I’ve written before about starting to learn to speak (modern) Greek, and how that’s not as easy to do when you know ancient Greek as people think. I’m pleased to say my Greek has improved quite a lot since that post – in fact a lot of that improvement has happened in the last week or so, since I’m currently in Athens taking an intensive language course at the Athens Centre.
Since ‘intensive’ means 3.5 hours of classes per day, plus 1-2 hours’ homework, plus I’m trying to do some research while I’m here, things have been pretty busy, but I’ve also found a bit of time to do a little sightseeing! Today I had a quick trip after class to the First Cemetery of Athens, which is just round the corner, because I wanted to see the tomb of Heinrich Schliemann. Schliemann excavated the sites of Troy and Mycenae, and (although his archaeological methods were at best far from ideal by modern standards and at worst potentially fraudulent) essentially founded the discipline of prehistoric Greek archaeology. As you can see from the pictures below, it’s a pretty impressive tomb, in the shape of a Greek temple, with classical-style friezes running around the base showing battles, a sacrificial procession, and even Schliemann’s own excavations at Troy.
You probably can’t really make out the inscription above the doorway in the photo on the left, but it starts off “ΕΙΝΡΙΧΟΝ ΚΕΥΘΩ ΣΧΛΙΕΜΑΝΝΟΝ…” [einrichon keutho schliemannon], “I cover Heinrich Schliemann…”, in the style of many ancient tomb inscriptions in which the tomb itself ‘speaks’ to the viewer. The rest of the inscription, it has to be said, doesn’t make a lot of sense – after a long time spent trying to work out whether it was even written in ancient Greek or in Katharevousa, the archaising form of modern Greek, and after some online discussion with a friend – thanks Daniel! – it looks like it’s supposed to mean something like ‘I cover Heinrich Schliemann, of great fame; you should imitate him, since he undertook many labours for mankind’ (but it’s grammatically and poetically pretty bad – if Schliemann wrote that himself, all I can say is you probably shouldn’t imitate his Greek verse composition). You can see some more close-up pictures of the friezes and information about the tomb and the cemetery here!
I also had a research trip with some colleagues to a museum in Messinia (south-western Greece) at the weekend – news on the research will have to wait a while (till publication!), but there’s a nice blogpost here by one of my companions with pictures of the Mycenaean tomb we stopped off to see on the way back. More posts to come soon (homework permitting…) about other sights in Athens, as well as more about the difficulties – and the fun – of learning modern Greek as a classicist!