It’s All Greek to Me: Preface


The clay tablet KN Fp 13, dated to 1450-1375 BC, is Minoan and was found at Knossos by Arthur Evans. It records, in Greek written in Linear B, quantities of oil apparently offered to various deities. This image, which was originally posted to Flickr, was uploaded to Commons using Flickr upload bot on 21 November 2011, 13:30 by NotFromUtrecht. On that date, it was confirmed to be licensed under the terms of the license indicated. w:en:Creative Commons attribution This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

If you know me you will know that I am interested in languages. Not that I am a linguist – I am fluent in English, but for someone born in a town that is 95% francophone I speak French terribly, and while I have studied German in university I was not very good at that, either. I seem to do better with dead languages, as I don’t have to have conversations in them, but just be able to read it and translate texts into English. I did two years of high school Latin, a year of New Testament/Koiné Greek, and two years of Biblical Hebrew. I did the Greek and Hebrew over thirty years ago, but a remarkable amount of it has stuck with me, and I can usually make some sense of texts from the Bible, especially if I have a concordance and grammar handy.


Ancient Cretan form of the Greek alphabet. They don’t use this anymore. It also appears they wrote from right to left.

I now live in Greece. I am studying modern Greek, in an hour-long lesson twice a week. The focus is on being able to have a conversation, which makes it, for me, much more difficult than the New Testament Greek I did in 1985-86. As well, back then I was taught to pronounce words in ways that had a limited relationship to how Paul might have actually said things when dictated his letters. A lot has changed in the past 2000 years, and the pronunciation of Greek letters is one of them. British residents here in Greek who read Classics in their youth and taught it in schools confirm that it is not that much help to know ancient Greek, and really gets in the way sometimes.


Greek Alphabet with modern pronunciation

Studying Greek has made me want to do a series on the Greek language. It is a rather large topic, but perhaps to begin with I should talk about types of Greek in a historical vein. Just as English has changed over the years, so has Greek. My impression is that Classical Greek – the Greek spoken by Herodotus, Plato, and Euripides – is not as different from modern Greek as Old English (aka Anglo-Saxon) is from modern English. However, there are over three thousand years of Greek writing extant, which makes for a long time line. In due course I will try to address each type, and topics within each.

The chart below is the consensus understanding of the evolution of Greek. Enjoy!

Sig short

1600 – 1100 BCE Mycenaean Greek


Linear B
1100 – 800 BCE


“Greek Dark Age” no writing or inscriptions
800 – 420 BCE Ancient/Classical Homeric Greek (Archaic Greek)


420 – 330 BCE Classical Greek


330 BCE – 300 CE Hellenistic Greek (Koiné or

New Testament)


300 – 1452 CE Byzantine Greek


1452 CE – present Modern Greek


Demotic Dimotiki
Learned Katharevousa
Standard Modern Greek

About Bruce Bryant-Scott

Canadian. Husband. Father. Christian. Recovering Settler. A priest of the Church of England, Diocese in Europe, on the island of Crete in Greece. More about me at
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1 Response to It’s All Greek to Me: Preface

  1. Pingback: It’s All Greek To Me: Ancient Greek | The Island Parson

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