Graece discere aude: our method
Graecia capta ferum victorem cepit, et artes
intulit agresti Latio.
Horace, Epistles, II, 1, 156.
The method and the course
It is our common opinion, based on our studies and experience, that the much augmented Italian edition of Athènaze, by M. Balme, G. Lawall, L. Miraglia and T. F. Bórri, is the most effective of all Greek courses.
It is divided into two volumes, Athènaze I (for the basic level) and Athènaze II (for the advanced level).
It follows the inductive-contextual method (or nature method), which is based on the text and the context, from which students draw forms and constructions, and the meaning of words and phrases. Morphology and syntax are first inductively assimilated, by the identification of recurrent structures and the necessary reflection, and then organized in a systematic manner.
Learners are constantly exposed to the language: initially, in Athènaze I, a very simple – yet true and authentic – Greek, and then, gradually, a more complex and elaborated language: Athènaze II, the second volume, also contains some original texts of classical authors, with their refined language and style.
Students are thus gradually and effectively introduced to the reading and understanding of classics. Students are strongly involved, with their active abilities too: they are invited to read and understand, to do exercises of comprehension, and also to use the language themselves, both speaking and writing.
They are always required to understand the Greek text; if they are asked to translate it, translation will have to follow understanding, not the other way round, as it sometimes happens at school!
Finally, the book’s continuous story line, besides being in itself a mnemonic help to learn words and constructions, clearly illustrates Greek life and civilization.
Athènaze is a true novel in Greek. It tells the story of Dicaeopolis (an Athenian farmer, the main character of Aristophanes’s Acharnians) and his family.
The plot is contrived, but placed within a definite historical context: from the autumn of 432 to the spring of 431 B. C. At the beginning we read about the family’s life in the country.
But the story is interspersed with the narration of Greek myths and of the great battles of the Persian wars.
Students are thus gradually prepared to read the excerpts of Herodotus, Plato and Thucydides that constitute the bulk of the second volume, Athènaze II. At the end, we find the verses of Aristophanes’s Acharnians, where Dicaeopolis plays the peacemaker.
Marginal notes and images
The meaning of Greek words is normally explained (only rarely translated).
Marginal notes, in Greek, explain the meaning of words, phrases and constructions, using synonyms, antonyms, circumlocutions, etc. Four symbols recur: “=” means “(semantic) equivalence”, “↔” means “the opposite of”, “<” means that the meaning “can be inferred” from what follows, and “:” means “equivalence within a context”. These notes contain only words, forms, meanings and constructions that students already know.
In addition to these explanations, hundreds of images illustrate new meanings and uses.
We thus avoid that words and phrases are understood only when they are translated into the student’s mother tongue: translation should regularly follow, not precede, understanding.
One of the most important advantages of this course is that it teaches the core vocabulary of Greek: the words that are considered more necessary because of their greater frequency in classical texts.
These are gradually learned and assimilated through the use of the language, the attractiveness of the continuous narration, and the studied recurrence and frequent repetition of already learned words.
Theory is always united with practice: after finding a good number of examples, in different contexts and situations, students reflect on what they have read, and are presented with an accurate description of grammar structures. The whole building of Greek morphology and syntax is thus gradually raised.
The final section of every chapter is an Enchiridion (“Students’ manual”), a practical companion to the course. In it, the student is given all the necessary explanations, chapter by chapter, in a plain conversational style. Important concepts, and particularly noun and verb paradigms, are repeated in the page margin. Morphology and syntax are not artificially separated from each other but presented together, as far as possible, because they form one whole in the actual use of language.
Exercises are of various kinds: students are asked to fill in the blanks, to answer questions, to summarize texts, to detect mistakes, to describe images, to write their own compositions, to amplify, or transform, a given text, to work on synonyms and antonyms, etc.
In addition to the exercises that are found at the end of each chapter, there are many more in the four supplementary volumes: Meletèmata I and Quaderno di esercizi (2 vol.) for Athènaze I, and Meletèmata II for Athènaze II.
Each chapter ends with a short, but informative reading on different aspects of Greek civilization (e. g. slavery, women, myth, philosophy, medicine).
How can you learn Greek with Athènaze
1. Read every chapter carefully, more than once, until you are sure you have understood everything.
If you pay attention to the context and to images and marginal notes, you will understand everything easily.
2. Then read the relevant chapter of the Enchiridion carefully. Make sure you understand everything, and learn by heart noun and verb paradigms and the other important notions.
3. Do the exercises. You will find them both at the end of the chapter and in the supplementary books, Meletèmata I and Quaderno di esercizi (2 vol.) for Athènaze I, and Meletèmata II for Athènaze II.
You should usually be able to understand yourself whether you have done the exercises correctly.
4. Now – but not before – you can begin the following chapter.
This is a very good and effective method, but it won’t work if you don’t work seriously: one hour a day at least.
We strongly recommend using the language actively: writing and speaking in Greek will help you to remember words, and, even more importantly, to have a more flexible mind, which will enable you to read the classics with no great effort.
Scholae graecae: online Greek courses