Thursday, July 30, 2009

Concerning Reading


Reading is a faultless utterance of poems and prose works.

One must read according to delivery, variation in pitch, and distinction. From the delivery we see virtue, and from variation in pitch skill, and from distinction the particular mind in order that we might read the tragedy heroically, and the comedy lively, and the elegies clearly, and the epic vigorously, and the lyric poem elegantly, and the lamentations subdued and mournfully. For the things which are not produced according to the observance to these rules of reading both despise the virtues of poets and render the habits of those who read absurd.

[Greek Text]


  • First, notice what reading is. It is the faultless utterance. Reading involves speaking aloud. Greek works, in particular, are meant to be read aloud, not, as most of us are used to, read quietly in our heads (I suspect most modern English works are meant to be read silently. I wonder how this has affected writing style. I also wonder whether reading aloud or silently is better for learning and understanding what is being read).
  • If we should read aloud, then we should read correctly, that is, the way the work was meant to be read in order that we may feel the full effect of what the author intended. Dionysius gives us three main points on which to focus: delivery (ὑπόκρισις), variation in pitch (προσῳδία), and distinction (διαστολή).
    • Delivery belongs to the art of orators and actors. This is one place, as Anonymous commented on the previous section, it would be handy to have a Classical scholar or at least someone who has read something like Aristotle's Rhetoric that might better inform us on what delivery entails. We do see, however, that based upon the delivery we can observe virtue or excellence (I really cannot decide whether it refers to the reader or the text. The following ἵνα clause makes me want to say the text, but the next item in the list "from variation in pitch skill" seems to point to the reader while I am uncertain of the final item of the list (though I might be leaning towards text. See below)).
    • Variation in pitch concerns the pronunciation of what we see today as accents. The pitch accent of earlier Greek was probably starting to die out when Dionysius Thrax wrote in the 2nd century A.D. Basically, I see Dionysius as arguing for a reconstructed pronunciation, a utilization of the pitch accent when reading ancient works because we can see the reader's skill based upon his use of variation in pitch (I myself do not use a pitch accent. I have been trying to learn Randall Buth's Reconstructed Koine, but I find it really hard not to slip back to Modern Greek pronunciation which I have used for at least a year or two now and I really like).
    • I am not sure what to make of "distinction." Could it be enunciation? That is my best guess, but I really don't have assurance of it. What Dionysius tells us we can see from distinction does not give me any clues either. He says we can see τὸν περιεχόμενον νοῦν, which I translated "the particular mind" (or maybe "the contained mind," "the surrounded mind," "the particular thought"? This last one might have some virtue) but I am not certain what he means by it. Perhaps, it means the particular characteristics of the author or the interpretation of the reader (If we went with "the particular thought," maybe distinction refers to vocal pauses indicating punctuation and the particular thought refers to phrases and clauses. That is appealing. What do you think?)
  • This ἵνα clause is a wonderful passage. It makes me want to go try to read the Iliad, plays, and other poetry. He gives a list of the different genres of Greek literature with an adverb describing the way these genres ought to be read.
    • The word "lively" (βιωτικῶς) has the idea of pertaining to common life
    • The word "clearly" (λιγυρῶς) seems to have some sad connotations, something clear, sweet, and sad. While I cannot think of any in particular, I have head songs that I would describe that way.
  • The final sentence says that if one does not read according to the aforementioned guidelines, one ruins the skill and artwork of the author as well as makes those guidelines laughable.
    • The first section of the sentence offered some difficulty: τὰ γὰρ μὴ παρὰ τὴν τούτων γινόμενα παρατήρησιν. The phrases are intertwined in a way that I did not expect to see. Normally (at least in what I have read of the NT so far, which of course is different), I would have expected the παρατήρησιν to fall before the γινόμενα in a nested structure (which seems to be fairly common in Greek) especially with how the sentence begins, but Dionysius threw a curveball at me and placed the παρατήρησιν outside the τὰ…γινόμενα structure. I wonder if and how this changes the emphasis.

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Saturday, July 25, 2009

Concerning Grammar


Grammar is the craft of the general things said in both poets and prose writers. Its divisions are six.

First, a practiced reading according to pronunciation with pitch.

Second, an interpretation according to the inherent poetical customs.

Third, an easy explanation of both the obscure words and inquiries.

Fourth, a discovery of etymology.

Fifth, a consideration of analogies.

Sixth, a judgment of the poetical forms, and this part is the best of all in the art.

[Greek Text]


  • It is always great when the first sentence gives you a lot of trouble. Here is the first sentence in the original Greek:

    γραμματική ἐστιν ἐμπειρία τῶν παρὰ ποιηταῖς τε καὶ συγγραφεῦσιν ὡς ἐπὶ τὸ πολὺ λεγομένων.

    • LSJ gives as a gloss for ἐμπειρία experience, practice, or craft. The examples provided for "craft" connect ἐμπειρία with τέχνη (Arts and Crafts, anyone?), so it seemed fitting. I am, however, unsure if any of the idea of experience or practice colors the use of ἐμπειρία here or not.
    • Παρὰ + Dat. also offers some difficulty since my background so far is mainly NT Greek where παρὰ + Dat. will usually be "beside" or "in the presence of." Those ideas did not seem to fit here so I looked in LSJ and Smyth (P.S. I don't own either one of those, sadly; I am just using electric versions). LSJ had παρὰ used in quotations of authors, and Smyth gave possession as a meaning of παρὰ + Dat. While nothing is being explicitly quoted, Dionysius is referring to what the authors have written, so I have translated it as above. Possession is still a valid possibility, and it is not really excluded in my translation, but I think "of" sounds a little awkward there and may not be entirely clear.
    • I had no idea what to make of ὡς ἐπὶ τὸ πολὺ. My first literal attempt gave me "as to the many" (though, it probably should have been "much"), but I was very unsure what to make of it. I guessed that it might mean the things that the poets and prose writers wrote to the people. When I searched, however, I found that ὡς ἐπὶ τὸ πολὺ is an idiomatic phrase for which LSJ gives the gloss "for the most part."…..*crickets chirp*…..That was as helpful as trying to light a candle with a lightning bug. What was helpful, though, was the example given: "μὴ καθ' ἓν ἕκαστον, ἀλλ' ὡς ἐπὶ τὸ π[ολύ] Isoc.4.154." "Not according to each one, but in general," or something along those lines. This phrase is modifying λεγομένων so "things said in general" which I smoothed to "general things said." (Actually as I sit here and think about it, "for the most part" and "in general" are connected, but when I use "for the most part" it is normally showing some doubt or lack of completeness, so that threw me off.)
    • So my understanding of the first sentence is that Dionysius views grammar as the examination of the whole of what both poets and prose writers have written. I think this is shown in his six divisions of grammar. Grammar does not deal with just poetry or just prose nor is it just form or just content. The six divisions remind me a lot of modern exegesis (with the exception of the first one and maybe replacing poetical customs and forms with grammatical structures or discourse analysis).
  • The first division concerns reading, which is also the next section. I will wait until then to say much, but I do think that practiced reading would help exegesis by offering a better picture of the whole instead of the exegete focusing on each word exclusively.
  • The second division is the interpretation of the poetical customs within the text. Sadly, I can't say all that this entails as I am not an expert on Greek poetry, but things like elision, meter, and other ways that poetry may get in the way of understanding. It could also be that Dionysius wants those doing grammar to point out various poetical conventions whether or not they hinder understanding.
  • The third division focuses on explaining difficulties in the text (see above J). Ironically, this sentence offered some difficulties. The sentence is: τρίτον γλωσσῶν τε καὶ ἱστοριῶν πρόχειρος ἀπόδοσις. The challenge for me lies in γλωσσῶν τε καὶ ἱστοριῶν. My first instinct for γλωσσῶν was "languages," but a little research led to "obscure words" which seemed a likely possibility (I suppose "dialects" is still a good possibility and may be best keeping the context of poetry and drama in mind). Ἱστοριῶν can be taken two ways: inquiries or knowledge gained by inquiries. The context led me to choose the former. Since γλωσσῶν is dealing with difficulties that arise while reading a text, ἱστοριῶν would also deal with similar difficulties, but here the idea is of inquiries made of the text or about the text instead of difficult words (or dialectical differences).
  • The fourth division is that of etymology, the study of words and their roots. Dionysius is advocating that a part of grammar is discovering how the words are formed.
  • The fifth division I do not fully understand: the consideration of analogies. Perhaps he refers to comparing the words and structures in one work to another to shed light on the word or construction. I wonder if we will ever see these divisions put into practice throughout his work.
  • The sixth division concerns the judgment of poetical forms. The last phrase of this sentence gave me trouble. In Greek, the sentence is: ἕκτον κρίσις ποιημάτων, ὃ δὲ κάλλιστόν ἐστι πάντων τῶν ἐν τῇ τέχνῃ. I am not sure what to make of the relative phrase and how it fits. One possibility is that it is this division of grammar that is the best in the art, so I have decided to translate it as thus.

This turned out to be a lot longer than I expected. I appreciate any critiques, comments, suggestions. I think I am going to start a post which will contain the whole translated work which will edited based on suggestions or what I learn as I move further in (also minus the comments so it could be read more continuously).

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Friday, July 24, 2009

Introduction to Dionysius Thrax

As a way to practice translating Greek as well as to read something that I have wanted to read, I am going to translate through the Art of Grammar by Dionysius Thrax (Τεχνη Γραμματικη Διονυσιου του θρᾳκος). Dionysius, a Thracian (from the area of Thrace northeast of Greece), lived during the 2nd century B.C. (or B.C.E if you prefer) who, according to the Souda, a 10th century A.D. (or C.E. if you prefer, though I am not entirely sure the A.D. is in the right spot) encyclopedia, worked in Alexandria. He wrote the Art of Grammar when the vernacular Koine Greek was becoming more divergent from the classical Attic Greek of literature in order that people might better understand the older writings.

I will translate each section of the work and post it hopefully regularly. I might also comment on the text, noting constructions, words, as well as my own thoughts.

There is a Greek text at Bibliotheca Augustana as well as at Wikisource. Feel free to compare and critique my translations.

Here is the Table of Contents:

  1. Concerning Grammar
  2. Concerning Reading
  3. Concerning Pitch
  4. Concerning the Period
  5. Concerning Rhapsody
  6. Concerning the Letter
  7. Concerning the Syllable
  8. Concerning the Long Syllable
  9. Concerning the Short Syllable
  10. Concerning the Common Syllable
  11. Concerning the Word
  12. Concerning the Noun
  13. Concerning the Verb
  14. Concerning the Conjugation
  15. Concerning the Participle
  16. Concerning the Article
  17. Concerning the Pronoun
  18. Concerning the Preposition
  19. Concerning the Adverb
  20. Concerning the Conjunction