[B-Greek] Reader’s Editions – On not blurring the distinctions

Carl Conrad cwconrad2 at mac.com
Wed May 20 08:33:18 EDT 2009

We return yet once more … and again, and again … to exchange  
perspectives on pedagogical trivia; an innocent observer, if there be  
such  a creature, might be forgiven for supposing that B-Greekers are  
more intensely focused on the the process of learning Greek than on  
the Biblical Greek text or the Biblical Greek language itself. I’m  
not quite sure whether anybody finds that such discussion promotes  
their own progress toward competence in reading and understanding  
Biblical Greek as Greek, but at least people will pretty well know  
what others think about the right pronunciation of ancient Greek. My  
own malaise about these ongoing exchanges has more to do with what  
I’ve felt are misrepresentations of my views and a tendency to blur  
distinctions that I’ve tried to be clear about.

For one thing, it is unquestionably true that all of us who care about  
reading and understanding ancient Greek texts are learners; none of us  
would brazenly claim to have chucked all reference grammars and lexica  
and to be able to open any ancient Greek text and grasp its meaning as  
would the contemporary audience for whom that text was composed. I  
like to think that at age 75 I can take to heart Solon’s dictum,  
γηράσκω ἀεὶ πολλὰ διδασκόμενος [GHRASKW  
AEI POLLA DIDASKOMENOS]; years ago I rejected Jonahan Robie’s sharp  
differentiation between “little Greeks” and “big Greeks” –  
although I understood well enough what he meant by it  -- on grounds  
that I know how much I have myself as a teacher learned from my  
students as well as that the experienced judgment of an advanced  
student should not be confounded with unquestionable authority.

It is nonetheless true, however, that there is a meaningful  
distinction between the beginning and intermediate student who is in  
the process of acquiring the skills and understanding of ancient Greek  
language and the “advanced” student who has gained what is  
ordinarily termed “proficiency.” I take “proficiency” to mean  
instantaneous discernment of the nuanced differences indicated by the  
inflections of nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs, an unfailing  
grasp upon the principal parts of all the irregular verbs (that’s  
really part of the ‘instantaneous discernment’, of course), a  
sophisticated cognizance of the ranges of common meanings of words  
that constitute the fundamental vocabulary of ancient Greek discourse,  
and a capacity to follow the sequence of thought within the ancient  
Greek phrase, clause, and sentence without any overwhelming compulsion  
to convert the Greek phraseology into the comfortable formulation of  
one’s own native language. Beginning and intermediate students who  
have not achieved proficiency will always confront the ancient Greek  
text as something alien, a jumbled, oddly-sequenced, hodgepodge of  
words and phrases that must be laboriously decoded and converted to a  
meaningful statement in the familiar formatting of one’s native  

I have argued repeatedly that the traditional pedagogical methodology  
for ancient Greek with its emphasis on teaching analytical structures  
(morphological, syntactical) and teaching vocabulary via glosses in  
one’s native language, practice reading of conextless sentences and  
sentence-fragments, testing that emphasizes analytical (decoding)  
skills – that this traditional pedagogical methodology does not  
naturally lead to proficiency in reading ancient Greek. If the student  
passes over from confrontation with an unfamiliar ancient Greek text  
by decoding and translation into one’s native tongue to reading and  
understanding the ancient Greek text as a Greek text in its own native  
sequence, that is a wondrous event. I can recall vividly making that  
transition myself and I have compared it to learning to ride a  
bicycle, at one moment fearful and anxious, barely trusting a  
parent’s or a friend’s firm grasp on the bicycle’s frame and  
holding it steady, then suddenly free, moving forward in a self- 
sustained, confident glide. I can remember too that first-grade  
experience of learning to read English, passing gradually from “See  
Jane run,” “Dick and Jane are running down the street,” to  
children’s classics like Tom Sawyer and The Secret Garden, and the  
whole world of English literature. That is what the transition ought  
to be like for the beginning and intermediate student of ancient  
Greek: the world of ancient Greek literature becomes a landscape  
waiting to be explored.

I do not think that the traditional pedagogical methodology is at all  
efficient for bringing the student to proficiency in reading Greek.  
Nevertheless, proficiency is what is aimed at; it may be that in  
earlier centuries that methodology was coupled with composition  
exercises that promoted “thinking in Greek” helped many to reach  
proficiency. Nevertheless, proficiency has always been the goal of  
Classical Greek pedagogy. That is why there are textbooks (like the  
JACT "Triumph of Odysseus" formatting of Odyssey 21 and 22 – and, I  
submit, this IS a textbook for intermediate students, not a  
“reader’s edition”), but the standard editions of ancient Greek  
authors for adult readers are the Oxford Classical Texts and the  
Teubner texts, while many like to use the Loeb Classical Library or  
Budé texts with a facing translation. Comparably the standard edition  
of the GNT for adult readers is NA27 or UBS4 or, for some, the  
Robinson-Pierpont Majority Text.

The “GNT Reader’s Edition,” I continue to believe, is grounded in  
a different pedagogical methodology that is increasingly taking hold  
in academic teaching of NT Greek. This methodology does not aim at  
proficiency at all but at a certain degree of familiarity with ancient  
Greek that will enable the student to interact with the GNT on a semi- 
sophisticated level by relying upon the proficiency of scholars who  
have prepared such helps as tagged texts of GNT and LXX for software  
packages, the Fribergs’ AGNT, the Perschbachers and Interlinears. I  
have expressed this conviction of mine in formulations that Mark  
thinks are “funny” – that the “Reader’s Edition” has been  
compiled and published for the use of students who cannot – or cannot  
yet – or do not ever expect to be able – to read the GNT in one of  
the standard editions.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Retired)

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