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  • A History of Ancient Greek: From the Beginnings to Late Antiquity
  • Pura Nieto Hernández
A.-F. Christidis (ed.). A History of Ancient Greek: From the Beginnings to Late Antiquity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007. Pp. xli, 1617. $250.00. ISBN 978-0-521-83307-3. With the assistance of Maria Arapopoulou and Maria Chriti.

The title of this book does not reflect the magnitude of this ambitious project (just the table of contents occupies eleven pages), since many of the topics discussed in its over 1600 pages are beyond the scope of a history of the Greek language. There are nine main parts, each containing several chapters (up to twenty-five in Part II), many written by very distinguished scholars, plus three appendices.

After an introduction in which Christidis offers an honest and scholarly overview of the problematic relationship between modern and ancient Greek, Part I ("The Language Phenomenon") takes up problems of general linguistics, such as language acquisition or the genesis of human language, interesting in themselves, but whose presence in a volume on the history of the Greek language is not fully justified. In the 133 pages of Part I, only the chapter on language change is of interest to students of ancient Greek, but whoever knows anything about historical linguistics will find it elementary, though clear and well written.

This is a general problem with this volume: there are so many chapters, so many different points of view (e.g., the alphabet is variously dated to the early eighth century B.C., p. 1000 or the "beginning of the ninth century, if not before," p. 282), and such diverse levels in it, that one wonders what kind of reader the editor had in mind when he conceived of this project. The specialist will feel disappointed by the brevity and superficiality of some chapters, while the amateur may get lost in others. Some topics may seem arbitrary: why is the word paradeisos given its own section, between philotimia and psyche? Another drawback is the complete lack of references to secondary literature in many essays (but not all: no uniform editorial criterion in this), at least to the main authors when referring the main positions on a certain issue. This greatly diminishes the usefulness of the book as a handbook for students.

Part II ("The Greek Language: Language and History") contains twenty-five chapters which run from the Indo-European origins of the Greeks to the Greek world under the Roman Empire. Many of these contributions, again, are elementary, though written by prominent specialists (e.g. Joseph on the I.E. languages and Mallory on the homeland of the IE). One suspects this is due to space limitations imposed by the editor. On the other hand, some excellent chapters deal with the connection between writing and language, among which Brixhe (II. 18), on the introduction and history of the alphabet in Greece, is particularly notable.

The 11 chapters of Part III ("The Ancient Greek Dialects") constitute a well-defined set, which give the reader quite a good overview of the state of the art for each dialectal group. References to secondary literature make of this one of the most useful sections, and some contributions are excellent [End Page 261] (e.g., Méndez Dosuna on Aeolic and Doric). No maps are given in this section (there are several in the history chapters), despite Brixhe's statement (p. 490): "It would be hard to conceive of a dialectological study which did not make use of a map, for often the location and geo-morphology of a particular place play a decisive role."

Part IV ("Ancient Greek: Structure and Change") is much more varied, both in subject and in quality. It is disturbing, for example, that nothing is said here about verbal aspect (the chapter on syntax of classical Greek proper includes all other characteristics of the Greek verb: person, number, tense, mood), the exception being Horrocks, who, in an excellent, even if succinct, chapter on the syntactical changes from classical Greek to the koiné, at least mentions the collapse of distinctions in the aspectual system (p. 627).

A set of appealing chapters on the relationships of Greek...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1558-9234
Print ISSN
0009-8418
Pages
pp. 261-262
Launched on MUSE
2010-03-18
Open Access
No
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