So, you want to know about the Italian Athenaze?

The Italian version of Athenaze, which first appeared all the way back in 1999, has long remained something of a mythical creature for a lot of English language students. Athenaze, of course, is the venerable Oxford produced Classical Greek course first produced in 1995 and now into its third edition. It isn’t without its own problems, but apart from JACT, it remains one of the best attempts to produce a reading lead, inductive-ish course with a hybrid, explicit post-factum grammar explanation.

A lot of people, rightfully, have found great benefit in using Ørberg’s Lingua Latina per se Illustrata course for Latin. It remains the best executed example of a Direct Method text I’ve ever laid eyes on – the more time you spend with it, the more you see how carefully and consciously it has been composed on DM principles.

So, a lot of people started thinking, “Hey, why isn’t there an Ørberg for Greek?” To no avail. Until 1999, when L. Miraglia and T.F. Bórri of the Accademia Vivarium Novum released Athenaze: Introduzione al greco antico, in 2 volumes. This was an adaptation and Ørbergisation of the 1st edition of the Athenaze course. It is, sadly, not a complete Ørberg-style Direct Method Greek course. You can view a description of the volumes and view a generous, extended preview of the texts, on the Vivarium Novum site here: volume 1 and 2.

Miraglia and Bórri took the Athenaze text, formatted it in an Ørberg style, added side-column illustrations and Greek notes. They also (a) doubled (so far as I can estimate) the amount of Greek text per chapter, and (b) added Italian glosses for some vocab at the foot of pages; (c) rewrote the grammar sections in Italian for their own purposes, and (d) reproduced the exercises in Italian <> Greek rather than English <> Greek.

Out of those 4 things, (b) is a departure from Ørberg. (a) is both amazing and incredibly helpful, because more graded reading is what most learners need. (c) is understandable but also unfortunate, because grammar is not taught in Greek as it is in Ørberg, and (d) is neither here nor there. This is why I said before that it is not a “complete” Greek Ørberg. But it is more than anyone else has done, or will do for some time I suspect. It is also a major feat itself, and of great help to us, if we take the opportunity to work with what we have.

So, besides the main two volume (506 and 588 pages respectively), there are also two workbooks of exercises (Μελετήματα I and II), and two additional workbooks for volume 1, Quaderno d’esercizi I and II, and lastly a similar-style version of The Tablet of Cebes. All those supplementary works, I have not seen personally and can’t comment on.

It used to be much harder to order these outside Italy, but if you can navigate Italian Amazon, you can get them.

Who could/should get the Italian Athenaze, who would it benefit?

  1. If you read Italian and want to study Greek, get this.
  2. If you have done a Greek course before, and want a sustained reading-based approach, you could make use of this without great difficulty. That is, if you have the grammatical background knowledge, the absence of Italian won’t slow you down that much.
  3. I wouldn’t recommend trying to use this if you’re both new to Greek and don’t know Italian, unless you had a guide/teacher. Athenaze (the English version) was never designed to be per se illustrata, and the Italian version hasn’t made up that deficit. Go and read this post here (and the comments!) for an analysis of how problematic the vocabulary introduction is in Athenaze. There’s no getting around the fact that no good Greek course exists. Athenaze is the best of the worst, and Italian Athenaze is a huge, huge improvement on English Athenaze, but the scaffolding is Italian!

I think Italian Athenaze could be adapted back to an English market, but it never will be commercially, because the whole licence provision that allowed the unique Italian version to come into existence was/is (as I understand it) a restriction of it to the Italian market.

That said, with a competent teacher, you could re-scaffold the text for a non-Italian speaker. Either by using English where the text uses Italian, or by putting together Greek language resources for grammar and exercises (probably they would require some English too, to be honest, because Greek grammar terms are a long way from being as evident as Latin ones).

Lastly, before I finish up here, let me say that I have some interest in teaching/facilitating/leading a small group of interested people in working all the way through Italian Athenaze, and this would involve developing a dual English/Greek ‘scaffold’ to support the text. If that would interest you, get in touch with me by email



I have more to say about Italian Athenaze, but I will save that for another day.

One response

  1. I’m planning to teach Greek starting in September, and one of my students knows Italian. Have you had any response to your invitation to build a dual English/Greek ‘scaffold’?

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