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Discovering Ancient Greek and Latin
Discovering Ancient Greek and Latin

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7.1 Parallel text: Euripides

Here are the first three lines of the prologue from Euripides’ play, Bacchae, together with notes on individual words and phrases (see Table 16). Spend a couple of minutes familiarising yourself with it and seeing how much, if any, you can understand. Then attempt to answer the questions that follow.

Euripides, Bacchae, 1.1−3.

The god Dionysus (Bacchus) announces his arrival at the Greek city of Thebes.


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


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

Table 16 Dictionary entries for Bacchae 1−3.
GreekEnglishDictionary entry
ἥκω (hēkō)I have reachedἥκω (hēkō) – ‘I have come’
Διὸς (Dios)of ZeusΖεύς (Zeus) – ‘Zeus’
παῖς (pais)sonπαῖς (pais) – ‘son’
τήνδε (tēnde)thisὅδε (hode) – ‘this’
Θηβαίων (Thēbaiōn)of ThebansΘηβαῖος (Thēbaios) – ‘Theban’, i.e. from the city of Thebes
χθόνα (chthona)landχθών (chthōn) – ‘land’
Διόνυσος (Dionysos)DionysosΔιόνυσος (Dionysos) – ‘Dionysos’
ὃν (hon)whomὅς (hos) – the Greek relative pronoun ‘who’
τίκτει (tiktei)bear, give birth toτίκτω (tiktō) – ‘give birth to’
ποθ᾽ (poth')onceπότε (pote) – ‘once’
ἡ ()theὅ (ho) – the Greek definite article
Κάδμου (Kadmou)of KadmosΚάδμος (Kadmos) – ‘Kadmos’ (or ‘Cadmus’), founder of the city of Thebes
κόρη (korē)daughterκόρη (korē) – ‘daughter’
Σεμέλη (Semelē)SemeleΣεμέλη (Semelē) – ‘Semele’ (the daughter of Kadmos)
λοχευθεῖσ' (locheutheis')brought to labourλοχεύω (locheuō) – ‘bring to labour or childbirth’
ἀστραπηφόρῳ (astrapēphorōi)lightning-bearingἀστραπηφόρος (astrapēphoros) – ‘carrying lightning’ (or ‘carried by lightning’)
πυρί (pyri)by fireπύρ (pyr) – ‘fire’

Activity 31

Identify all proper nouns in this passage (i.e. the names of individuals or peoples). Proper nouns in Greek, as in English, begin with a capital letter.

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The passage contains five proper nouns in total.

Proper nouns
ZeusΔιός (Dios)father of Dionysos
ThebansΘηβαίων (Thēbaiōn)inhabitants of the city of Thebes in central Greece
DionysosΔιόνυσος (Dionysos)the god Dionysos
KadmosΚάδμου (Kadmou)founder of the city of Thebes and father of Semele
SemeleΣεμέλη (Semelē)mother of Dionysos (by Zeus) and daughter of Kadmos

Activity 32

What do you notice about the ratio of Greek words to English in this passage?


The English translation uses more words than the Greek (25 English words to Greek’s 17).

Of course, a different English version might have deployed fewer words than 25, or perhaps more. The chosen example is not, however, especially wordy or untypical. It would certainly be difficult to create a literal English translation with just 17 words.