BMCR 2005.09.27

A Reading Course in Homeric Greek. Book 1, revised with additional material by Leslie Collins Edwards

, , , A reading course in Homeric Greek. Newburyport, MA: Focus Publishing, 2005. volumes ; 28 cm. ISBN 1585101753 $39.95.

This is the first of a two volume edition (the second volume is to appear early in 2006) of the revised reading course in Homeric Greek by Schoder and Horrigan. Leslie Collins Edwards has edited this third revised edition, adding fuller explanations of syntantical concepts and grammar terminology, self-correcting exercises for review and many other supplements (two indices, notes and commentary on the Odyssey, etc) to reflect new scholarship and address the needs and interests of today’s student.

There has been a long tradition in introducing Greek through Homer to classics students in the past.1 In comparison to Beetham’s Beginning Greek with Homer (1996) or the much earlier Homeric Greek by Clyde Pharr this course focuses on Odyssey 9 rather than on Odyssey 5 or on Iliad 1 respectively. According to the authors, this choice has been made based on the assumption of enjoyment students should derive from their reading of the Lotus Eaters and Cyclops from Book 9 of the Odyssey.

In the On Using This Book section the reader is informed that the entire book is built on the forms, rules and that words actually occur in the text which will be read in this course. The course also purports to provide a “solid foundation for further reading in Homer or in other Greek authors” (p. xii).

The majority of the lessons consist of 2-3 pages that proceed with increasing difficulty and have been designed for classes of fifty minutes each. In the first half of the course, the readings are all quotations, although simplified or slightly altered, from various authors to cover the wide spectrum of Greek literature. This first half (60 lessons) also carries the weight of morphology and grammar students need to know in order to read the selections provided in the course. The second half deals with more review grammar and already assimilated forms, although a few grammar points of less importance, such as the history of digamma (lesson 62) or memorization of certain verb forms (e.g., οἶδα, lesson 70) are also introduced here.

In the first half students are asked to memorize certain words that build up a necessary vocabulary for their progress in the course. Students are also invited to translate from and into Greek simple phrases based on material learned in the particular lesson. There are also write-into-Greek exercises, which draw on review grammar. Short readings from a variety of Greek authors as ‘an early reward from the grammar and vocabulary being progressively learned’ (p. xi) also occur with frequency in the course. The word study at the end of each lesson provides words that belong to the same etymological family as the ones students are invited to translate.

Both the supplementary readings and the selected words have modern theological connotations, which obviously reflect the interests of the Jesuit classicist, Father Raymond Schoder. Excerpts from St Paul, St John, St Matthew are frequently quoted in the course. Modern Christian vocabulary is also a regular feature in this volume. For instance, one comes across word categories such as ecclesiastic, ecclesiastical, ecclesia, paraclete (lesson 37), martyr, martyrdom, martyrology (lesson 47), angelus, evangelist, evangelical (lesson 58), to mention but a few examples. Although this is not necessarily a bad thing, it might come as a surprise to the user, given that nowhere is it mentioned that the course caters for a theologically inclined audience.

The second half includes brief grammatical notes on the texts read and more extended notes and commentary on the context and content of the selected passages. New essays have also been added on topics related to the Homeric poems, such as Oral Composition, Folktales in the Odyssey, The Trojan War, Homeric Dress, Food in the Homeric World etc.

Appendices are concise and useful and include: (a) a summary of grammar, (b) a lesson by lesson vocabulary, (c) accentuation rules, (d) review exercises, (e) a Greek-English vocabulary and vice versa.

The present volume is a well-balanced textbook of Homeric Greek that will help the student read and understand the selected passages. I particularly liked the commentaries on various aspects of the Homeric society and material culture and their juxtaposition to our society today. I would have liked to see a brief explanatory introduction on Book 9 providing students with a basic framework for the selected passages.

Although I understand the argument that grammar is based on what actually occurs in the text read in this course, I think that fuller explanations of grammar (possibly in footnote form) might have added to its value, especially for students who wish to further their study by reading Greek prose. For example, on page 13 students are informed that all first declension nouns ending in ‐η‐ or ‐α‐ are feminine in gender, but there is no mention that first declension also contains masculine nouns in ‐ης‐ and ‐ας‐.

For a course that is so heavily associated with language, there are remarkably few errors, and the editor needs to be congratulated for the editorial care she took in presenting this volume. Illustrations and photos would have definitely added to the attractiveness of the present volume, but this might be a luxury for a reading course and it would certainly have added to its cost.

All in all, I believe that this reading course largely fulfils its declared aims and as such I would recommend it to those who wish to teach or learn Homer themselves.


1. The advantages and disadvantages of starting Greek with Homer have been identified by Ford in his review of Beetham’s Beginning Greek with Homer (BMCR 1999.04.19).