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Nastratios in Pagdatia
A thread last month at the Magnificent Nikos Sarantakos’ Blog, about insulting commentary on a candidate MP from the Muslim minority, got derailed in comments (the way good comment threads do) into a discussion of whether there was any point teaching Ancient Greek in high school in Greece. The reason why Ancient Greek is taught in high school has to do with moral panic, rather than any concern over actually learning the language. That is why the age at which it is taught has become such a football; and the way Ancient Greek is taught is universally condemned.
Indeed, most commenters thought teaching Ancient Greek language at the expense of Ancient Greek literature *as literature* was unacceptable, and teaching Ancient literature in translation, as has occasionally happened, is much preferable. Some commenters conceded the usefulness of Ancient Greek in teaching grammar, but grudgingly. And I’ll stay with this exchange:
Ηλεφούφουτος: … Instruction should not give so much emphasis on reproducing grammatical forms (e.g. what is the 3rd person imperfect of ὑφίημι, or conjugate the verb in the second aorist middle optative.) All that, and syntactic parsing word for word, are fine brain exercises, but that’s now how you’ll learn Ancient Greek.
Μαρία: Who gives a f*ck about reduplication. But for students to recognise that this is a verb, an adjective, at least the parts of speech: that much is necessary. So they must be taught grammar, and you can’t do that with little songs and little poems. Have you forgotten this isn’t a living language?
I’m not contributing to that derailment—although I agreed there it was absurd that the students weren’t being asked questions about the literary values of Antigone. In fact, the recommendations Ηλεφούφουτος was citing included “don’t teach Ancient Greek through Antigone, you’ll ruin Antigone for the kids.” But I’m doing my own derailment, with the notion of little songs and little poems in learning Ancient Greek—that is, of teaching Ancient Greek in the engaging way schoolchildren learn foreign languages.
There is a textbook that does that: Paula Saffire & Catherine Freis. 1999. Ancient Greek Alive. 3rd ed. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.
Ancient Greek Alive has students act out skits, it has them doing question and answers with the teacher in Ancient Greek, and it has little stories in the target language, rather than starting with Real Text. In other words, it does what you normally do nowadays when you teach a foreign language. It would never ever be used in Greece, not only because of the profound malaise of Greek education, but because the relation of Greeks to their antiquity has always been too po-faced. It’s the same reason, as I’ve posted in The Other Place, why a Greek will never affectionately parody their national anthem the way the Dutch do; and why a pastiche like Geoffrey Chaucer Hath a Blog will not lead to a Ἱστολογίζει Θουκυδίδης blog or a Λουκιανοῦ Διαδικτυακτοὶ Διάλογοι blog. At least not by a Greek.
(I beg someone to prove me wrong.)
I was reminded of Ancient Greek Alive because the earliest little texts it puts to the student are nothing to do with Ancient Greece. They are translations of tales of Nasrudin. Nasrudin is a comic figure from the Sufi tradition, who has made it into the folklore of many Muslim countries and their neighbours. His humour is somewhat subversive, and delightfully absurdist.
One of the neighbouring peoples Nasrudin’s japes have gone across to are the Modern Greeks. He survives more in Cyprus than in Greece, but his humour has remained proverbial, in “the argument over the blanket” if nothing else—which has become a journalistic cliché. Nikos Pilavios’ Greek Fairy Tale blog (I vaguely remember watching his TV show when I was a kid) has 36 Nasrudin tales, and an article about his own discovery of Nasrudin. Not all the tales are authentic, but authenticity doesn’t mean that much with fairy tales. The journalistic cliché instance of a Nasrudin story, however, has been contributed there by a commenter:
Ενα βράδυ ο Ναστραντίν Χότζας κοιμόταν με την γυναίκα του. Ξαφνικά ξύπνησε από τις φωνές δύο ανθρώπων που καβγάδιζαν κάτω από το παράθυρό του. Σηκώθηκε, τυλίχτηκε στο πάπλωμα και κατέβηκε να δει τι συμβαίνει. Μόλις αυτοί τον είδαν, παράτησαν τον καβγά, άρπαξαν το πάπλωμα και έγιναν καπνός. Οταν η γυναίκα του τον ρώτησε γιατί καβγάδιζαν, της απάντησε: «Ο καβγάς ήταν για το πάπλωμα».
One evening Nastrandin Hodja was sleeping with his wife. Suddenly he woke to the shouting of two men arguing beneath his window. He got up, wrapped himself in his blanket, and went downstairs to see what was happening. As soon as they saw him, they quit arguing, grabbed the blanket and disappeared. When his wife asked him why they were arguing, he answered: “the argument was over the blanket”.
Have you noticed what’s happened to the name Nasrudin? It starts in Arabic as نصرالدين naṣr ad-dīn, “Victory of the Faith”, which is a Muslim proper name. In Turkish, it’s Nasreddin Hoca, Teacher Nasreddin. Greek now respectfully transliterates him as Νασρεντίν <Nasrentin>; but spoken Greek had no patience for /sr/ clusters, so traditionally he has been called Ναστραντίν Χότζας, <Nastrantín Chótzas>, with an epenthesis breaking up the /sr/.
I was reminded of Nastrantin, not because of the thread over at Sarantakos’, but because I came up against the name in a different context. I’ve been going through the Prosopographisches Lexikon der Paläologenzeit, the Who’s Who of Late Byzantium; and I’ve found that George Pachymeres mentioned a Nasreddin Mahmud, son of Muzaffer ed-din Yavlak Arslan, who died in the battle of Bapheus in 1302. Because written Greek had no patience for /sr/ clusters either, he is rendered as <Nastrátios>, with the same epenthesis:
Ἁλῆς γὰρ Ἀμούριος σὺν ἀδελφῷ Ναστρατίῳ τῷ παρὰ Ῥωμαίοις ἐπὶ χρόνοις ὁμηρεύσαντι, τοὺς περὶ τὴν Καστάμονα Πέρσας προσεταιρισάμενος, Ῥωμαίους κακῶς ἐποίει.
For Amurios Hales [“Amur” Ali Bey], with his brother Nastratios who had been a hostage with the Romans for years, joined the Persians [Turks] around Kastamon [Kastamonu], and did ill to the Romans. (p. 327 Bekker)
Hold on to that Hellenisation as <Nastratios>, we’ll come back to it. It gets worse in the Palaeologan Prosopography, btw. Ducas mentions a Χατζιαβάτης, Haci Aivat. Not the same person as the Hacivat of Turkish shadow puppetry, but certainly the same Hellenisation in its Greek counterpart.
What possessed Paula Saffire to insert a Sufi jokester into an Ancient Greek textbook? You can read all about it at her website. The notion of a Turkish jokester turning up in an Ancient Greek textbook is, I think you can safely surmise, a notion some Greeks are likely to have issues with: one more reason you won’t see Ancient Greek Alive taken up in Greece. More’s the pity.
So far, I’ve cited Nastrantin in Modern Greek, and a different Nastratios in Byzantine Greek, but I haven’t shown you how Saffire & Freis Greek Nasruddin in the textbook. Here’s his first appearance, p. 28:
ἄνθρωπός τις βούλεται πέμπειν ἐπιστολὴν ταῖς ἀδελφαῖς ταῖς ἐν τῇ Βάγδαδ. ἀλλὰ οὐκ ἐπίσταται γράφειν τὰ γράμματα. αἰτεῖ οὖν Νασρέδδινον τὸν Σοφὸν γράφειν τὴν ἐπιστολήν. ὁ δὲ Νασρέδδινος λέγει αὐτῷ· «ὦ φίλε, οὐκ ἐθέλω γράφειν τὴν ἐπιστολήν. οὐ γάρ ἐστί μοι σχολὴ πορεύεσθαι εἰς τὴν Βάγδαδ.»
ὁ δὲ ἄνθρωπος λέγει «ἀλλὰ οὐκ αἰτῶ σε πορεύεσθαι εἰς τὴν Βάγδαδ. αἰτῶ σε μόνον ἐπιστολὴν γράφειν ταῖς ἀδελφαῖς μου.»
«οἶδα» ἀποκρίνεται ὁ Σοφὸς· «ἀλλὰ ἡ γραφή μου κακή ἐστι καὶ ἀνάγκη ἂν εἴη μοι πορεύεσθαι εἰς τὴν Βάγδαδ καὶ ἀναγινώσκειν αὐταῖς τὴν ἐπιστολήν.»
A man wants to send a letter to his sisters in Baghdad. But he does not know how to write the letters. So he asks Nasreddinos the Sage to write the letter. But Nasreddinos says to him: “Friend, I do not want to write the letter. I don’t have enough time to go to Baghdad.
The man says, “but I’m not asking you to go to Baghdad. I’m only asking you write a letter to my sisters.”
“I know,” the Sage answers. “But my handwriting is bad, and I would have to go to Baghdad myself and read the letter out to them.”
You may have noticed some things wrong. No, they have not taught the aorist yet, so everything is in the present tense; that’s understandable, though it makes the story sound Pontic. (No, not Pontic as in the butt of Greek jokes, but as in the dialect that fails to make any aspect distinctions in the subjunctive.) I’m also not sure that’s how you’d use οἶδα. But no, there’s something wrong with the transliteration.
Not that they failed to use <Nastratios>: it would hardly be fair to ask that of them—although the fact that they, like contemporary Greeks, have patience for /sr/ clusters puts them at odds with what a Greek writer would actually have done.
But what sticks out, as many a Greek will tell you, is Βάγδαδ <Bágdad>. Greeks do not call Baghdad Bagdad /ˈvaɣðað/. They call it Βαγδάτη, <Bagdátē> /vaɣˈðati/. And they will become righteously indignant, as indeed I did when I bought the book. We met Iraqis centuries before the Beef-Eaters—and Theophanes Confessor called them Hērakîtai, Ἡρακῖται. Where do Saffire & Freis get off, ignoring what Greeks call Bagdad, and coming up with their own name? Don’t we matter? Don’t the Byzantines, who dealt with Bagdad, matter?
The sentiment has a certain sense behind it; to call Russians Ῥοῦσσοι instead of Ῥῶσσοι, as they do elsewhere (moving on to an anecdote about Napoleon) does seem a little disrespectful of Constantine Porphyrogenitus.
But I’ve already written a post on how Modern Greek Hellenisations are more antiquarian than Byzantine Hellenisations were. So how did those Byzantines actually call the city?
- Theophanes Confessor (ix AD): Bágda
- Apomasar (ix AD): Bagdân
- Leo Choerosphactes (x AD): Bagdá
- Constantine Porphyrogenitus (x AD): Bagdád
- Theophanes Continued (x AD): Bagdá, Bagdád
- Anna Comnena (xii AD): Bagdâ
- John Scylitzes (xii AD): Bagdá
- John Zonaras (xii AD): Bagdâ
- Digenes Acrites (xiv AD): Bagdâ
- Laonicus Chalcocondyles (xv AD): Pagdatíē, Pagdátin
- Vernacular Astrological texts, Delatte: Codices Athenienses (? AD): Bagdádai, Pagdáti
The accentuation Βάγδαδ has never been correct: Saffire & Freis have carried across the Germanic stress position of English /ˈbæɡdæd/, whereas all but the first Greek transliteration reflect the stress of the Arabic بغداد /baɣˈdaːd/.
But it turns out there is nothing Byzantine about the modern feminine form Βαγδάτη. The Byzantine forms are either variants of the feminine Βαγδά, the neuter Παγδάτι, or the quite indeclinable Βαγδάδ, with the hesitation between <b> /v/ and <p> /p/ typical of Late Byzantium. (Chalcocondyles’ Homeric rendering of “Bagdadia”, Παγδατίη, is the kind of affectation we’d expect of him.) I couldn’t find out from my quick-and-obvious search when Βαγδάτη was first used, but it doesn’t seem to be have been used by those who met Iraqis centuries before the Beef-Eaters.
Attempts to write Ancient Greek in Modern times, à la Neo-Latin, don’t have a convenient name, through which the Ancient Greek Wikipedia can be banned by the Wikipedia Language Committee (grumble stick-up-their-arses grumble as-if-anyone-uses-Low-Saxon-as-a-primary-language-of-communication grumble grumble). We can’t call them Neo-Greek, Neohellenic is what Modern Greek is called. Neo-Classical goes to Stravinsky—or Puristic. Neo-Attic is too specific, it leaves out the Astronautilia. Neo-Ancient?
Whatever it’s called, Neo-Ancient Greek when it happens is indebted to Puristic: the Ancient Greek Harry Potter doffs its hat to 19th century dictionaries (and shies away once Demotic turns up in the lexica). The Neo-Ancient Greek Asterix doesn’t doff its hat, admittedly. Then again, the Neo-Ancient Greek Asterix doesn’t have to: it was translated in Greece (ingeniously), and Puristic seeps in there through the soil.
(The linked post notes that Asterikios in Ancient Greek didn’t work well with Grade 7 students, who still struggled with the language—but that it did work when accompanied by the Modern Greek text in parallel. While we’re on the subject: two interviews with the translator of Asterix into Ancient Greek, Fanis Kakridis: #1, #2.)
Saffire & Freis did not doff their hat to Puristic either, in telling tales of Napoleon or Nasrudin—even through they drafted the textbook on a beach in Crete. (Maybe Puristic doesn’t seep through sand.) So their Russians are Ῥοῦσσοι instead of Ῥῶσσοι, because of English Russian, and their Nasrudin is Νασρέδδινος because of Turkish Nasreddin, not Modern Ναστραντίν. (It would have been unreasonable, I admit, to demand of them Mediaeval Ναστράτιος.)
In not writing Βαγδάτη, though, it wasn’t the Byzantines they didn’t doff their hat to, it was Puristic, and by extension Modern Greek. But of course, when Harry Potter uses Puristic words, it isn’t because of love of Coray and Papadiamantis. It’s because that’s where he’s going to get a word for train more compatible with Ancient Greek than the contemporary τρένο. Saffire & Freis had no such compulsion with Modern names.
The failure to epenthesise <Nasréddinos>, I’d still say, is a lack of sensitivity to Ancient Greek as a spoken language, which is ironic given how oral their textbook is. But the extremely unpleasant truth is, an American textbook of Ancient Greek owes Modern Greek speakers even less than it does to Constantine Porphyrogenitus. It doesn’t owe them Βαγδάτη just as it doesn’t owe them iotacism.
Still, if it owes the Hērakîtai anything, it’s not Βάγδαδ. Like Constantine Porphyrogenitus said: it’s Βαγδάδ.
P.S. Saffire has made the mistake of saying on her website: “Surely these are the only Sufi stories in ancient Greek!”
Them’s fighting words:
ἀφικόντος γείτονος ἐπὶ τῆς πύλης Ναστρατίου τοῦ ἱερέως, ἐξέρχεται ὁ ἱερεύς ὑπαντῆσαι αὐτόν.
«δός μοι, ἱερεῦ, τὸν σὸν ὄνον σήμερον», αἰτεῖ ὁ γείτων. «ἔχω γὰρ ἀγαθά φορτία τινα μετακομῆσαι εἰς τὴν ἄλλην πόλιν.»
ὁ μὲν Ναστράτιος οὐ βούλεται δοῦναι τὸ κτῆνος οὕτῳ τούτῳ· ἵνα δὲ μὴ ἄξεστος φανῇ, ἀποκρίνεται·
«σύγγνωθι, ἀλλ’ ἤδη δέδωκα τὸν ὄνον ἑτέρῳ.»
αἴφνης ἀκούεται ὁ ὄνος ὀπίσω τοῦ τείχους τῆς αὐλῆς ὀγκώμενος.
«ἐψεύσθσης μήν μοι ἱερεῦ!» φωνεῖ γείτων. «ἤν, ὀπίσω τοῦ τείχους!»
«ποῦ δαὶ τοῦτά φῃς;» ἀποκρίνεται ὁ ἱερεύς βριμώμενος. «τίνα δὴ μᾶλλον πιστεύσεις, ὄνον ἢ τὸν σὸν ἱερέα;»
A neighbour comes to the gate of Mulla Nasrudin’s yard. The Mulla goes out to meet him outside.
“Would you mind, Mulla,” the neighbour asks, “lending me your donkey today? I have some goods to transport to the next town.”
The Mulla doesn’t feel inclined to lend out the animal to that particular man, however; so, not to seem rude, he answers:
“I’m sorry, but I’ve already lent him to somebody else.”
Suddenly the donkey can be heard braying loudly behind the wall of the yard.
“You lied to me, Mulla!” the neighbour exclaims. “There it is behind that wall!”
“What do you mean?” the Mulla replies indignantly. “Whom would you rather believe, a donkey or your Mulla?” (via Wikipedia)
I welcome chastisement of my Neo-Ancient Greek in comments. Well, chastisement within reason…
[EDIT: I got better than chastisement from William Annis; I got an improvement. In iambics after Babrius. I’d pardon his violation of Porson’s Law, but my command of Ancient Greek is so lacking—let alone metrics—that I cannot but reverently cede the floor to him:]
γείτων τις αὐλῆς ἦλθε Ναστρατίου πύλην,
ὁ δ’ ἐκτὸς ἦλθεν ἀσπάσασθαι γείτονα.
“βούλοι’ ἂν, ἱερεῦ,” δεόμενος ἔφη γείτων,
“τῇδ’ ἡμέρᾳ μοι τὸν ὄνον ἐνδοῦναι τὸν σόν;
εἰς γὰρ πόλιν πρόσοικον ἐμπολὰς οἴσω.”
ἀλλ’ οὔτ’ ὄνον βουλόμενος ἐνδοῦναι κείνῳ,
οὔτ’ εἰκέναι γ’ ἄγροικος, ἠμείφθη λέγων,
“σύγγνοιαν ἴσχ’, ὦ γεῖτον, ἄλλῳ γὰρ πόρον.”
τείχους δ’ ὄπισθ’ ἔκλαγξεν ὄνος εὐθὺς μέγα.
“ἔψευδες ἄρα μοι,” φὰς ἐβόησεν γείτων,
“ὧδε γὰρ ὄνος πάρεστι!” ἱερεὺς δ’ ἤχθετο·
“πῶς οὖν λέγεις,” ἔλεξε, “τίνι δῆτα πείθου;”