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Acropolis

October 2nd, 2011 by admin in slider

How did I come to study classical Greek?

By the time I went to Stanford (the first time, that is, for college), I had already been studying Spanish and French for a number of years.  I not only had a thirst for knowledge, I didn’t believe poetry could be adequately translated.  So I decided I would satisfy my foreign language requirement in yet another language, in Latin.

I was doing so by taking an intensive summer course, until one day our instructor didn’t show up.  A few days later, we learned he had taken his life.  He was a bright Ph.D. candidate, and left a note saying, “There was nothing better to do on a Monday afternoon.”  To this day, I remember the note’s obtuse message.  The shock made a blur of the days: such an idyllic time and setting in which to be reminded of the seriousness and the fragility of life.

But what did time and place have to do with it.  We were distraught.  I was so shaken, in fact, I said to myself, “If this is what studying Latin can lead to, I’m studying Greek!”

This is how I found myself in small 2nd year classes with the noted Viennese scholar, Antony Raubitschek, reading Plato and Homer in the original.  He was a wonderful teacher, highly respected in Europe as well as in the U.S., and was renowned for his work on the epigraphy and archeology of the Athenian Acropolis, of which I took the photograph of the Parthenon in the light of the setting sun for you to view, and where Athenians would have heard Homer recited accompanied with a lyre.

Professor Raubitschek believed in the “old school way” of studying the classics, as he had been taught: from youth, learning to read and write in Greek and Latin, and memorizing substantial passages of great classical literature.  He encouraged me to do likewise.  He believed, if you memorize a passage, you make it your own.  Thus he taught me to memorize sections of the Iliad, and taught me to recite them in dactylic hexameter.

I have recorded for you the opening few verses of the Iliad, as I was taught.  Greek poetry, due to its linguistic requirements, is quantitative, unlike poetry written in modern European languages, whose tonal requirements are accentual.  Nevertheless, Greek and its literary progeny, Latin, comprised the prosodic foundation for many centuries of poetry written in English; in meters and rhymes that strove toward classical sounds, until, that is, vers libre sought to set the language of modern poetry free.

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- Vincent Carver Gilliam

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