Smyrilios

By: | Post date: 2017-09-20 | Comments: 7 Comments
Posted in categories: Linguistics, Mediaeval Greek

This post is about a mediaeval Greek bird name.

This post is, of course, not about a mediaeval Greek bird name at all.

I coauthored with George Baloglou an analysis of a vernacular mediaeval Greek poem, the Entertaining Tale of Quadrupeds (Διήγησις Παιδιόφραστος των Ζώων των Τετραπόδων). The Tale recounts a parliament of animals, who declare a truce and assemble to enumerate their vices and virtues, before they resume battle. A fact that has escaped the more inattentive readers of the Tale (and the Tale has had no shortage of those) is that in the end, the herbivores win.

The Book of Birds (Πουλολόγος) is a roughly contemporary poem, which is similar, and routinely appears in the same manuscripts as the Entertaining Tale of Quadrupeds, but is set in the world of birds. Its premise is the same, though it reads rather differently: it is rigid where the Tale is free-flowing, allusive where the Tale is homely, and reactionary where the Tale at least hints at subversion: one scowl from the King’s hawks is enough to ensure that the birds behaved themselves.

Or at least, they did in the main version of the poem. In 1954, Georgios Zoras announced1 that he owned two manuscripts of the Book of Birds, which ended differently. In his variant, the birds revolt against King Eagle and his henchmen, led by the skylark. The variant is clearly derived from the Tale, and its outcome is stylistically from the same template—even though, true to its host poem, this variant has the birds of prey come out on top.

The revolt is triggered by the duck’s argument with the smyrilios, and the smyrilios is singled out for derision by the rebels. The smyrilios is also the bird that ends up killing the lead rebel, the skylark.

Τότε γυρίζει ὀ γέρακας, λέγει τοῦ βασιλέως:
«Ἐβλέπει ἡ βασιλεία σου τὴν τόλμην τῶν ὀρνέων!
Δὲν σώνει ἡ ὕβρις ἡ πολλὴ ποὺ μοῦ ’καμε ὁ λούπης,
ἀμὴ πάλιν ἡ πάπια ἤρξατο νὰ ὑβρίζη
τὸν ἀντρειωμένον, τὸν φρικτόν, σμυρίλιον τὸν μέγαν·
χωρὶς νὰ ἔχουν τήρησιν ἀπὸ τὴν ἀφεντίαν σου,
μᾶλλον τολμοῦν κατηγοροῦν, βρίζουν τὴν βασιλείαν σου,
τὸ πὼς ποιεῖς παράδικα, καὶ κάμνεις στραβὴν κρίσιν·
καὶ ἔστεψαν τὸν ἀσκορδιαλὸν αὐθέντην νὰ τοὺς κρένη,
διὰ τὴν σοφίαν του τὴν πολλὴν καὶ τόλμην ὁποὺ ἔχει.»

The hawk then turned toward the king and spoke:
“Your majesty can see the fowls’ defiance!
As if the kite had not bad-mouthed me enough,
the duck now seeks to denigrate the brave,
the terrible, the great smyrilios,
with no respect toward your majesty.
Indeed, they dare accuse and curse your reign,
claiming you are unjust and have poor judgement.
And they have crowned the skylark as their lord
to rule them, for his wisdom and his daring.” (101–110)

That’s my translation there, p. 422.

Now, if the Book of Birds were a classical text, noone would pay any attention to a late variant, let alone the words in it: the prestige of the classical author would have blinded out all. But this is mediaeval text; the scribes and adapters are not substantially inferior to the original authors, and what they dared do to the texts they scribed and adapted is far more interesting.

So the variant ending of the Book of Birds was published in Tsavare’s edition2 And its vocabulary was included in Tsavare’s glossary. (The variant ending was not published in Eideneier’s recent edition of the two poems; but Eideneier doesn’t have a lot of time for the Book of Birds anyway.)

But the variant ending is still a second class citizen in scholarship in one regard. There has been ample research, both in Tsavare’s edition and in Krawczynski’s earlier edition,3 into the identity of the birds mentioned in the poem. The smyrilios was not included in that research. And for the past 15 years, I’ve had no idea what bird it was.

I looked, God knows. I looked in Handrinos & Dimitropoulos’ book4 on Greek birds of prey. I looked in D’Arcy Thompson’s 1895 classic A Glossary of Greek Birds, and I looked in W. Geoffrey Arnott’s modern sequel, Birds in the Ancient World from A to Z. No dice.

I worked at the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae, the digital library of Ancient and Mediaeval Greek, when I co-wrote the book; and I kept working at the TLG until my contract was not renewed in 2016. I was responsible for the automated recognition of vocabulary, building on the Perseus’ project’s Morpheus lemmatiser (and I did a lot of building, none of if lamentably open source). I searched high and low for words; there was not a glossary or an index nominum in the country that I did not hoover up to improve it. But I set myself standards, and I maintained them. I would not add any new lexemes without the warrant of a dictionary or glossary behind it. (Admittedly, I did allow words to be derived from other words through productive derivational morphology.) My abstemiousness was often enough vindicated, as new-looking words turned out on closer reading to be variants of existing words.

Early Modern Greek texts exercised the automated recognition of Greek vocabulary and lexicon more than any others, and I always welcomed the challenge. The Book of Birds was added to the corpus during my watch. That means that the smyrilios was added to the corpus during my watch. And I added no entry for it. Kriaras’ dictionary of Early Modern Greek was going to get to smyrilios in Volume XX. I could wait.

And meanwhile, every new volume that came out of Kriaras, I would go through the unrecognised vernacular words starting with the right letters, and add the relevant entries manually. Up until Volume XIX.

Volume XX came out eight months after I lost access to the TLG. I got hold of Volume XX a few months later.

And there the smyrilios was.

σμυρίλιος, ο, Πουλολ. (Τσαβαρή)2 ΑΖ 26, 27, 35, 86, 127.

Από το ιταλ. smeriglio (Battaglia, λ. smeriglio2). Πβ. λ. σμιρίλλιν σήμ. στο κυπρ. ιδίωμα (Γιαγκουλλής, Κυπρ. διαλ.).

Είδος μικρόσωμου γερακιού, ο ιέραξ αισάλων (falco aesalon).

smirilios (masc): Book of Birds (2nd ed., by Tsavari): AZ 26, 27, 35, 86, 127

From the Italian smeriglio (Battaglia, s.v. smeriglio2). Cf. the word smirillin in the modern Cypriot dialect (Yangoullis, K. Small Ιnterpretive and Εtymological Τhesaurus of Cypriot dialect.).

A kind of small-bodied hawk, falco aesalon.

Of course, that was an occasion for me to kick myself. I should have realised that the word could have been Italian. I didn’t think it, because I was misled by its spelling: the upsilon betokens a Greek etymology. But of course, the upsilon has no authority at all: it was merely used by analogy with σμύρνη “myrrh”. (And note that Yangoullis, who knows better what the etymology is, spells it with an iota.)

Still. I have a copy of Yangoullis’ dictionary. I can’t fathom why I didn’t just look it up. Or Googled it.

And what is a falco aesalon?

As very often happens when I find a Linnaean name in Greek lexicography, Wikipedia indicates that the old Linnaean name has been superseded. There is controversy about whether the American and the Eurasian bird of the species are distinct species; if they are, the Eurasian bird was called Falco aesalon, 13 years after Linnaeus named the American bird back in 1758. The consensus appears to be that they are the same species, which is accordingly called Falco columbarius; the European bird that winters in Greece is deemed a subspecies, Falco columbarius aesalon.

So, the smyrilios is known in Modern Greek as the nanogerako “midget hawk”. In English, it is called the merlin. In America, it is also known as the pigeon hawk. In Old French, esmerillon, and in Icelandic, fittingly enough, smyrill.

If I’d googled smyril, when trying to work out what the smyrilios was, the first hit I would have gotten would have been the Smyril Line of Faroese ferry boats (and a ferry boat owned by a completely different Faroese company). With a logo to match.

Here’s a photo of F. c. aesalon; most of the photos of Falco columbarius online are of the three American subspecies. This guy’s in Kazakhstan:

And here’s the Icelandic and Faroese smyril, subspecies F. c. subaesalon.

Ok, a little pointillist. I’ll take the postage stamp instead.

I don’t know what happens now if you click on σμυρίλιος in the TLG. I really have lost access to it, and to all the work I did on it. In the best case, nothing happens, just as nothing happened when I was working on it, and waiting for Volume XX.

Actually, that’s not the best case. The best case is that after my dismissal, those who dismissed me had an epiphany, bought the last 10 volumes of Kriaras, and meticulously went through the thousand-odd vernacular words I’d left unrecognised, exercising the same probity and scrupulousness that I had done. And that the smyrilios is linked to a definition copied from Kriaras, and identifying it with at least the Falco aesalon, if not the merlin.

… Yeah.

The latest update on the TLG web site says that wordform recognition is now up to 98.25%, from 98.189% in June 2016. (Not coincidentally, June 2016 is when my contract was not renewed.) With 1.5 million wordforms, that means something like a thousand wordforms with their recognition added in the past year.

Maybe they’ve been done right. Maybe they’ve been done meticulously. Maybe they haven’t just had an eyeballed entry slapped in, with no definition, no lexicon as a source, and no care to prevent spurious duplicates of lemmata already well-defined in the corpus.

I don’t know, and if any of you have access to the TLG, I’d be curious to find out what does happen when you click on it.

But not too curious. I don’t work there any more, after all. I’ve had to move on. And I no longer hunt down indices nominum whenever I’m in a library. Fifteen-year habits are hard to break, but all things pass, and so did that.

This post is, of course, not about a mediaeval Greek bird name at all.

The relevance of the following song to what this post is actually about—is left as an exercise to the reader.

Against the recent PhD on Nathanael Bertos

By: | Post date: 2017-09-19 | Comments: 1 Comment
Posted in categories: Culture, Literature, Mediaeval Greek

My post on Nathanael Bertos was occasioned by a Google search that led me to find out that there had been a recent PhD thesis, which had just been published, by Despoina Athanasiadou-Stefanoudaki.

I bought the book. Bertos was advertised as one of the earliest writers in Greek vernacular prose, and I knew nothing about him; a PhD thesis dedicated to him seemed a great opportunity.

I was disappointed. Bitterly disappointed.

And because this is my blog, not Quora’s or Crete Uni’s or whoever’s, and because I don’t particularly have to claw any man in his humour since I’m not working in academia, I’ll tell you why.

Not that Athanasiadou-Stefanoudaki is that foreboding a target.

There are illegitimate reasons for me to dislike her work, and I’ll get them out of the way first.

  • It is not a legitimate reason for me to dislike her work that this is a theology PhD. As far as I’m concerned, theology is a branch of philosophy, even if it’s one which wears its axioms and biases on its sleeve. A lot of good work can and has been done in theology.
  • It is not a legitimate reason that she proudly announces herself in her blurb as έγγαμη και υπερπολύτεκνη, “married and hyperpolyteknos (having more than five children)”. In Greek contemporary culture, that is a clear signal of fanatical adherence to Orthodoxy; but she’s doing a theology PhD, so that’s hardly a surprise.
  • It is not a legitimate reason that she’s not an academic, and is working as a secondary school teacher. I’m not working as an academic either, and I’d like to think that doesn’t make me dumb. It just makes me not well connected or suicidally persistent.
  • It is not a legitimate reason that this is her second PhD, her first having been in Byzantine literature. Second PhDs are looked on as an oddity for a reason, and that reason is tied up with the professional development of an academic: your first PhD was meant to be apprenticeship enough, and your time is supposed to be spent producing in your current field, not apprenticing in neighbouring fields. (It’s not actually switching fields that is frowned upon.) But she is not working as an academic, and if her work allows her to re-apprentice, the more power to her.
  • It is not a legitimate reason that her PhD is available online, and the book doesn’t seem to have added much value to it. That’s the risk you take with any published PhD.
  • It is not a legitimate reason that she spends 300 pages discussing Bertos’ work, without republishing Bertos so you can see for yourself what the hell she’s talking about. It’s annoying, sure, and a book might have taken the occasion to republish at least the corpus of 14 smaller sermons. But she’s not obligated to republish, let alone re-edit, work that is already available. And I got unspeakably lucky that the journal where the sermons had been published has moved its content online.
  • It is not a legitimate reason that she did not take the opportunity to publish those sermons by Bertos that have not yet been published, and which she does cite from manuscript. This is not a literature PhD but a theology PhD; and at least she doesn’t rub it in by doing a detailed analysis of those sermons. A new edition was underway by Nikolaos Panagiotakis when he died a couple of decades ago, and it may yet surface, like his edition of Sachlikis just did.

So much for that. Because there’s plenty of legitimate reasons.

  • Copy-pasting slabs of text from nationalist historians in her introduction, and defensive theologians in her analyses, as a way of advancing an argument. Presenting others’ arguments, at great length, is not advancing your own argument, and being selective about who you cite to advance your opinion is not much better.
  • Not having much original theologically to say. Hence the copy pasting.
    • Admittedly, it’s not like Bertos was in the theological originality business: the guys that were were the guys that were flirting with Catholicism (and later on Protestantism—which is why I was amused to see her mention Cyril Lucaris approvingly.) There was hardly a thought in Bertos’ sermons that Chrysostom hadn’t put there in his own sermons. And being sermons, that’s what you’d expect.
  • Spending pages of purported rhetorical analysis of the sermons spent on enumerating all questions, all imperatives, all interjections used. By the time you’re itemising “Amen” at the end of each sermon as an interjection, I’m not convinced your endeavour is worthwhile any more.
  • Indulging anachronistic notions in her introduction of church-sponsored nationalism in Venetian Crete. That’s the fault of the historians she’s copy pasting (who were writing way too recently for that to be tolerable), but it’s her fault too—the more so as she alludes to the holes in that view of Bertos. Bertos does after all end up preaching loyalty to the Signioria (the Venetian authorities), in the middle of yet another Cretan insurrection (Sifis Vlastos’). And loyalty to the secular authorities was what Orthodox Christianity always preached, whether the authorities were Ottoman or Venetian. But don’t then turn around and say that the Orthodox Church was at the forefront of keeping Greek national consciousness alive. Not the Church that ended up declaring nationalism a heresy.
  • Dismissing Michael Apostolius as a Uniate schoolteacher that noone paid any attention to. Apostolius is the last author that Classicists pay attention to (he wrote a collection of Ancient Greek proverbs), and one of the pioneers of the Renaissance; he may have been a dogmatic enemy, but he deserves a little more respect than that. (Wikipedia notes that he actually penned an anti-Catholic work, which confuses me further.)
  • Applauding Bertos’ killjoy, miserable counsels as expressions of paternal concern towards his flock, when no human of flesh and blood would endure them, and I’d be doubtful that that many theologians would take them seriously. Saying priests are more important than God. Saying that blasphemy is a greater sin than murder. Saying that “Go to the Devil” is blasphemy. Saying that subsistence farmers needing to work on Sunday to stay alive (they would run out of grain in March, and go begging) is a sinful indulgence.
    • And she insists that Bertos was not a misogynist, even if he does single out women in church for indecorous appearance and gossip; a salve to her conscience, perhaps, but not a compelling one.
  • Making the throwaway, facile comment that the moral laxity of 15th century Crete is to be blamed on the presence in towns of Venetians and—yes, she actually went there—Jews. (And when she says “multicultural” with regard to Venetian Crete, I don’t get the feeling she uses the term with approval.)
    • Of course Bertos’ said bad, if generic, things about Jews: all Orthodox clergy did. (Generic enough that he actually calls their synagogues μαγίδας, a corruption of masjid “mosque”.) And of course Bertos conscripted the Jews in his arguments in sermon 9, about observing Sunday as a day of rest (“Whoever does not rest from the 9th hour until the second hour after sunrise is no Christian, but a Jew and an enemy of God. Yet see, brethren, how the accursed race of the Jews observe the Sabbath…”) And of course the West now regards antisemitism as a cardinal sin, certainly more of a sin than blasphemy. There’s a very good reason for that.
    • I’d have to read more Cretan history than I have done (in fact, the thesis has inspired me to), but I’d be surprised if the Crete of 1100, before the Venetians arrived on the island and seemingly corrupted its morals, was Judenrein. For that matter, I don’t remember seeing an argument that Plantagenet Judenrein England was somehow a moral light unto the nations. Perhaps the presence of 1100 Jews on the island was not particularly relevant to the levels of public morality. At least when Panagiotakis spoke of the moral laxity of 1350s Crete in his lecture on Sachlikis, he gave the more plausible pretext that the Black Death had made people indifferent about hellfire.

My moment of wanting to fling the thesis at the wall did not come with her cardinal sin. There was an even more fundamental misstep, in my book, in her analysis of the same sermon, where Bertos reminisced about how much more moral people were in his youth:

ποῦ ἦν οἱ καιροὶ καὶ οἱ χρόνοι οἱ εὐλογημένοι, οὓς εἶδον ἐγὼ ὁ ταπεινός, οἱ εὐθυμίας πεπλουτισμένοι καὶ χαρᾶς καὶ ἀγαλλιάσεως; καὶ γὰρ τότε ἡ Ἱεράπετρος ὀρφανοτρόφος ἐκαλεῖτο καὶ ἐλέγετο· νῦν δὲ πῶς κατῆλθεν εἰς ὀλίγον καὶ εἰς ἀφανισμὸν καὶ ἐσχάτην πτωχείαν. καὶ τοῦτο οὐ γέγονεν εἰμὴ ὑπὸ τῆς κακίας καὶ πονηρίας ἡμῶν. ἀφ’ ὅτου δὲ ἐπέρασαν οἱ παλαιοὶ καὶ καλοὶ ἄνθρωποι οἱ φοβούμενοι τὸν Θεόν, καὶ ἔσωσεν ἡ ὕστερος ἑκατοντάς· ἤλλαξαν οἱ ἄνθρωποι καὶ τὰ ἤθη καὶ αἱ φορεσίαι τῶν ἀνθρώπων καὶ ἡ γνώμη καὶ ἡ ὑπόληψις καὶ ἡ ἀνθρωπότης. καὶ ἐγένετο ἄλλος κόσμος και ἄλλη γνώμη καὶ ἄλλη κατάσταστις, καὶ ὀλίγον τὸ κατ’ ὀλίγον ἐξέκλινεν ὁ λαός, καὶ οὔτε τῆς ἐκκλησίας ἀκοῦσαι θέλουν οὔτε διδασκάλου, οὐδὲ συμβουλήν καλοῦ ἀνθρώπου καὶ γέροντος, ἀλλὰ μᾶλλον ληροῦσι τοὺς γέροντας καὶ καταφρονοῦσιν. καὶ παίζουσιν ὡς δῆθεν αὐτοὶ φρονιμώτεροι ὑπάρχουσιν καὶ λογίζονται ὅτι ὁ κόσμος καὶ οἱ ἄνθρωποι οὕτως ἦσαν ἐξ ἀρχῆς, ὥσπερ ἦν σήμερον.

Where are the blessed times and years that I beheld, humble as I am, rich with merriment and joy and gladness? And then Ierapetra [Bertos’ home town] was known and named as the Feeder of Orphans. But now how it has descended to insignificance and devastation and utmost poverty! And this has happened only because of our evil and malice. For the old good people who feared God have passed, and the last century has been left; people have changed, and mores, and peoples’ dress, and opinion, and respect, and humanity; and a different world and opinion and situation has taken their place. And little by little the people have fallen off, and they do not wish to listen to either the church or a teacher, nor the advice of a good man or an elder: they would rather mock elders and treat them with contempt. And they laugh that they are supposedly wiser, and they fancy that the world and people have been like they are today since the beginning.

Athanasiadou-Stefanoudaki has the integrity to point out that Nilus Damilas, who was abbot in Bertos’ monastery fifty years before (and who Bertos names as an authority in an unpublished sermon), wrote a sermon during the halcyon days Bertos was reminiscing about, saying exactly what Bertos said about his own generation.

She could have gone the further step and said that maybe, just maybe, Bertos was full of it when he was saying that the Ierapetrans of 1420 were so much more moral than the Ierapetrans of 1470; that this was the reminiscence of a naive child conscripted into an ascetic’s resentment. And for that matter, maybe Damilas was just as full of it back in 1420. And maybe the Crete of 1100 was not a high tide of virtue, because humans were just as fallen—and just as virtuous—under Constantinople as they were under Venice, or Saracendom, or Rome (where Crete actually belonged ecclesiastically until the 9th century), or in St Paul’s day, when he used Epimenides’ testimony against them in his epistle to Titus. And maybe those peasants that Bertos mocks for fancying that “the world and people have been like they are today since the beginning” weren’t all that wrong after all.

She didn’t. She didn’t have to anyway, and she was unlikely to; but she didn’t. And that is an abdication.

Four Romaic names for Greece

By: | Post date: 2017-09-15 | Comments: 1 Comment
Posted in categories: Culture, Linguistics, Mediaeval Greek, Modern Greek

As ably explained in Wikipedia: Names of the Greeks, there is a tension in mediaeval and modern times between names for Greeks based on their ancient heritage (Hellenic; Hellenes), and names for Greeks based on their Roman and Byzantine heritage  (Romaic; Romioi = Romans). The tension was clearer within Greek, because Western languages used a term that was neither: Greek. (And that term turns up in Greek itself as Graikos, though it was never as popular as the other two.) I have posted at some length about this several times, e.g. in Are Greeks an Ethnoreligious Group?

Somewhat less well known is the comparable tension around what the name of Greece was. There was Hellas, of course, and Hellas survived in Byzantium as the name of a theme (province), what is now southern Greece. But Hellas was not the name Byzantines called their empire. And inasmuch as the Romioi identified with the Eastern Roman Empire and not with Ancient Greece, Hellas was not always the name Greeks called their country either.

Romans came from Rome originally; but the name Romans gave their country in Latin, once their country became far bigger than Latium, was Romania. That was also the name that people who considered themselves as Roman gave their own country, even if their country did not include Rome; that’s how Romanians came to call their own country România, for example. For that matter, that’s how some Romance linguists name Romance-speaking Europe, although the confusion with Romanian România is enough to make that a very bad idea.

Half the Roman Empire used Greek as its official language instead of Latin, and that half referred to the Roman Empire as Rhōmania as well (Ῥωμανία). They saw no particular reason to stop calling it Rhōmania once the capital moved from the Elder Rome to Constantinople the New Rome, nor once the Elder Rome was lost to the Goths or the Papacy. The first text I know of that uses the term Rhōmania is AthanasiusHistory of Arianism (written before he died in 373)—

καὶ γὰρ οὐδὲ Λιβερίου τοῦ ἐπισκόπου Ῥώμης κατὰ τὴν ἀρχὴν ἐφείσαντο, ἀλλὰ καὶ μέχρι τῶν ἐκεῖ τὴν μανίαν ἐξέτειναν, καὶ οὐχ ὅτι ἀποστολικός ἐστι θρόνος ᾐδέσθησαν, οὔδ’ ὅτι μητρόπολις ἡ Ῥώμη τῆς Ῥωμανίας ἐστὶν ηὐλαβήθησαν
And they [Arians] did not even spare Liberius as the duly appointed bishop of Rome, but they extended their madness to the Christians there. They neither respected the fact that his see was Apostolic, nor did they care that Rome is the metropolis of Rhōmania. (§35.3)

followed shortly after by Epiphanius’ Panarion, written around 375:

καὶ οὕτως εἰς τὰς ἄλλας πατρίδας διὰ θαλάσσης διερχόμενοι οἱ ἀπὸ τῆς Ἰνδικῆς ἐπὶ τὴν Ῥωμανίαν ἐμπορεύονται.
And thus do those who navigate to other countries by sea trade from the Indian Ocean to Rhōmania. (§3.17)

 

ἀλλὰ καὶ μεταξὺ ἄργυρον προσλιπαρήσας τὸν ἐπὶ τοῦ δεσμωτηρίου δίδωσι πολὺν καὶ φυγὰς ἀπαλλάττεται, καταλείψας τὴν τῶν Περσῶν χώραν, καὶ τῇ Ῥωμανίᾳ προσέβαλε.
And in the meantime, importuning the jailer, he gave him much silver and was let go to be a fugitive: he [Mani] abandoned the land of the Persians, and assaulted Rhōmania. (§3.25)

The term continued to be used right till the very end, and it was used by people whose authority Constantinople would have contested; Stefan Dušan for example signed himself in the 1340s, in Athonian documents, as  ΣΤΕΦΑΝΟΣ ΕΝ ΧΡΙΣΤΩ ΤΩ ΘΕΩ ΠΙΣΤΟΣ ΒΑΣΙΛΕΥΣ ΚΑΙ ΑΥΤΟΚΡΑΤΩΡ ΣΕΡΒΙΑΣ ΚΑΙ ΡΩΜΑΝΙΑΣ, “Stephen, faithful in Christ God, King and Emperor of Serbia and Rhōmania.” The name is all over the Epic of Digenes Akrites and the Chronicle of the Morea (occasionally as Rhoumania). It certainly outlasted the Empire itself: we just saw Nathanael Bertos use it in possibly the 1460s; and Schreiner’s collection of Byzantine (and post-Byzantine) chronicles, Die byzantinischen Kleinchroniken, includes the following note for 1523:

τῷ αὐτῷ ἔτει ὁ ῥηθεὶς ἀμηρᾶς ἐξήβαλεν πολλὰς φαμιλίας ἀπὸ τὰ κάστρη τῆς Ῥωμανίας καὶ ὑπῆγέ τας εἰς τὴν Αἴγυπτον, καὶ Τούρκους.
In the same year, the aforementioned emir [Suleiman the Magnificent] expelled many families from the forts of Rhōmania, and sent them to Egypt; Turks as well. (§33,4.89)

Inexplicably, Kriaras’ dictionary of Early Modern Greek does not include the word; presumably because it was so common in Early Modern Greek. The word did not survive into Modern Greek. At least, it did not survive into the standard language; it certainly survived in Pontic Greek enough that a much cited folk song uses it to describe the Fall of Constantinople:

Ἕναν πουλίν, καλὸν πουλίν, ἐβγαίν’ ἀπὸ τὴν Πόλιν,
οὐδὲ ’ς σ’ ἀμπέλια ’κόνεψεν, οὐδὲ ’ς σὰ περιβόλα·
ἐπῆγεν καὶ νἐκόνεψεν καὶ ’ς σοῦ Ἡλί’ τὸν κάστρον·
ἐσεῖξεν τ’ ἕναν τὸ φτερόν, ’ς σὸ αἷμαν βουτεμένον,
ἐσεῖξεν τ’ ἄλλο τὸ φτερόν, χαρτὶν ἔχει γραμμένον.
Ἀτὸ κανεὶς ’κ’ ἐνέγνωσεν, οὐδ’ ὁ μητροπολίτες·
ἕναν παιδίν, καλὸν παιδίν, ἔρχεται κι ἀναγνώθει.
Σεῖτ’ ἀναγνώθ’ σεῖτα κλαίγει, σεῖτα κρούει τὴν καρδίαν.
«Ἀϊλὶ ἐμᾶς, καὶ βάι ἐμᾶς, πάρθεν ἡ Ρωμανία!»
Μοιρολογοῦν τὰ ἐγκλησάς, κλαίγ’νε τὰ μοναστήρα,
κι ἅϊ Γιάννες ὁ Χρυσόστομον κλαίει, δερνοκοπᾶται.
«Μὴ κλαίς, μὴ κλαίς, ἅϊ Γιάννε μου, καὶ δερνοκοπισκᾶσαι.
Ἡ Ρωμανία ’πέρασεν, ἡ Ρωμανία ’πάρθεν.
Ἡ Ρωμανία κι ἂν ’πέρασεν, ἀνθεῖ καὶ φέρει κι ἄλλο.»

A bird, a fine bird, leaves Constantinople.
It lingered not in vineyards, nor in gardens;
it flew and lingered at Elijah’s fortress.
It shook one wing, and it was dipped in blood.
It shook the other: there’s a written note.
Noone could read the note, even the bishop;
a lad, a fine lad, came and read the note.
He reads, he cries; he reads, he beats his breast.
“Woe and alas for us! Rhōmania’s taken!”
The churches mourn, the monasteries lament,
and St John Chrysostom, he cries and wails.
“Cry not, cry not, St John, and do not wail.
Rhōmania’s passed. Rhōmania now is taken.
Rhōmania, passed, will bud, and bear a new one.”

… Hold that thought.

There were good extralinguistic reasons for Greeks to forget the name Rhōmania, once there was no Empire of the Romans, just the Romans [Romioi] themselves. There were good linguistic reasons as well: Rhōmania is a Latin word, and the Roman– stem was only used in Rhōmania. A Roman in Greek was never a Rhōmanos, but a Rhōmaios (a Rhomäer, as German scholarship renders it, to differentiate them from Rome Romans). The –ia suffix was still used to form country names, but attached to Rhōmaios, it would give you the awkward form *Rhomaiïa (Ῥωμαιία), which the vernacular would end up rendering as [romˈja], indistinct from Rhōmaia > [romˈja] “Roman woman”.

If you’re looking for Greeks who’ve forgotten the details about their glorious past, late Venetian Crete is a good place to start. Not all the urbane writers writing in Cretan dialect were Greek Orthodox; most of them seem to have written in Latin script; and whether Catholic or Orthodox, what they knew of Ancient Greece was mediated through Italian: they named the gods and heroes of Hellas with Italianate names in their dramas and poems, not Hellenic names.

An odd word shows up in Crete to replace  Rhōmania. It shows up in an intermezzo of Fortounatos, a comedy written in the 1650s by Marcantonio Foscolo (in Latin script). It also shows up in the 1700 dictionary of Modern Greek by Somavera.

The word is Romikato (Foscolo), or Romekato (Somavera). It’s formed from Romaic (rome[i]kos), the vernacular form of the adjective “Roman”, and the suffix –ato. The suffix –ato does not see much usage in Greek; it’s Latin, corresponding to English –ate, and you see it in calques like protektorato “protectorate”, or ðukato “duchy”. Somehow,  the *Romanate (or I guess the *Romicate) ended up as a word for the  land of the Romans in the 17th century. And to confirm how blunted the Cretans’ command of the subtleties of Hellenism was: Foscolo uses it to refer to Ancient Greece, Hellas. Here’s his passage, complete with Menealaus and Helen in Italian accentuation:

του Μενελάο είναι γυνή [η Έλενα], οπού την Σπάρτα ορίζει·
στο Ρωμικάτο ευρίσκεται, και φέγγει και πλουμίζει.
She’s [Elena] Menelao’s wife, who rules in Sparta;
she shines and ornaments the Romanate. (Intermezzo II 160)

The Romanate did not survive in Modern Greek either. What did survive was something much simpler, though also more awkward: the neuter adjectival form of Romaic, το Ρωμαίικο to Romeiko. The Roman [thing]. The Romaic State, if you will.

Makriyannis refers to both Hellas and The Romaic in his memoirs of the Greek Revolutionary War and its aftermath; you can see the transition happening in its text if you’re attentive, from the Romaic country aspired to by the unlettered revolutionaries, to the Hellenic state administered by learnèd governors. Hellas was a glorious thing—or so the learnèd governors kept telling the people. The Romaic started as a glorious dream itself, as Makriyannis reports someone excitedly telling him on the eve of the revolution:

Τι στοχάζεσαι, αυτό το Ρωμαίγικο θα κάμη άργητα να γένη; Θα κοιμηθούμε με τους Τούρκους και θα ξυπνήσουμε με τους Ρωμαίγους.
What are you thinking, is that Romaic going to be slow in coming? We’ll go to bed with the Turks and wake up with the Romans!

Or as something his contemporaries falsely hoped Ali Pasha of Tepelena would bring them:

Αυτείνοι δεν πίστευαν τίποτας απ’ όσα τους έλεγα, αλλά τον ήθελαν νικητή να τους λευτερώση, αυτός ο τύραγνος να φέρη το Ρωμαίγικον και την λευτεριά της πατρίδος -και αν έβγαινε αυτός, δεν θ’ άφινε μήτε ρουθούνι απο ’μάς.
They wouldn’t believe a word I’d tell them; they wanted him to be the victor to liberate them, that this tyrant should bring about The Romaic and the freedom of our motherland—and if he did come out on top, he wouldn’t leave a nostril of ours alive.

Dreams sour; and the Greek Revolutionary War degenerated quite quickly into internecine strife. After witnessing one atrocity, Makriyannis (a partisan in that strife himself) exclaimed:

Κι’ από τότε βλέποντας αυτείνη την αρετή, σιχάθηκα το Ρωμαίικον, ότ’ είμαστε ανθρωποφάγοι.
And from that point onwards, seeing such virtue practiced, I was sick of The Romaic; for we are cannibals.

Makriyannis’ revulsion stuck. When the pedants preached that to be a Hellene was glorious, and to be Romaic was shameful, the Romaic stopped being a dream, and started being Dorian Gray’s picture. Hellas was the glorious, storied ideal; anything wrong that happened thanks to creatures of mere flesh and blood was lodged against the ledger of The Romaic. The Romaic became a term of mockery. The Romaic was everything that was wrong and un-Hellenic—until at long last the term Hellene had displaced the term Romaic so completely, that Hellas, the official name of Greece, could now be used negatively.

(There’s a paper I read once—Kazazis, K. 1981. Έλληνας vs. Ρωμιός Anecdotally Revisited. Folia Neohellenica 3: 53–55—noting that it was impossible for the author as a child to speak of “dumb Hellenes”; Hellenes were by definition glorious, and the only possible thing to say was “dumb Romans”. He observed that in the last decade or so, “dumb Hellene” had finally become possible to say.)

Cornelius Castoriadis was a philosopher who worked in France. I don’t know much about Castoriadis. I do know that, when googling for instances of The Romaic, I found that he said something heartbreakingly obvious about it, in an interview he gave in the 90s, Η Πολιτική Ζωή στην Ελλάδα (Political Life in Greece). I’m going to cite two related excerpts, because they are as poignant now as they were 20 years ago:

Can we claim that this was all imposed on the Greek people in the absence of the Greek people? Can we say that the Greek people did not understand what it was doing? What it wanted? What it was voting for? What it was prepared to put up with?

If that’s the case, then such a people would be an infant. But if it is an infant, then let’s not talk of democracy. If the Greek people is not responsible for its history, then let’s appoint it a guardian. But I say  that the Greek people, like any people, is responsible for its history, and is accordingly also responsible for the situation it finds itself in today.

[…]

The late Giorgos Kartalis joked to me in Paris in 1956: “Cornelius, you forget that Greece never went through a French Revolution.” And true enough, there has never been a time when the people has demanded its rights, even at a rudimentary level. And the responsibility I’ve referred to is expressed through the irresponsibility of the proverbial expression:

“Am I going to be the one to fix The Romaic?”

Well yes you are, sir. You are going to be the one to fix The Romaic, in the  domain and sector you find yourself in.

The Romaic is not much used any more, though I note with approval the self-consciously erudite hip hop lyrics of Όλο το ρωμαίικο from 2007.

But in the middle of the mockery of The Romaic, in the 40s, the poet Yannis Ritsos, the laureate of the Greek Left, reached back at a fourth term for the country of the Romans. Wiktionary informs me that that the term is first attested in a Cretan ballad written about a revolt in 1786; but Ritsos made the term his own, in his poetic cycle of the same name. And through Mikis Theodorakis‘ setting of the cycle, the whole country got to hear of it.

The term is Romiosyni, Ρωμιοσύνη. If I have to English it, it’s Romandom, or Greekdom: it’s formed by analogy to Χριστιανοσύνη Christendom. It is expansive and vital and inclusive, like “Christendom” is: it is a collective, an ideal, that ranges beyond the confines of a state as The Romaic had ended up doing.

And Ritsos’ verse restored the ideal of the Romans to where the Pontic folk song had left it. “Rhōmania, passed, will bud, and bear a new one.”

Τη ρωμιοσύνη μην την κλαις εκεί που πάει να σκύψει
με το σουγιά στο κόκκαλο με το λουρί στο σβέρκο.

Νάτη πετιέται απο ξαρχής κι αντριεύει και θεριεύει
και καμακώνει το θεριό με το καμάκι του ήλιου.

Cry not for Romandom, as it bows down—
a pen-knife to its bone, a strap to its neck.

Look, it springs up again, grows brave, grows fierce,
and with the sun’s own spear it spears the beast.

Nilus-Nathanael Bertos (?) (ca. 1460?): On a captive freed through the prayers of priests

By: | Post date: 2017-09-13 | Comments: 19 Comments
Posted in categories: Linguistics, Literature, Mediaeval Greek

I rejoin Hellenisteukontos with a translation of a sermon possibly by Nilus-Nathanael Bertos.

No, most people have not heard of him, and justifiably so. He isn’t all that good. But the sermon struck me as so… WTF, so divorced from the world I know (a world substantially informed by the Reformation and the Enlightenment), that I thought it worth sharing.

Bertos was a monk born in Ierapetra, a town in South-Eastern Crete, in the early 1400s. Crete at the time was a Venetian colony, and Bertos’ is clearly an Italian surname—though we don’t know whether it’s reduced from Alberto, Umberto, or what. As a young man, Bertos moved to Rhodes, possibly in order to become a monk (no senior Orthodox clergy were allowed to resided in Crete). While there, he wrote some edifying poetry in vernacular Greek: by then a somewhat macaronic vernacular was well established as a vehicle of verse literature. Prose, on the other hand, was not done in the vernacular until the next century (at least outside of Cyprus; Leontios Machairas’ chronicle dates from 1432, and the Assizes of the Kingdom of Cyprus are at least a century earlier).

Bertos wrote some sermons around the 1460s, and they have been cited as some of the first vernacular Greek prose around.

I’ve read Bertos’ sermons, and I have no fricking idea why you would call them vernacular. (Or edifying.) There’s vernacular words in there, I guess, even some downright dialectal words. But no more than 1 per 100 words, and often a lot less. The sermons are clearly in Koine; and to say they are pioneering vernacular Greek prose when Machairas wrote what he did a generation before is just… well, it makes no sense to me. Are we really that desperate for vernacular prose authors?

Bertos’ sermons were published in the 70s, in an obscure Danish mediaevalist publication, which ceased in paper in 2008. (I corresponded with its founder Jørgen Raasted just before he passed away in 1995.) Laudably, Copenhagen Uni has put PDFs of the entire run of the journal online: Cahiers de l’Institut du Moyen-Âge Grec et Latin. As a result, you can access Bertos’ 14 published sermons: Schartau, Bjarne. 1974. Nathanaelis Berti Monachi Sermones Quoattuordecim. Cahiers de l’Institut du Moyen-Âge Grec et Latin 12: 11-85.

That’s not the sermon I’m rendering here today. The sermon I’m rendering appears in a manuscript just before Bertos’ 14, and may well also be by him. (The recent PhD thesis on Bertos—of which I have much to say in my next post, all of it bad—just assumes it’s his without further discussion.) Schartau, Bjarne. 1976. De captivo precibus sacerdotum liberato (BHG 1318z). Cahiers de l’Institut du Moyen-Âge Grec et Latin 17: 70-75. Both editions are from the tail end of the Bad Old Days of Early Modern Greek Studies, when scholars would still list how these texts deviated from the Classical Greek norm, rather than treating them as older forms of Modern Greek.

I’m actually impressed that this sermon got a BHG number. (The Bibliotheca Hagiographica Graeca is a catalogue of all Greek texts about saints, and this sermon ended up in that catalogue in 1957.) More than I’m impressed by the sermon itself. But like I said, it reflects such an astoundingly different worldview from mine, that it’s given me pause. I just find it hard to believe that any Cretan peasant would have believed the story, or not seen through how self-serving it was, coming from a monk.

Here goes. I’ll chime in with two linguistic comments at the end.


There was once a man in the parts of Romānia who had an only son, and this man was old. And the master of that land, it so happened, wished to form a camp to prepare for war. So, though the old man objected, they took his son into the army. And they went forth and fought, but they were defeated by the enemy. And some the enemy cut down, some they took captive, and some they shut in prison. So they also shut that young man in a prison called Oblivion, namely Forgotten. And whoever was put in that prison would not be taken out until the day he died. That place was also known as Unrecorded, for noone would say anything about those imprisoned there. For it was a royal command: whoever inquired about it or mentioned it, should be put in that prison too.

So his parents heard that he too was killed in the war; they despaired of their hope, and had no more expectation of seeing him, giving him up as murdered. So they commemorated a requiem for him according to the custom of Christians: on the third day, the ninth, the fortieth, three months, six months, and the year. And the year anniversary of his death happened to be on the eve of the Holy Epiphany, namely Twelfth Night. And they commemorated mass for him, and they brought alms into church for the remembrance of their son. And as they sat in church, they saw the young man coming into the temple, and worshipping the sacred icons. And he embraced his parents and neighbours, and kissed them—O, what a miracle! And there was great rejoicing and gladness that the youth had been recovered.

So they asked about him, where he had been this past two years and where he had come from. And he explained to them in tears: “They shut me and other prisoners in the prison known as Oblivion, namely Unrecorded. And in that dark and fearsome prison I was shut up along with many others. And this time last year, on the eve of the Holy Epiphany, I woke up briefly out of sorrow and great hardship. And I saw a most handsome youth waking me up. He took the most heavy and unbearable irons off me, and held my hand. “Get up,” he said, “God has just saved you from bitter death and gloomy imprisonment through the intercession of the priests celebrating mass and praying for you, and through the alms done on your behalf.” And holding my hand, as I said, he took me out of that fearsome prison.”

See, children, what good faith and priestly prayer has done! Yet you disbelieve and treat priests and what they perform with contempt. Who has baptised you, miserable human? Who has given you communion? Who has given you holy bread? Who has blessed you? Who will commemorate you and bury you? Is it not the priest? Yet you treat him with contempt, and disbelieve what he says! Where did you behold God? Where did you become a Christian? Where were you christened with holy myrrh? Was it not at the hands of the priest? Man, if your child dies unbaptised, it is lost. If you do not receive blessing, Woman, you will have to make your own way. If you die without communion, you are in peril. If you are not commemorated by a priest, you should reckon yourself as being a beast, not a human.

So where do you expect all this from? Do you not expect this from the priest? So you should regard the priest as someone who stands in for God.5 For the great Chrysostom says:6 you should regard the priest like the Angel of God, and like God. For the Cherubim and Seraphim repose above his head, bearing the power of Divinity. Though the priest is human, he has an angel’s demeanour and grace.

Did I say, an angel’s? He is even more than an angel. For the priest has bound the angel who was taking away an infant’s soul, and returned it to its body until the priest had baptised it. And only then did he unbind the angel to take its soul. So the priest is mightier even than the angels.7 For an angel does not have the power to bind and loose like the priest does. For whatever he looses is loosened on earth and in heaven;8 and what he binds is bound on earth and in heaven. So neither an emperor has such grace, nor a king, nor a lord. For they only have lordship over the earth; but a priest commands both on earth and in heaven.

You see what kind of man a priest is; you see how much honour and grace God has granted him. Man, wherever you see a priest approaching, you must stand up and bow before him, and give him the honour he deserves. The emperor, whenever he saw a priest or a monk approaching, would get up at once and come up to meet him and greet him. Yet you treat him so often with contempt! Woe to those who insult priests and criticise them, for they shall be condemned to eternal hellfire. And blessed are those who honour priests and pay them respect, for they shall be honoured by God. To Whom be Glory and Dominion unto the unending ages. Amen.

The Orthodox clergy in Crete were in acute competition with the Franciscans for the souls of the populace. I’m pretty sure that’s not how St Francis would have approached the issue.

Also: Cool Story, Bro.

Like I said above, very little vernacular Greek at all in the sermon; one modern relative pronoun, the modern nominative for ‘woman’ and ‘king’, the modern form of ‘is’. And unnoticed by Schartau, the Cretan dialectal form of “reckon”, τάξου (lit. “pledge yourself”).

And two more hidden jewels. The first is at the very start, and blink and you’ll miss it. Bertos (if it is Bertos) refers to the East Roman Empire—whose fall he laments in his eponymous sermons—with its own proper Latin name: Ῥωμανία, Romānia. I’ll have more to say about that next post.

The other jewel is so hidden, it doesn’t make it to the text itself: it’s in the apparatus criticus of “So where do you expect all this from? Do you not expect this from the priest?” Schartau edits it as λοιπόν, ταῦτα ἀπὸ πόθεν τὰ ἀναμένεις; οὐκ ἀναμένεις ταῦτα ὑπό τοῦ ἱερέως;

That first ἀναμένεις was not written in the manuscript as ἀναμένεις. It was written as ἀνημένεις.

And I don’t really expect a classicist to pick up on it (or to accept the inconsistent spelling between the two verbs), but that’s not a spelling mistake at all. It is the Cretan dialectal form of ‘wait’. It is the verb that showed up, two centuries later, in the excerpt from the Erotokritos Romance that every Cretan knows by heart (or should):

Τ’ άκουσες, Αρετούσα μου, τα θλιβερά μαντάτα;
ο Kύρης σου μ’ εξόρισε εις τση ξενιτιάς τη στράτα.
Tέσσερεις μέρες μοναχά μου ‘δωκε ν’ ανιμένω,
κι αποκεί να ξενιτευτώ, πολλά μακρά να πηαίνω.

Have you heard, Aretousa, the sad news?
Your sire now drives me on the road to exile.
He’s granted me a mere four days to wait:
then I’m to go abroad, and travel far.

… Having read his other sermons, I’m pretty sure Bertos would not approve of Erotokritos. Or music. Or much of anything, really, other than contrition and penitence.

And, well, OK, he was of his time. It’s the PhD defending his writings, written by someone putatively of my time, that I have more of an issue with. But that’s next post.

I’m back

By: | Post date: 2017-09-12 | Comments: 8 Comments
Posted in categories: Admin

I’m back.

This is going to all sorts of audiences, so I now need to spell out where I’m back to, and where I’m back from.

I maintained two blogs up until 2011. hellenisteukontos.blogspot.com was a blog about Greek linguistics, and opuculuk.blogspot.com was a blog about everything else. Hellenisteukontos in particular developed quite a following, and was even cited in print a few times.

I resumed writing online in 2015 at Quora (see my profile there), and I continued doing so until it became untenable for me to (see my statement). I dare say I developed a following there too.

One thing I did relearn during my stay on Quora was that I can write both about stuff I do know about, and stuff I actually don’t know about—but with enough insight that I can make a reasoned argument. That’s something I enjoyed doing greatly, and I hope to keep doing it. Just as I hope to keep sharing the expertise I have on things I am an expert in.

When I decamped from Quora, I followed an exodus of users to Medium (see my profile there), and I may have provoked a few others to join me. For all Quora’s grotesqueries (and they are legion), Quora was a more congenial place to me than Medium: compared to my Quora feed (admittedly after two years of curation), Medium was a lot more clickbait, a lot more superficial, and a lot more full of sterile political posturing. I will continue to check in there with the Quora Diaspora, but I won’t be making it my home.

So I’m coming home to the blogs I had left six years ago, but I am relocating them to WordPress instances: http://hellenisteukontos.opoudjis.net and http://opuculuk.opoudjis.net. I encourage you to update any links you have to the prior blogs; I will not be updating them. I have migrated both my blogspot and my relevant Quora content to those two new instances on my website. Quora makes it very difficult to get your content out of its honeytrap, and none of the topics or comments export. I’ve spent a couple of days categorising the Quora posts; you’ll pardon me if I don’t manually retag them as well.

I have also broadened the scope of Hellenisteukontos: moving forward it will cover not the Set Intersection of Greek and Linguistics, but the Set Union. Greek culture, music, literature and history are in scope of it now; so is general linguistics and linguistics of other languages.

I won’t be posting with the same level of frequency I did on Quora, a frequency that was clearly unsustainable. I aim to be doing larger essays, although I did plenty of essay writing on Quora anyway. But I will welcome people suggesting Quora questions for me to answer here. I will not be posting anything to Quora; my friends from Quora are free to do with my content what they will on Quora (so long as they link back here.)

I look forward to reconnecting with old friends and new, and I look forward to thinking out loud and posting what strikes my fancy, in a forum that I find more congenial.

I’m back.

Why do Israelis love Stelios Kazantzidis’ music?

By: | Post date: 2017-08-18 | Comments: 1 Comment
Posted in categories: Modern Greek, Music

I’ll give Stelios Kazantzidis – Wikipedia’s take, but I’m very interested in hearing from Israelis why Greek Levantine-flavoured music, and his in particular, appear to have had such resonance in Israel.

In Israel, he was a musical icon. Many of his songs were translated into Hebrew and performed by the country’s leading singers. Yaron Enosh, an Israel Radio broadcaster who often plays Greek music on his programs, described the singer’s ability to combine joy with sorrow: “This is the task of music: to touch the entire range of feelings… Kazantzidis could do this; he played on all the strings.” To the Greek Jews who immigrated to Israel, Kazantzidis was “the voice of the world they left behind, for good or for bad.” According to the operator of Radio Agapi, a station that plays Greek music 24 hours a day, “Kazantzidis was the voice of the people, of the weary, the exploited, the betrayed. And the voice of the refugee and the emigre, too.”

I don’t know that Hebrew Wikipedia (סטליוס קזנג’ידיס – ויקיפדיה) has much of an answer…

How different is the modern Greek alphabet from the ancient one? Other than the fact that ancient Greek had only capital letters, does the alphabet also contain letters that modern Greek speakers do not use?

By: | Post date: 2017-08-18 | Comments: 2 Comments
Posted in categories: Ancient Greek, Writing Systems

In antiquity, every city had its own variant of the Greek alphabet; they varied not only on shape of letter, but also on which letters they used.

Athens undertook a spelling reform in 403 BC, under the archonship of Eucleides, which adopted the Milesian variant of the Ionian alphabet, including the letters eta and omega. (That alphabet was already widely used in Athens, but it was not the original local variant.)

The Modern Greek alphabet is the Euclidean Athenian alphabet, because the orthography of Modern Greek is historical. There are letters in the Euclidean Athenian alphabet that are redundant in Modern Greek (η υ ω); but it’s only in the USSR of the 30s that any serious attempt was made to write Modern Greek phonetically.

Of the archaic letters, pre 403 BC, only one truly matters: Digamma, ϝ. It was the Ancient Greek /w/. The sound does show up in papyri of Sappho and Alcman. We can also reconstruct it in Homer, though it is missing in our text of Homer. The text we have of Homer was established in 6th century BC Athens; and the sound (and thence the letter) was long extinct in Athens by then.

Of the others: San (letter), ϻ, and Koppa (letter), ϙ, were adopted because Samekh and Qoph are letters of the Phoenician alphabet.

Greeks originally wrote <q> before back vowels and <k> before other vowels; so they wrote Ϙόρινθος <Qorinthos> for Corinth, and in fact the koppa became a symbol of Corinth. Eventually, they worked out that those were just allophones, and they dropped the koppa entirely except for counting (it’s the number 90).

Shin (letter) and Samekh were differentiated in Phoenician, because Phoenician had both /ʃ/ and /s/; Ancient Greek did not, and once people stopped robotically copying the Phoenician alphabet, each town picked one or the other of sigma or san to write /s/ with; no town kept both.

Modern publications of any literary texts that survived via the papyrus tradition went via Athens and its 403 BC spelling reform. Digamma is rare; san and koppa are non-existent, even though Aristophanes refers to san-branded horses. (Just as Qorinth used the koppa as its emblem, Sicyon used the san.) You’ll only ever see them in publication of inscriptions that did use them; and even then you won’t see them often.

In the process of establishing the Unicode repertoire for Greek, I came across a few more archaic letters. In fact, I came up with the name of one: Tsan, the Arcadian variant of San, which apparently was used for /ts/. The variant letters that were phonetically distinct, and which will show up in publication of inscriptions, were Heta, the eta-equivalent used to mean /h/ and not /ɛː/; the Sampi, an Ionic innovation which might have been pronounced /ʃ/ or /sː/; and the Pamphylian digamma, which looked identical to tsan but was likely pronounced /v/, as opposed to the normal digamma’s /w/.

One variant that didn’t make it in the repertoire was the Corinthian single letter for <ei> /eː/. It didn’t make it into Unicode, because the letter for it was in fact <E> (Corinth had a different letterform for epsilon.) No epigraphist has published it as anything but ει or, if they’re being extra careful, <Ε> in a different font. (Google Dweinias for the most important inscription.) Ditto the corresponding Boeotian letter, which looks identical to the tack-shaped heta, <Ͱ>. (http://www.opoudjis.net/unicode/…)

I have been responsible for conflating Pamphylian sampi and normal sampi in Unicode, even though they in fact look different, and I have posted my apology for that in Nick Nicholas’ answer to If you were allowed to add a symbol to unicode, what symbol would it be, and what would it mean?

Oh. Sho (letter) is Bactrian for /ʃ/; Bactrian used the Greek alphabet, but I don’t think sho counts here.

Are you Greek? And if yes then where in Greece are you from?

By: | Post date: 2017-08-18 | Comments: 3 Comments
Posted in categories: Culture, Modern Greek

A far from straightforward question for those of us in the Greek diaspora.

My dad does not speak a word of Pontic Greek. But this Pontic revival song, sung by Stelios Kazantzidis towards the end of his life, shook him:

stixoi.info: Πατρίδα μ΄ αραεύω σε

Five houses have I built; unhoused from all.
A refugee from my cradle; God, I’ll go mad.

My motherland, I seek you, like a man accursed.
In exile, I am Greek. In Greece, an exile.

I left houses built between forests and riverbanks.
Wells built of marble, water flowing like tears.

And here now I thirst, and have no water to drink.
I am ashamed to ask for any, to moisten my lip.

And can I say, it’s nice to see Wikipedia Pontic orthography on Youtube. ja > æ in Pontic; the scholarly transliteration is α̈, and the lay translation was ια, assuming you knew this was Pontic and not Standard Greek already. Pontic Wikipedia has decided to use εα instead. Πέντε οσπίτεα έχτισα, Κι ας ολεα ξεσπιτούμαι. But do use ’κ’ for ‘not’. ’κ’ /kʰ/ ‘not’ ~ κʼ /k/ ‘and’ is a pernicious minimal pair.

It’s also nice to see not just Russian Pontians (who arrived from Russia in the 90s) on YouTube echoing the sentiment, but also the Albanians who’d arrived in Greece at the same time. Sometimes, there is value in YouTube comments after all.


And yes, it’s even more complicated for the second generation of that diaspora. (By the fourth generation, of course, it’s ancient history, a splash of colour up the family tree.)

I am in some regards Greek. In some regards, I am nothing of the sort.

And parochialism lives and thrives in Greece, as it does in Italy (Campanilismo). “Where are you from” is still the first question you get asked. I identify as Cretan, though my father is Cypriot. Town of Sitia.

Vitsentzos Kornaros closed off his romance Erotokritos, the pinnacle of Cretan Renaissance literature, with the verses:

I would not hide, and be unrecognised.
I will reveal myself, so all may know.
The poet’s Vincent, and by clan Cornaro;
may he be found unblemished, when Death takes him.
In S’tia was he born, in S’tia bred.
There did he write and labour what you’ve read.
As nature bids, in
Candia was he married.
His end will be wherever God decides.

I was only bred in S’tia for four years, age of 8 to 12. Those are pretty critical years though.

Why use the term straight instead of heterosexual?

By: | Post date: 2017-08-16 | Comments: No Comments
Posted in categories: English, Linguistics

Let me answer a different question.

As I wrote on A cis lament for the Greek language and How to say transgender in Greek, the Greek language has a Greek term for transgender, diemphylikos. Trans Greeks were involved in coining it.

The Greek peak body of LGB (with only token T) uses diemphylikos.

Greek trans groups, including the very people who came up with diemphylikos, refuse to use it, and use transdzender and trans instead.

Why? Because they did not want a self-designation that sounded like a medical diagnosis.

And while my cis Greek linguistician heart bleeds to hear it, I understand that.

That’s also why gays don’t call themselves homosexuals.

And as frustrated as they have had reason to be with heterosexuals, that’s also why they don’t call heterosexuals heterosexuals, or for that matter why heterosexuals don’t call themselves heterosexuals. It’s not a colloquial term. It is a scholarly term.

Oh, and as enough answers have already said: words change meaning, and more importantly, words change connotations. People really don’t think of straight as either defensively positive, or derogatorily negative. It’s just the colloquial term for heterosexual now; the social circumstances around it have changed, and so has the understanding of it. If the connotations of conventionality and rectitude were paramount, the expression straight but not narrow would be unintelligible.

The Ancient Greek Language: Is it similar to Modern Greek? The first link states that modern Greek descended from ancient Greek, however the second link says otherwise. What is really the truth? (links are down in the “answers” area)

By: | Post date: 2017-08-16 | Comments: No Comments
Posted in categories: Ancient Greek, Linguistics

I’m to take seriously a doctor’s tongue-in-cheek commentary in a medical journal, as evidence that Modern Greek is not descended from Ancient Greek? Quoting a phrase book as his authority?

Over an answer with contributions from several good minds that know both languages, including some (like me) with academic training in linguistics?

Really?

A guy that says

Latin is experiencing something of a revival as a subject for serious study, and it lives on in the everyday language of much of southern Europe.

?!?!

Latinene loquuntur in Siciliâ? Praeclarum! Eamus pizzam edendum!

I registered to the Lancet. Resuscitating dead languages says all of the following:

And Greek? My phrase book asserts that “Modern Greek is not nearly as difficult as it looks”. Possibly, but ancient Greek looks more dead than old Latin. To the burden of alien letters and baffling accents has to be added changes in pronunciation. Physicians-in-the-making may pick up all sorts of things on vacation by the Mediterranean but not, I fear, medical etymology. The science writer Lancelot Hogben tried to present the derivation of common scientific terms in a systematic way, but his book is out of print. Before a classically educated generation of physicians dies away entirely perhaps one of them could do something thorough for medicine, as an educational tool.

He is not saying Modern Greek is not similar to Ancient, let alone that it is not descended from Ancient Greek. (Good Christ.) He’s saying that it’s changed a fair bit, and it has. But he’s not saying it in a way that deserves to be taken seriously.

Burden of alien letters and baffling accents? Vacation by the Mediterranean?! This is not an argument. This is not particularly funny either, and as an Australian, I thought I got British humour.

At least he namechecks Hogben. I loved that guy’s conlang.

It is true that David Sharp, vacationing in Malia sans doute and sneering at the locals’ alien letters and baffling accents, would not hear all the Greek vocabulary of medicine from the local peasantry waiting upon him. (He wouldn’t hear none of it, either.) And yes, Ancient Greek is dead; just as Shakespearean Fricking English is.

But if you want an answer on whether Ancient and Modern Greek are similar, take the counsel of your learnèd fellow Quorans in How different is the Ancient Greek language from the modern Greek language? Can any Greek-speaking people testify if they understand classical Greek of Homer, et al? (and its two dozen merged questions), over a medico who thinks the following counts as wit:

When last I saw the Aegean it looked more like the froth on lager, but around the time of the Trojan wars it was a “wine dark sea”. Poor translation, colour blindness-or did wine in Homer’s day really look like that? The Nauticos project has identified amphorae in this ruined ship—indeed the Mediterranean sea-bed is littered with these huge pots. Those accident-prone ancient merchant seamen did not hug the coastline, as long suspected, but intrepidly carried wine (and olive oil too) across far deeper waters, spilling some en route.

And don’t get me started on Illiterature and medicine, the squib that somehow prompted David Sharp’s squib:

My advice is to drop a sicknote on literature-and-medicine lecture days in college, and with journals hasten to the educational delights of obituary pages. I’m sure there is nothing wrong with literature, and that even the most delicate child can be trusted with it; and I’ll defend to my last gasp anyone’s right to read it (although, maybe, not to write it). But literature’s relevance to coping with people in the Monday morning surgery queue is nil—unless they happen to be very old Russians.

Screw you too, buddy.

That squib by John Bignall does not even mention classical languages: how on earth did David Sharp used it as a springboard for his excursus?

This curricular fad relates largely to living languages but perhaps dead ones have more to offer directly since so many medical terms come from Latin or ancient Greek, with the occasional mongrel admitting to both types of parent.

… That’s a segue?

I am brand new to the ways of the Lancet. Do they do this kind of thing a lot in their squibs?

Coz if they actually paid attention during those literature-and-medicine lecture days in college, their squibs might be better literature. Certainly funnier. And with less WTF segues.

and I’ll defend to my last gasp anyone’s right to read it (although, maybe, not to write it)

Indeed.


The answer, by the way, is yes. Modern Greek is similar to Ancient Greek, in the way that Modern English is similar to Middle English.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

siþen þe sege and þe assaut watz sesed at troye
þe borȝ brittened and brent to brondez and askez
þe tulk þat þe trammes of tresoun þer wroȝt
watz tried for his tricherie þe trewest on erþe
hit watz ennias þe athel and his highe kynde
þat siþen depreced prouinces and patrounes bicome
welneȝe of al þe wele in þe west iles

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    1. Ζώρας, Γ.Θ. 1954. Άγνωστα κείμενα και νέαι παραλλαγαί δημωδών έργων. Αθήνα: Σπουδαστήριον Βυζαντινής και Νεοελληνικής Φιλολογίας του Πανεπιστημίου Αθηνών.

    2. Τσαβαρή, Ι. (επιμ.) 1987. Ο Πουλολόγος. Αθήνα: Μορφωτικό Ίδρυμα Εθνικής Τραπέζης.

    3. Krawczynski, S. 1960. Ο Πουλολόγος: Kritische Textausgabe mit Übersetzung sowie Sprachlichen und Sachlichen Erläuterungen. Berlin: Akademie Verlag.

    4. Χανδρινός, Γ. ϗ Δημητρόπουλος, Α. 1999. Αρπακτικά Πουλιά της Ελλάδας. Αθήνα: Efstathiadis.

    5. That’s the charitable reading of ἀντὶ τοῦ Θεοῦ ὀφείλεις ἔχειν τὸν ἱερέα. The uncharitable reading is “who replaces God.”

    6. Cf. Chrys. exp. in ps. CXXXVII: Migne PG 55.407; hom. 2 in 2 Tim. cap 1: Migne PG 62.610.

    7. Cf. Chrys. sac. Lib. III: Migne PG 48.643; hom. 5 in Is. 6:1: Migne PG 56.131; stat 3: Migne PG 49.50; Anna 2: Migne PG 54.648.

    8. Cf. Mt 16:19, 18;18.