Which variant of Greek is being used in Alexandros Pallis’ translation of the Iliad?

By: | Post date: 2016-09-10 | Comments: No Comments
Posted in categories: Linguistics, Modern Greek

Original wording: Which dialect (hesitate to call it that) of Greek is being used in this translation of the Iliad?

You do well, my synonomatos [fellow Nick], to hesitate: “dialect” is not quite the right thing to call it.

This is the 1904 translation of the Iliad by Alexandros Pallis. A Liverpudlian Greek like our very own Kelley Spartiatis.

What would you call it? If you’re talking to Greeks, Psycharist Demotic. You could call it Longhair Demotic or Extreme Demotic; but then I’d have to slap you.

If you’re not talking to Greeks, Early Demotic. Where Demotic Greek is not the vernacular of Modern Greece per se, but the codification of vernacular Greek as a standard language.


When people were initially writing in the vernacular in the 19th century, they were just writing in their dialect; you can say that of the Ionian island writers such as Solomos and Polylas.

The first generation of demoticists, advocates for the vernacular as the basis for the standard language of Greece, were led by Ioannis Psycharis. The language he advocated for was purist, in that he rejected morphological and phonetic compromises with the archaic norm Katharevousa. And in that first iteration of a written normalised vernacular (dismissed by the establishment as “longhair”, the same way the later hippies were), Psycharis and his followers took the opportunity to do some orthographical simplification, making spelling more phonetic. Which is what you’re seeing in the translation.

I wouldn’t sneer. The spelling of the vernacular took a while to settle down; and there has been a resurgence of phonetic simplification in the last few decades. I was taught τραίνο and αυγό, for example. I’m pretty sure you were taught τρένο and αβγό. And Nick Nicholas’ answer to How is “o po po” written in Greek?

The next generation’s version of Demotic, led by Triantafyllidis and Tzartzanos, is the version that prevailed (more or less). It made a lot more concessions to Katharevousa, and Psycharis dismissed it with his magnificently Demotic word for “half-way”, μεσοβέζικη. But Psycharis was in Paris and Pallis was in Liverpool; Triantafyllidis and Tzartzanos were in Greece, writing the school textbooks, and they had a much better sense of what was feasible within Greece.

While standard demotic did not go the way Psycharis had hoped, literary Demotic stayed closer to the rural ideal for another generation; it was only after WWII that literature made itself comfortable in what was an urban language. So if you read Greek literature from 1900 through 1950, Pallis’ translation should not sound utterly alien, though it will sound like it has the folksy dial up to 11.

Hence the second declension modernisation of Apollo and Agamemnon as Απόλλος and Αγαμέμνος, the phonetic spelling of the genitive of Leto as Λητός, the now dialectal (and metrically convenient) plural genitive οπλαρχηγώνε, the phonetic spelling of “two” as διο and “that” as αφτός.

There’s a little bit of awkwardness in the versification, but I like it.

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