Fall 2013 Update

Fall has passed us by so quickly. It seems as though summer was just ending, and now, “Winter is coming,” as the characters in Game of Thrones would say. I have not added any new content to this site for awhile, so I figured it would be good time to update any readers I might have as to the status of this blog. Unfortunately, school has kept me busy writing papers and memorizing Latin vocabulary, and so, I have been unable to add any new content until now. In this post, I will be letting you know what sort of posts I will be making in the future, as well as providing details and updates regarding what I’ve been doing for past few months.

Summer Reading List

I had created an entire list of books that I wanted to read this summer, but it turns out that I was far too ambitious. I did not manage to get through Inferno by Dan Brown, but that was likely because I grew tired of the author’s style. The author kept trying to impress the readers with his knowledge of Italian art history; he gave the Italian names of every single location that his main character visited, but since I was not intimately familiar with most of these places (so all these names were basically meaningless to me), all he was doing was overloading his story with unnecessary information. I had to stop reading for awhile, but I might (no guarantee) get back to this story eventually.

I did finish reading the Aeneid, which as a long twelve-book epic turned out to be quite a bit of reading, but it turned out to be a very enjoyable read. I unfortunately did not have time to write many blog posts about it. I also read through the four plays by Aeschylus from the Persians and Other Plays volume, including Prometheus Bound, which I read in preparation for watching a production of the play at the Getty Villa. In addition, I wanted to read a few novels of the fantasy genre, such as stories by Brandon Sanderson or the fourth book in the Song of Ice and Fire series (A Feast for Crows), but summer classes and travel plans limited the amount of time I could read for leisure. Hopefully, I will have more time to read for leisure during the upcoming winter break.

Learning Greek and Latin

During the summer, I wanted to practice my Greek skills by reading through The Ass, a Greek novel that is said to be written by Lucian. I, along with one of my fellow students, met with a professor every week to read and discuss the text, and we got through about 50 percent of the story before the end of the summer.

I would say that this book is a decent way to quickly practice one’s Greek language skills. All the difficult vocabulary is listed at the bottom of the page, so we did not need to spend time hunting for words in the back of the book. It also comes with plenty of grammar notes, so we were only occasionally confused by odd grammatical constructions. In addition, it’s a simple and entertaining tale, so were able to read quite a significant chunk of the text over a short period of time. If what you are looking for is a nice, quick story to read in Greek, I would definitely recommend this.

This format does have a disadvantage: since most the vocabulary is listed near the text of the story itself, we never had to memorize any words. This may sound like a good thing, if reading quickly is your goal, but memorizing words and expanding one’s vocabulary is a very important part of learning a language. This format, by providing so much support, essentially eliminates any need for that. Nevertheless, this book did give me a nice way to keep my language skills active over the summer.

In the fall, I continued with Greek by taking an advanced reading class in which we read portions of Herodotus’ Histories, including the famous last stand of the 300 Spartans at Themopylae. Since I had been able to practice my skills over the summer, it was not too difficult to dive right back into Greek.

We used this book, which I would highly recommend (more than The Ass) for any Greek student. It comes with a very complete dictionary, a useful list of notes (providing detailed help for difficult constructions), and an extensive description of Herodotus’ grammar and style. It essentially contains everything one might need to read Greek, after finishing the elementary sequence. It does not provide as much assistance as The Ass, but that actually made tackling the Greek directly more rewarding, since I needed to work harder to piece together what Herodotus was saying. I would definitely suggest that you use this book if you are a dedicated student, if you really would like to work on expanding your vocabulary, and especially if you are willing to spend time to put together what exactly the author is saying (instead of relying on the editor’s suggestions). Of course, it also helps if you have a good professor or just a friendly study partner to work with: that always make the study of any language easier.

I decided to begin the Elementary Latin sequence as well, since I want to be able to read literature in both languages. It certainly sounds difficult to learn two languages at once, but Greek and Latin share similar grammatical structures, so my knowledge of Greek actually makes learning Latin a lot easier. Another thing that makes Latin a bit easier is the fact that so many English words contain Latin roots, while Greek roots in English are not quite so common. It is pretty simple to remember what “video” (to see, in Latin) means because of similarities to English words, like… well, video. Hopefully, my knowledge of Latin will also help to expand my English vocabulary.

Greek History

I took a class in Ancient Greek history this quarter, and it was almost shocking what a huge extent of time that we were able to get through in such a short time. We started at around 3000 B.C., and now, only nine weeks later, we are already nearing the conquests of Alexander in the late fourth century B.C. How, you might ask, were we able to remember all of the major historical events that occurred in this span of time? How could we cover everything in enough detail to really understand what was happening in Greece?

The truth is that it is actually impossible to cover all the periods of Greek history in complete detail, simply because we don’t have that much information. The Greek Bronze Age covers almost two thousand years (3000-1100 B.C.) of history and yet we talked about it for only a week or so. This is because most of the data we have for the Bronze Age comes from archaeology, not detailed written records of events. It is not until the Archaic period (750-480 B.C.) and Classical period (480-323 B.C.) that we start to have a clear picture of specific events and actual historical/political figures.

So, in reality, we covered less than 350 years of Greek history in close detail, which is not quite as intimidating as 2700 years of history. For the earlier parts of Greek history, all we could do was make broad generalizations about what was happening. In fact, historians still do not entirely agree on the causes of the Bronze Age Collapse, an event occurring around 1100 B.C. that destroyed the Mycenaean civilization, as well as many other Eastern Mediterranean societies. The Dark Ages followed (1050-750 B.C.), and we have some idea of how people may have lived during that time, but again, there are no specific dates, events, or people that we can use to learn more about what was really going on in Greece.

From what I’ve learned so far, ancient Greece is a bit of a paradox, as far as great civilizations go. Ancient Greek history seems to be dominated by warfare. The Greeks, always on the lookout for ways to outdo their rivals, were perpetually in conflict with one another, whether in massive wars like the Peloponnesian War or in small skirmishes. Despite all their divisions, the ancient Greeks were able to produce some of the greatest works of literature, architecture, art, and philosophy the world has ever known.

In a similar way, Athens, which we Americans often look to as a model for good, democratic government (though ours is really based on the Roman model), created a brilliant center of commerce and culture, but it simultaneously brought forth an imperialistic and often aggressive desire to “spread” democracy, leading to more strife and more warfare. This paradox is often what seems to define the ancient Greeks, and it is part of what makes their civilization and culture so interesting as something to be studied.

Future Blog Posts

Very soon, you will begin to see new blog posts once more. Though Season 3 came to an end many months ago, I still have one or two posts relating to Game of Thrones for your enjoyment. I may also be creating a few blog posts about other TV shows or movies that I watch, or books that I may read, but what these shows, movies, or books are remain undetermined.

I will continue my series about the ever-changing representation of Odysseus in classical literature, which has been adapted from an essay that I wrote some time ago. As for the Aeneid, I had planned to write one or two blog posts for each section of the poem, but to read through the entire epic and to write something interesting about all twelve books proved to be a very difficult task. If time permits, I may decide to continue on that project later on.

Of course, I will also post anything else that I happen to find interesting. For the moment, I still have schoolwork to complete (including papers that might turn into blog posts down the line!), but after finals are done, you should see an increase in the amount of content on this blog. See you again soon.

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