus for vocabulary frequency, and listed everything occurring 15 times or more in a core vocabulary at the start. This provides a frequency-based approach to learning vocabulary which is excellent for someone studying the text.

3) On each facing page, there is provided in alphabetical order the rest of the vocabulary for that page, each in lexical form (thus providing the reader both with (a) a little bit of work, (b) the right form to further consult a lexicon), with its frequency listed.

4) At the bottom of each facing page is also provided some brief commentary notes to aid the reader with difficult parsing, syntax, or contextual matter.

5) These texts are produced via a Print-on-Demand method, retail online, and a Creative Commons licensed electronic version of each is also easily available.

Summing up these features, these books are designed for the 'intermediate' Greek student, to have access to a text that makes reading, without endless cross-referencing and consulting of other books, a streamlined process. I'm all in favour of this approach. The more we can get students (myself included!) reading as much Greek as possible, and staying with the Greek as possible, all the better, and reading-editions are a real step forward for this goal. Of course we'd all love students of Greek literature to be reading unaided from plain texts, but we should by no means eliminate these most helpful pedagogical steps.

Secondly, Steadman's approach makes excellent use of existing tools, in a process that wouldn't be Herculean to reproduce, along with a commitment to Creative Commons licensing that frees up these resources for 'freer' usage. This also is to be applauded.

Do yourself a favour, if you're looking to read some Greek, buy one or more of Steadman's texts. (I have no connection to him, by the way). My mind is already trying to figure out how this approach might be applied to Patristic texts in Latin and Greek. One would need to (a) obtain a processible electronic text, (b) run that through some analysis (Perseus doesn't hold much patristics, it seems; Logos software could do some of the heavy lifting I suspect, but it's not really designed for that), (c) procure a base (critical or otherwise) text that is out of copyright, (d) work through the text oneself working out what needs commentating (the hardest part of the procedure). Imagine, though, that we had some key patristic texts in this format: Theological Orations by Gregory the Theologian, for example, would be an ideal work.


mike said...

Looking on Amazon, I'm less than confident about the quality of the grammatical commentary. Note the second comment in line 4 of the first page: ἥν is an interrogative adjective???


With that said, the potential for the book as a reader looks very good and I'm considering picking up a copy.

Seumas Macdonald said...

Yes, that is an embarrasing error on page 1! I wouldn't let that stop one. Steadman provides his own mild disclaimer on page vi, including "The most evident limitation of this method of publishing is that the commentary has not undergone extensive peer-review or general editing. Because there are so many vocabulary and commentary entries, there are sure to by typographical and factual errors"..."Consider, therefore, what you hold in you [sic] hand as a beta version of the commentary."

Perhaps we can overlook a few errors for the sake of what, in some ways, was a risky venture.

Geoffrey said...

I am the author of the this book and am very grateful that you have pointed out these typos. I am already aware of these and other issues and will be busy editing and publishing a revised edition in August.

Collating of the vocabulary list is by far the most challenging task when making these commentaries (Herodotus is the first of four this year). If it were easy, then many more people would be writing them. During this first year, I have had to resolve a number of technical issues and have not edited the content as well as I would have liked. I am grateful for your patience.

If you have any recommendations or corrections to suggest, please feel free to contact me.

Geoffrey Steadman


sipes23 said...

The lack of critical texts for this kind of work is criminal. They're locked behind walls of intellectual property. Steadman is tracking down century-old texts to make this stuff available.

Dude, the classics are our common heritage. These texts need to be free. I'm happy to give credit where credit is due, but critical texts (often) are locked under no-commercial-usage provisions. The other alternative is to find non-critical texts, but then you are presenting a less than authoritative version of the text. The current situation is lose for scholars (their work cannot be made available for general audiences), lose for authors (critical texts aren't available without paying off the copyright holders), lose for publishers (fewer books to sell) and the biggest lose of all is readers (fewer books). Kudos to Steadman.