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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

From Sappho 2

Equal to the Gods by Sappho, verse 2. (verse 1)
    καὶ γαλαίσας ἰμερόεν τὸ μ ὴ ᾽μάν
    καρδίαν ἐν στήθεσιν ἐπτόασεν,
    ὠς γὰρ ες ιδω βροχέ ως με, φώνη
    οὐδὲν ἔτ᾽ ἔικει,

    And [your] lovely laughing
    the heart in my breast agitates
    For when I look at you, even briefly,
    my voice is gone.
γαλαίσας - γελάω - "laugh" Luke 6:21
καρδίαν - καρδία - "heart" Matt. 5:8
στήθεσιν - στῆθος - "breast" John 13:25
ἐπτόασεν - πτόησις - "fear, trembling" 1 Peter 3:6
βροχέ - βραχὺ - "little" Luke 22:58
φώνη - "voice" John 10:3
οὐδὲν - "none, nothing" Acts 18:5
ἔικει - "there" Acts 9:33

I continue this poem to show that those who start learning Greek and Hebrew in their teens do not necessarily experience it as a "drag" or a "dead language". It is a way to access universal thoughts and emotions in another culture, in this case, in one now gone.

I suppose it would be too much to hope for that seminaries would plunge a student into Sappho's poetry, but you can see how rarely a word occurs here which is not also found in the scriptures. Some speak of verb forms, and I admit I did learn them, but the place to start would be with a lot of recurring and vivid vocabulary, creating a sense of accomplishment and familiarity.

One of the most obvious difficulties with studying New Testament Greek is that there is not enough new content in terms of ideas in a lesson. If the passage is already well known in English, then what can the mind engage in when learning those first few words. The new insights will be all too small in proportion to the investment.

Better learn something completely different and previously unknown, and as the brain is stimulated by new content the foreign vocabulary will forge a meaningful connection to the English equivalents. The mind will grow in the domain of culture and ideas along with the items of vocabulary, and dare I mention it, grammar. Unlike Hebrew, where an unfamiliar piece of poetry can be found in the scriptures, Greek presents a more difficult challenge.

While John is asking us to read Hebrew without vowel points, I am presenting Greek in an unfamiliar dialect with variant vowels.

Note: I have taken the Greek text and some help in the translation from If not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho by Anne Carson.


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