- A History of the Greek Language: From Its Origins to the Present
Francisco Rodríguez Adrados is not shy: repeatedly throughout his whistle-stop tour of Greek he cites his own contributions while criticizing, often in very harsh terms, those scholars who have ignored or allegedly "merely plagiarised" (12) him. Best known in the Anglophone world for his work on fables, Adrados is also the general editor of the ongoing Diccionario griego-español and the author of numerous books and articles (over 100 of which are cited in the bibliography) on subjects from Proto-Indo-European (on which his views are idiosyncratic) to Greek words in contemporary Spanish. There are not many whose range allows them to write about Mycenaean and Modern Greek with equal authority, and for that reason alone an English translation of Adrados' Historia de la lengua griega de los orígenes a nuestros días (1999) is to be welcomed. That said, the book is hard to recommend enthusiastically, and Geoffrey Horrocks' Greek: A History of the Language and Its Speakers (London 1997; now unfortunately out of print) is better for students on account of its rigor and level-headedness.
The special feature of Adrados' history is the emphasis throughout on the influence Greek has had on other languages, especially those of modern Europe. For some reason that I do not understand, Adrados writes that "it would not be possible, for instance, to write a history dealing with Latin and Spanish" (xvii); it is, however, possible to write a multifaceted—not just linear—history of Greek since, thanks to circumstances that Adrados well documents over the millennia, the "Graeco-Latin cultural universe" is, in his view, "more alive today than it ever was" (286). In its later pages, the work provides an entertaining grab-bag account of words like antipathy, cinema, thorax, and (quite delightful; see 280) acrobat. This sort of thing is available in dozens of books, both popular and academic, but Adrados' is as good as there is. Adrados does take his passion for Greek too far, though, when he states that "Classical Greek syntax remained very much alive in Latin and, today, in our languages" (219).
Comprising 448 short, numbered sections, the book reads as though it might be a transcript of the author's—sometimes very sparing, sometimes [End Page 454] repetitive—lecture notes: the conversational style is often engaging; the large-scale narrative comes across clearly; but the technical details are generally omitted or gone over so quickly that no one who does not already know what is going on could possibly understand them. To take just one of hundreds of examples that could be cited, Adrados notes with no further comment that by the time of Common Greek, "The laws of Osthoff and Grassmann had been fulfilled" (19). Perhaps most useful is the emphasis on Spanish scholarship: it is a sad fact that Anglo-American classicists tend to ignore the often very distinguished work (e.g., in Emerita) of Spanish colleagues.
The book is littered with typographical errors, omissions from the bibliography, and examples of ungrammaticality; the index is also notably poor. It would appear that the editors at Brill—a press famous for its high prices—printed out and bound the manuscript without so much as looking over it. This is a pity since the same publication at one-quarter the cost and with, say, one-eighth the mistakes could expect to receive reasonably wide use in the classroom.