[B-Greek] How to convert 1960’s schoolboy Attic into usable Koinē

Carl Conrad cwconrad2 at mac.com
Mon Oct 19 07:58:40 EDT 2009

On Oct 18, 2009, at 9:37 AM, John Owlett wrote:

> Hello everyone.  May I introduce myself and ask a question which, in  
> one form or another, I’m sure you have answered before? … though  
> not, as far as I can tell from the archives, in the last couple of  
> years.
> I’m not a beginner, but I haven’t formally studied Greek for 45  
> years, so I’ve forgotten a lot.  Like most Englishmen of my age and  
> class, I had the opportunity to study Latin and Greek at school— 
> which I loved doing.  I studied Classical Latin for 5 years, taking  
> an English “ordinary level” at age 15, and then studying Mediaeval  
> Latin for 2 years because it was fun.  I took a concentrated 2-year  
> course in Classical Greek, taking an ordinary level at the same time  
> as Latin.
> Like quite a few people here it seems, I loved Mathematics as well  
> as Classics.  I had to choose.
> Now, three-quarters of a lifetime later, as a retired Internet  
> security geek, I have the time to read and to study.  I set out on  
> the expedition involved in reading Edward Gibbon’s “History of the  
> Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire”.  Much useful information (as  
> well as all licentious information!) is in the footnotes and  
> untranslated.  This has brought home to me how poor my Latin and  
> Greek have become.  I can hammer my way through using an Elementary  
> Lewis and a Middle Liddell (to which I’ve had to add Souter’s  
> Glossary of Later Latin) but only just.
> So what should I do?
> Do I go straight to a study of New Testament Greek?  Or should I  
> clean out the Attic, revisit Xenophon and Euripides (which would be  
> fun), and then move across?  Or, since I have the time, should take  
> the scenic route and start Greek afresh with Homer, and work my way  
> forwards through the centuries?
> And what course books and reference books do I need?  I have a Nouum  
> Testamentum Graece (edited by Alexander Souter in 1910 for Oxford  
> Classical Texts) and my father’s 7th edition Liddell & Scott.

Well,well, well -- and Welcome, Dr. Owl.  You are a man after my own  
heart, it would appear; we share, at least, some ideas about what  
retirement is for (doing the things that you always wanted to do but  
never thought you had enough time to do properly). Your mention of  
enjoying a reading of Gibbon reminds me of an elderly lawyer who read  
through Tillich's Systematic Theology in his leisure (I've heard some  
licentious rumors about the author of those tomes, too). I am myself a  
retired professor of ancient Greek and sundry related matters and have  
long burdened this list with my opinions. I dare say that you will  
soon come to realize that B-Greekers are far from being of any one  
mind; indeed, the surest way to bring about an avalanche of beg-to- 
differ responses on this list is to venture a response to a question  
like the one you raise.  So ... here we go.

So: you studied Classical Attic Greek half a century ago, and you want  
to read Biblical Greek now. Perhaps our list-owner, who is a very  
active computer-geek and a sometime Biblical Greek scholar, may chime  
in with some suggestions as well. I'll start out noting that in the  
school where I taught we had an agreed-upon policy that students  
wanting to read Biblical Greek should begin with a solid year of  
instruction in Classical Attic. It's certainly a lot easier to go from  
Attic to Koine than vice-versa, although many have gone in the other  

My suggestion is that you refresh your Classical Attic by plowing  
through the JACT course, "Reading Greek" at whatever pace suits you  
and then moving on to Koine. The "Reading Greek" course has undergone  
a considerable revision since its original publication in 1978 and  
there's now an "Independent Study Guide" (or some such title)  
available for it. The readings in it begin with a lot of material from  
Aristophanes, initially adapted but gradually more unadapted and most  
readers find the material and the sequence enjoyable reading. Later  
material involves interesting courtroom presentations from the corpus  
of Demosthenes, as well as some Herodotus, Plato, and Homer. Followup  
volumes in the JACT "Reading Greek" series include one rather nice  
"New Testament Greek: A Reader (Reading Greek)."

As for the books, I just recently gave away my own 1889 unabridged L&S  
lexicon and am glad to know that anyone still finds it useful, but you  
might find an online text of the GNT and an online lexicon easier to  
deal with. There are excellent Biblical software packages for all  
platforms that can provide you with these resources: I'm a Mac-user  
and love Accordance, but Windows people like Logos and Bible Works,  
and there are free Biblical software packages also -- but if you'e  
going to get an online lexicon you might as well get BDAG along with  
the NA27/UBS4 GNT in a package with one of the commercial programs.  
I'm not going into further details here because you'll be getting all  
sorts of advice that conflicts with what I'm telling you, and  
ultimately, of course, it's your choice which way you should go. One  
enduring truth about the B-Greek list is that there's never any  
shortage of conflicting opinion here.

Happy hunting!

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

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