Scholia Reviews ns 13 (2004) 28.

Philomen Probert, A New Short Guide to the Accentuation of Ancient Greek. London: Bristol Classical Press, 2003. Pp. xx + 215. ISBN 1-8539959-9-1. UK£12.99.

Stephen Evans,
University of Turku, Finland

This book is much more than an update of J. P. Postgate's Short Guide to the Accentuation of Ancient Greek[[1]] and would fully deserve the subtitle of 'Probert's Lore'. Probert has wanted to give preference to the practicalities of where the accents actually go while Postgate wanted to 'bring before the classical scholars, teachers and students of this country the realities of the accentuation of Ancient Greek considered as a whole, its theory and practice, its linguistic, historical and educational aspects' (p. vii). The book contains a preface, a list of bibliographical abbreviations including the main modern works and ancient authors referred to, seven chapters, an appendix on accentuation of dialects others than koine, answers to exercises as well as a very thorough Greek and English index. Excluding the exercises and answers to these, there are 157 pages of text.

Probert omits Postgate's final chapter on 'the practice and teaching of Greek accentuation' (pp. 80-89), where he chastises the rude habit of 'pepperbox accentuation', that is of sprinkling accents at random over an exercise. This reprehensible habit is 'the cloke (sic) of ignorance and sloth, demoralising to the student who adopts, and discreditable to the teacher who condones it, whose duty it is to see that his pupils do not deal in shams, and that they leave their Greek words unaccented if they cannot provide them with accents which they honestly believe to be right' (p. 88). Peter Jones goes so far as to don the cloak of sloath in his 'Learn Ancient Greek' (London 1998) by teaching the language from scratch without accents and defiantly stating: 'accents, frankly, can wait' (p. 58).

Probert's book is then what Jones' pupils have been waiting for. The first introductory chapter (pp. 1-21) deals with the meaning of 'accent', the accent of ancient Greek speech, the Greek written accent, the meaning of the acute, circumflex, and grave, and finally and interestingly, the accentuation and the fragments of ancient Greek music.

Not only Jones' students but also advanced savants will enjoy the lucid explanations of the fundamental rules of the accent system together with the smaller print where material incorporated from the latest scholarship can be found. Probert includes discussion of Patterson's unpublished work on pitch range phenomena and shed new light on interpretation of Dionysius of Halicarnassus' comments on the melody of ancient Greek speech (Comp. 3). This reviewer was surprised to find so much controversy on the placing of Greek accents (see pp. 18 ' wildly disputed', 37, 39, 41, 58, 67). Modern students can thank their lucky stars that the use of the grave accent on all syllables that had no other accent has fallen into disuse.

The second chapter, 'Basic Information' (pp. 22-41), gives rudimentary facts concerning lengths of vowels and weights of syllables, writing the accents, acute and circumflex accents, limits on the position of the accent, 'lengths' of final diphthongs, recessive words (as opposed to progressive words in Modern Greek), rules of contraction, the grave accent, elided words, prodelision, and crasis. Postgate (p. 38) had defined a recessive accent as 'one which for any reason whatever is placed as far back as possible from the end of that word' and used the abbreviation R for such words. Probert is clearer: 'a Greek word whose accent falls as far from the end of the word as permitted by the law of limitation is knowns as "recessive"' (p. 34). Probert systematically includes exercises so that the reader can test his or her knowledge step by step and experience exultation by consulting the answers at the back of the book. On page thirty-three Probert defines the rule or 'final trochee rule' whereby a word containing a penultimate long syllable ending in a short syllable must have a circumflex as in SWTH=RA and never SWTH/RA: I should add 'except in postwar polytonic Modern Greek'. Probert rehearses the traditional terms: oxytone, with acute on final syllable, paroxytone, acute on penultimate, and proparoxytone, acute on antepenultimate syllable. A perispomenon has the circumflex on the final syllable and a properispomenon a circumflex on the penultimate syllable.

The third chapter is entitled 'Accentuation of Verbs' (pp. 42-53). Almost all of these are fortunately recessive. Firstly accents of non- contracted finite verbs are dealt with, then those of contracted finite verbs, thirdly accents of finite verbs in composition and lastly accents on infinitives and participles. The small print informs us (p. 45) that the correct historical explanation for the accentuation of the 'contracted' optatives is unclear.

Chapter Four is called 'Accentuation of Nouns and Adjectives: General Rules' (pp. 54-80). Nouns and adjectives tend to have a persistent accent that rides the storm of the cases. We learn the terms 'base accent' and 'case accent'. Then, in turn, are treated properly recessive adjectives and proper names, contracted nouns and adjectives in -ous from -oos, adjectives of material in -OU=J from -EOJ, nouns in -IJ, -EWJ and -UJ or -U, -EWJ, S- stem nouns and adjectives, AI)DW/J, H)W/J, -EU/J nouns of more than one syllable (the BASILEU/J type), feminine nouns in -W/, accent of the vocative singular, third-declension nouns and adjectives with mobile accent, irregular nouns with monosyllabic nominative singular: NAU=J, GRAU=J, BOU=J, OI/=J, and ZEU/J. Experts will enjoy the debate over the accents on LAGW=J, hare, (p. 58) raging from antiquity, similarly over 'sweet- or foul-smelling' (p. 67) since Aristarchus would accent genitive plurals of forms in -W/DHJ with a simple recessive accent, disregarding the rules of contraction. Herodian, however thought that such forms should be perispomenon following the general rule. Manuscripts and modern texts vary. Similarly the accentuation of ASTRA/SI (p. 76) was disputed in antiquity.

Chapter Five, 'Simplex Nouns and Adjectives: Accenting the Base Forms' (pp. 81-104) discusses the rules that apply without exception, in first to third declensions, then rules applying almost without exception in the same declensions, and finally rules with exceptions in those same declensions.

Chapter Six deals with the 'Accentuation of Compounds, Proper Names, Pronouns, Numerals and Indeclinable Words' (pp. 105-32), the latter being adverbs and participles, prepositions and interjections. While 'improper prepositions' (those incapable of forming compound verbs) are recessive, disyllabic prepositions proper have caused headaches for generations. Most debate has been caused by disyllabic prepositions that fall between a noun and an adjective modifying it, as in CA/NQW| E)PI\ DINH/ENTI versus CA/NQW| E)/PI DINH/ENTI.

Chapter Seven, 'Proclitics and Enclitics' (pp. 133-57), deals with the rules for accenting full words followed by enclitics, elided words followed by enclitics, elided enclitics, proclitics followed by enclitics, enclitics in succession, fixed sequences involving enclitics.

The appendix (pp. 158-68) concentrates on accentuation of dialects other than the koine, Lesbian, Doric, Boeotian, Thessalian, Attic, and Homeric accentuation. This is followed by answers to exercises, and an index of English and Greek terms.

All in all there are thirty-eight exercises, of which six deal with base accent and case accent. The rest start with basics, such as lengths of vowels and weights of syllables, names for the positions of the accent, recessive words, contracted words, the grave accent, elided words, prodelision and crasis, finite verbs, contracted verbs, finite verbs in composition, infinitives and participles, the vocative, nouns and adjectives with mobile accent, the anomalous group NAU=J, GRAU=J, BOU=J, OI/=J, and ZEU/J, rules applying without exception, almost without exception and with exceptions for first, second and third declension nouns, accentuation of compounds, proper names, pronouns (non-enclitic forms), numerals, adverbs and participles, prepositions, interjections, proclitics and enclitics.

The topic of Greek accents and their application and pronunciation was a subject of raging controversy in eighteenth-century Cambridge (especially between John Foster and Henry Gally). Similarly, in Modern Greece, the general acceptance of monotonic orthography raises tempers within the Society of the Greek language which lobbies for the return of polytonic writing that was in vogue right up to 1982. Since Probert, following Postgate, Swift, Bryce, Vendryes, Koster, and Wackernagel,[[2]] often makes reference to Modern Greek, one could add a footnote on the SWTH=RA rule. While in Ancient Greek GLW=SSA was written observing the rule, in recent times it has tended to be written GLW/SSA with an acute, even in the polytonic system. An exception was made to neuter singular and plural forms in -A and for first-person singular forms (also in -A) of the past tenses of verbs in which a 'long' penultimate vowel was always written with a circumflex (QAU=MA, SXOLEI=A, and RWTOU=SA, EI=DA).[[3]] In the appendix, Probert might have referred to some of the aberrations of the modern Cretan dialect where the law of limitation is broken with regularity.

Having worked my way through the exercises, I can only agree with Probert that the ancient Greek accents, together with Laum's hypothesis, Vendryes' law, Herodian's rule and the 'final trochee rule', form a particularly intriguing system, wonderful in its combination of regularities and irregularities. The study of the structural characteristics of a language has its fascination and this book provides just the humane direction required to master this system.

As a curiosity, I could mention that Probert omits Bryce and Swift from her bibliography but with good reason -- they add nothing to the sources mentioned above. On every point Probert explains the rules for the accentuation of Ancient Greek clearly and succinctly with interesting discussion of modern viewpoints from Devine and Stephens, W. S. Allen,[[4]] David Patterson, and Richard Hewitt's transcription of Housman's marginalia to Postgate. Allen's chapter on accent supplies valuable supplementary information on the relationship of accent to pronunciation and on the marking of accents in inscriptions. Allen further developed these ides in his Accent and Rhythm.[[5]]

This book deserves to become the authoritative introduction to Greek accentuation for students at all levels as well as an updated reference book for scholars who wish to check the historical background of disputes over correct accentuation.


[[1]] J. P. Postgate, Short Guide to the Accentuation of Ancient Greek (Liverpool 1924). See also J. P. Postgate, On Ancient Greek Accentuation (London 1925) = Proceedings of the British Academy 11 (1925) 1-52.

[[2]] Postgate [1] above; F. D. Swift, A Plain Guide to Greek Accentuation (Oxford 1912); R. J. Bryce, The Laws of Greek Accentuation Simplified (London 1858), J. Vendryes, Traité d'accentuation grecque (Paris 1904); A. J. Koster, A Practical Guide for the Writing of the Greek Accents (Leiden 1962); J. Wackernagel, Beiträge zur Lehre vom griechischen Akzent (Reinhardt 1893; repr. in Wackernagel, Kleine Schriften (Berlin 1955-1979).

[[3]] In the monotonic system that has now been taught in Greek schools since 1982, there are two diacritics, the acute accent and the diaeresis. Before 1982 Greek schoolchildren were expected to learn a list of all nouns that were written with the rough breathing, the vowel-length (in Classical Greek) of the crucial syllables in each word, and all the words and endings that included an iota subscript. See p. 36 of David Holton, Peter Mackridge and Irene Philippaki-Warburton, Greek: a Comprehensive Grammar of the Modern Language (London and New York 1997).

[[4]] A. M. Devine and L. D. Stephens, The Prosody of Greek Speech (Oxford 1994); W. S. Allen, Vox Graeca (Cambridge 1987[3]).

[[5]] W. S. Allen, Accent and Rhythm: Prosodic Features of Latin and Greek: A Study in Theory and Reconstruction (Cambridge 1973).