Paula Saffire and Pamela Freis, Ancient Greek Alive. Chapel Hill and London: University of North Carolina Press, 1999. Pp. xxiv + 273, including 24 halftone or line illustrations, a map, vocabulary and appendices. ISBN 0-8078-4800-X. US$19.50.
429 S. 20th St. #A, Philadelphia, PA 19146 Rudolphus9@aol.com
This book approaches the learning of Greek traditionally. Students are expected to master and generate paradigms, explicate grammar and syntax, and translate from Greek to English and sometimes from English to Greek (p. xvii). However, there are some important innovations in this book intended to enhance student learning.
In the first nine days of the course an oral approach is used where students learn dialogues, a story, a poem and a skit. The authors see this conversational approach as allowing students to learn a large vocabulary in a short time and to be introduced to grammar and syntax that will be more systematically covered later in the course (p. xvii). After the oral introduction the book falls into two nearly equal parts. The first part teaches all important noun, pronoun, and adjective systems and ends with a comprehensive review to give the students 'a sense of closure and mastery' (p. xviii). The second part presents the Greek verb system with attention to verb aspect versus tense from the very beginning. Material is presented in big chunks rather than piecemeal. Saffire and Freis aim for the big picture.
Saffire and Freis provide an abundance of folkloric stories that they composed in ancient Greek for the sake of teaching Greek grammar and vocabulary. The stories are largely from Sheikh Nasrudin, a Sufi teaching figure familiar throughout the Middle East and in those parts of Europe which have had extensive contact with Islam, viz., Spain, the Balkans, modern Greece, and Russia (p. 39). Some however are taken from West African, Armenian, Indian, Yiddish, Siberian, Chinese, Aesopic and other sources. The stories were selected for their charm, interest, and humor, and their folkloric form allows for natural repetition to help students master vocabulary and constructions. The final four lessons have readings from original Greek, viz., the Hippocratic oath, Hecuba's lament from Euripides' Trojan Women, and the dialogue between Oedipus and Teiresias in Sophocles (p. xx).
Saffire and Freis also provide a Thesauros or 'Treasure House' containing short passages from original Greek, including the New Testament, Heraclitus, Xenophanes, Diogenes, and inscriptions (pp. 221-35). These passages have interlinear glosses, and students will require help from the teacher to read them. Saffire and Freis see the readings from the Thesauros as a 'happy occasion' which should not be tested and should be used as time allows (p. xix).
The book provides four vocabulary reviews and two verb overviews amid the fifty-four lessons. Saffire and Freis believe that consolidating information at intervals and repetition of important information is vital to language learning. They encourage 'punting', i.e., guessing at something unknown based on patterns already encountered. They make use of 'translationese', an artificial type of English that attempts to convey the structure of the Greek, e.g., o(/de is translated 'this here' versus ou(=tis as 'this'. They use 'self-evident' terminology (e.g., 'if-clause' rather than protasis) but always give the traditional terms so that students will not be at a loss if they encounter these later. (p. xx). They ask the students to memorize sections of lyric poetry, viz., about twenty-two lines of Sappho, Anacreontica, Mimnermus, and Archilochus.
Saffire and Freis present uncontracted forms first in order to make contracted forms more understandable. In declensions the nominative is followed by the accusative because the two forms are often the same or similar and 'it is easier for students to learn them if they see them together' (p. xx). Grammatical concepts and forms are used generally in readings or dialogues before they are introduced systematically. For example, e)/qhke (sit venia, lector benevole, transliterationibus!) is translated as an isolated vocabulary item in a story before it is embedded in a system, viz., the conjugation of the verb ti/qhmi (p. 214). Contained within each chapter are short exercises that immediately follow the presentation of new forms and concepts that may be assigned for homework or done during class. Saffire and Freis have tried to provide more exercises than the teacher might want or need to use.
Short English essays, keyed to something the students have read, are found at intervals throughout the book. Some themes are Greek medicine, lyric poetry, the pre-Socratic philosophers of Ionia, a comparison of Nasrudin and Socrates, and Greek turtle tales. With these essays Saffire and Freis ambitiously hope (perhaps excessively so) to convey a 'sense of the flow of Greek culture from the Bronze to the Hellenistic Age' (p. xix).
The book has much to recommend itself. The innovations are all strong points. The oral introduction to Greek at the beginning before Lesson 1 teaches vocabulary, structure, and the Greek alphabet painlessly and provides the student with some sense of Greek as a language rather than an obscure puzzle to be deciphered. The oral work ends with Lesson 1, some might say abruptly, though a teacher might opt to continue with some of it using teacher-prepared materials later in the course.
Though at first one might question the inclusion of so many stories taken from non-Greek sources, it quickly becomes clear that these stories have high interest level that will keep the students reading, have a certain universal flavor that is not foreign to ancient Greek culture and values, and above all are pedagogical masterpieces for teaching and reentering lexical and structural material. Saffire and Freis are great storytellers, and this is a rich 'reading approach' to Greek. Typical stories have three or four paragraphs of Greek text, followed by endnotes that help with translation or understanding grammar and syntax. Sometimes new points of grammar are introduced in the endnotes. Story titles include 'The Lazy Man', 'The Blind Man and the Elephant', 'The Earth's Treasures', 'The Gift of Gold', 'How To Weigh an Elephant', and 'Who Is Poor?' Within each story there is plenty of repetition of vocabulary and structure that helps students master lexical and structural content but yet is natural and meaningful in the story being told. The stories provide an interesting vehicle for learning the language.
The excerpts from Greek literature found in the Thesauros are well chosen. All are very brief and glossed interlinearly and there are references to lesson numbers where particular structure is introduced. Some passages are presented in Attic Greek rather than in the original dialect. Placing the excerpts all together in one section of the book affords the teacher greater flexibility in using the material. Similarly, Saffire and Freis place all the poetry to be memorized in one place, viz., p. 168. They are certainly correct in suggesting that the memorizing of poetry is valuable and that reciting and discussing these poems are good answers to the question of why study Greek.
The explanations of structure seem clear, though one might want a few more examples at times. The summarizing of new forms at intervals is very helpful. The idiosyncratic grammar terms, e.g., 'shrug words' (p. 163), 'Xing' and 'Xd' (p. 109), the '99% principle' (p. 130), 'continuous' participle and infinitive (p. 110), the 'A and O Groups' (p. 26 and p. 30) probably will be well received by students. The English-to-Greek exercises may lack intrinsic interest for some students. One wonders how students will react to being asked to translate into Greek sentences such as the following: 'I perceive that she sent the apples' and 'They hear that they (different they) are sending the apples'(p. 139). Some may feel that there is too much emphasis on accents (pp. 33-35 et passim).[]
Saffire and Freis clearly envision a classroom situation with a teacher of Greek using this textbook. I wonder if they would consider producing an autodidactic supplement for students learning Greek on their own or with minimal contact with a live teacher, e.g., in home schooling situations, in independent study.
Faculty in colleges and secondary schools considering a new textbook for beginning Greek are well advised to look at Saffire and Freis. In a way they give the best of both worlds, being traditional but with some innovations and some attention to oral work. The story-telling and reading emphasis are excellent and attractive. Saffire and Freis's enthusiasm for Greek and joy in teaching it bubble through each page.
[] Proof-reading throughout seems meticulous. I noticed only one corrigendum, viz., the omission of an accent on the word E)IMI/ in the directions for Exercise a, p. 210.