Scholia Reviews ns 20 (2011) 19.

Egbert J. Bakker (ed.), A Companion to the Ancient Greek Language. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010. Pp. xxxix + 657, incl. 12 black-and-white figures and 73 tables. ISBN 978-1-4051- 5326-3. UK£110.00.

Philippa M. Steele Lumley Research Fellow, Magdalene College, Cambridge

Michael Clarke begins his contribution to this book (Chapter 9 ‘Semantics and Vocabulary’, pp. 120-33) with a sobering statement that we cannot ‘know’ ancient Greek because we are not members of its speech community: ‘knowledge of language depends on acquaintance; knowledge by description is not enough’ (pp. 120). What kind of knowledge we have of a ‘dead’ or ‘corpus’ language is an issue at the heart of A Companion to the Ancient Greek Language, which, through its multiplicity of contributions, achieves a balance between description and interpretation of the texts that survive and the linguistic features they reflect.

This multi-authored volume considers the ancient Greek language from many different angles and in a variety of periods and areas. The intention, as styled by the editor, Egbert J. Bakker, is that it ‘brings together the traditional perspectives and the newer approaches in what is hoped is a comprehensive overview of the language in its various manifestations (literary texts, papyri, inscriptions) and viewed under a variety of angles: historical, functional, syntactic, pragmatic and sociolinguistic, to name a few’ (pp. 2f.). To this end, the book is divided into six parts, each one composed of several chapters, treating different elements of a unified theme.

Following an introduction in which Bakker gives a brief overview of each of the book’s contributions (pp. 1-8), Part I ‘Sources’, consists of five chapters that look at the raw material for any investigation into the Greek language, the texts themselves. The earliest Greek texts, the Mycenaean records written in Linear B in the second millennium BC, are given a comprehensive treatment by Ferrara (pp. 11-24); the Greek alphabetic script has its own chapter, provided by Woodard (pp. 25-46); and the classical and later texts are discussed in three informative chapters on inscriptions (Wachter, pp. 47- 61), papyri (Verhoogt, pp. 62-68) and the manuscript tradition (Gaul, pp. 69-81). It is perhaps surprising, however, that some relatively nonconformist views are presented in this section without further discussion. For example, Woodard’s thesis that the Greek alphabet was developed in Cyprus is perhaps not as widely accepted as he implies[[1]], and Ferrara presents the dating of the Mycenaean tablets as if it were not a matter of continued debate,[[2]] as well as labelling the difficult texts written on stirrup jars as ‘part of the meticulous Mycenaean administrative modus operandi’ (p. 23).[[3]] This perhaps highlights a difficulty in resolving the book’s aim to bring together both ‘traditional perspectives’ and ‘newer approaches’: there is little room in each chapter to accommodate discussion that goes beyond an account of the current state of knowledge of that topic, and inevitably authors will not have been at liberty to review every avenue of research as thoroughly as they might have liked.

Part II ‘The Language’ comprises five chapters treating the application of particular linguistic concepts to ancient Greek. An impressively clear account of phonology by Philomen Probert (pp. 85- 103) is followed by a discussion of morphology and word formation by Michael Weiss (pp. 104-19), a thoroughly engaging account of semantics and vocabulary by Michael Clarke (pp. 120-33), an overview of syntax by Evert van Ende Boas and Luuk Huitink (pp. 134-50), and a treatment of pragmatics by Egbert J. Bakker that focuses on just two issues, deixis and tense (pp. 151-67). The discussions in this section of the book are almost all overwhelmingly descriptive in nature, but, far from being a weakness, this simply makes them all the more potentially useful as teaching materials because of the authoritative but concise overviews offered.

In one of the largest sections of the volume, Part III ‘Greek in Space and Time: Historical and Geographical Connections’, the emphasis is shifted to the sheer variety of the ancient Greek texts attested over a period of over a thousand years. Jeremy Rau begins with a chapter considering the development of Greek from Proto-Indo-European (pp. 171-88), again with perhaps a little too much certainty concerning the somewhat controversial dating of particular phases of the language (esp. pp. 173f.). Rupert Thompson gives a clear and thorough account of Mycenaean Greek phonology, morphology and syntax, and introduces the question of dialect (pp. 189-99), and Stephen Colvin follows with an account of the first millennium BC dialects (pp. 200-12) that is descriptive rather than analytical: for example, he makes no strong distinction between shared innovations, the markers of ‘genetic’ dialectal relations, and shared archaisms. Colvin’s statement that the problem of the Aeolic dialects, which display a mixture of East Greek and West Greek features, ‘reduces to the theoretical question of how many isoglosses constitute a dialect’ is rather evasive and misses an opportunity to discuss the competing models of dialectological analysis, namely diffusionism (which accounts much better for Aeolic) and the more traditional family tree model. In this instance, a reader interested in the methodology of Greek dialectology would be best advised to look elsewhere;[[4]] however, the strength of Colvin’s chapter is in his discussion of ancient perceptions of the dialects over time.

The rest of Part III is concerned with the Greek language outside of Greece proper. There are two accounts of Greek coming into contact with other languages in Asia Minor, the first, by Shane Hawkins, dealing with the classical period (pp. 213- 27), and the second, by Claude Brixhe, focusing on the Roman imperial period (pp. 228-52); Sofía Torallas Tovar gives a survey of Greek in Egypt, again with a considerable focus on bilingualism (pp. 253-66); Coulter H. George provides an insightful overview of Greek in the Septuagint and New Testament, assessing the question of influence from Hebrew and Aramaic (pp. 267-80); and Bruno Rochette gives an account of Greek and Latin bilingualism, both in Rome and abroad (pp. 281-93). The importance of studies of bilingualism to our understanding of ancient Greek, especially in the last ten to twenty years of study, is made obvious by these contributions. It is also interesting to note that it is almost exclusively in this section, particularly in the papers by Brixhe and Tovar, that personal names are discussed in any detail, and even then only in the context of language contact; other than this, any study of Greek onomastics (a field now benefitting from the impressive volumes of the Lexicon of Greek Personal Names, is rather glaringly omitted from the book as a whole.

Part IV ‘Greek in Context’ moves on to other sociolinguistic concerns, examining four types of variation found in ancient texts: variation of register is tackled by Andreas Willi (pp. 297-310), of gender by Thorsten Fögen (pp. 311-26), of status by Eleanor Dickey (pp. 327-37), and of vocabulary (i.e. technical terminology) by Francesca Schironi (pp. 338-53). Of these, the treatment by Willi is particularly engaging, approaching the question of register variation via a discussion of the definition of ‘register’ (as well as ‘style’ and ‘genre’), which is particularly relevant to the many papers in the volume focusing on various Greek textual traditions.

The texts, mostly those preserved through the manuscript tradition, are at the centre of Part V ‘Greek as Literature’, but the focus remains linguistic rather than overtly literary. Joshua T. Katz examines the possibility of reconstructing the pre-Greek history of poetic features found in Greek texts, especially Homer (pp. 357-69), while Gregory Nagy looks at the words applied to poetry by the ancient Greeks themselves, including mousikē and rhuthmos (pp. 370-87), and Olga Tribulato gives an informative and well-structured account of the use of literary dialects in particular genres (pp. 388-400). There follow five chapters treating the linguistic features of different traditions of literature: epic poetry (esp. Homer) is discussed by Olav Hackstein (pp. 401-23), lyric poetry by Michael Silk (pp. 424-40), Athenian tragedy by Richard Rutherford (pp. 441- 54), the wide spectrum of classical prose by Victor Bers (pp. 455-67) and the Second Sophistic by Lawrence Kim (pp. 468-82).

Three brief chapters in Part VI ‘The Study of Greek’ then outline the analysis of the language by the ancient Greeks themselves, from the point of view of philosophy (Caspar C. de Jonge and Johannes M. van Ophuijsen, pp. 485-98), grammar (Andreas U. Schmidhauser, pp. 499-511) and rhetoric (James I. Porter, pp. 512-23). A final section follows, Part VII ‘Beyond Antiquity’, intended to satisfy the reader’s natural curiosity concerning ‘what happens next’ (pp. 561) after the ancient period: Staffan Wahlgren discusses Byzantine Greek (pp. 527-38), David Holton and Io Manolessou Byzantine/medieval and the beginnings of modern Greek (pp. 539- 63) and Peter Mackridge modern Greek and the culmination of the ‘language controversy’ in the twentieth century (pp. 564-87). This section in particular (along with the earlier chapter by Kim on the Second Sophistic) highlights the misfortune that this volume was published just too early for contributors to take advantage of the second edition of Geoffrey Horrocks’ Greek: A History of the Language and its Speakers and its wide-ranging and now substantially updated account of the significant effect of the standardisation of the classical Attic dialect, and resultant diglossia, on the later Greek language.[[5]]

As with any large multi-authored volume, there are some inevitable variations in the quality of the many contributions to A Companion to the Ancient Greek Language, but overall the chapters are of a very high standard and arranged according to a logical overarching structure that, along with the lengthy index, will aid any reader in locating the particular discussion for which they might be searching. The ‘further reading’ sections included by each author are also of great value to the curious scholar. The book’s general aim of comprehensiveness (p. 2) could perhaps have been better served if there were more, and more detailed, cross-reference between the individual chapters, and the overall coherence is to some extent impaired by the variation in structure within those chapters, in particular the apparently arbitrary decision made by each author as to whether to end with a concluding section or whether simply to stop mid-flow (especially noticeable when reading the book continuously from beginning to end). As a result of this last phenomenon, the unnecessarily mysterious last sentence of the book is ‘“What impelled you to [make] this choice?”’ (p. 587; a translation included in a linguistic survey of modern Greek usage)!

A few imperfections aside, however, it must be said that this volume is an excellent resource, in particular for linguists and philologists, but is also accessible to anyone with an interest in the ancient Greek language, whether that interest is historical or literary. As Willi concludes in his chapter on register variation, ‘we can... enjoy a cake without knowing the ingredients that went into it. A true connoisseur, however, will want to know. In other words, we cannot truly understand and appreciate Greek literary culture without understanding how the texts that constitute it work’ (p. 310). This is a book for connoisseurs.


[[1]] A recent critique appears in P.M. Steele, A Linguistic History of Cyprus: The Non-Greek Languages, and their Relations with Greek, c.1600- 300 BC(Cambridge forthcoming). Woodard’s argument regarding Cyprus is presented in full in R.D. Woodard, Greek Writing from Knossos to Homer: A Linguistic Interpretation of the Origin of the Greek Alphabet and the Continuity of Ancient Greek Literacy (New York and Oxford 1997).

[[2]] For an overview, see J. Driessen, ‘Chronology of the Linear B texts’ in Duhoux, Y. and Morpurgo Davies, A. (edd.), A Companion to Linear B. Mycenaean Greek Texts and their World (Louvain- la-Neuve 2008) 69-79.

[[3]] This view recalls the argument presented in P.G. Van Alfen, ‘The Linear B Inscribed Stirrup Jars as Links in an Administrative Chain’, Minos 31/32 (1996/7) 251-274. For a critique see P.M. Steele, ‘A Comparative Look at Mycenaean and Near Eastern Bureaucracies: ‘Bilateral’ Documentation in the Linear B Archives?’, Kadmos 47 (2008) 41f.

[[4]] The clearest and most concise recent account is to be found in the second edition of G. Horrocks, Greek: A History of the Language and its Speakers (Oxford 2010) 9-41, with bibliography.

[[5]] G. Horrocks, Greek: A History of the Language and its Speakers (Oxford (2010[2]).