Bryn Mawr Classical Review 04.05.32


Donald J. Mastronarde, Introduction to Attic Greek. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993. ISBN 0-520-07843-8 (hb). ISBN 0-520-07844-6 (pb).


Reviewed by Michael R. Halleran, University of Washington.

Quot magistri, tot libri. And so it is with Greek textbooks. No book is ever quite right, and so we are tempted to write new ones. The current selection of Greek textbooks offers variety, from the traditional (and slim) Chase and Philips to the more modern, reading-based approach of Reading Greek and Athenaze. Donald J. Mastronarde has his audience marked out, as he explains in the Preface: "In writing this book, it was my desire to provide to the mature college student a reliable and relatively complete presentation of ancient Attic Greek." (vii) This is a remarkably thorough textbook, offering a full presentation of the basics, and then some, of ancient Greek (or, more precisely, Attic) grammar. Those who are familiar with M.'s careful and excellent work on Greek tragedy will be unsurprised to find those same qualities in this book. It is not, however, as M. would agree, a book for everyone. It contains no photographs or sketches of the Realien of the ancient world, no discussions of ancient Greek customs, not even occasional disquisitions on the semantic spheres of selected words. This enrichment, the author hopes, the individual instructor will bring to the classroom. In short, this book is for those who like their Greek grammar straight up. Anyone who learns this book thoroughly will indeed know a great deal of Greek.

The format is conventional. Each of the forty-two units begins with the presentation of new grammatical material, in almost every case morphology followed by syntax. (Three Appendixes ["Table of Contractions", "Verb List", "Paradigms"], Greek-English and English-Greek Glossaries, and an ample Index supplement these Units.) Some of the units, especially in the beginning, are prefaced with a general -- and quite useful -- discussion ("Preliminaries") of grammatical principles, such as number, tense, and mood. Following the grammatical presentation are exercises, including those suitable for drills, as well as sentences and connected prose in Greek, along with (in most units) sentences to be translated into Greek. Between the presentation and the vocabulary and exercises, every unit has a "What to Study and Do" section, clarifying the expected attainments for each unit. M. begins with nouns and adjectives, holding off the introduction of the verb until Unit 8; it is not until p. 53 that the student meets even a simple sentence in Greek. The many pleasures of the Greek verb are presented throughout the book, not lumped all together in a few lessons. For the subjunctive and optative the student must wait until the later Units (31 and 32 respectively), which are then followed by conditional sentences, object clauses and the like. Starting roughly halfway through the book, some slightly adapted or abridged (and in the later Units unadulterated) reading selections from Xenophon, Lysias, Thucydides and Plato appear. The greatest strengths of this book are the full grammatical explanations and multiple examples used in illustrating grammatical principles. For example, the treatment of the accusative case (121-25) is a model of clarity and thoroughness. Internal objects get a full airing and many examples illustrate this important feature of the language. Similarly, the uses of various prepositions are very amply illustrated (40-3, 88-9). "Vocabulary-building Hints" (60 and 158) and "Advice on Learning Principal Parts" (338) will also do much to help students as they try to master the rich vocabulary and seemingly intractable verbal system of ancient Greek.

This book's great strength might also be its weakness. Not a few students will find it overwhelming. As already indicated, its explanations are very detailed and full. The result is that the student is presented with an unusually large amount of information for an introductory course. Some of this is for the curious only (e.g., that the form E)/PESAN appears for E)/PESON in Polybius [141]), but other material (e.g., explaining Greek accentuation through contonation and mora [17]) is fundamental. The overall effect of such detail can be daunting. There are other features of this book that might give one pause. Although the amount of connected prose is not ungenerous, unfortunately little attention is paid to particles (as M. duly notes, 8 4). Some matters are introduced in a Unit, but then given too little practice in the exercises (e.g., on relatives [Unit 12], on uses of the participle [Unit 28, which has no sentences to be translated into Greek]). M. treats verbal aspect (55 and passim) not as a distinct feature of the verb, but simply one quality of tense. I would prefer to see it described, along with tense, as a feature of the verb in its own right, reserving tense for "time" only. One of the advantages of such a presentation, in my experience, is that it allows the student to understand better how the verbal system operates: e.g., the "imperfective" and "perfective" systems make more sense, and the contrasts between the imperfect and the aorist are clearer.

Let me admit another qualification, of a different sort. The truest test of any textbook is the classroom, and I have not yet had the opportunity to teach with this book. Accordingly, some of my reservations might disappear in a classroom, others might come forward. But based on what I can judge from the book outside of that crucible, I would conclude that while for some situations it will not be successful, for many students it will be an excellent introduction to the Greek language. Even those who choose not to teach with it might well glean useful information from it. M. and the University of California Press should be congratulated on producing a very attractive and useful introductory textbook.