Two Ancient Greek Gettysburg Addresses: II

By: | Post date: 2017-10-05 | Comments: 2 Comments
Posted in categories: Ancient Greek, Linguistics, Literature

I posted a commentary on the first of two translations that I found online of the Gettysburg Address into Ancient Greek, emulating the style of Gorgias. That find has prompted me to join the Textkit forum for people learning and writing in Latin and Ancient Greek—with the hilarity of a Modern Greek speaker trying to write in Ancient Greek that I have documented.

(There will likely be more. It’s an instructive process. As I’ve just said there—)

εἴθ’ ἐνταῦθα, μεθ’ ὑμῶν συνδιαλεγομένου μου, βελτοιωθείη ἡ ἐμὴ ἀρχαιοελληνική, ἵνα μὴ ἀεὶ καθαρεύουσαν νεοελληνικὴν χρῶμαι, ἀρχαιοπρεπὴν δοκῶν με ἑλληνικὴν κεχρῆσθαι!

I hope that by talking with you guys here, my Ancient Greek improves, so that I don’t keep thinking that I’ve used archaically correct Greek when I’m actually using Puristic Modern Greek!

The second translation I discovered is more liberal, and I suspect much more in the tradition of how Greek Composition actually works—if for no other reason, because Thucydides is a more usual target for writers to emulate than Gorgias.

That translation is by Tom Keeline, now Assistant Professor of Classics at Washington University in St Louis (where he’s teaching comparative Greek and Latin grammar, the lucky sod.) The translation is tucked away on a Harvard server, where he did his PhD.

We all know, do we not my good readers, that when monks in the mediaeval West came across Greek in their manuscripts, they would decline to copy it and comment, Graecum est, non legitur. “It’s Greek, can’t read it.”

Keeline’s translation is surtitled Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address more Thucydideo.

Θουκυδίδης είναι, δε διαβάζεται! Or, if you prefer, Θουκυδίδου ἐστι, οὐκ ἀναγνώσιμον!

  • Some might grimace at the Latinate way of saying “Thucydides-style”, by the way.
    Inasmuch as I used Klingon numerals for the reader count of my old blog site, and surtitled them more klingonicoI will not be one of their number.

So. More Thucydideo. Let’s gird our loins.

Now, it has certainly already been fifty years since our fathers, fighting at sea in Salamis for all of Greece, saved the city for us through their virtue in warding off the barbarians—the which city we have received through continuous succession from old, declared through an equal and lawful state from our ancestors who made liberty for themselves to the utmost.

Oh God. It truly is more Thucydideo. I have no earthly idea if that’s what it’s saying, and I welcome corrections.

Yet now we ourselves are fighting in a war even greater than those, whether in some way this city or another such furnished with a similar democracy is capable of prevailing over the envy of tyrants. So in this day we stand together on land where those fighting have just come to blows; a part of which we have come to dedicate, that we might create a tomb and decently bury those who were worthy of dying, in order for the city to prevail. For how is it anything but just and seemly to do so? But in fact, we ourselves are not the kind of people either to dedicate or to consecrate this place; for already those who dared struggle here, living and deceasing, have dedicated more than what we would end up either adding or subtracting. So those after us will barely remember whatever we might say here; but there will never be any danger that what these men have achieved will become faded and then forgotten.

And truly it is necessary for us, who are still living, focusing our mind and applying our body, to fulfil the battle which these men nobly and virtuously attempted, and carried forward to such a degree of success. Therefore, vying with them, let us do the same, leaving behind no lesser pains still. Let it indeed seem to us that we have received from those who have died bravely eagerness for all things which they were willing to give even their lives labouring for; so that they may not have died in vain, but rather that through dying, like a woman in labour, they might give birth to a state declared in liberty with renewed vigour, so that people may never have democracy taken away from them.

I’m not even going to annotate this, because I have no idea what’s just hit me. Θουκυδίδου ἐστι, οὐκ ἀναγνώσιμον.

Bless Tom, who’s forgotten more Thucydides than I’ll ever decipher; but I think I liked Damoetas’ more Gorgiano rendering better.


  • John Cowan says:

    This has been revived in early Project Gutenberg transcripts, where short Greek phrases were represented as [Greek]. Then came transliteration, and now we get proper Greek in UTF-8.

  • David Marjanović says:

    Graecum est, non legitur. “It’s Greek, can’t read it.”

    I know it as graece est, non legitur “it’s in Greek, it isn’t read” and perhaps not even meant to be read.

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