Getting started on ancient Greek
Getting started on ancient Greek

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Getting started on ancient Greek

1 Alexander’s dedication

Let us conclude the study of Alexander’s dedication by examining the third line:

βασιλεὺς Ἀλέξανδρος     King Alexander

ἀνέθηκε τὸν ναὸν      dedicated the temple

Ἀθηναίῃ Πολιάδι

Described image
Figure 1 First lines of the Priene block inscription

Understanding the phrase Ἀθηναίῃ Πολιάδι requires an understanding of the dative case. An example of a dative from the New Testament was presented in Session 6 in the discussion of word order:

ταῦτα [these things] γράφω [write I] ὑμῖν [unto you]

The personal pronoun ὑμῖν is in the dative case. It is the equivalent of ‘unto you’, or, in contemporary English, ‘to you’. In the early stages of learning Greek you can think of the dative as the ‘to’ or ‘for’ case, although further study would reveal a wider range of uses.

Activity 1 Replace the verb

Timing: Allow about 5 minutes

In the following sentence, can you think of English verbs that could replace ‘write’ without making the sentence ungrammatical? One example would be ‘donate’.

  • I write these things to you.


Potential substitutes for ‘write’ include ‘give’, ‘dedicate’, ‘say’, ‘speak’, ‘teach’, ‘offer’, ‘show’, ‘hand’.

Verbs of ‘giving’, ‘saying’ or ‘showing’ frequently imply a dative case because they describe an act involving a recipient, i.e. someone to whom a thing is given, said or shown. Indeed, the term ‘dative’ derives from the Latin word ‘to give’ (‘do’, which rhymes with ‘oh’). The noun in the dative case is called the indirect object. It answers the question, ‘To whom did she give/show/tell it’? The thing given, which so far has been referred to simply as ‘the object’ is, strictly speaking, the direct object.

Activity 2 Direct object case

Timing: Allow about 5 minutes

The case of the indirect object is the dative. What is the case of the direct object?









The correct answer is b.


To refresh your memory of objects, refer to Session 6. Remember that ‘objects’ in Session 6 are properly described as direct objects to distinguish them from indirect objects.

The dative case endings for τιμή and λόγος are:

Table 1 Dative case endings

τιμή, honour (1st declension)
singular plural
dative τιμῇ τιμαῖς
λόγος, word (2nd declension)
singular plural
dative λόγῳ λόγοις

Activity 3 Recall the mark

Timing: Allow about 5 minutes

Do you recall (from Session 1) the name of the mark underneath the final vowels of τιμῇ and λόγῳ?


This mark is an iota subscript, ‘subscript’ being derived from the Latin for ‘written underneath’. You are most likely to encounter it in the dative singular of first and second declension nouns, and in a few verb endings not covered in this course. Iota subscript is a post-classical innovation from the Byzantine period. Originally the iota would have been written after the alpha, eta or omega. You can observe this on the third line of the inscription, which has Ἀθηναίηι for Ἀθηναίῃ.

Using the notes provided and your knowledge of the dative case, complete the translation of the dedication.

βασιλεὺς Ἀλέξανδρος     King Alexander

ἀνέθηκε τὸν ναὸν      dedicated the temple

Ἀθηναίῃ Πολιάδι

  • Notes
  • Ἀθηναίῃ Πολιάδι is the dative form of Ἀθηναία Πολιάς, the goddess ‘Athena Polias’ or ‘Athena Guardian of the City’. Ἀθηναία is an alternative form of Ἀθήνη.


Here is the completed translation:

βασιλεὺς Ἀλέξανδρος     King Alexander

ἀνέθηκε τὸν ναὸν      dedicated the temple

Ἀθηναίῃ Πολιάδι        to Athena Polias

Note that the dedication contains:

  1. a verb ἀνέθηκε (‘dedicated’) that prompts the expectation of both a direct and an indirect object
  2. three of the four cases introduced in this course (nominative, accusative and dative).

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