I’ve recently started taking some classes in modern Greek – something I’ve been meaning to do for ages, since it would be nice to be able to speak it when I travel to Greece (my repertoire up until now has consisted of a relatively fluent ability to order kebabs, but little else). The first thing people normally ask when I mention that I’m learning modern Greek is “how different is it really from ancient Greek?” To which the answer is, well, a) I can’t really speak ancient Greek, as opposed to reading it (the average Classics course is generally more concerned with teaching the vocabulary you need to read about the Persian War than useful phrases like “excuse me, I’m lost, which way is the marketplace please?”), and b) even if I could, I’d still have a lot of trouble making myself understood if I went around speaking it in modern-day Athens, because the language has changed so much. Continue reading “Greek, ancient and modern”
It’s hard to believe Res Gerendae is now nearing the end of its fifth academic year. Since we launched in November 2011, we’ve had over 200 posts by more than 20 different authors, and the whole blog has been viewed almost 86,000 times. We’ve had posts about research and graduate seminars; news and current affairs; reviews of books, TV shows, museums, and conferences; travel reports; cakes; silly stories about sheep; poems about lettuce; and much much more.
I’m feeling rather nostaglic about RG at the moment because, since I’m about to stop being a postgraduate, I’ve just taken the step of setting up my own new blog, ‘It’s All Greek To Me’ (so yes, this post is partly a plug to go check that out!). In fact, now that I think about, I feel considerably more nostaglic about leaving this blog behind than I did/do about actually submitting the thesis (I’m not sure what that says about my priorities…).
The phrase “it’s all Greek to me” (meaning “I don’t understand it, it’s unintelligible”) is a common enough one in English to be the name of an awful lot of Greek restaurants, as well as this blog. Quite a few other languages also use Greek as the stereotypical hard-to-understand language – mostly European languages like Portuguese, Spanish, or Norwegian, but also Persian/Farsi. The phrase seems to start turning up in English in the 17th century – the most widely-quoted example is from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar:
CASSIUS: Did Cicero say any thing?
CASCA: Ay, he spoke Greek.
CASSIUS: To what effect?
CASCA: Nay, an I tell you that, I’ll ne’er look you i’ the
face again: but those that understood him smiled at
one another and shook their heads; but, for mine own
part, it was Greek to me.
It’s become something of a tradition over the last few years for me to make linguistics-themed cakes, decorated with copies of inscriptions in various ancient languages and scripts (previous cakes can be found here). This term it was the turn of a language from ancient Italy known as Venetic, because inscriptions in this language have mostly been found in the area around Venice (dating between around 550-100 B.C.E.). As is often the case with ancient languages, many of the inscriptions which survive are on gravestones: this is a woman’s epitaph from the town of Este (near Padua).
Welcome to my new blog! I’ve been blogging for the past few years over at Res Gerendae, the Cambridge Classics postgraduate blog, but since I’ll be turning into a post-postgrad fairly soon, this seems like a good time to start up my own blog. As the title implies, Greek stuff will feature fairly heavily, since my research is on Linear B, a script which was used for administrative documents in Mycenaean Greek palaces like Pylos and Knossos during the Late Bronze Age, c.1400-1200 B.C.E. (Self-deprecating but reasonably accurate elevator pitch version: I study squiggles on bits of clay that are mostly lists of sheep. More on that later!) But there will also be plenty of other Classics, archaeology, and linguistics, not to mention novels, museums, and in particular, cake. In fact, the first actual post may well feature a cake, so stay tuned…
PS: the cover photo above is one I took at the palace of Knossos, on Crete. Here, because no blog post is complete without a picture, is one of the same palace’s West Court with a statue of its excavator, Sir Arthur Evans:
Update: all my old Res Gerendae posts have now migrated over here – but I’d still encourage you to head over to RG and check out all the other posts by my fellow-bloggers!