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.
I was at the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research‘s Christmas party earlier today, and their Outreach officer Laure was getting people to say ‘Happy Christmas’ in as many different languages as we could manage between us for a Christmas video. So I contributed a written version: the Greek for ‘Happy Christmas’, kala Christougenna, written in both the Greek alphabet and Linear B.
Term ended here in Cambridge at the beginning of December, so we’ve all been feeling Christmassy for a couple of weeks already. For anyone else who wants to get in the Christmas spirit, my graduate colleagues in the Faculty have been coming up with some classical Christmas songs – enjoy! (and do add your own suggestions in the comments!)
As term draws to an end, as Cambridge receives its first wintry snowfall of the year and as Christmas draws ever nearer, how do Cambridge Classics postgrads keep themselves occupied? Without our weekly dose of seminars, teaching and Faculty yoga, what keeps us ticking? The answer, it turns out, is a bit of festive fun: […]
Baking cakes and cookies with inscriptions on them (as regular readers will know I’ve been doing for some time) is getting increasingly popular – here are two recent examples, the first with examples of various different writing systems including Ugaritic cuneiform, the second with a wonderful (if inadvertent) recreation of the conditions which often lead to inscriptions on clay tablets surviving from the ancient world (places, in this case ovens, catching on fire…). Watch this space for a new piece of Linguistics Baking hopefully coming soon!
Update: it turns out that a fellow-linguistics-baking-enthuiasts was writing another post at exactly the same time as I was writing this. Pippa Steele, who’s running a new project (called CREWS – Contexts of and Relations between Early Writing Systems) in the Cambridge Classics Faculty on the history of the Greek alphabet and other ancient writing systems, would love to hear from anybody else who feels like trying out some baked inscriptions – as would I, so please do share any creations with me (via comments, or apj31 [at] cam.ac.uk) and/or Pippa (crews [at] classics.cam.ac.uk, or @crewsproject on Twitter)!
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.