Discovering Ancient Greek and Latin
Discovering Ancient Greek and Latin

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Discovering Ancient Greek and Latin

11.3 Larger units

The ability to recognise words that relate to one another is a feature of fluent reading. When learning a new language, even spotting two or three words that belong together represents a significant advance over reading word-by-word and can help to speed up the reading process. Here are a few simple groupings:

a preposition and its nounto the lighthouse
an adjective and its noungreen onions
two nouns, one in the genitive caseMartha’s brother
a subject, a verb and a direct objectthe dog chased the cat

In each of these examples in Greek, the word ending will help you make the connection. Let us take genitive cases as one example.

Activity 56

Find the Greek expressions for ‘this land of Thebans’ and ‘the daughter of Cadmus’. You may wish to refer back to the vocabulary provided earlier.

Euripides, Bacchae, 1.1−3.

English

I, son of Zeus, have reached this land of Thebans, Dionysus, whom the daughter of Cadmus, Semele, once bore, brought to childbirth by lightning-bearing flame.

Greek

ἥκω Διὸς παῖς τήνδε Θηβαίων χθόνα

Διόνυσος, ὃν τίκτει ποθ᾽ ἡ Κάδμου κόρη

Σεμέλη λοχευθεῖσ᾽ ἀστραπηφόρῳ πυρί

transliteration

hēkō Dios pais tēnde Thēbaiōn chthona

Dionysos, hon tiktei poth' hē Kadmou korē

Semelē locheutheis' astrapēphorōi pyri

Answer

ἥκω Διὸς παῖς τήνδε Θηβαίων χθόνα

Διόνυσος, ὃν τίκτει ποθ᾽ἡ Κάδμου κόρη

Σεμέλη λοχευθεῖσ᾽ ἀστραπηφόρῳ πυρί

hēkō Dios pais tēnde Thēbaiōn chthona

Dionysos, hon tiktei poth' hē Kadmou korē

Semelē locheutheis' astrapēphorōi pyri

Activity 57

What do you notice about the word order of these phrases? Do you detect a pattern?

Answer

The noun in the genitive case is ‘sandwiched’ between the article ‘the’ (or a similar word like ‘this’) and its noun. Although article and noun are separated, they agree with each other in gender, number and case, which helps to tie them together. This ‘sandwich’ construction – definite article + noun in the genitive case + noun agreeing with the definite article – is common in Greek.

Key point

The study of small units like words and word endings is a central part of learning Greek.

But reading a Greek text also involves seeing how the words fit together into larger units like phrases, clauses and indeed whole sentences. The word endings can help you spot these larger units, by allowing you to see which words relate to one another. If you can start to blend these approaches together – the small and the large – then you really will be on your way to reading Greek like an ancient Greek!

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