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Pagan Origins Hablo Greek-o

Aqui se habla Griega— muy poquitisimo


It's still Greek to me.

You'll discover the clearest discussion anywhere about how you can teach yourself ancient Greek.

You can jump to a link to Greg's SHORT POCM Greek tables.

this is the letter If Christian origins gets to be your hobby, watch out you don't get sucked in to studying ancient Greek. It starts small. A few letters here, a diphthong there. Other people are doing it. After all, the New Testament was written in Greek, on account of which, books about Christian origins often mention wordslike this, or quote short sentences, The good girl says a bad word, in Greek. The unwary, undisciplined student may be tempted to experiment with Greek, just a few letters, to see what it's like, to sound out the words he comes across in books.

Experts recognize this as a "gateway activity."

Soon the rush the student feels from sounding out single letters no longer gives the "high" he now craves. Many unfortunates move on to full words and from there to "hard Greek"—strong aorists, passive optatives, hortatory subjunctives, and even copulas. Experienced counselors identify victims by their vacant eyes and muttered phrases -- "poio, poieis, poiei, poioumen." Greek-addicted students may support their habit by stealing time from worthwhile activities. Women addicts may even sink to selling their bodies — a tragic truth proven by the Journal of Athenian Criminology, 1983, 3 (347- 52), in which highly smart scientist experts found that fully ninety-three percent of prostitutes arrested by local police had studied Greek during their school years. Many were fluent in the language!

If you are tempted to experiment with ancient Greek, consider these chilling facts:

It is impossible to learn ancient Greek on your own. Ninety-five percent of people who begin studying ancient Greek on their own quit. (I am not making this up.) The other five percent quit too, and lie about it.

There are many books whose authors claim they can teach you ancient Greek. In my opinion, these authors are liars. Most Learn Greek books are terrible. None work.

Not in Kansas any more
The thing about ancient Greek is, it is completely strange. The way it shapes thoughts  is way different from how we do. Ancient Greek is fucked up.

English codes thoughts with word order; Greek codes thoughts with word endings. The man sees the house. We know who's seeing and what's seen because man comes before the verb and house after. This scheme is so deep in our brain, we don't even know we're doing it. See, you just did it again. And again.

Greek says the same thing as:
The-os man-os the-on house-on see-he
. Or,
The-on house-on see-he the-os man-os
. Or
The-on house-on the-os man-os see-he.

Who and what  are coded in -ons and -oss stuck on the ass end of words. You learn to approach each sentence looking for the -ons and -oss. You learn to think  in -ons and -oss.

Only you can't think -ons and -oss until you learn them all, and I've been going easy on you ending wise. The truth is there are 24 basic noun endings split into three groups. But each group has sub-groups. There are hundreds of endings. And -os in one group means the same as -ou in another. And in a sentence the same thing, the man or the house, may have more than one ending -- one ending for the 'the', another for the thing, another for the adjective describing the thing. You cannot read Greek till you know hundreds of endings, and how they work in a sentence. Greek is fucked up.

Verbs are the same, only worse. One time I tried counting the number of endings a verb can have, but I fell asleep. Use 500 as a rough estimate.

First year Greek courses boil down to learning the endings. The reference grammar at the back of JACT's Reading Greek Grammar puts the endings in tables, 20 to 80 endings per page. For each ending you have to know not just the ending, but which table it's in, and which row, and which column.The thing goes on for 52 pages.

Learn Greek books
The guys writing Learn Greek books have a problem: How do you get all those endings into one book? Mostly they do it by teaching tables, each chapter with a table or two. I call these table books.

Some guys add grammar rules, "The second aorist and the second perfect are usually formed only from primitive verbs These tenses are formed by adding the personal endings (inclusive of the thematic or tense vowel) to the verb-stem without any consonant tense-suffix." I call these Tables and Rules books.

The trouble is memorizing tables is not the same as learning to read and think Greek.

My advice is quit now. You cannot succeed.

You're still reading. You do want to learn ancient Greek!  Good. Let's talk.

You can't read Greek till you know thousands of word endings, but memorizing tables of endings won't let you read Greek. Your task is to do two things at the same time — memorize tables of endings and read sentences so you internalize the meaning of the endings so you don't need the tables. You gotta' get to the point "twn" means "of the" and you're scanning for a second person plural genitive noun because you need to complete the thought, not because a table you memorized tells you to. You will not acquire this skill by reading rules. You must learn by doing. You must read level-appropriate Greek as you learn. More on this later.


The cover of one of my Learn Greek book promises, "Read New Testament Greek in 10 Days!" That's a lie. Adults who immerse themselves in the new culture say it takes two years, full time, to master their new language. You're going to do Greek part time, from books. You're not going to read the NT in ten days, not even ten months. You're going to be plodding on your Greek for years. Years. It's taken me two or three years (I've lost count), off and on, to get to where I can read a gospel with only a little vocab help or pick up Xenophon and get through whole sentences on my own.

Which means learning Greek —reading Greek—better be something you like. Not the way you like to have cleaned your toilet, the way you like to be on the beach in the sun. Fun right now, while you're doing it. That kind of like. Otherwise, it ain't worth the effort.

Off and on
One big advantage of learning Greek on your own is, when your brain gets full you can lay off, let things settle. Take a week, a month, a season off. Come back when you're ready. You'll discover the little stuff, the confusing stuff, has fallen away and the big important stuff is now clear and obvious. My biggest progress always comes when I pick up again after a month or three off.

Koine / Attic / Homeric
People talk like New Testament Koine Greek is way different than Attic Classical Greek. This is a crock.
Homeric Greek (Iliad, Odyssey, Hesiod) though, is a category of it's own.



Three kinds of Learn Greek books


Tables and Rules. Memorize word ending tables. Read pages and pages of intricate grammar rules. T & R books generally give you no or little reading practice, so you don't develop any recognize-endings-in-context skills.

You're told raw facts, you're not given the skills to use them. It's like "learning" tennis by memorizing the names of the strokes, but never picking up a racket.

Most NT Greek Books


Tables Word ending tables with few rules.

As with T & R books, you'll end up not able to read Greek, and thinking it's your fault, you haven't mastered the forms. You'll waste weeks and months going back to memorize the principal parts of "important" verbs, and writing out tables of obscure type 3 nouns. And simple sentences will be impenetrable still. It's not you. It's your book.



Reading, rules and tables. Simple Dick and Jane stories, a few hundred words, in Greek, keyed to accompanying grammar tables and rules.

JACT Reading Greek

Greg's program for YOU to Learn Greek On Your Own

The Task

Your must do two things at the same time — memorize tables of endings and internalize the meaning of the endings so you don't need the tables. How? Plan on two or three passes through the material. Start with a basic skill set.

Big picture

As a practical matter you won't be able to read ancient Greek without a formal knowledge of Greek grammar. You are going to need to puzzle out whether this verb is aorist or pluperfect and that noun genitive or accusative. Sorry. That's the way Greeks minds worked.

The important thing is to understand, the thing Learn Greek books aren't good at pointing out, is that Greek grammar has several levels of structure. The books and teachers focus on the lower levels. Ending rules, and exceptions to the rules, and exceptions to exceptions.

You must do two things on your own.

1) Understand that there is a big structure -- a structure to verbs in general, a structure to nouns in general -- and fit each new table into that structure. Find and understand the connections between each table and the bigger structure.

2) Understand that exceptions to exceptions to exceptions is a convenient way to stuff everything into a book, but it's a terrible way to stuff everything into your brain. There's too much to learn with one pass.

Simple solution. Make several passes. Self learners set their own schedule, so they have a big advantage here.

For verbs, learn the standard -o verb endings in all the tenses. Drill and practice. Get that down. Then go back and do it again, this time picking up the -a and -e and u- contract verbs. Then go a third time and pick up the odd ball stuff. Menos, idzos, like that.

For nouns, learn all 24 forms of "the" absolutely cold. Write them up and down. Write them sideways. Write them in different gender order.

Learn the basic patterns for the three declensions absolutely perfectly. That means all of type 1 and 2, and the main pattern type 3. Do not, at first, worry your pretty head about the type 3 sub-patterns. Drill drill drill on the basics. Write them up and down. Write them side to side. Know them before you move on. If you don't know the basic declensions, participles, say, are impossible. If you do, participles are drop dead easy. Ditto adjectives. Etc.

Basic skill set

First pass

Gently inductive, non-stressful introduction: Reading simple Greek sentences in Dobson.

Master the basic grammar tables. Download Greg's SHORT POCM Greek tables.


Article -- learn 24 ways to say "the"


Nouns -- learn the structure of Greek's noun grammar
     3d declension --- very important, comes up a lot


Verbs: Learn the structure of Greek's verb grammar: voice, tense, person.  Leave the subjunctive mood till later. Do optatives later, and only if you want to read Loebs.


Participles — the Greek version of "-ing" and "-ed" words. Important, and actually not too hard, once you understand the 3d declension nouns. It's OK to skip participles in pass 1.

Grow your skills


Passes two, three, etc.

Book learning

Study JACT, or Athenaze, or Mounce. Integrate each grammar section with your Big Picture view from Greg's Greek tables.

Reading practice

All this formal stuff is useless on it's own. Your brain treats table entries as table entries, not as thoughts. To recognize Greek words as thoughts your brain needs repetition in context. Greek sentences. Lots of them.

The traditional way to do this is, as I said, to sit at a desk with a dictionary and a grammar and to puzzle out sections of Xenophon or Paul clause by impenetrable clause. This works. Eventually. But it is slow and frustrating as hell.

The better way is to read short, simple Greek sentences, and lots of them. Repetition in context. My own opinion is, it's better to read sentences that come with English translations. That way you maximize repetitions. Perfect.

Since some books, even best sellers, have essentially no Greek practice sentences at all, and many others have no translations, this is is harder to do than you'd think.


Books to help you

Pass 1

Learn by doing introduction. This should take many weeks.

Learn New Testament Greek by John Dobson
Tip: a very cheap used 2d edition is just as good as the full priced 3d edition.

GOOD: Reverend Dobson's idea was for you to learn Greek by reading / translating/ understanding very simple Greek sentences. I say. He says. Jesus says. We say. Hundreds of cleverly constructed short Greek sentences make this a natural, fun, fast paced, and rewarding way to get started.

BAD: There are not enough sentences, or enough context for you to "get" the many nuances of the language. And grammar tables are so de-emphasized you won't notice them. You'll end up half way up the mountain.

Starting at chapter 20, the grammatical organization goes all to hell.

SOLUTION: Recognize this is an introduction. Get what you can out of Dobson, then move on.

Pass 2, 3

Pick a Learn-Greek Reading, Rules and Tables book, and get to work

JACT, Joint Association of Classical Teachers series of college texts intended to teach Attic (=Athenian) Greek
#1 Reading Greek Text and Vocabulary
#2 Reading Greek Grammar and Exercises
#3 An Independent Study Guide to Reading Greek

Wow! this text is wonderful. There are lots and lots and lots of simple Greek stories to read, with tons of repetition. "Yes captain, I will go. You will go. The rhapsode will also go. " Different endings for each person. Over and over. Very very useful.

Meticulously charted journey through the larger structure of ancient Greek grammar. Very nice.
Too advanced to be a first and only Learn Greek book. Excellent second book.
Very useful as your second pass through the material. I'd suggest this rather than a second pass through Mounce.
To use any one book you must buy all three books in the set—about $100. Worth the money at twice the price.

NOTE: Organizes nouns with the British N, A, G, D order.


Athenaze is a college textbook of Attic (=Athenian) Greek. Each chapter begins with a one or two page reading in ancient Greek. These are simple, repetitious and highly instructive.

Unlike Mounce, but like JACT, Athenaze teaches Greek a little bit at a time. A little verb, a little participle, a little noun in each chapter. Because I myself need to fit each new idea into the big picture, I find this confusing. If you don't, you might try Athenaze all by itself. At any rate, once you've memorized the basic form tables, you can breeze through Athenaze, or even just through it's simple readings. Very useful.

Translations are in the separate answer book. But the readings are so easy, you probably won't need translations.
Answers to exercises are in the Teacher's Handbook -- which unfortunately never got printed in the second edition. That makes Athenaze much less useful than JACT.

BTW, even if you're learning Greek just to read the NT, you'll still find Athenaze and JACT useful for your second pass. Yes you will have to learn some non-NT vocabulary. So what? Also, people blather about Attic and Koine Greek being different. They are. But not so much as you've been lead to believe.


Grammar reference

Basics of Biblical Greek Grammar by William Mounce
Mounce is famous and popular because it clearly explains all the basic grammatical essentials and none of the other stuff.

Organizes nouns with the American N, G, D, A order.

GOOD: Excellent, clearly written, thorough yet concise grammar reference.

1. It is full of minute detail, empty of big picture overview.
Mounce is like a jigsaw puzzle where you memorize each tiny little word ending piece, but you never step back and look at the whole picture. I myself am not smart enough to learn Greek this way.

2. Has no brain-training Greek sentences at all. Do not be surprised if after several months memorizing Mounce tables you pick up a simple Greek text and can't understand one sentence. Mounce does sell a couple workbooks. I found these frustrating and unuseful.

SOLUTION: Use Mounce as a reference. Learn the grammar from JACT.


Simple reading

Interlinear New Testaments have the Greek of the NT on one line, and the English translation of each Greek word on the line right below it.

Just cover up the English, and read away. Even if your main interest is Attic Greek, the practice you'll get will be highly instructive.

Nestle-Aland New Testament Diglot: Greek on one page, English on the facing page. More challenging than an interlinear, and more satisfying.

Easier Greek than any Loeb. An excellent way to start reading, even if your interest is Attic Greek.

CONS: despite the title, does not involve chocolate.

Greek Prose Composition & Keys , by
North & Hilliard'
John White
Arthur Sidgwick

A hundred years ago ancient Greek was a standard part of English schoolboy education. Not only did the wee lads read Greek, they also had to write Greek. That's where you come in. The 100+ year old Greek Composition textbooks are out of copyright and available free on the internet. They're a handy source of free simple Greek sentences (the keys) with English translations (the exercises in the composition books).

Pass 4?

Fly little birdie, fly!

Loeb Classical Library

The Loeb Classical Library publishes more than five hundred titles in ancient Greek. At Thermopylae, when the certainly soon to die Dieneces the Spartan was told the Persian army was so vast that, shooting together, their arrows blotted out the sun, he laughed, "Good, then we will advance to battle in the shade. " With the Loeb books you will reach back two or two and a half thousand years and hear and understand and feel the words and thoughts of brave, cowardly, truthful, duplicitous, greedy, loving, hating, living breathing mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters, just as they spoke them to themselves. Absolutely fucking amazing.

The books have the Greek text on the left page and the accompanying English translation on the right page. Read the Greek all on your own; if you run into trouble, there's quick, easy help on the facing page.

There are enough fun, delightful, fascinating, moving books here to keep you busy for the rest of your life. The standard beginners book is Xenophon's swashbuckling Anabasis.
If you're interested in Greek in NT times, try Plutarch and Lucian, the Apostolic Fathers,or the Selected Papyri-useses.

Unless you know for sure it is what you want, you should avoid the temptation to start with the very old Greek of Homer, Hesiod, and Pindar, etc. That way lies madness.

Other Good Books for this section

Basic Greek In 30 Minutes per Day
New Testament Greek Workbook for Laymen
by James Found

What you'll find:

Gentle, easy introduction to Greek letters, pronunciation, and rudimentary New Testament vocabulary.

Why you won't learn Greek from this book.

Beyond the basics, the material is too thin.

This is a good first Greek book if what you're after is the alphabet and sounding out and recognizing words. It doesn't take you far, but you'll travel in solid, unstressed comfort.

by Xenophon

What you'll find:

Swashbuckling first person true adventure story of the Greek mercenary army's long march out Persia, under enemy attack, after picking the wrong side in an attempted coup.

The traditional first book for new classical Greek students. Clear, direct sentences. Mostly present, imperfect and aorist tenses. Not easy, but not as hard as lots of other stuff.

The Loeb addition has Greek on the left page, the English translation on the right page.

A famous classic you know you ought to read—and that you'll actually enjoy.

Buy it early, read the English because it's fun, then pick it up from time to time as you work through Dobson and Mounce. It's encouraging to see how more and more of the text is understandable with each passing month.

Learn Ancient Greek
by Peter Jones

What you'll find:

The Steve Allen of Learn Greek books.

Steve Allen was a 1950's era comedian (he started the Tonight Show) who was, by the 1960s, painfully uncool and unfunny. But he didn't know it. He told pathetic jokes. And giggled at them himself. He excelled at mediocrity.

Jones' book tries hard to be clever. It isn't. It isn't bad. It's just not good.

Why you won't learn Greek from this book.

The goal isn't all Greek. The goal is The Greek in This Book. You'll like that very much, if you like that sort of thing.