Not another discussion about Ancient Greek

1960s American Magazine, teacher and classroom
1960s American Magazine, teacher and classroom Flickr © Christian Montone

The recent statement made by Maria Repousi, Representative of Democratic Left, about teaching Ancient Greek and Latin created, as expected, many and various reactions. The issue has many dimensions: scientific, educational and of course, politico-ideological, as we talk about the Greek language. Whether you argue in favour of or against it, you belong to one or another party respectively.  



I would like to make three comments/points. The first one is that, as it has already been said, this statement is not 100% correct scientifically because of the fact that, strictly speaking, dead languages are the ones with no natural speakers as they have been exterminated for many reasons (genocide, natural disasters etc.). Languages such as Ancient Greek and Latin are not considered as dead within this meaning even if they do not have natural speakers, but it is generally accepted that they have undergone linguistic changes. In other words, various internal and external factors as well as effects led to radical changes of their linguistic system and as a result not only their phonology but also their grammar, the way of sentence structure and production of their words changed.


In the case of Latin, this linguistic change was so dramatic that the so-called Vulgar Latin developed independently in many places and various, discrete dialects appeared, from which Modern Romance languages come. The result of Greek is that we cannot, of course, read texts, such as the original Iliad, without being taught. Just like Italians who cannot read Virgil, English who cannot read Beowulf, an ancient English epic poem considered to be written in 650/800 AC and Germans who cannot read their medieval literature. Even if we learn fluent Ancient Greek, we will surely not speak to our parents, children and friends in this language, as it is not our mother tongue. Everyone generally knows it.

Why Ancient Greek language could be harmful to students needs more explanation. I think that we probably underestimate students by saying that


The second comment is about the argument that children will hate Ancient Greek language because/if they are taught based on the original. I am not sure if I understand the logic of the argument. If you hate something, you should consider that it hurts you or it may harm you in a way. Why Ancient Greek language could be harmful to students needs more explanation. I think that we probably underestimate students by saying that. Why do we consider that it is difficult for them to approach and show interest in Ancient Greek? On the contrary, focusing on the language, which belongs to our biological heritage, and especially on the grammar of a language, which is our cultural heritage, will contribute to the development of their mental and cognitive abilities. It would be useful to know the history of our language, how and why its new form is different from its previous stages. 


The third comment is that the way of teaching and approaching Ancient Greek language should obviously change. In other words, each interested in theoretical studies should surely be taught more hours and it would probably make more sense if it started in High School like before. It is, of course, a matter of educational policy.


However, we should focus on something else. In Greece and in today’s Europe the whole discussion is strange, or rather, the way of discussion. The question is, do we really want to have another discussion about Ancient Greek and its position and contribution to our educational system? If yes, then we should discuss it with due seriousness; not randomly and through social media. If not, then we should let it be, not making a big deal out of it. Anyway, which is exactly the problem we will solve arguing in favour of or against it? Maybe, the point is not if next generations or we should learn Ancient Greek or Latin. Our issue is more serious. But we should obviously define it.    

Leave a comment