I know, I am notorious for starting new projects, and not necessarily finishing them. Anyway, that’s a personal flaw I’m working on. In this post I’m going to talk about two newish projects I’m working on and a bit about how I’m tackling them.
Both of them are “Readers”, i.e. graded reading texts designed for introductory and intermediate students. In each case I’m specifically keying them to an existing resource, the Greek one μὲν to Athenaze, the Latin one δὲ to LLPSI.
Why key to an existing resource?
Simply, I teach with both these texts, and I quite like them, and don’t think I could currently improve on them (well, LGPSI is a different story, and I am still working on that). I don’t want to replace either of them, but I do want to create new resources that would work alongside those, and expand students’ options and reading material.
What are these readers?
The Greek one is designed to create a narrative that piggy-backs of Athenaze but moves the reader into the world, and the language, of the New Testament. It solves a problem that I have, which is that I prefer to teach NT and Koine students from Athenaze, but if you only read Athenaze you end up with a very atticising Greek, and you don’t have quite the exposure to New Testament vocabulary and idiom that I’d like. A supplementary reader can: (a) broader a students’ reading, (b) build of their Athenaze knowledge, (c) prepare and engage them for NT specific vocabulary, syntax, and content.
I’m calling it Γαλιλίᾱθεν for the moment.
The LLPSI one is designed to mirror and match LLPSI: Familia Romana. FR does an amazing job, despite its flaws, and I have no need nor desire to really replace it. But we could always do with “more reading”. Which, also, the Latin novella industry is doing a nice job of filling. But I want to tell new stories, and I want to tell non-ancient and non-Roman ones. That’s why this book is set in a dystopian cyberpunk future of 2122, with a female protagonist, and no Romans in sight. It exists in a shared universe with my (temporarily halted but not exactly dead) Elena story.
Given that I’m not terribly far along in either of these, this is what my process looks like: for each chapter/section, I look up what new vocabulary and “up to this point” vocabulary the touchstone text has used. I also look over the grammar covered. In the early chapters, some of the content is very similar, simply because the working material is limited. I also look at the length of each sections. For the Latin project, I do a word count on LLPSI and on Colloquia Personarum, and aim to be slightly longer than the CP reading. For Γαλιλίᾱθεν I aim to be around the same length, erring on the shorter side (the Italian edition readings are very long compared to the English edition ones). I try to introduce minimal new grammar, if possible; for vocabulary, my aims are divergent. In Γαλιλίᾱθεν I’m consciously trying to substitute more common Koine words for Attic equivalents, as well as introduce some NT specific vocabulary. For the Latin, I’m trying to gently expand a reader’s vocabulary, to the point where I can tell a full-fledged story in the later half of the book.
Timeline and Release
The good news is that, at least for the present, I have some decent work processes in place that are keeping these (and other projects, including LGPSI!) moving forward at a reasonable pace. I plan to release some sections free to all. Others to my patreon, to moderately reward those backing me there, and once it’s done we’ll see about some kind of publishing. I would very much like to keep up a solid pace of a chapter a week, but that’s probably a little too ambitious.
The best way to learn Ancient Greek is with a live teacher, in person, with lots of contact time, speaking, talking, reading, writing. That’s not possible for everyone, and I don’t have a position that lets me teach like that anyway. It’s why SeumasU exists – to provide a way for people throughout the globe to learn Latin or Ancient Greek online, with live interaction, and to read a variety of texts that rarely get touched in traditional institutions. And if my courses don’t suit, I will happily point you to several other excellent online instructors in Latin and Greek.
And yet there are some people for whom live classes aren’t possible or viable. That’s one reason why I have been developing for quite some time now a stand-alone video course that takes you through Athenaze, with all the instruction you could expect from a teacher or professor. No, it doesn’t replicate live conversational classes. It does do everything else though.
The first part of this course is now complete. That is, all the core content is there and ready for someone to use and guide their own way through Athenaze, while still tackling it as a ‘live’ language. I’m now working to complete the core content for the second part, as well as create a considerable amount of bonus content for part one.
What’s in Part 1?
Part 1 of this course covers Athenaze chapters 1-8. After introductory material on the alphabet and orthography, we move into the main content.
Each module consists of 4 sets of videos.
Vocabulary Pre-Teaching: Introduces some of the key vocabulary for the chapter, with pictures, example sentences, links to English and Latin words. It’s a pre-step to get you ready for reading.
Text and Explanation: For each of the readings in Athenaze, I provide a teaching video where I guide you through the passage, giving English-language explanations of new elements as well as interesting features.
Greek Questions: For each reading I provide a subsequent video that demonstrates and exemplifies Greek questions and answers about the passage, section by section.
Grammar: The grammar videos cover, but do not replicate, the material in the textbook. Instead, you get my own take on the grammatical topics for each chapter, going above and beyond standard introductory explanations, and drawing upon contemporary approaches to Greek linguistics.
Bonus Videos: As the course expands, I’m adding bonus videos that dive into additional readings, as well as cover Greek grammar in Greek.
If you’re looking for an asynchronous online video course to guide you in your ancient Greek learning, this is it.
(I stopped doing posts simply about upcoming classes, mostly to reduce clutter, but I realise some people read this blog but do not get updates on my courses via other means. So, I’ll make a habit of doing a regular post before each term, and then deleting it subsequently)
I have a range of classes beginning next week, and I’d love you to come and get a healthy dose of Latin or Ancient Greek with me. Courses on offer include:
Greek 103 – A continuing cohort working with Athenaze from ch 12.
Greek 184 : LGPSI+ 4 – a free-wheeling class focused on developing new LGPSI content/stories as well as conversational ability
Greek 272 : Plato II – in which we read Plato’s dialogues. Currently about to start Meno
Greek 282 : Greek composition 3 – A class for developing (creative) writing skills in ancient Greek
Greek 313 : Basil – Come and read Basil of Caesarea’s take on the place of Hellenistic learning in 4th century Christian paideia.
Latin 103 – A continuing group working with Familia Romana, starting at ch 22. (A new 101 cohort will start in October)
Latin 207 : CS Lewis’ Latin Letters – Read the Latin correspondence of CS Lewis.
Latin 232: Dhuoda – The instructions of a Carolingian noblewoman to her sons.
- If you can get a group of at least 2 people, I can put together a custom course to suit your needs.
- I have a limited number of scholarships available, if finances or other circumstances put these beyond your reach. Contact me to find out more.
- If you’re unsure of what might be a best fit for you, I’m happy to arrange a chat to discuss your background, needs, and goals in language learning.
I know that everyone is always excited to hear about LGPSI and what’s happening or not happening. I’m pleased to report that some things are happening. I try not to ever make promises about LGPSI progress, because I never want to disappoint you with expectations unfulfilled.
Firstly, I’m doing some revision work on the early chapters, primarily to put them into a more Ørbergised format, with margin notes, and with some ‘placeholder’ illustrations. These are generally stock images I’ve pulled to stick into the margins to give an idea of where I think illustrations should go. Chapters in this format are slowly being released to my handful of loyal patreon supporters.
Secondly, I’m doing some similar editing, marginalia, and proof-reading of chapters from about 10 onwards. Due to adjustments in chapter contents and storyline, some of the chapter-alignments are now out of date as well. As the text of these gets done, I’ll stick them into the repository, and I’ll release the draft Ørberg versions on patreon.
Thirdly, I’ve been running an “LGPSI+” class for several terms now, and we passed the previous point of written material some time ago (It was chapter 19). I have draft notes for new chapters from 17 up until 25, but they need to be written out from the draft material collaborated on in our classes and turned into full chapters. This is the third type of ‘work’ I’m doing. Those chapters will also see a text release on the repository and webpage, and a marginalia/image draft on patreon.
FAQ: When can you expect what? When it’s ready.
A Greek Reader: A companion to A Primer of Biblical Greek, by Mark Jeong. Eerdmans 2022
Part 1: A Review
Part 2: Commentary and Errata
Via Latina: De Lingua et Vita Romanorum, by Maria Luisa Aguilar & Jorge Tarrega
This is a new, and much anticipated volume, put out by Cultura Clásica, a Spanish outfit responsible for a good deal of quality Latin and Greek materials, but about whom I confess to know very little.
The preface (written in Latin, like the rest of this entire volume), speaks of their plan, commencing seven years ago, to prepare a new volume for beginner students in Latin. They have three main concerns in mind: (1) That the method should centrally concern itself with the use of the language. That said, Latin is both the object and the means of study. (2) The contents should concern itself with the doings of the Romans, from which cause the bulk of the book follows an outline of Roman history from Larentia to the Gracchi. (3) A vast variety of exercises, which I can attest they have indeed supplied, which will engage learners in the language, with meaning.
The overall structure of the book is a division into 12 chapters, each with three readings. At the end of each chapter, there is a short grammatical explanation section, also done in Latin, and in every second chapter, a ‘culture/history’ essay, also delivered in Latin. By now you have fully realised that the whole book is in Latin, so I will stop saying so.
A reading is about 35 lines (7-ish words to a line, so 245 words or so per reading, 735 words per chapter). There’s margin notes, which give Ørberg style helps, often synonyms, explanations, derivatives, etc.. Sometimes these are to words that don’t appear to have been introduced yet, but which a student might guess/intuit based on cognates. The marginalia are not comprehensive, nor designed to be as they explain in the preface – an instructor is to fill in the gaps.
Illustrations also adorn the margins, as well as larger images which adorn the top third of many pages. These are indeed illustrative – showing the action of the story as it unfolds. That story is a history of Rome, familiar to any reader of Livy, from earliest times onwards.
The Latin reads well. It’s not overly complicated, nor does it feel un-Latinate. There are a few points which are, well, less straightforward. cap 5, l2-3 in oppidō Tarquiniā nātus is quite confusing if you don’t know that Tarquinia is the name of a town, and it is not introduced or noted in the margin. So your putative first reader is confronted with a feminine ablative, clearly related to the name Tarquinius, but with not enough context to figure out what’s going on.
Errors appear few and far between, which is always, always pleasing in a textbook (looking at you, revised editions of Athenaze that introduced more errors than previous editions!). This isn’t one of those reviews that gives you a list though, but there is a spelling error on p25, in margine quarere for quaerere.
A few points of criticism:
Firstly, there is the subject matter, which will please some and deter others. Certainly some teachers feel that a grounding in the Rebus Gestis Romanorum is a sine qua non of foundational Latin learning. My concern is not with that debate, though I long to see more resources that recognise and willingly decentre “Romans” as prototypical Latin speakers. Rather, there are several clear episodes in this history that are uncomfortable reading at any stage. Having to deal with the Rape of the Sabines (Abduction and Sexual Servitude), and the Rape of Lucretia (Sexual Assault), as key elements of the main narrative, is going to make this difficult to implement in some schools or with younger readers. There is also a degree of pro-Roman and pro-Imperialism cheerleading in the text, which derives in part from leaning so heavily on Livy as its source for a narrative through-line.
Inevitably at this point some of you who still read this blog say, “Yes, but we can’t just mollycoddle everyone and live in a fantasy world where these things didn’t happen, or hide them from students.” True, but how we speak about the abduction of women in order to force them into arranged marriages for child-rearing, and when, and to whom, are all questions to be asked and answered by educators. I would not treat that episode the same with a 12 year old, a 20 year old, and a 50 year old learner of Latin. For those thinking of using this text in a school classroom, this will be a real consideration.
Although much is made of starting with Larentia, who features prominently in chapter 1, women throughout the book are confined to their usual places in a Livian history, and it would be hard to maintain that this text does much to reverse the marginalisation (and sexualisation) of women in Roman history, Latin pedagogy, or classics more broadly.
Similarly, the illustrations will cause some to pause. Aesthetic tastes vary (and the style here will not be to everyone’s enjoyment), and there is nothing explicit, but there are certainly things that are going to be on the edge for some readers (or parents). This includes an almost entirely naked Lucretia being assailed by Tarquinius (p122), a small image of a naked man, front-on, on p90 (illustrating the word corpus), several scenes of the aftermath of battles (which most people will not find too gory, if only because people tend to be more upset at sex than violence), and blood seeping out of murdered Tarquinius Priscus (p84).
These two factors, I’m sad to say, are probably enough to stop its widespread use in schools.
I will say, in praise of the illustrations, that there is a considerable effort here to portray a range of skin tones, and so we are spared the whitening of Roman ethno-identity. This is a welcome change from other textbooks.
However, I want to turn now to the question that is inevitable : comparison to Ørberg.
Ørberg’s Lingua Latina per se Illustrata is (mea quidem sententia) not simply the best textbook that exists for Latin, but the best textbook by far. It is not the best textbook imaginable though. Now, Via Latina doesn’t claim to replace LLPSI, or to be doing what Ørberg did, or anything like that. However, in virtue of being a Latine tantum textbook, written in what people now think of as an Ørberg-style (illustrations, marginalia latine, etc), and with some specific Latin-use orientation, it is inevitable that the comparison will be made. Could this replace Ørberg?
I don’t think so. And before I turn to why, that’s neither here nor there – this book doesn’t have to replace Ørberg, doesn’t claim to, and you don’t have to think of it as an Ørberg alternative. The reasons I think so are, I believe, worth considering.
Firstly, there is not enough volume of continuous narrative Latin here. 735 per chapter-unit, over 12 chapters, is approximately 8820. I can tell you that Familia Romana, with 35 chapters, has a chapter length of 680 words in cap 1, up to 1479 in cap 34. That is simply far, far more words to encounter over the course of a text. Secondly, the rate of new information in LLPSI is slower, both structurally and vocabulary. You can see this in VL’s capitulum 1: it echoes LLPSI’s capitulum 1, but with far less repetition, and the introduction of pronouns (is, ea, id). The combination of less repetition, more new information, moves the learner at a more rapid pace with less reinforcement. Thirdly, the more you read Ørberg, the more you become aware of just how much he crafted this over a lifetime to make both macro and micro features “per se illustratae” – the many points at which things are understandable within the text, without recourse to external help. VL does not succeed very well at this, and I am not sure they were trying to (in which case they shouldn’t be faulted for it, but the comparison must be made). VL is not an Ørberg-slayer, and I am unconvinced we will see one for quite a long time. Yet, maybe we don’t need an Ørberg-slayer, maybe we just need more good Latin materials for students – and that is what VL is.
There is one thing that VL does better than Ørberg though, and it should be absolutely praised for this: the exercises. Ørberg has essentially 3 unvarying exercises: cloze endings, cloze words, and simple comprehension questions. VL has a considerable variety of exercises, aimed at facilitating comprehension, meaning-based connections, and familiarity with forms. I could see myself adapting these exercise types for other texts, and some of them would make excellent assessment-type questions as well.
In turning to VL’s positives, this is a very welcome addition to the world of Latin reading material for learners. I’d have no problems recommending this as a text worth adding to one’s collection, and using for various purposes, including as a supplement within a program built around other things. It’s well written, quality Latin, aimed at learners, and introduces a (version of) history of Rome up to the Grachii. The illustrations, with the above caveats, are well done and are more beneficial than not (e.g. plenty of other books have illustrations that either contribute nothing, or in fact detract).
Via Latina, then, is a new textbook worth your attention, even if you don’t end up using it to teach with. It has some significant positives, but some significant flaws as well. What I do hope is that many teachers will take a look at this book, make some use of it in their classrooms, but also consider how we all can create more and better resources in the future.
Can this learner move on to the next module?
Summative assessment is used to make generalised conclusions about a student’s academic ability.
A terminal assessment of competency.
In my spare time I have been pottering away at some Catullus translations. You can find recordings of these on my soundcloud as well.
Warning: Catullus is fairly liberal in his use of expletives, so if profanity offends you, read no further. He’s also not a very nice person.
Who wants their name in big print, on the
cover of my shiny new book, hot off the press?
You! Cornelius, because you were always on
my case about how this was a waste of time,
when you were single-handedly producing the
world’s longest and most boring “academic”
So take this little book, whatever it’s worth
and, Goddess of Viral Memes,
may it survive to a second printing
Sparrow. my little babe’s delight,
who she toys with, keeps in her lap,
teases with a fingertip
soliciting sharp bites
beaming with lust for me,
it pleases her to make some joke or other
(it settles down the aching,
as then fire subsides)
How I wish I could toy with her as she with it
and take a load off her mind!
… as pleasing to me as the golden apple
was to the fast girl,
which unzipped her long-fastened pants
Read it and weep – all you bitches and hoes,
and any man who has a heart,
dead. my baby’s sparrow is dead,
bird of my bird
who she loved more than her eyeballs;
it was as sweet as honey, and knew her
as well as any girl her mother
never left her lap, jumping
here there and everywhere
sole songbird sang for no other
now it walks the night road
and no one comes back that way
A curse on you, vile darkness
you gulp every good thing down
it’s you that stole my sweet sparrow
badly done, and bad way to go;
but it’s your fault, shadow’d sparrow
that my girl’s eyes bleed a swollen red
See that little slip, my friends?
She sounds off that she’s the fastest of the fleet,
that no ship on the sea can catch her,
not by scull not by sail
swift skimming the silver sea’s surface.
she calls to witness:
The Hadriatic’s all-huff no-puff shore,
the Cyclades, tricky to thread,
righteous Rhodes, hectic Marmara,
the bruising Black Sea, where once a tressed tree, and thereafter a boat.
– none will deny.
Up there on Gideros’ back, whispering wind
from luscious locks. Amasra and Gideros,
sea-shored and boxwood-bearing,
she says, ere and ever, she is known to you
best; that right from the start she stood
straight up on your peak, dipped dripping oars
in your sea, lord laden crossed countless
unrestrained straits, whether the wind
beckoned from port, starboard, or the Sky
Father slapped the ship square from behind:
she didn’t beg not once to seashore saints,
in all her journey from that so far sea to this
but this was all long ago. she’s laid up now,
grown and growing old, dedicated
to the Dioscuri
Let’s live and love, my Lesbia;
I don’t give a rat’s ass about what
suns can rise and suns can set
but, for us? yolo.
a moment in the limelight
and an endless darkness
kiss me. kiss me again.
kiss me again and again.
a hundred, a thousand times
and when we have kissed
a gazillion times, we’ll encrypt that number
no jealous hacker will know the code
and ransomware our love.
Flavi, bro, Flavi bro. you’d tell Catullus
all about your latest sidepiece, you couldn’t
keep your mouth shut, unless she’s ugly as
sin. but truly, i don’t know what little hottie
you’re hot for – you’re ashamed to say.
it’s a crying shame that your bed can’t talk,
because it shouts loudly enough, with its
essential oils and hints of perfume, you don’t
sleep alone. pillows askew, the faintest
impression of a rounder hip, not to mention
that bed creaks, groans, rattles and shakes.
nothing in the world could keep quiet your
dalliances. and why? you wouldn’t be
showing flanks flushed with fucking,
unless you were up to such tricks.
so just tell us, whether she’s hot or not.
And I will lay down a witty rhyme
to immortalise your loves, like mine.
hey Lesbia, you wanna know how many
kisses are enough for me? more than enough?
might as well count Libya’s sands
where once the spice flowed freely
between sweltering Jupiter’s oracle
and old Battus’ sacred tomb;
as countless as stars on a silent night,
that watch people’s furtive fondlings;
for your frenzied Catullus, to kiss you
that much will be enough and more,
so that curious cats will fail in the count
and envious eyes will zip their lips.
Catullus, you sad bro? Don’t be a fool –
can’t you see what’s gone is gone?
Bright days used to shine on you
when you’d go wherever she stringed you –
I’ll never love another lover like her –
There and then, fun times were had aplenty
you were keen and the girl wasn’t coy.
Bright days shined on you true.
Now she’s not so keen; you too, don’t be weak,
don’t chase, let her go, don’t wallow
but swallow your pride and take it on the chin.
cya, girl! Now Catullus is a hard man,
isn’t looking for you, isn’t asking for you
it’s you who’ll suffer, no one knocking down your door.
g-t-f-o you cheater: what life you got now?
who come running? who think you sexy?
who you gunna love? whose you gunna be?
who you gunna kiss? whose little lips you gunna bite so soft, so tender.
stay strong, Catullus my bro, stay strong.
Veranius – bestest of besties
worth more than a million other brothers from another mother
have you come home to your digs
to your brothers, to your old ma?
You have come! o sweet news!
to see you safe and sound
to hear you tell your travel tales
Spain’s people and places, sights and sounds,
as you always do, and I’ll lean over your neck
sweet savour kisses on eyes and mouth.
oh, of all men most happy on earth
who, who is happier than me?
Recently the twitterverse was aptly reminded by Dr. Marchella Ward of the existence of “The Road to Latin“, a very fine Latin introductory textbook from 1932, not least because it was authored by a Black Woman, Helen Maria Chestnutt.
On the whole, it makes excellent reading material for any beginning (or advanced) Latin student, but I wondered if I couldn’t also adopt/adapt it to Greek. Here is a pdf with the first chapter rendered into Greek, for anyone interested, and I’ll make an effort to work on more chapters. If nothing else, it provides me with a pleasant diversion and you with a new source of easy, readable Greek.
A google-docs version is here: you can leave comments on it freely. This will enable you to keep up to date with any progress I make (I’m not promising any though)
While I’m here, I might as well make a couple of observations. Even in the very first reading, you have to make translation choices. The Latin sticks to first declension nouns ending in -a entirely. To keep the same vocab in Greek, I had to introduce other endings. Similarly, to express ‘stand’, ‘open’, and ‘closed’, required a perfect verb and two perfect participles. Thirdly, to keep Greek style from the very beginning, I introduced a few particles. Fourthly, Greek necessitates introducing the article here. Finally, I made the choice to keep the names and context of the original. All of which make this considerably harder for a student starting from scratch. This is (one set of reasons) why Greek ab initio books can’t simply ape Latin ones, let alone translate them. That said, I mostly intend to keep on in the same vein – a close rendering of the Latin, with whatever Greek seems apt or best. I think that’s the best way to honour the original work here.
Look, I’m not saying I’m actually going to translate a whole novel into Ancient Greek, but here’s the first page of Jo Walton’s amazing speculative-fiction novel/classical reception, The Just City, rendered into Ancient Greek.
Ἡ πόλις ἡ Δικαίᾱ
Α’ · Ἀπόλλων
μεταβέβληται εἰς δένδρον, τοῦτ᾿ ἦν τὸ μυστήριον, ὃ ἀνάγκη γίγνεσθαι. οὐδὲν γάρ ἄλλο δυνατόν ἦν, μοῦ ἀποροῦντος. τὸ δὴ μὴ συνιέναι κακῶς φέρω. ταῦτα πάντα οὖν ὅσα ἔπαθον τοῦδε ἕνεκα · οὐκ ἔμαθον διὰ οὗ εἰς δένδρον μεταβέβληται, μᾶλλον εἱλάτο γε γίγνεσθαι δένδρον. ὄνομα μὲν οὖν Δάφνη αὐτῆς, οὕτως δὲ καὶ τοῦ δένδρου ὃν γέγονεν, ἐκ τούτου ἐγένετο τὸ δένδρον αὐτό, ἡ δάφνη, ἴδιόν μοι, αἷς στεφανοῦνται οἵ τε ποιηταὶ καὶ οἱ ἐν ἀγῶσιν νενικῶτες.
τὰ οὖν πρῶτα ἠρόμην τὴν ἀδελφήν μου, «τί» ἔφην, «εἰς δένδρον μετέβαλλες τὴν Δάφνην;» ἡ δὲ ὄμμασιν προσέβλεπεν με τῆς σελήνης πληρουμένοις. καίπερ δὲ ἀφελῆς οὔσης ἐκ τοῦ τε πατρός καὶ τῆς μητρός, πολλῷ διαφέρειν οὐ δυνατόν ἐστιν ἡμᾶς. ἡ δὲ ψῡχροτέρᾱ, ὀφρῡ́ος ἐπηρμένης μίᾱς, ἐπί γε τοποθεσίᾳ σεληνικῇ ἀνακλεῖται.
«ἐμὲ μὲν ἐδέησε δή, σπουδαίοτερον ἐπιθυμοῦσα, αὐτοθὶ δὲ σύ. τὰ οὖν ἐσχατὰ πράττειν ἐχρῆν.»
«ὅμως ἔσται ἥρως ἢ ἔτι θεὸς ὁ υἱος αὐτῆς.»
«τὴν οὖν παρθενίαν» ἔφην, «δήπου οὐ καταλαμβάνεις» πεταννῦσα τεινοῦσα τε σκέλος ψῡχρόν ὡς κρύσταλλος. μέγιστον γὰρ τῇ Ἀρτέμιδι ἡ παρθενία, οἷον καὶ τόξα, ἡ ἄγρα τε καὶ ἡ σελήνη.
«παρθένος μὲν μενεῖν ουκ ὀμώμοκε, οὐδὲ σοι ἀνακεῖται, οὐδὲ ἱέρεια. ἐγὼ δὲ οὐδέπωποτε…»
«ὅ τι μέγιστον ἔλαθέν σοι γε. εἴη Ἥρᾱ ἂν ᾗ πρέπει σε διαλέγεσθαι.» ἡ δὲ εἶπεν, ὑπὲρ τὸν ὦμον ἀντιβλέπουσα.
In the last couple of days, occasioned at first by a tweet and corresponding discussions from Steven Runge, I’ve been teasing out in my head and a little bit of dialogue the difficulties of the “advanced discussion of Greek in Greek” question. It’s a question that any living language approach has to answer, one way or another. My position involves a few different angles, so let me lay them out again here.
Firstly, I don’t think you need to develop a meta-linguistic competence to talk about Greek grammar and linguistics in order to become a competent speaker/user of the language.
Secondly, I think it’s best to think of that meta-linguistic knowledge as a separate (but not entirely unrelated!) body of knowledge. Yes, meta-linguistic knowledge can help you become a more competent language user. However, the fact that one can be a highly competent speaker without a meta-linguistic knowledge, or vice versa a competent linguist of a language with very little communicative competence, suggests that these are separate.
Thirdly, meta-linguistic knowledge can be done in any language. It can be done in English, it can be done in Greek, it can be done in something else. There is a practical advantage to doing some of this, especially at the basic level, in Greek.
However, and this is point four, I think when we get to the point where we want to do complex, linguistic, exegetical, philological, discourse, literary, etc., type analyses, we have to reckon with some realities. Firstly, the language competence to, for example, read the New Testament, and the language competence to discuss these things about the New Testament, are fairly distant. The latter requires a level of competence, and domain specificity, and a body of academic knowledge, that are all additional to the former. Secondly, we should respect that not everyone looking for the former, wants to, can, or will, acquire the latter.
To demonstrate what I mean, below are three quotes from some linguisticky things I’ve read in the recent past. I chose things that I thought I’d have a shot at translating, and I’ve given you my (rough, ready, and likely problematic) Greek versions first – do yourself a favour and read the Greek before going down to the English. Can you read and process these sentences quickly, in Greek, with a reasonably clear understanding of what’s going on?
- τὸ ὑποθετικὸν κῶλον τὸ ἐν τῷ ἕκτῳ στίχῳ ἀρχόμενον διδάσκει τὸν ἀναγιγνώσκοντα ὅτι δεῖ τὰ ἑπόμενα κατὰ ταῦτα συνίεσθαι.
- πλεῖστον χρόνον, εἰ μὴ πάντοτε, ἀλλήλοις διαλεγόμεθα τῇ μὲν γλώσσῃ χρώμενοι τὴν δὲ ἐνεργεῖαν αὐτὴν, πολύπλοκον οὖσαν, μὴ περιορῶντες, ᾗπερ κῶλά τε καὶ λέξεις ποικίλας παρὰ λεπτόν παραπλασσόμεθα.
- μεταξύ τόπος· τὸ διαβαλλόμενον κεῖται μεταξὺ δυοῖν ἢ πλειόνων ὅρων. τὸ οὖν ὅρος κεῖται ὁποτέρωθεν τοῦ διαβαλλομένου. ἢ ἀθρόον ὃ διαμερίζεσθαι δύναται ἢ πληθυντικὰ ὄντα ἃ περιίστασθαι δύναται τὸ διαβαλλόμενον. λέγεται οὖν τὸ ὅρος ἐπὶ τῆς γενικῆς πτώσεως.
The English originals are below.
- The conditional clause that begins verse 6 instructs the reader that what follows must be processed in light of this.
- Steven Runge, ‘Interpreting Constituent Order in Koine Greek’ in Linguistics and New Testament Greek: Key Issues in the Current Debate. eds. David Alan Black and Benjamin L. Merkle.
2. Most of the time, if not all of the time, we communicate with each other using language without considering the complex activity we are undertaking, forming complex words and sentences in a split second.
- Emma L. Pavey. The Structure of Language: An Introduction to Grammatical Analysis (Kindle Locations 114-115). Kindle Edition.
3. μεταξύ : Location : A trajector is physically located in between two or more landmark The landmark is on either side of a trajector. The landmark is either a collective entity that can be split or multiple entities that can surround a trajector. The landmark is expressed in the genitive case.
- Rachel Aubrey, Michael Aubrey, Greek Prepositions in the New Testament: A Cognitive-Functional Description (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2020).
We turn now to consider the Johannine references, which are five: 1:14, 18, 3:16, 18, and 1 John 4:9. Throughout this section I content that the established meaning of ‘siblingless’ in contexts referring to persons continues to make best sense of these texts, without requiring any particular alteration for this context.
John 1:14, 18
Καὶ ὁ λόγος σὰρξ ἐγένετο καὶ ἐσκήνωσεν ἐν ἡμῖν, καὶ ἐθεασάμεθα τὴν δόξαν αὐτοῦ, δόξαν ὡς μονογενοῦς παρὰ πατρός, πλήρης χάριτος καὶ ἀληθείας
And the Word became flesh, and set up his tent in our midst, and we have seen his glory, the glory of an only-son from a father, full of grace and truth.
I contend that the primary question for us here, given that the immediate context of the word’s usage is παρὰ πατρός, is what reason would there be to not consider the sense of μονογενής to refer to a siblingless son? Every other attestation to this point, when in the context of persons, and familial relations, works with that meaning. If the author of the gospel wanted to indicate, “unique in kind”, or a philosophical “one and only one instance”, they appear to be writing in the wrong key. Similarly, if their intention were to indicate something about the generative process itself, “only begotten”, a more explicitly generative turn of not merely phrase, but context, appears required. Both, or rather either, of those meanings is possible, in a strict sense of possible. However, a reader of the gospel upon encountering μονογενής in close connection to πατρός, is most likely, most naturally, to understand it as a reference to a single and sole son who lacks siblings. The author establishes that this is how to understand the quality or kind of the δόξα that the λόγος possesses and which the author attests to have seen.
This in turn, establishes how to read the second occurrence of μονογενής a few verses later.
θεὸν οὐδεὶς ἑώρακεν πώποτε· μονογενὴς θεὸς ὁ ὢν εἰς τὸν κόλπον τοῦ πατρὸς ἐκεῖνος ἐξηγήσατο.
No-one has ever seen God: God-the-siblingless-son, who is in his father’s bosom, he has made him known.
Two important factors ought to guide our understanding of the term here. First, that the author has just prior used the term in a familial-type context to evoke the way in which an only son bears their father’s glory. Second, that within this same verse it is a familial relationship that is also invoked. This once more suggests that the “unique” reading is lacking in content. Contra Ehrman, there is no need to suppose that the phrase is itself meaningless and therefore must be a later theological correction for μονογενὴς υἱός. Ehrman’s case rests on two bases. The first of these is that external support for μονογενὴς υἱός is strong, beyond the Alexandrian tradition, at least strong enough to argue for its priority. Secondly, that the meaning of μονογενὴς θεός is not understandable within the conceptual world of the Fourth Gospel’s authorship, and only sensible in light of later theological contexts.
I leave aside the textual argument, though the reader should see Kristianto’s paper which walks through the evidence. The theological argument is of more interest here, because Ehrman’s argument is an instance of “lectio difficilior except if it seems too difficult.” Is it not at least likely that a scribe would consider μονογενὴς υἱός a more natural collocation than μονογενὴς θεός and correct it in that direction? Similarly, while we do not need to import 4th century, or even 3rd or 2nd century, christologies into John, nor should we assume that the gospel’s author is incapable of using the term μονογενής to expresses the idea that God (the siblingless son) makes God (the father) known.
John 3:16, 18
The second pair of instances in John occur in swift succession, again in connection to each other.
16 Οὕτως γὰρ ἠγάπησεν ὁ θεὸς τὸν κόσμον, ὥστε τὸν υἱὸν τὸν μονογενῆ ἔδωκεν, ἵνα πᾶς ὁ πιστεύων εἰς αὐτὸν μὴ ἀπόληται ἀλλʼ ἔχῃ ζωὴν αἰώνιον. 17 οὐ γὰρ ἀπέστειλεν ὁ θεὸς τὸν υἱὸν εἰς τὸν κόσμον ἵνα κρίνῃ τὸν κόσμον, ἀλλʼ ἵνα σωθῇ ὁ κόσμος διʼ αὐτοῦ. 18 ὁ πιστεύων εἰς αὐτὸν οὐ κρίνεται· ὁ δὲ μὴ πιστεύων ἤδη κέκριται, ὅτι μὴ πεπίστευκεν εἰς τὸ ὄνομα τοῦ μονογενοῦς υἱοῦ τοῦ θεοῦ.
For God loved the world so, that he gave his only son, that everyone believing in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world be saved through him. The one that believes in him is not condemned; condemned already, however, is the unbelieving person, because they have not believed in the name of God’s siblingless son.
Given the prior usage in John 1, the lack of any significant shift to a philosophical register here, and that both uses here modify υἱός, what reason is there to overturn the significant weight of common usage, and instead find a peculiarly Johannine theological meaning of “uniquely begotten”, except on the supposed basis of John 1? Which basis we have already addressed.
1 John 4:9
ἐν τούτῳ ἐφανερώθη ἡ ἀγάπη τοῦ θεοῦ ἐν ἡμῖν,
ὅτι τὸν υἱὸν αὐτοῦ τὸν μονογενῆ ἀπέσταλκεν ὁ θεὸς
εἰς τὸν κόσμον ἵνα ζήσωμεν διʼ αὐτοῦ. 
By this the love of God is made manifest in us,
that God has sent his only son,
into the world, so that we may live through him.
The author of 1 John uses μονογενής in a very Johannine manner, echoing the language of John 3 above. Insofar as there is no significant alteration from the usage in the gospel, neither is there a change in signification here. For this author, Jesus is the μονογενὴς υἱός because there are no other υἱοί of the same kind. For this same reason they reserve the term υἱός for Jesus, employing τέκνα instead to refer to believers.
 To take pains to make this obvious, when the word is taken to indicate “one of a kind” or “unique”, there must be some sense in which the referent is one of a kind. That sense is, for μονογενής, the lack of siblings. Which gives the word more content than the simple “unique” does.
 Ehrman, Bart D. The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture: The Effect of Early Christological Controversies on the Text of the New Testament, (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1993), 78-82.
 Kristianto, S. ‘E valuating Bart Ehrman’s Textual Reconstruction: A Test Case on John 1:18’ Asia Journal of Theology, (31)1, (2017): 23-35.
 Without necessarily resolving or pre-empting how the author understands those relations to work.
Here, for your ancient Greek pleasure, I present Smashing Pumpkin’s Bullet with Butterfly Wings.
(I sing quite badly. If anyone wants to re-record with a more delightful voice, I’m very happy to assist them to do so)
λαμίᾱ ὁ κόσμος
σὲ πρὸς φλογοῖσι προῦχουσιν
τί μοι τοὔφελος
ὑπὲρ ὀδυνῶν μου;
πόθοι μέν παραδεδόμενοι
ἀγῶνος δὲ μέρος τι
ταῦτα μὴν εἰδώς
τὴν ψῡχὴν ἥσυχον
ὡς πάλαι Ἰώβ
ἐν οἰκίσκῳ ἔτι γε μῦς
ἐν οἰκίσκῳ ἔτι δὴ μῦς
εἴποι ἄν τις, ἅ ἀπολλύται ἄσωστα
ἐν οἰκίσκῳ ἔτι γε μῦς
νῦν γε γυμνός εἰμι
οὐδὲν ἄλλο ἢ θηρίον
μίᾳ ἔτι καὶ θέᾳ
τί γ’ οὖν βούλει σύ
μεταβάλλεσθαι δὴ θέλω
τί σοι κέρδος ἔσται
τὰ αὐτὰ ἔτι ἕξεις;
ταῦτα μὴν εἰδώς
τὴν ψῡχὴν ἥσυχον
ὡς πάλαι Ἰώβ
ἐν οἰκίσκῳ ἔτι γε μῦς
ἐν οἰκίσκῳ ἔτι δὴ μῦς
εἴποι ἄν τις, ἅ ἀπολλύται ἄσωστα
ἐν οἰκίσκῳ ἔτι γε μῦς
εἰπέ με μοῦνον εἶναι
εἰπέ μοι οὐδενὰ ἄλλον
μουνογενὴς ὁ Ἰησοῦς ἦν, ἦ!
εἰπέ μοι τὸν ἐκλεκτὸν ἐμέ
μουνογενὴς ὁ Ἰησοῦς ἦν, ὑπὲρ σοῦ
ἐν οἰκίσκῳ ἔτι γε μῦς
ἐν οἰκίσκῳ ἔτι δὴ μῦς
εἴποι ἄν τις, ἅ ἀπολλύται ἄσωστα
ἐν οἰκίσκῳ ἔτι γε μῦς
ἐν οἰκίσκῳ ἔτι δή …
ἐν οἰκίσκῳ ἔτι δή
ἐν οἰκίσκῳ ἔτι γε μῦς
εἰπέ με μοῦνον εἶναι
εἰπέ μοι οὐδενὰ ἄλλον
μουνογενὴς ὁ Ἰησοῦς ἦν, ὑπὲρ σοῦ
ἔγωγε καὶ νῦν μὴ σωθῆναι πιστεύω
ἔγωγε καὶ νῦν μὴ σωθῆναι πιστεύω
ἔγωγε καὶ νῦν μὴ σωθῆναι πιστεύω
ἔγωγε καὶ νῦν μὴ σωθῆναι πιστεύω
I have a long and complicated relationship with Duolingo . The hate side, in short, is that I think the way Duolingo models language and thinks/treats language is fundamentally atomistic and inimical to good principles of second language acquisition. The love side is that I actually enjoy and continue to use Duolingo daily, and gain a measurable benefit from it. In this post I want to explore and reflect on these two things in light of recent and long-term experience.
According to my account, I first joined Duo in March 2012, so that’s a long time on the app. For very long periods I have been inactive. I currently have a 636 day streak, which is in large part thanks to the Scottish Gaelic course. It’s the only tree I’ve finished, and it’s where I’ve spent the bulk of my actual time.
Recently I was taken by a desire to get “all the achievements”, including probably the most difficult, “Finish #1 in the Diamond League”. Leagues, if you don’t know are randomly assigned groupings of 50 or so users, and the top 10 get promoted. So I had to reactivate leagues, work my way back up to Diamond. And Diamond can get very competitive. For the week I was committed to winning, I activated a trial of Duolingo Plus, and liberally used a few competitive tricks: (i) when you complete a level on the mobile app, you typically get a 15mins double XP boost, (ii) some lesson options give you more XP than others. So I would organise my time to complete a level, and then go flat out on maximal XP options for 15min blocks.
So, the last month and the last week in particular has seen me spend way too much time on Duolingo, and I’ll be scaling back to more normal levels from now on.
What’s bad in Duolingo?
- Despite all the little features here and there, the fundamental building block of Duolingo courses is paired sentences. The core activity is “translate sentence X from L1 to L2 or L2 to L1”. There are tons of variations on this, on how this is accomplished : selecting the words in order, selecting missing words (cloze exercises), selecting correct endings only for targeted grammar, supplying A/B answers in L2 to an L2 prompt, reading into the microphone for a pronunciation check, etc etc.. Some of these, I admit, are not predicated on a paired sentence idea, but lying in the background is that building block. And, also to be fair, well-supported languages will accept a good variation of ‘correct’ translations in either direction for each sentence. It’s not “you must translate sentence A1 with corresponding sentence B1 only”.
- Because this is the fundamental building block though, Duolingo is mainly training you to rapidly translate sentence to sentence. This isn’t really how language works, and it’s not how good language instruction ought to work – there’s no genuine communication here, there’s no context beyond the app, there’s no meaning exchange here. Let’s not lose sight that this is basically drills forever. The best Duolingo gets to a meaningful communication activity are the Stories feature, which presents a short L2 narrative and asks some L2 questions for comprehension as you go. That actually *is* a great feature, for the major languages supported with it.
- The nature of the exercises, especially when they are “chose and rearrange the words”, actually narrows the options so much that it can often be too easy to figure out the meaning of a sentence without processing the L2 information at all, just because of the options you have in the L1.
- Some courses are actually terrible. I’m often asked about the Latin course, or worse yet told by people that that’s what they’re mainly using, and I think the Latin course is dreadful. The audio is poorly executed, the course hasn’t been well-supported enough to demonstrate the syntactical variations Latin allows, and the brevity and simplicity of the course leaves a lot to be desired. For a Latin learner, I would almost certainly say don’t spend time on Duolingo , it’s drawbacks far outweigh the time you’re wasting on it.
- The XP feature, and the league tables, are actually bad for you. As soon as you gamify and numerify something like this, the natural brain reaction is to want to earn more XP. This is even more so if you’re in the leagues. The best way to earn XP is the worst way to use Duolingo – switch off listening and recording exercises, select exercises to active double-XPs, and then do the legendary crowns, presuming you know all that content.
My most completed trees, if you’re wondering, are Gaelic, and French (oddly enough, I have no particular reason to learn much French but I find it easy and appealing). That should help place the following in perspective
- Majority European Languages are among the best supported and developed in Duolingo , not surprisingly as they are incredibly popular and Duolingo has a vested interest in making them better and better. French is a good example, it has (I believe) 210 separate skills making up 10 levels, as well as the stories feature, and more and varied exercise types.
- Scottish Gaelic is, of all the minority languages that I’ve tried, an excellent example of what’s possible. Firstly, the initial core course was put together by a small band of volunteers in an extremely short time, and it was then expanded to a relatively robust course. It has 5 levels, just over 3500 words, and it’s got (a) good idiomatic Gaelic, (b) a thoughtful grammatical sequencing, (c) interesting, culturally appropriate content, (d) an excellent sense of humour, (e) quality native-speaker recordings that are clear.
- Others? I’ve dabbled in the Irish course (has a few problems, from all accounts, and these have never been addressed. A bit of a worry that despite being significantly older that the Scottish Gaelic course, it has not been expanded), German, Italian, Chinese (generally good but has some odd things in it here and there in terms of sequencing), Hebrew, Greek, Japanese, Russian, Navajo, High Valyrian, and Klingon. The off-beat conlangs are undersupported courses, really. So, often the quality of the course just depends on who is putting time into improving them.
So what does Duolingo do well?
In my opinion and experience, Gaelic Duolingo did not teach me much ‘new’ in the way of grammar. Nor, probably, has it done much to improve my speaking ability. What it has done, though, is (a) introduce me to some new vocabulary that I hadn’t encountered before, (b) given me some explicit grammar practice on structures that I don’t normally use actively, (c) helped my spelling when I force myself to write in Gaelic words, (d) provided more than a few laughs.
That’s personally, and it’s because my Gaelic is beyond the Duolingo level, really. How about French? It’s harder to say, I have dabbled a little in reading French before, I have very strong Latin, and I don’t use French in my life at all. Is my knowledge of French growing? Yes, slowly. Will Duolingo “get me there”? If “there” is conversational fluency, I severely doubt it. But if “there” is “having a reservoir of useful knowledge about French that could be tapped if I wanted to actually learn French”, then I think the answer is yes.
Another good thing about Duolingo , I would put, is that because it’s a low-threshhold entry activity, which has attempted to gamify language learning and build in reward structures (for better or worse), it does “get people in”. Gaelic Duolingo has done that quite well – a large number of people signed up for the course, and while the number who continue is obviously much smaller, and the number still who go on to other learning options smaller yet, that’s all still language awareness and learner growth. Given that Duolingo Gaelic was an unfunded volunteer effort, that is a huge positive for the language.
Should you use Duolingo?
If you think Duolingo is going to get you to some kind of conversational proficiency, then you’re wrong. If you think Duolingo is going to be a bit of fun that you can sandwich into the odd spare moment here and there and get a quick 1-1.5 minute language fix, then yes. Provided you understand the caveats, and granted that some courses are far superior to others. I wouldn’t waste any time on Duolingo Latin, for instance. I would happily pass some time on quite a few languages though. And then I would take that knowledge and go leverage it into something more communicative and ultimately more useful.
How should you use it then?
Having said a qualified, “go for it if you want to”, here’s how I think Duolingo could be best used. Preferably, use it on the desktop. Switch on keyboard-input only so that you’re typing out words and learning to type and spell in the L2. Split your session over just a couple of skills : something old, something new, something in between. Don’t chase XP, and don’t think Duo is the end game, it’s a tool that will get your foot in the door of language learning.
1st to 3rd CE usages
Rather than turn directly to John, which is really the interpretative crux, we turn now to consider a range of usages, primarily non-Christian, across the first three centuries CE. Our focus here is on seeing that the patterns of usage we have already encountered, continue to be reflected in most authors. Importantly non-theological usages continued to abound, and did not dramatically shift in meaning during this period. I have excluded here, the references to μονογενής found in the longer recension of Ignatius, 15 in total, as more likely dated to the 4th century). Also, the 9 references in pseudo-Clement texts.
In Apion’s Fragmenta de glossis Homericis, μονογενής is included as a part of a definition for the word τηλύγετος.
τηλύγετος· ὁ μονογενής (Ι 143). καὶ ὁ (15) μετὰ θηλυκῶν μόνος ἄρρην. καὶ ὁ ἤδη προηκούσῃ τῇ ἡλικίᾳ τεκνωθείς (Ε 153).
“Telugetos”: the only child. Also, an only son born after girls. Also, one born to a woman already advanced in age.
Clement’s usage (1 Cl 25.2.1) in reference to the phoenix is sometimes taken as evidence for the understanding of ‘unique’, but a closer reading is warranted.
(2) Ὄρνεον γάρ ἐστιν, ὃ προσονομάζεται φοίνιξ· τοῦτο μονογενὲς ὑπάρχον ζῇ ἔτη πεντακόσια, γενόμενόν τε ἤδη πρὸς ἀπόλυσιν τοῦ ἀποθανεῖν αὐτὸ σηκὸν ἑαυτῷ ποιεῖ ἐκ λιβάνου καὶ σμύρνης καὶ τῶν λοιπῶν ἀρωμάτων, εἰς ὃν πληρωθέντος τοῦ χρόνου εἰσέρχεται καὶ τελευτᾷ.
For there is a bird, named the Phoenix. This [bird] being the only one, lives 500 years, and when it approaches its demise, makes for itself a tomb from frankincense and myrrh, and the other spices, and when the time is fulfilled it enters this tomb and dies.
Granted, it’s not as clear in the case of Clement whether one should take μονογενής as (i) unique as there only being one, or (ii) sole in absence of siblings. This is because they amount to the same thing in this case – there is only one phoenix, and it lacks siblings. It does not quite match to the other biological/classificatory uses, as in Theophrastes, because Clement’s argument is not that there is one ‘species’ of Phoenix, with multiple specimens, but rather a unique species with a single specimen. There are no other phoenixes. That said, a generic sense of ‘unique’ doesn’t do us enough service – unique in what respect remains the right question to ask.
There are eight references in Plutarch, writing in the second half of the first century CE. These include Lycurgus 31.4.6
υἱὸν δὲ λέγεται μονογενῆ καταλιπεῖν Ἀντίωρον·
It is also said that he left behind an only son, Antiorus.
This is from the end of Plutarch’s Lycurgus, dealing with the death of Lycurgus and the end-matter. Here, again, the pair υἱὸν … μονογενή indicates a sole son with no siblings.
De E apud Delphos
πέντε τοὺς πάντας ὄντας καὶ μὴ πλείονας. οὐ μὴν ἀλλὰ κἂν εἷς οὗτος ᾖ μονογενής, ὡς οἴεται καὶ Ἀριστοτέλης
But although this one [cosmos] were unique, as Aristotle thinks…
In this text concerned with the investigation of the inscription of Ε or ΕΙ at Delphi, Plutarch includes this use of μονογενής which fits our philosophical category.
We find instances also in De Defectu Oraculorum, from DDO 423a12 and DDO 423c12, both of which are philosophical usages, and anaphoric to Plato’s Timaeus 31b and 92c. Likewise De Fraterne Amore, 480e8, referring back to (and critiquing) Hesiod’s Works and Days 376. A more interesting occurrence comes in De facie in orbe lunae 28:
ὁ μὲν ἐκ τριῶν δύο ποιεῖ τὸν ἄνθρωπον ὁ δ’ ἓν
ἐκ δυοῖν, καὶ ὁ μέν ἐστιν ἐν τῇ <γῇ> τῆς Δήμητρος, …
ἐν αὐτῇ τελεῖν καὶ τοὺς νεκροὺς Ἀθηναῖοι Δημητρείους
ὠνόμαζον τὸ παλαιόν· <ὁ> δ’ ἐν τῇ σελήνῃ τῆς Φερσε-
φόνης· καὶ σύνοικός ἐστι τῆς μὲν χθόνιος ὁ Ἑρμῆς τῆς (5)
δ’ οὐράνιος. λύει δ’ αὕτη μὲν ταχὺ καὶ μετὰ βίας τὴν
ψυχὴν ἀπὸ τοῦ σώματος, ἡ δὲ Φερσεφόνη πράως καὶ
χρόνῳ πολλῷ τὸν νοῦν ἀπὸ τῆς ψυχῆς καὶ διὰ τοῦτο μο-
νογενὴς κέκληται· μόνον γὰρ γίνεται τὸ βέλτιστον τοῦ
ἀνθρώπου διακρινόμενον αὐτῆς.
One death renders a human from three things to two, and a second death renders them one thing from two; the former is on Demeter’s earth, and in this “to make an end”.. the Athenians of old called the dead “Demetrians”; the latter is on Persephone’s moon; associated with the former is terrestrial Hermes, with the later celestial Hermes. On earth, Demeter swiftly and violently separated the soul from the body, while there Persephone gently and gradually separates the mind from the soul, and for this reason is called monogenes; for the best part of the human best comes into existence alone (μόνον…γίνεται), separated off by her.
This is an instance of etymologising based on a psychological/philosophical reading of myth. In contrasting Demeter and Persephone, Plutarch’s narrator is arguing for a tripartite division of the human, and Persephone is responsible for separating of the mind of the mind from the soul, and this gives him occasion to use μονογενής. The usage here both plays off the epithet μονογενής as applied to Persephone, but also engages in word play, where the mind coming to exist singly and separately, i.e. without ψυχή or σῶμα, is the reason for calling the mind μονογενές, and so by extension Persephone μονογενής because she is the agent who renders it μόνος.
Flavius Arrianus has a single reference, which indicates a sole daughter. It is substantially the same account as Megasthenes’, discussed above. Apollonius the sophist repeats the Homeric gloss of Apion.
There are also eight instances in the fragments of Philo of Byblos (Herennius Philo), though these involve considerable repetition. They universally involve an account of Phoenician theogony in which Kronos (El) has a μονογενής son, Zeus, (Ἰεούδ, or Ἰεδούδ).
The Compendium Herodiani operis περὶ κλίσεως ὀνομάτων has a grammatical usage.
Another philosophical usage occurs in Aëtius’ De placitis reliquiae, in giving a quotation on Parminides opinion about the universe.
The Greek apocalypse of Esdras, variously dated, refers to the μονογενῆν … υἱόν.  Regardless of precise dating, it can be subsumed under derivative Christian usage.
In Galen we find another usage that is probably to be subscribed under ‘natural scientific’. It refers to each of the internal organs being ‘one of a kind’ in relation to the others, not sharing the same function or relation.
There are three occurrences in Apollonius Dyscolus’ De adverbiis, and 244 in the works of Aelius Herodianus (including Ps-Herodianus). Beyond that all future references are well past the New Testament corpus, and while a few non-Christian usages are found, they are all along the lines we have previously established here.
 A. Ludwich, “Über die homerischen Glossen Apions,” Philologus 74 (1917) 209-247; 75 (1919) 95-103
Retrieved from: http://stephanus.tlg.uci.edu/Iris/Cite?1152:003:76138.
Apion is dated to early 1st century CE.
 A. Jaubert, Clément de Rome. Épître aux Corinthiens [Sources chrétiennes 167. Paris: Éditions du Cerf, 1971]: 98-204.
Retrieved from: http://stephanus.tlg.uci.edu/Iris/Cite?1271:001:32442
 B. Perrin, Plutarch’s lives, vol. 1, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1914 (repr. 1967): 204-302.
Retrieved from: http://stephanus.tlg.uci.edu/Iris/Cite?0007:004:76475
 W. Sieveking, Plutarchi moralia, vol. 3, Leipzig: Teubner, 1929 (repr. 1972): 1-24.
Retrieved from: http://stephanus.tlg.uci.edu/Iris/Cite?0007:090:20242
 W. Sieveking, Plutarchi moralia, vol. 3, Leipzig: Teubner, 1929 (repr. 1972): 59-122.
 M. Pohlenz, Plutarchi moralia, vol. 3, Leipzig: Teubner, 1929 (repr. 1972): 221-254.
Retrieved from: http://stephanus.tlg.uci.edu/Iris/Cite?0007:097:9738
 M. Pohlenz, Plutarchi moralia, vol. 5.3, 2nd edn., Leipzig: Teubner, 1960: 31-89.
Retrieved from: http://stephanus.tlg.uci.edu/Iris/Cite?0007:126:90471
 Cherniss and Helmbold claim that this is an epithet for both Hecate and Persephone. Their references to Hesiod and Apollonius of Rhodes are both to Hecate. Orphic Hymn 28 (to Persephone) does indeed refer to her as a μονογενής. Though it is unclear on what basis, except that Persephone appears to be the only offspring of Zeus and Demeter together. They also suggest that the -γενής has a causative, not a passive sense, which would be remarkable.
 Flavius Arrianus, Historia Indica 8.6.6. Writing in the 2nd century.
 Apollonios, Lexicon Homericum 152.18.
 Herrenius Philo Fragmenta 3c 780 F 2 164; 3c 790 F 3b 11-12 as found in F. Jacoby, Die Fragmente der griechischen Historiker (FGrH) #790, Leiden: Brill, 1923-1958 (repr. 1954-1969): 3C:803-824.
2 219; 4 12 (x2), 5 23-24. as found in K. Müller, Fragmenta historicorum Graecorum (FHG) 3, Paris: Didot, 1841-1870: 563-576.
 H. Diels, Doxographi Graeci, Berlin: Reimer, 1879 (repr. Berlin: De Gruyter, 1965): 284, line 15. Retrieved from: http://stephanus.tlg.uci.edu/Iris/Cite?0528:002:168
 C. Tischendorf, Apocalypses apocryphae, Leipzig: Mendelssohn, 1866: 31, line 22.
Retrieved from: http://stephanus.tlg.uci.edu/Iris/Cite?1157:001:15450
 P.H. De Lacy, Galen. On the doctrines of Hippocrates and Plato [Corpus medicorum Graecorum vol. 126.96.36.199, pts. 1-2. Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 1978]: 1:65-358; 2:360-608. Book 6, chapter 8, section 31, line 6 investigate exact location and look at how to cite this
Retrieved from: http://stephanus.tlg.uci.edu/Iris/Cite?0057:032:460122
An old tweet came back to life recently on my timeline, as we saw the launch of Daily Dose of Aramaic. The tweet had me tagged as someone who could possibly do a ‘Daily Dose of Greek’ but monolingually in Greek. At the time I don’t think I quite had the experience and wherewithal to make it happen. But, having done a bit more experimentation, and a lot more Greek speaking, it’s reappearance in my timeline nudged me – maybe it was time to make it happen.
And it is. Today I’m pleased to announce the launch of καθ’ ἡμέραν, a project in which I will provide (in theory 5 a week) verse by verse short videos (4~5 mins) explaining or discussing New Testament (and possibly LXX) verses in Koine Greek. You can find the youtube channel here, our twitter account here, and the first video is here. You can also subscribe to a podcast version of the videos (i.e., audio only), through Anchor.fm or (shortly) any good podcast app.
At this point, I plan to spend a long time working in John first of all, because I think it’s the most accessible NT text from a pedagogical standpoint.
(Acknowledgements to Dr. Robert Plummer, who got Daily Dose of Greek running such a long time ago (though I will also confess to never having watched a full episode.)
I have been impressed and inspired by the conversion (to communicative approaches), commitment, and creativity of Carla Hurt over at Found in Antiquity in recent months, and especially the project to translate LingQ’s 60 Mini-Stories into Latin. I am keen to see the same for Greek, so I’ve set up the following project to collaborate on it.
This is an open Creative Commons project. LingQ, created the original 60 Mini-Stories in English, and they have made them available in the public domain. The stories revolve around ordinary situations, feature many repetitions of vocabulary, and are already available in 39 other languages.
There are few good resources for contemporary spoken Ancient Greek. No, I’m not going to spend this post defending why you should, or talking about why not just speak Modern Greek (for the record, if you want to learn Modern Greek, please do so!). Many of the conversational materials for Ancient Greek assume an ancient, or at best medieval or early modern setting. It’s certainly possible to use Ancient Greek to speak about contemporary things (with a little bit of creative but conservative neologising), but few people do, and less people have the confidence. I believe it’s possible, and it’s beneficial – few things are as helpful in learning to read Ancient Greek texts as having an active competency in the language.
Sharing and Acknowledgments:
These stories are provided by LingQ, who require a link wherever they are shared. Many thanks to them for making these public domain. Thanks to Carla for getting the Latin versions off to a great start and inspiring me to do the same for Greek.
LingQ 60 Mini-Stories, Ancient Greek: Stories 11-20 (coming soon)
LingQ 60 Mini-Stories, Ancient Greek: Stories 21-30 (coming soon)
LingQ 60 Mini-Stories, Ancient Greek: Stories 31-40 (coming soon)
LingQ 60 Mini-Stories, Ancient Greek: Stories 41-50 (coming soon)
LingQ 60 Mini-Stories, Ancient Greek: Stories 51-60 (coming soon)
Contact and Guidelines
You can reach me via email: firstname.lastname@example.org to be added as an editor. I’ll also co-ordinate style and progress across the whole project. We’ll look to do some audio and possible video later on as well.
Josephus and the New Testament Corpus
We turn now to consider occurrences in both the New Testament and Josephus. In the New Testament we find nine, in Josephus four.
The gospel of Luke contains three instances, Luke 7:12, 8:42, 9:38. These are all uncontroversial. Luke 7:12 refers to a widow’s only son, 8:42 to Jairus’ sole daughter, and 9:38 to a son, further specified as an only child.
A single occurrence is found in Hebrews 11:17 which has been taken as a support for the argument against ‘only-begotten’ or more broadly ‘only child’, on the basis that it refers to Isaac as Abraham’s only child, and that Isaac is in fact not an only child. It is worth considering Josephus’ usage before forming a conclusion on Hebrews 11:17.
Josephus’ uses all occur in Antiquities of the Jews, 1.222.1, 2.182.1, 5.264.3, 20.20.3. We will consider these in reverse order of relevance.
2.181-2 lists a single child, Usi, for Dan, as part of a recounting of Jacob and the 70 who went down to Egypt (2.177-183). The second occurrence (5.264.3) is Josephus’ account of Jephthah, cf. Judges 11 discussed above, and unambiguously denotes Jephthah’s daughter as an only child.
The third instance (20.20) is interesting because it is, like Hebrews, an instance of someone who is not technically an only child. Josephus writes:
ἦν δὲ αὐτῷ Μονόβαζος τούτου πρεσβύτερος ἐκ τῆς Ἑλένης γενόμενος ἄλλοι τε παῖδες ἐξ ἑτέρων γυναικῶν. τὴν μέντοι πᾶσαν εὔνοιαν ὡς εἰς μονογενῆ τὸν Ἰζάτην ἔχων φανερὸς ἦν.
He [Bazeus king of Adiabene] had [the son] Monobazos, his [Izates] elder brother also from Helena, and he had other sons by other wives additionally. Yet he [Bazeus] openly placed all his affections on Izates as one would an only child.
Here it is not the status of an only child, but the treatment as an only-child that is in view. The idea that μονογενής cannot mean ‘only child’ because it is applied to people who aren’t sole offspring, is a linguistic non-sequitur, no more valid than insisting that someone cannot refer to a male child as ‘son’ unless they are biologically the parent of them.
So, when we turn to the fourth (1.222), and find Isaac described as a μονογενής, we do not have to suppose that because Isaac is not strictly speaking an only child, this somehow reconfigures the meaning of μονογενής to either not mean ‘only-child’, or to primarily mean ‘beloved’.
(222) Ἴσακον δὲ ὁ πατὴρ Ἅβραμος ὑπερηγάπα μονογενῆ ὄντα καὶ ἐπὶ γήρως οὐδῷ κατὰ δωρεὰν αὐτῷ τοῦ θεοῦ γενόμενον. προεκαλεῖτο δὲ εἰς εὔνοιαν καὶ τὸ φιλεῖσθαι μᾶλλον ὑπὸ τῶν γονέων καὶ αὐτὸς ὁ παῖς ἐπιτηδεύων πᾶσαν ἀρετὴν καὶ τῆς τε τῶν πατέρων θεραπείας ἐχόμενος καὶ περὶ τὴν τοῦ θεοῦ θρησκείαν (223) ἐσπουδακώς.
Father Abraham greatly loved Isaac, being an only son, and because he had come to him as a gift given to him by God, on the threshold of old age. He called forth goodwill and greater love from his parents, both the child himself by exercising virtue, and maintaining the cultus of the fathers, and being zealous in respect to the worship of God.
The connotation of being especially loved is clear, but the denotation of the term is not thereby obviated. This remains the case when returning our attention to Hebrews 11:17:
Πίστει προσενήνοχεν Ἀβραὰμ τὸν Ἰσαὰκ πειραζόμενος, καὶ τὸν μονογενῆ προσέφερεν ὁ τὰς ἐπαγγελίας ἀναδεξάμενος,
By faith Abraham, being tested, brought Isaac, and he that had received the promises offered up his only child.
Despite the theological distance between the writer to the Hebrews and Josephus, both concur in seeing Isaac as a sole child in relation to the promise, and the theological horizon of the Genesis text. No linguistic acrobatics need be performed to avoid a relatively straightforward, if slightly figurative meaning. It is not because Isaak has no siblings at all that he is called μονογενής, but because the Scriptures scrupulously view him as having no siblings.
Although the Johannine texts should chronologically, be treated at this point, since they have been the site where a unique, and uniquely theological meaning, has most often been contested, I defer them until we have pushed our survey further across the first few centuries.
 Luke 7:12, 8:42, 9:38, John 1:14, 18, 3:16, 18, Hebrews 11:17, 1 John 4:9.
 … δέομαί σου ἐπιβλέψαι ἐπὶ τὸν υἱόν μου, ὅτι μονογενής μοί ἐστιν.
 James Bulman, ‘The Only Begotten Son,’ Calvin Theological Journal 1983: 56-79.
 AJ 2.182. Δάνῳ δὲ (182) μονογενὲς ἦν παιδίον Οὖσις.
- Niese, Flavii Iosephi opera, vols. 1-4, Berlin: Weidmann, 1:1887; 2:1885: 3:1892; 4:1890 (repr. 1955): 1:3-362; 2:3-392; 3:3-409; 4:3-320.
Retrieved from: http://stephanus.tlg.uci.edu/Iris/Cite?0526:001:184075
 AJ 5.264. ὑπήντησε γὰρ ἡ θυγάτηρ αὐτῷ, μονογενὴς δ’ ἦν, ἔτι παρθένος.
- Niese, Flavii Iosephi opera, vols. 1-4, Berlin: Weidmann, 1:1887; 2:1885: 3:1892; 4:1890 (repr. 1955): 1:3-362; 2:3-392; 3:3-409; 4:3-320.
Retrieved from: http://stephanus.tlg.uci.edu/Iris/Cite?0526:001:557155
 AJ 20.20 ἦν δὲ αὐτῷ Μονόβαζος τούτου πρεσβύτερος ἐκ τῆς Ἑλένης γενόμενος ἄλλοι τε παῖδες ἐξ ἑτέρων γυναικῶν. τὴν μέντοι πᾶσαν εὔνοιαν ὡς εἰς μονογενῆ τὸν (21) Ἰζάτην ἔχων φανερὸς ἦν.
- Niese, Flavii Iosephi opera, vols. 1-4, Berlin: Weidmann, 1:1887; 2:1885: 3:1892; 4:1890 (repr. 1955): 1:3-362; 2:3-392; 3:3-409; 4:3-320. Emphasis mine.
Retrieved from: http://stephanus.tlg.uci.edu/Iris/Cite?0526:001:2462553
 Gen 25:1-4 not withstanding. cf. 1 Chr 1:32-33, Gen 25:6, which treat Keturah’s status as a concubine.
Monogenes and the Hebrew Bible
We turn now to consider the usage of μονογενής in the LXX, its relation to the Hebrew word yachid (יָחִיד), and the reverse relation of yachid to ἀγαπητός. The LXX has ten occurrences of μονογενής. One is a post-LXX Christian text and can be set aside for now.
Judges 11:34 depicts the Jephthah’s return home in light of his ominous oath in vv30-31. The text intentionally highlights that he has only one child:
καὶ αὕτη μονογενὴς αὐτῷ ἀγαπητή, καὶ οὐκ ἔστιν αὐτῷ πλὴν αὐτῆς υἱὸς ἢ θυγάτηρ. And she was his beloved, only child, and he had no son or daughter apart from her.
The relevant Hebrew text combines both the adverb raq and the key term yachid, which may explain the double-translation of μονογενής and ἀγαπητή.
ווְרַק֙ הִ֣יא יְחִידָ֔ה אֵֽין־ל֥וֹ מִמֶּ֛נּוּ בֵּ֖ן אֹו־בַֽת׃
The repetition, and then the somewhat redundant clarification that there is no other son nor daughter, is designed to heighten the pathos of the situation. It also instances yachid as the most common translation basis for μονογενής in the LXX.
The story of Tobit strengthens the case that μονογενής refers primarily to a siblingless child, since this is part of the emotional impact of the story. The term appears three times, in 3:15 in Sarra’s prayer as she laments that although she is her father’s only child, his line will expire without an heir. Of note, she also uses μία to describe herself in 3:10. She is again described as a μονογενής in 6:11. The term then appears once more in 8:17, this time in the plural μονογενεῖς, as Ragouel praises God for having mercy on these two only-children. The usage is consistent throughout this text.
Psalms of David
There are three occurrences in the Psalms. The first is relatively straightforward, in that μονογενής occurs with πτωχός, and is part of a depiction of being alone and in a desperate condition. Whether yachid is properly translated here is besides our main point, the translation has understood it as ‘alone’ in the context of familial relations.
24:16 (25:16) ἐπίβλεψον ἐπʼ ἐμὲ καὶ ἐλέησόν με,
ὅτι μονογενὴς καὶ πτωχός εἰμι ἐγώ.
Look upon me and have mercy on me,
because I am an only child and poor.
The two other uses are more difficult, in that μονογενής appears to have undergone some extension of meaning.
21:21 (22:21) ῥῦσαι ἀπὸ ῥομφαίας τὴν ψυχήν μου
καὶ ἐκ χειρὸς κυνὸς τὴν μονογενῆ μου
Save my life from the sword,
and my monogenēs from the hand of the dog.
34:17 (35:17) κύριε, πότε ἐπόψῃ;
ἀποκατάστησον τὴν ψυχήν μου ἀπὸ τῆς κακουργίας αὐτῶν,
ἀπὸ λεόντων τὴν μονογενῆ μου.
Lord, when will you take notice?
Restore my life from their wickedness,
and my monogenēs from lions.
Here יְחִידָתִֽי appears as feminine, and ‘soul’ or ‘life’ is probably to be inferred, certainly on the basis of the parallelism. Modern English versions have all taken it in this sense. It may be that the connotation of treasured, dearly-beloved, as attached to a sole child, has been fronted in the significance of yachid, and that the LXX has attempted to preserve this in its translations here.
Psalms of Solomon
Psalms of Solomon 18:4 presents an interesting text in terms of later Christian usage, as it juxtaposes πρωτότοκος and μονογενής directly.
ἡ παιδεία σου ἐφʼ ἡμᾶς ὡς υἱὸν πρωτότοκον μονογενῆ
ἀποστρέψαι ψυχὴν εὐήκοον ἀπὸ ἀμαθίας ἐν ἀγνοίᾳ. 
Your discipline is upon us as on a firstborn, an only son,
to turn back the obedient soul from ignorant stupidity.
The referent is Israel, in a familiar depiction of Israel as a nation, as God’s ‘son’, but here used figuratively as a son under discipline. That sonship is modified as both ‘firstborn’, and ‘siblingless’. These, of course, may both be true – a first born child is naturally siblingless until a second child is born. Nonetheless, the much later distinction of Athanasius and Gregory of Nyssa still holds: μονογενής refers to an absence of siblings, but πρωτότοκος is said in relation to siblings (whether they are present or not). Here the two words evoke two different conceptual and affective dimensions. For Israel as πρωτότοκος is heir, as μονογενής is cherished and delighted son.
Wisdom of Solomon 7:22
In Wisdom 7:22 we find another variant usage:
Ἔστιν γὰρ ἐν αὐτῇ πνεῦμα νοερόν, ἅγιον, μονογενές, πολυμερές, λεπτόν, εὐκίνητον, τρανόν, ἀμόλυντον, σαφές, ἀπήμαντον, φιλάγαθον, ὀξύ, 
For there is in her a spirit that is intelligent, holy, unique, of many parts, subtle, free-moving, lucid, unpolluted, distinct, invulnerable, loving the good, sharp,
This term here has the sense of ‘unique’. Given the overlap between both (a) a personification of Wisdom (the referent here), and (b) philosophical language, and that the direct referent is πνεῦμα, this sense marks an understandable departure from the general ‘siblingless’ signification in reference to persons.
There is a final reference in Odes 14.13, which is clearly a later, Christian composition and built on the development of μονογενής as a specific title for Jesus.
(13) κύριε υἱὲ μονογενὴ
(14) Ἰησοῦ Χριστὲ
Yachid when it’s not μονογενής
We should also consider, albeit briefly, the instances where yachid has been translated otherwise in the LXX. There are eight such instances, translated with three other terms in the LXX. These are Gen 22:2, 22:12, 22:16, Jer 6:26, Amos 8:10, and Zech 12:10 where yachid is rendered with ἀγαπητός. Proverbs 4:3 has ἀγαπώμενος, virtually equivalent in meaning. LXX Ps 67:7 has μονοτρόπους, referring to those that are alone/lonely. The preponderance of the choice of ἀγαπητός suggests that the connotation of dearly beloved associated with an only child is the fore-grounded element for LXX translations of yachid. This is suggestive, though not determinative, for a consideration of the New Testament corpus.
 Odes 14.13.
 Judges 11.34, Codex Alexandrinus. Vaticanus differs slightly but not materially:
καὶ ἦν αὕτη μονογενής, οὐκ ἦν αὐτῷ ἕτερος υἱὸς ἢ θυγάτηρ.
 Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia : With Westminster Hebrew Morphology., electronic ed. (Stuttgart; Glenside PA: German Bible Society; Westminster Seminary, 1996), Jdg 11:34.
 Tobias 3.15 […] μονογενής εἰμι τῷ πατρί μου, καὶ οὐχ ὑπάρχει αὐτῷ παιδίον, ὃ κληρονομήσει αὐτόν, οὐδὲ ἀδελφὸς ἐγγὺς οὐδὲ ὑπάρχων αὐτῷ υἱός, ἵνα συντηρήσω ἐμαυτὴν αὐτῷ γυναῖκα.
 Tobias 6.11 εἶπεν ὁ ἄγγελος τῷ παιδαρίῳ Ἄδελφε, σήμερον αὐλισθησόμεθα παρὰ Ραγουηλ, καὶ αὐτὸς συγγενής σού ἐστιν, καὶ ἔστιν αὐτῷ θυγάτηρ μονογενὴς ὀνόματι Σαρρα,
 Tobias 8.17 εὐλογητὸς εἶ ὅτι ἠλέησας δύο μονογενεῖς, ποίησον αὐτοῖς, δέσποτα, ἔλεος, συντέλεσον τὴν ζωὴν αὐτῶν ἐν ὑγιείᾳ μετὰ εὐφροσύνης καὶ ἐλέους.
 Throughout I provide first the LXX reference, then the MT reference in brackets.
 NETS translation.
 See Athanasius, Contra Arianos 2.62, Gregory of Nyssa, De Perfectione, Jaeger (ed), 200-1.
 NETS translation
 MT 68:7, EVV 68:6.
 If anything, it may suggest more about the description in the synoptics of Jesus as ὁ υἱός μου ὁ ἀγαπητός as in Matt 3:17 and similar. Namely, that the synoptic references to Jesus as ὁ ἀγαπητός are their equivalents to John’s ὁ μονογενής.