Saturday, February 9, 2013

Appetitive: Reading For Pleasure

Have you ever tried to read a Greek or Latin text for pleasure? I have, but usually after the first hour or so, I put it down. It's not that I don't like reading Greek and Latin...I love it. But when I'm not compelled to do it for a class, it can become really frustrating. And worse, it's not about how hard the Greek or the Latin is, it's usually about my vocabulary.

When I read a Greek text, for example, I have to sit at my desk with the text, a commentary, All The Greek Verbs, the LSJ (or a smaller dictionary), Smyth, and sometimes various other references. After a while, I just get sick of flipping through pages. For school, I have to do it which forces me to power through, but it's just too many things to look up when reading for pleasure; especially when reading for pleasure only comes as a brief break from reading for school.

One of the solutions to this is old elementary and middle school textbooks. When I was in ireland I picked up a little copy of Xenephon's Anabasis, Book I, that was edited for children. It has a vocabulary in the back, a commentary, and it's slightly simplified. It also has the added benefit of being pocket sized, so sometimes I take it around with me and read when I have a few free minutes.

Even better, I found, are the texts on Geoffrey Steadman's website. The texts are unaltered (with the exception of a typo here and there). There's a list of core vocab at the beginning of each one, which must be memorized, but everything else is glossed. The commentary explains any wording that is even remotely difficult. Of course, Steadman rarely explains the reasoning behind the constructions, so it's nice to have Smyth or a big dictionary on hand, but it's nice to be able to just sit there with my kindle and read Republic Book I (only needing to flip back and forth between text and facing vocabulary). I hope that in the future, I'll spend more time reading Greek for pleasure. And maybe someday my vocabulary will be decent enough that I can do this with an OCT. Maybe...


  1. I think sometimes it's good not to be so obsessive about understanding everything and just read large chunks of text to get the general drift. Doing it this way, you have a chance to pick up the meaning of words from context. I've found going back and forth between a chunk of text and its translation (original twice, translation once in between readings) is also a good way to pick up a lot of things. There are real benefits to reading large chunks of text without the help of a dictionary, so I would recommend these methods.

  2. That's a great idea.

  3. Rather than flipping, you may want to check out downloading Peter Heslin's Diogenes, which is a very useful tool for browsing and searching databases of classical texts. One can move quickly between ancient authors, click on the LSJ entries to see the passages from which citations are derived, and click individual words in passages to view the LSJ entry. It's true that you can do this online, more or less, by using tools like Perseus and the TLG online website, but this is slow.

    Of course, one should not depend too heavily on these tools, but they have their appropriate place, especially when looking for specific words/collocations across the Greek corpus. Diogenes can be found here:

    As the web-page states, "These databases are not distributed with Diogenes and must be obtained separately." So you could use your own Thesaurus Linguae Graecae CD, if you have one, or that of your library/friend. It is rumored that these database files have been extracted from the CDs and may be found elsewhere, but I would know nothing about that...