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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mike said...

Keep it coming.

Anonymous said...

Best of luck to you in your translation. I would recommend you work in concert with a Classical Greek scholar, since Thrax is writing in that transitional period, the same period as the LXX. I shall check back periodically to read the sections you have completed. Perhaps you could post each section so others can review it as well. I think you are going about this the right way. Best of luck.

Anonymous said...

> It is always great when the first sentence gives you a lot of trouble

You're pretty right, thanks for your compassion :p

... and thanks for helping me out here :)