Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2011.02.54
Anne Mahoney (ed.), Rouse's Greek Boy: A Reader. Newburyport, MA: Focus Publishing, 2010. Pp. xiii, 146. ISBN 9781585103249. $14.95 (pb).
Reviewed by Nicholas Gresens, University of Rochester (firstname.lastname@example.org)
There is no shortage of introductory Greek textbooks, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. The diligent Greek teacher must weigh these strengths and weaknesses carefully before deciding how his students will first encounter ancient Greek. While most Greek textbooks rely to some degree on the very traditional Grammar-Translation method, Anne Mahoney's revision of W.H.D. Rouse's A Greek Boy at Home, now entitled Rouse's Greek Boy, sits at the other end of the language pedagogy spectrum. Rouse's Greek Boy is perhaps the purest example of the natural method of language instruction available for ancient Greek. Aside from Mahoney's preface to the new edition, Rouse's original preface, and brief recommendations for using the book that Mahoney has slightly edited from Rouse's original, the entire text is in Greek, including the glossary for the most part. Rouse intended his classes to be conducted almost entirely in Greek, and his reader reflects this intention. As such, it offers less than we have become accustomed to in the standard introductory Greek textbooks. At the same time, however, this book offers more than most textbooks since it could conceivably serve as both an introductory and intermediate reader.
Like the Greek textbook Athenaze (Oxford, 2003), which uses the life of the fictional Dicaeopolis as the basis for its principal narrative, Rouse's Greek Boy follows Thrasymachus, a fictional boy from Attica, as he goes through his daily routine. Unlike Athenaze, in which the narrative is told from a third person perspective, the narrative found here is narrated largely by Thrasymachus himself. This allows for frequent first and second person constructions, as Thrasymachus regularly describes what he and his family do and, in turn, asks the reader whether he understands what has been said. Thrasymachus' life does not extend much beyond his farm and his village, so the narration focuses more on daily life than on historical events or other aspects of Greek culture, although the book does contain an extended narration of the Battle of Salamis, complete with quotations from Aeschylus, a prose paraphrase of the Homeric Hymn to Hermes, and other hints at historical and mythical events and people.
The various narratives that constitute Thrasymachus' life are divided into roughly equal halves. With the exception of the first chapter, which provides space for the instructor to introduce the Greek alphabet and pronunciation, the first nineteen chapters contain graded readings that follow a fairly standard pattern for the introduction of new grammar. A majority of these chapters contain multiple readings so that, as Rouse says in the reproduced Preface to his 1909 edition, "The subject matter may be revised without the need of reading the same exercise over and over again ad nauseam" (ix). These multiple readings are also useful for the modern student of ancient Greek since a great deal of basic grammar knowledge is assumed from the very beginning. Although Rouse could, and did, assume that his students had a firm grasp of grammar, having been "carefully trained by means of French and Latin" (A First Greek Course, iii), and therefore needed to learn primarily Greek morphology and vocabulary, many of our students come to ancient Greek with little, if any, previous formal language training. By providing multiple passages in these early chapters, Rouse's Greek Boy offers ample opportunity for the Greek teacher to teach and practice more basic grammar principles such as case use and relative clause construction, a grammar concept which frequently gives inexperienced language learners difficulty and is found already in the second chapter.
The second half of the book is comprised of 25 readings of varying lengths and assumes that the student has a firm grasp of Greek grammar and vocabulary. This portion of the book would make for an engaging intermediate reader, with the first half providing remedial material as needed. As these readings progress, they incorporate progressively more Greek from ancient authors, most of it unadapted. As mentioned previously, towards the end of the first half of the book, Greek Boy includes 40 lines from Aeschylus' Persae, and the second half of the book incorporates one of the Carmina Popularia and various skolia recorded by Athenaeus into the narrative. The two most extensive excerpts found in Greek Boy, however, are from Menander and Dio Chrysostom. During a walk that Thrasymachus and his brother take in the hills, they run into two men having a disagreement, at which point the text includes more than 150 lines from the litigation scene from Menander's Epitrepontes. This citation is almost verbatim with some exceptions for word order, the elimination of some elision, and the substitution of a few simpler verb forms. The final story in the book recounts an encounter Thrasymachus has with a Euboean hunter and quotes the first half of Dio Chrysostom's Seventh Discourse with only a few portions removed for the sake of space. The length of the passages and the complexity of the Greek, to say nothing of the inclusion of "real" Greek, would provide the intermediate Greek student the preparation and confidence to move on to upper-level reading courses. It would have been useful had the text included citations to these passages, but with databases like Perseus and the TLG, their exclusion is a trivial matter.
It is important to note that since Rouse's Greek Boy is strictly a reader there are no discussions of grammar, no paradigm charts, no grammar exercises, or even any vocabulary lists to accompany each new chapter. Rouse's original text was intended to be used alongside his First Greek Course (Blackie and Son, 1909) and this textbook provided these materials for the student, but until the forthcoming revision of this book is available, teachers who intend to use Rouse's Greek Boy as an introductory textbook will have to either generate their own supplementary materials or rely on another grammar for these things. Nevertheless, this text could still conceivably be integrated into either the elementary or intermediate Greek class if the Greek instructor finds the prospect of generating such materials excessively onerous. Many of the passages are short enough to provide material for sight-reading, especially the verses found in the appendix, and some of the sections, such as those on numbers or the dialogues, offer novel methods to introduce and practice vocabulary. Additionally, because the focus of the principal narrative is on daily life, the vocabulary is more varied than that found in more traditional textbooks, including topic such as animals, food, weather, and even the evil eye, so that these sections might individually serve as useful introductions to this more obscure vocabulary or as welcome respite from the usual fare offered in Greek textbooks.
Regardless of how Rouse's Greek Boy is used in the classroom, it is a useful addition to the arsenal of Greek texts available to the college Greek instructor. And even if the text is not incorporated directly into the classroom, Rouse's Greek Boy offers plenty of examples of a different, and perhaps better, way to approach the teaching of ancient Greek.