Charles Moss’s “First Greek Reader”

When I began learning ancient Greek in May 2019, I was disappointed to find that two of the standard modern textbooks—Hansen and Quinn’s Greek: An Intensive Course, Donald Mastronarde’s Introduction to Attic Greek—feature very little Greek to read.

To supplement my study of the grammar, I sought out a graded reader with basic texts to translate: not so hard that they would defeat a beginner encountering the language for the first time, but not so easy or short that they would not hold my attention, nor so artificial that they would give a false impression of idiomatic Greek style. Mark Twain lampooned such artifice in “The Awful German Language”:

My book inquires after a certain bird—(it is always inquiring after things which are of no sort of consequence to anybody): “Where is the bird?” Now the answer to this question—according to the book—is that the bird is waiting in the blacksmith shop on account of the rain. Of course no bird would do that, but then you must stick to the book.

I did not quite know what I wanted to find, then, but I knew what I wanted to forgo. After a not very systematic search of texts in the public domain, I settled on the 163 elementary Attic passages comprising the second edition of Charles Melville Moss’s A First Greek Reader: with Notes and Vocabulary, published in Boston by Allyn and Bacon in 1893. The text is available in its entirety on Google Books.

There are other options available; another is W. D. Rouse’s A Greek Boy at Home (1909). I make no claim that Moss’s is the best choice, and of course I am in no position to judge his fidelity to Attic style. But at least the volume has the straightforwardness so typical of nineteenth-century textbooks. I find more modern attempts, such as Oxford University Press’s Athenaze and the Joint Association of Classical Teachers’ Reading Greek: Text and Vocabulary, both typographically unattractive and cluttered with distractions. Moss’s pages, by contrast, are clean: no pictures, no help. The titular “notes and vocabulary” are collected at the end of the book, rather than included as footnotes or marginalia. There is nothing but the Greek before you.

In translating, I have opted to sail closer to the Scylla of literalness than the Charybdis of liberality. There are certainly more idiomatic renderings of the English, but the point of this exercise is to follow the Greek. I also include some notes, primarily about those places in the text where I had difficulty on a first reading. Moss’s own grammatical notes refer to William Goodwin’s A School Greek Grammar and James Hadley and Frederic de Forest Allen’s A Greek Grammar for Schools and Colleges. As is customary, I do not translate every particle or discourse marker.

This page is a work in progress; I add to it when I can. If you find an error, I would be most grateful if you would leave a comment, or get in touch to tell me about it.

—August 31, 2019

1. A troublesome boy

ἔχω παιδίον ὅ φιλῶ, καὶ Στέφανον καλῶ αὐτόν. ὁ δὲ κουφόνους ἐστιν· ἀναβαίνει γὰρ ἐπὶ τὴν οἰκίαν ἢ ἐπὶ τὸν ἵππον. καὶ ὅυτω τοὺς αὑτοῦ φίλους φοβεῖ. πολλάκις λυπεῖ τὴν μικρὰν ἀδελφήν. καλοῦμεν τὴν ἀδελφὴν Ἑλένην.

I have a young child whom I love, and I call him Stephanos. But he is thoughtless [literally, light-minded]: he goes up onto the house and onto his horse. And in this way he frightens his friends. Often he annoys his little sister. We call his sister Helen.


Some Greek verbs take double accusatives, such as καλῶ (to call): I call him (acc.) Stephanos (acc.). Another such verb is παιδεύω (to teach). Compare the English “I am teaching him math,” where we might be inclined to interpret “him” as an indirect object: “I am teaching math (acc.) to him (dat.).” In Greek both the subject being taught and the person being taught are in the accusative.

2. He has a nurse

ἔστι δέ τῷ Στεφάνῳ τροφὸς σοφὴ καὶ ἀγαθή. καὶ φιλεῖ αὐτόν. ἀλλὰ ἐνίοτε κακός ἐστιν. ἡ οὖν τροφὸς παίει τὴν κεφαλὴν αὐτοῦ. καὶ ποτε ὁρᾷ αὐτὸν ἐν τῇ ὁδῷ ὅπου ἵπποι καὶ ἅμαξαί εἰσιν. ἐθέλει οὖν τὸ κακὸν παιδίον· ἀλλα ἀποτρέχει ἐπὶ τὴν οἰκίαν καὶ αὐτῆς καταγελᾷ. ἡ δὲ τροφὸς λέγει, ‘οὐκ ἔστι παιδίον ἐν τῇ χώρᾳ ὃ οὕτω κακόν ἐστιν.’

There is a nurse for Stephanos, wise and good. And she likes him. But sometimes he is bad. In those cases, the nurse hits his head. Sometimes she even sees him in the road, where there are horses and wagons. When that happens, she wants to punish the bad boy; but he runs up onto the house and mocks her. The nurse says, “There’s no boy in the land who’s so bad.”


The verb forms ὁρᾷ (to see) and καταγελᾷ (to deride, mock, laugh or jeer at) are both in the third-person singular, present indicative active, but the standard ending -ει has been contracted. Compare the uncontracted forms ὁράει and καταγελάει.

The verb καταγελᾷ takes an object in the genitive, αὐτῆς.

3. Philip hits two thieves with one decision

κλέπτης ποτὲ φιλίππῳ, τῷ κριτῇ, λέγει, ‘ὦ φίλιππε, κλέπτης ἔχων τὸν ἐμὸν ἵππον ἀπελαύνει. ὁ δέ ἄνθωπος, ὃν νομίζω εἶναι τὸν κλέπτην, ἐστὶν Ἀλέξανδρος.’ καὶ εὐθὺς ἄλλος ἄνθωπος πάρεστιν ὃς λέγει, ‘Ἀλέξανδρός εἰμι. οὐ τὴν ἀλήθειαν λέγει· ὁ γὰρ ἵππος οὐκ αὐτοῦ ἐστιν, ἀλλὰ Κύρου. ὁ δὲ πονερὸς ἄξιός ἐστι δίκης, ὡς κλέπτης ὤν.’

φίλιππος δὲ, ἀκούων τὸν λόγον τῶν ἀνθώπων, νομίζει ἀμφοτέρους κλέπτας εἶναι καὶ διακρίνει ὧδε· δεῖ τὸν μὲν πρῶτον κλέπτην φεύγειν ἐκ Μακεδονίας, τὸν δὲ δεύτερον διώκειν τὸν πρῶτον.

Once a thief says to Philip, a judge, “O Philip, a thief having my horse is driving away. And the man, whom I think to be the thief, is Alexander.” And at once another man walks by, who says, “Alexander I am. But he does not tell the truth: the horse isn’t his, but Cyrus’s. The wretch is worthy of punishment, on the grounds of being a thief.”

Philip, listening to the men’s speech, considers both to be thieves and judges thus: the first thief has to flee Macedonia, and the second has to follow the first.


κλέπτης is a masculine first-declension noun.

This passage introduces present participles (ἔχων, ἀκούων, ὤν) and present infinitives (εἶναι, φεύγειν, διώκειν). Note that εἶναι is an irregular form, departing from the present ending -ειν. I’m not sure why the present infinitive is used instead of the aorist, since these actions take place one and for all.

4. Penny wise, pound foolish

ὁ ἐμὸς φίλος λέγει ὅτι ἐν τῇ αὑτοῦ χώρᾳ ἄνθρωπος οἰκει ὃς οὐ σοφός εστιν· ὁ γὰρ ἵππος αὐτοῦ μέλλει θνήσκειν ὅτι ὁ ἀνοήτος ἅνθρωπος, οὐ χιλὸν καὶ κριθὰς, ἀλλὰ ξύλα καὶ λίθους τῷ ἵππῳ παρέχει· λέγει δὲ, ‘ἀνάγκη ἐστι τῷ ἵππῳ μανθάνειν ξύλα καὶ λίθους ἐσθίειν.’ εἰ οὕτως ποιεῖ ἀνάγκη εστὶν αὐτῷ πολλοὺς ἵππους λαμβάνειν, εἰ καὶ ὀλίγον χρυσίον ἔχει.

My friend says that in his country there lives a man who is not wise: for his horse is about to die because the mindless man gives the horse not grass and barley, but pieces of wood and stones. He says, “It’s necessary for the horse to learn to eat pieces of wood and stones.” If he acts this way, it’s necessary for him to get many horses, even though he has little gold.

5. Honorable scars

καλὸς δοκεῖ ὁ λόγος ὅν ἐθέλω λέγειν περὶ δυοῖν στρατιώταιν. ὁ μὲν οὐ καλός ἐστιν· ἕνα γὰρ ὀφθαλμὸν ἔχει ἀντὶ δυοῖν καὶ ἄλλα κακῶς ἕχει διὰ τοὺς πολεμίους. ὁ δὲ ἕτερος, ἅγροικος ὢν, λὲγει, ‘τὸ πρόσωπόν σου δοκεῖ αἰσχρὸν εἶναι.’ ὁ δὲ πρῶτος λέγει, ‘ἐκεῖνο τὸ πρόσωπον ὃ μισεῖς, καίπερ οὐ καλὸν ὂν, οὐκ αἰσχρόν ἐστιν· οἱ γὰρ πολέμιοι, ὑφ’ ὧν οὕτω πάσχω, ἀγαθοί εἰσιν· ἐγὼ δὲ ὁρῶ τὸ πρόσωπόν σου καλὸν ὄν· φανερόν ἐστιν ὅτι σὺ κακὸς εἶ.’

The story that I want to tell about two soldiers is thought to be beautiful. The one soldier is not beautiful: he has one eye instead of two, and other parts [of his face] are disfigured thanks to his enemies. The other soldier, being churlish, says, “Your face is thought to be ugly.” The first replies, “This face that you hate, though not beautiful, is [at least] not disgraceful; my enemies, under whom I suffer so much, are noble. I see your face is beautiful: [by its beauty] it is [thus] apparent that you are a coward.”

There are so many words!

Tim Parks on Ann Goldstein’s new translation of Elsa Morante’s L’isola di Arturo, in the London Review of Books (August 15, 2019):

In the interview with Publishers Weekly Goldstein explains that she came to translate Arturo’s Island because her publisher had so enjoyed collaborating with her on the complete works of Primo Levi that he wanted to work with her again. ‘He looked into the Morante situation and this was the one that was available.’ Coming after ‘“Ferrante fever”, it seemed like this was a good time for translating Italian women writers.’ Perhaps she wasn’t aware of Morante’s complaint that ‘the generic concept of women writers as a separate category harks back to the society of the harem.’ In short, translator and writer were not matched by elective affinity. Goldstein found the novel ‘astonishing and difficult’. ‘Morante’s sentences are very complicated and full of words – there are so many words!’ Indeed. Putting her version down, one’s feeling is that many of them eluded her, and that this fine novel is yet to be captured in English.

Writings, which are endless

From the translators’ eleven-page preface to the authorized, 1611 version of the King James Bible, surely the finest such preface ever penned—as fiercely defensive as it is consummately learned, and as beautiful as it is radical; it is impossible to imagine a more urgent or eloquent plea for translation:

Zeal to promote the common good, whether it be by devising any thing ourselves, or revising that which hath been labored by others, deserveth certainly much repect and esteem, but yet findeth but cold entertainment in the world. It is welcomed with suspicion instead of love, and with emulation in stead of thanks: and if there be any hole left for cavil to enter, (and cavil, if it do not find an hole, will make one) it is sure to be misconstrued, and in danger to be condemned. This will easily be granted by as many as know story, or have experience. For was there ever any thing projected, that favoured any way of newness or renewing but the same endured many a storm of gainsaying or opposition? A man would think that civility, wholesome laws, learning and eloquence, synods, and Church maintenance, (that we speak of no more things of this kind) should be as safe as a sanctuary, and out of shot, as they say, that no man would lift up his heel, no, nor dog move his tongue against the motioners of them. For by the first we are distinguished from brute beasts led with sensuality: by the second we are bridled and restrained from outrageous behaviour, and from doing of injuries, whether by fraud or by violence: by the third we are enabled to inform and reform others by the light and feeling that we have attained unto ourselves: briefly, by the fourth, being brought together to a parley face to face, we sooner compose our differences, than by writings, which are endless: and lastly that the Church be sufficiently provided for is so agreeable to good reason and conscience, that those mothers are holden to be less cruel, that kill their children as soon as they are born, than those nursing fathers and mothers, (wheresoever they be) that withdraw from them who hang upon their breasts (and upon whose breasts again themselves do hang to receive the spiritual and sincere milk of the word) livelihood and support fit for their estates. Thus it is apparent, that these things which we speak of are of most necessary use, and therefore that none, either without absurdity can speak against them, or without note of wickedness can spurn against them.


But now what piety without truth? What truth, what saving truth, without the word of God? What word of God whereof we may be sure, without the Scripture? The Scriptures we are commanded to search, John v. 39. Isai. viii. 20. They are commended that searched and studied them, Acts xvii. n . and viii. 28, 29. They are reproved that were unskilful in them, or slow to believe them, Matt. xxii. 29. Luke xxiv. 25. They can make us wise unto salvation, 2 Tim. iii. 15. If we be ignorant, they will instruct us; if out of the way, they will bring us home; if out of order, they will reform us; if in heaviness, comfort us; if dull, quicken us; if cold, inflame us. Tolle, lege; tolle, lege. Take up and read, take up and read the Scriptures, (for unto them was the direction,) it was said unto St Augustine by a supernatural voice. Whatsoever is in the Scriptures, believe me, saith the same St  Augustine, is high and divine; there is verily truth, and a doctrine most fit for the refreshing and renewing of men’s minds, and truly so tempered, that every one may draw from thence that which is sufficient for him, if he come to draw with a devout and pious mind, as true religion requireth. Thus St Augustine. And St Hierome, Ama Scripturas, et amabit te sapientia, &c. Love the Scriptures, and wisdom will love thee. And St Cyrill against Julian, Even boys that are bred up in the Scriptures become most religious, &c. But what mention we three or four uses of the Scripture, whereas whatsoever is to be believed, or practised, or hoped for, is contained in them? or three or four sentences of the Fathers, since whosoever is worthy the name of a Father, from Christ’s time downward, hath likewise written not only of the riches, but also of the perfection of the Scripture? I adore the fulness of the Scripture, saith Tertullian against Hermogenes. And again, to Apelles an heretick of the like stamp he saith, I do not admit that which thou bringest in (or concludest) of thine own (head or store, de tuo) without Scripture. So St Justin Martyr before him; We must know by all means (saith he) that it is not lawful (or possible) to learn (any thing) of God or of right piety, save only out of the Prophets, who teach us by divine inspiration. So St Basil after Tertullian, It is a manifest falling away from the faith, and a fault of presumption, either to reject any of those things that are written, or to bring in (upon the head of them, ἐ εισάγεῖν) any of those things that are not written. We omit to cite to the same effect St Cyrill Bishop of Jerusalem in his 4. Catech. St Hierome against Helvidius, St Augustine in his third book against the letters of Petilian, and in very many other places of his works. Also we forbear to descend to later Fathers, because we will not weary the reader. The Scriptures then being acknowledged to be so full and so perfect, how can we excuse ourselves of negligence, if we do not study them? of curiosity, if we be not content with them? Men talk much of εἰρεσιώνη, how many sweet and goodly things it had hanging on it; of the Philosopher’s stone, that it turneth copper into gold; of Cornu-copia, that it had all things necessary for food in it; of Panaces the herb, that it was good for all diseases; of Catholicon the drug, that it is instead of all purges; of Vulcan’s armour, that it was an armour of proof against all thrusts and all blows, &c. Well, that which they falsely or vainly attrib- uted to these things for bodily good, we may justly and with full measure ascribe unto the Scripture for spiritual. It is not only an armour, but also a whole armoury of weapons, both offensive and defensive; whereby we may save ourselves, and put the enemy to flight. It is not an herb, but a tree, or rather a whole paradise of trees of life, which bring forth fruit every month, and the fruit thereof is for meat, and the leaves for medicine. It is not a pot of Manna, or a cruse of oil, which were for memory only, or for a meal’s meat or two; but, as it were, a shower of heavenly bread sufficient for a whole host, be it never so great, and, as it were, a whole cellar full of oil vessels; whereby all our necessities may be provided for, and our debts discharged. In a word, it is a panary of wholesome food against fenowed traditions; a physician’s shop (as St Basil calls it) of preservatives against poisoned heresies; a pandect of profitable laws against rebellious spirits; a treasury of most costly jewels against beggarly rudiments; finally, a fountain of most pure water springing up unto everlasting life. And what marvel? the original thereof being from heaven, not from earth; the author being God, not man; the inditer, the Holy Spirit, not the wit of the Apostles or Prophets; the penmen, such as were sanctified from the womb, and endued with a principal portion of God’s Spirit; the matter, verity, piety, purity, uprightness; the form, God’s word, God’s testimony. God’s oracles, the word of truth, the word of salvation, &c., the effects, light of under- standing, stableness of persuasion, repentance from dead works, newness of life, holiness, peace, joy in the Holy Ghost; lastly, the end and reward of the study thereof, fellowship with the saints, participation of the heavenly nature, fruition of an inheritance immortal, undefiled, and that never shall fade away. Happy is the man that delighteth in the Scripture, and thrice happy that meditateth in it day and night.

But how shall men meditate in that which they cannot understand? How shall they understand that which is kept close in an unknown tongue? as it is written, Except I know the power of the voice, I shall be to him that speaketh a barbarian, and he that speaketh shall be a barbarian to me. The Apostle excepteth no tongue; not Hebrew the ancientest, not Greek the most copious, not Latin the finest. Nature taught a natural man to confess, that all of us in those tongues which we do not understand are plainly deaf; we may turn the deaf ear unto them. The Scythian counted the Athenian, whom he did not understand, barbarous: so the Roman did the Syrian, and the Jew: (even St Hierome himself calleth the Hebrew tongue barbarous; belike, because it was strange to so many:) so the Emperor of Constantinople calleth the Latin tongue barbarous, though Pope Nicolas do storm at it: so the Jews long before Christ called all other nations Lognasim, which is little better than barbarous. Therefore as one complaineth that always in the Senate of Rome there was one or other that called for an interpreter; so lest the Church be driven to the like exigent, it is necessary to have translations in a readiness. Translation it is that openeth the window, to let in the light; that breaketh the shell, that we may eat the kernel; that putteth aside the curtain, that we may look into the most holy place; that removeth the cover of the well, that we may come by the water; even as Jacob rolled away the stone from the mouth of the well, by which means the flocks of Laban were watered. Indeed without translation into the vulgar tongue, the unlearned are but like children at Jacob’s well (which was deep) without a bucket or something to draw with: or as that person mentioned by Esay, to whom when a sealed book was delivered with this motion, Read this, I pray thee, he was fain to make this answer, I cannot, for it is sealed.

Half technology and half religion

Paul Graham, “Beating the Averages,” 2001:

Ordinarily technology changes fast. But programming languages are different: programming languages are not just technology, but what programmers think in. They’re half technology and half religion. And so the median language, meaning whatever language the median programmer uses, moves as slow as an iceberg. Garbage collection, introduced by Lisp in about 1960, is now widely considered to be a good thing. Runtime typing, ditto, is growing in popularity. Lexical closures, introduced by Lisp in the early 1970s, are now, just barely, on the radar screen. Macros, introduced by Lisp the mid 1960s, are still terra incognita.

• • •

If you ever do find yourself working for a startup, here’s a handy tip for evaluating competitors. Read their job listings. Everything else on their site may be stock photos or the prose equivalent, but the job listings have to be specific about what they want, or they’ll get the wrong candidates. During the years we worked on Viaweb I read a lot of job descriptions. A new competitor seemed to emerge out of the woodwork every month or so. The first thing I would do, after checking to see if they had a live online demo, was look at their job listings. After a couple years of this I could tell which companies to worry about and which not to. The more of an IT flavor the job descriptions had, the less dangerous the company was. The safest kind were the ones that wanted Oracle experience. You never had to worry about those. You were also safe if they said they wanted C++ or Java developers. If they wanted Perl or Python programmers, that would be a bit frightening—that’s starting to sound like a company where the technical side, at least, is run by real hackers. If I had ever seen a job posting looking for Lisp hackers, I would have been really worried.

On learning German

Crossgrove and Crossgrove, Graded German Reader: Erste Stufe

Durrell, Hammer’s German Grammar and Usage

Habermann et al., Grundwissen Grammatik: Fit für den Bachelor

Jannach and Korb, German for Reading Knowledge

Rosenberg, German: How to Speak and Write It

Sandberg and Wendel, German for Reading

Stern, Studien und Plaudereien (available on Project Gutenberg)

Twain, “The Awful German Language,” Appendix D in A Tramp Abroad