Learning Ancient Greek. Why?
Welcome! The main objective of this web page is to ask ourselves whether learning
Ancient Greek is useful or not, and why it is or it isn’t.
You may ask yourself: “why should I study a dead language that nobody speaks anymore?”
A good question indeed!
First of all, nobody speaks Ancient Greek anymore, but around thirteen million people still speak Modern Greek, which is quite similar to the old one.
Furthermore, these thirteen million people happen to live in some of the most beautiful and fascinating places in the world, such as Greece, Cyprus and Crete.
But there is one more reason to learn Ancient Greek: are you so sure nobody
speaks Ancient Greek anymore?
Believe me, you actually do everyday… even if you may not know it!
Even today, dead languages still live on in modern languages and, in fact, they are anything but dead and buried.
What is a dead language?
You may think of a dead language as a dinosaur: yes, you don’t
see dinosaurs in zoos in 2016, but you see a lot of things that are really similar
to them, such as crocodiles or iguanas. And, if you’re familiar with how evolution
works, you also know that birds and mammals are actually related to dinosaurs:
in our metaphor, birds and mammals are modern languages, such as
English, French, Spanish, Portuguese and Italian.
If you see it this way, you understand how dead languages didn’t really die: dead languages just evolved into modern languages.
Why should we learn dead languages, then? Wait a minute; here comes our answer to that.
Why is Ancient Greek useful today?
Let’s set aside the “I-have-to-study-it-at-school” answer: that means nothing;
we want to find the real reasons, not the trivial ones.
These are our own reasons why someone may want to study and learn Ancient Greek or Latin.
Reason #1 – Passion for Learning.
You may in fact just be a huge fan of languages, just like
somebody else may like gardening, videogames, baking or motorcycles and cars.
You may just enjoy studying languages for the sake of it. For instance, an Italian friend of ours knows eight and a half languages, including Latin, Russian, Arabic and a little bit of Japanese (that’s the “and a half” part): she just loves languages, so when she has some spare time, she studies one…
Reason #2 – Cultural and Linguistic Heritage.
We already established that Ancient Greek and Latin evolved into modern languages,
but let’s take a step forward.
Culture influences language, and language influences culture.
And all the founding principles of western culture come from Greece and the Roman Empire. Democracy wasn’t invented in the U.S. or in England, but it was actually invented in Athens, something like 2.500 years ago: it’s the κράτος (“cratos”) of the δῆμος (“demos”), literally “the power of the people”.
The evolution of language forwarded these fundamental principles to the modern man and, for this reason, we need to know Ancient Greek and Latin if we want to deeply and properly understand the cultural and philosophical foundation of the modern world.
Reason #3 – Interesting Greek and Latin Etymology.
Actually, even if you don’t think that you should know Ancient Greek in order
to understand the modern world, you may find etymology to be interesting
and also very funny!
You don’t believe me? Let me try you with some words with fancy Ancient Greek or Latin origin!
- The world “cemetery” comes from κοιμάω/κεῖμαι (“koimao”
or “keimai”) plus the -τηριον suffix which indicates a place where something
That something is κοιμάω, which means “to sleep”: thus a cemetery is “a place where people sleep”… for a very long while…
- The word “monk” comes from the Latin word “monacus”,
which in turn comes from the Greek word “μόνος” (“monos”), which means “only”
or “alone”. So a monk is “someone who stays alone” in his monastery.
- By the way, “monastery” has the same -τηριον suffix
as “cemetery” and it thus means “a place where you stay alone” or “a place
where monks are at”. Quite obvious once you know it, isn’t it?
- One last easy example: the words “mouse” and “cat” are nothing else but the Latin words “mus” and “catus”. Just like that!
Let’s now try and find out the etymology of some words that surely weren’t around in Ancient Greece: periscope, television and telescope.
- The word “periscope” derives from σκοπέω (“skopeo”)
and περί (“peri”), which, together, literally mean “looking around”: that’s
what a periscope is used for, isn’t it?
- The word “telescope” has the same σκοπέω termination
in it, plus the Greek adverb τῆλε (“tele”) which means “far away”.
You may agree on the fact that a telescope is used to “see things that
are far away”.
- Last but not least, the word “television”, which is actually a Greek-Latin hybrid: it uses the same adverb τῆλε as telescope plus the Latin verb “video” (“to see”). So, television just indicates a device which allows you to “see things that are far away”, just like a telescope, plus satellites or cables…
That’s interesting stuff… and knowing Latin and Ancient Greek actually helps you learn other modern languages, like Italian, Spanish or French, which are even closer to the older version of themselves and don’t even have Celtic influences like English has.
So, if you think these reasons are good enough, you may want to try and download Ancient Greek Reference from the App Store for your iPhone or iPad, and get all the help you need to learn Ancient Greek once and for all.