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.”