BMCR 2013.04.22

Learn to Read Greek Part 1; Learn to Read Greek Part 2

, , Learn to Read Greek Part 1 (Textbook and Workbook Set). New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2011. 384, 632 pages. ISBN 9780300167719
, , Learn to Read Greek Part 2 (Textbook and Workbook Set). New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2011. 512, 544 pages. ISBN 9780300115925

Learn to Read Greek (LTRG) is a new, grammar-based introductory Greek textbook that aims to serve an introductory Greek sequence at the college or high-school levels.1 The layout, format, and philosophy of the textbook are modeled on the authors’ Learn to Read Latin (BMCR 2005.01.21), but LTRG is roughly twice as large and twice as costly as its Latin sibling. Instructors familiar with that book are likely to form similar opinions about this one. Among Greek textbooks, its approach (with some important differences) is closest to that of Hansen and Quinn,2 whose inspiration the authors acknowledge (Part 1, xv). Students using either book will acquire roughly the same high-level training in Greek grammar and syntax, morphology, and accentuation. We had the opportunity to teach from the text- and workbook set to an audience consisting of advanced high-school students, undergraduates, graduate students, and adult learners in an open-enrollment, seven-week, intensive summer course.3 We hope that our observations will also be relevant to instructors considering textbooks for use in high school or in accelerated intensive and two- or three-semester Greek sequences in college.4 In this review, we will focus particularly on the way in which LTRG differs from its closest competitor, Hansen and Quinn. Our review is divided into three sections: (1) Approach and Methodology; (2) Sequence of Material; and (3) Our Assessment and Recommendation.

Approach and Methodology

The textbook has an introduction followed by sixteen chapters, divided between two parts. Each chapter includes vocabulary, vocabulary notes, a detailed introduction to new morphology and syntax, and un-adapted selections from ancient authors. In addition to the textbook, the authors have produced a copious workbook with shorter drills and exercises keyed to each section in the textbook as well as a substantial number of longer exercises to be completed at the end of each chapter.

In LTRG, as in Hansen and Quinn, the vocabulary notes include not only glosses on meanings but also essential information on inflection and syntax that students will need to know in order to understand subsequent exercises and readings. Following the practice adopted in their Latin textbook, Keller and Russell have placed this information first in each chapter in order to emphasize its importance. Given that the information contained in the vocabulary notes will be used throughout the chapter, the decision is probably for the best, even though the authors are aware that as a result of this arrangement the vocabulary notes often refer to grammar that has yet to be introduced in subsequent sections of the chapter. In our experience, instructors will have to read these vocabulary notes carefully and highlight their importance to students.

The biggest differences between chapters in LTRG and Hansen and Quinn lie in the virtually inexhaustible collection of drills and exercises in the workbook and the textbook’s abundance of primary readings, which are drawn from a much broader chronological and generic range than in any other text at this level and even include selections in dialects other than Attic. Another important difference between LTRG and its competitors is its use of the TLG to examine usage statistics;5 as a result, the vocabulary and idioms of example and exercise sentences are much more representative of what students will find in continuous Greek prose and poetry. Finally, all readings in even- numbered chapters are printed with the lunate sigma, in order to acquaint students with texts printed with that orthography. LTRG’s efforts to acquaint students with the full range of Greek texts, vocabulary, dialects, and orthography pays off: in our experience, this group of students using LTRG found the transition between the introductory textbook and a speech of Lysias smoother than previous classes have with Hansen and Quinn.

From the foregoing description, it should be clear that the priorities of LTRG are unabashedly linguistic and literary. The historical and cultural material that some other textbooks present through supplementary sections on, for example, the Athenian democracy, the Peloponnesian War, and aspects of everyday Greek life such as economy and religion must be drawn out by the instructor, if at all, from the vocabulary notes, the reading passages, and the biographies that accompany selections from the major authors.6

Sequence of Material

The sequencing of the entire two-part course is logically organized, and the content of each chapter generally flows naturally into that of the next. For instance, the presentation of verbal morphology is organized by tense rather than voice, so that active and middle/passive paradigms are introduced simultaneously and the future and aorist passive forms are given alongside the active and middle voices of those tenses. By distributing the paradigms more evenly across each tense, this organizational strategy avoids the unrelieved stretches of morphology in textbooks that postpone the presentation of middle and passive forms until all forms of the active have been introduced in each tense.

Many innovations of sequence involve concepts that tend to give students the most trouble. For example, like its Latin counterpart, LTRG introduces the independent subjunctive and optative before the uses of those moods in subordinate clauses. This arrangement, reflecting the historical development of the complex sentence, allows for a logical explanation of the various dependent uses of these moods and avoids the impression given by some textbooks that their appearance in main clauses is exceptional.

To a degree unusual in introductory Greek textbooks, athematic morphology is spread across the course. As a result, students should come away from LTRG with a much stronger grasp of athematic verbs than that afforded by textbooks that concentrate athematic conjugation at the very end after all forms of thematic verbs have been introduced. Contracted verbs are also introduced quite early, in Chapter 4, after the presentation of the present and imperfect indicative and the present infinitive, and forms of contracted verbs are included in the paradigms in subsequent chapters.

Accentuation is presented incrementally, with the possibilities of accent outlined in the introduction and persistent and recessive accent introduced in the contexts of declension and conjugation in Chapters 1 and 2 respectively. Some instructors may be surprised to see the accents of some infinitives explained as recessive, but this explanation reduces the number of persistent accents students must learn. Rules for enclitics, which are presented in Chapter 5, are given more prominence and are closer to the beginning than in other textbooks, in order to allow for the early introduction of the verb εἰμί, the first athematic verb to be introduced.

Although LTRG’s incremental presentation is generally an effective means of organizing larger concepts into more manageable portions, there are occasional infelicities. For example, predicate position is defined in Chapter 5 in the context of the nominal sentence, but some instructors may find it more convenient to introduce it earlier with the attributive position in Chapter 1. The introduction of indirect statement with finite verbs in Chapter 6 before the optative mood in Chapter 13, despite a cross-reference in the earlier to the later chapter, may give students the impression that the optative in secondary sequence is more the exception than the general tendency in Attic writers. As in their Latin volume, Keller and Russell divide the presentation of conditional sentences into separate sections that coincide with the presentation of the different moods. Thus simple, future most vivid, and contrary to fact conditions, which use the indicative mood, are introduced together in Chapter 9, present general and future more vivid conditions are presented with the subjunctive in Chapter 12, and past general and future less vivid conditions are given with the optative in Chapter 13. Although the second and third installments include summaries of the previously introduced conditions, we found that our students more easily recognized the relationships between the different kinds of conditional sentence through a comprehensive treatment of all types simultaneously as a system. These few instances, however, in which we felt that the order of presentation might create inconvenience for instructors or confusion for students were relatively few and far between.

Our Assessment and Recommendation

In our assessment LTRG is the best textbook for helping students to acquire high-level knowledge of Greek language, grammar, and syntax. The textbook is well-paced and proceeds logically; its abundant vocabulary notes and grammatical explanations mean that teachers and students rarely have to consult outside reference books. The workbook provides copious, well-conceived exercises, an invaluable resource for students and teachers alike, and we found its practice sentences to reflect the tendencies of Greek word choice, word order, and syntax far better than any other textbook we had used. As an added bonus, the readings at the end of each chapter provide students with an opportunity to start reading passages from ancient authors as soon as possible, a prospect which both excited and challenged our students. Although the textbook is larger and costlier than its closest competitors, the added weight and price are justified especially by its invaluable workbook.

Our only reservation in recommending this edition of the textbook is the large number of typographical errors and other small mistakes that we found in it. Although instructors should find most of these errors to be minor and easily correctable, their presence caused our students occasionally to second-guess material that the textbook presented correctly. As an aid to instructors using LTRG, we have published a full list of the errors that we found on the BMCR blog. In the hope that these errors will be corrected in a subsequent edition, we have shared them with the authors and the publisher.


1. The term “grammar-based” means that each unit of the text first introduces all grammatical constructions and morphology that the authors wish the students to learn and be able to recognize in subsequent exercises and readings. LTRG is thus not the textbook for instructors who prefer the inductive, “reading-based” approach of M. Balme and G. Lawall, Athenaze: An Introduction to Ancient Greek, 2 nd ed. (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), or Joint Association of Classical Teachers, Reading Greek, 2 nd ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), in which students are confronted first in each chapter with a passage of heavily glossed, synthetic Greek, usually an episode in the adventures of a fictional Athenian family, through which they are encouraged to recognize morphological and syntactical patterns before the formal introduction of abstract rules of grammar. For a more or less up-to-date survey of the most popular Greek textbooks within the framework of grammar- and reading-based approaches, see K. F. Kitchell, Jr., E. Phinney, S. Shelmerdine, and M. Skinner, “Greek 2000—Crisis, Challenge, Deadline,” Classical Journal 91 (1996): 394- 401.

2. H. Hansen and G. M. Quinn, Greek: An Intensive Course, 2nd rev. ed. (New York: Fordham University Press, 1992).

3. We would like to thank the students of Greek S-Aab in the Harvard Summer School in the summer of 2012 for their feedback about the text.

4. The authors recommend a course of two to three semesters in college or two to three years in high school.

5. According to the authors, TLG searches were conducted at three levels: 1) the standard Attic authors of the fifth and fourth centuries BCE and Herodotus; 2) all Greek authors from the eighth through fourth centuries BCE; and 3) all Greek authors from the eighth century BCE through the first century CE (Part 1, xvi).

6. Between Chapters 5 and 6, a section on the names of the Greek gods (§ 59) is concerned with the declension of proper names in the literary pantheon rather than details of worship; other sections between chapters introduce meter and numbers (§§ 72, 100).