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Aristotle! Or, the Joys of Greek

Sight today was so cool! Now we have relative-corelatives, the verb “to be” in all its existential utility, and the sorts of puzzles I love from Latin. The sight passages are starting to be of the sort about which (heh, unintentional Greek-speak) one can debate and ponder conceptually. (Today, for example, a part of Aristotle’s Politics where he’s comparing men to animals, and we learn the colors of verbs, in a way–what’s a sense perception versus a cognitive perceiving. Aristotle was describing “voices” (sounds a human makes) as the reactions to felt things hitting one, as they are for animals, and he goes on to talk about reason and understanding these “signs” as the mark of man. 

At the end of sight, Aramis read aloud and translated for us a passage from Sophocles’ Oedipus, which included delights like “mechanorrafon” (I need to learn beta code), reminiscent of Dido “weaving the pretexts of delay” in Book 4. I’m starting to see some of how Greek makes new words from old ones (verbs from nouns and v.v., like “a sense perception” from aisthanomai, etc.) and it makes the language really come alive for me. As does the chance to sit in an air conditioned, albeit windowless, room the whole summer and occasionally get glimpses of what it’s like to have, say, Aramis’s level of fluency in Greek.

The sense of Greek as a joy and a refuge is coming to me much easier, this summer, than that feeling did for Latin, last summer. Last summer, that sense came after the program. It was such a struggle to work on Latin some days. I’m not ever, really, feeling that way with Greek–it’s delightful! And totally unexpected–I wonder why. Partly, the language has more morphology, and thus in a way, less syntax–less ambiguity in forms, more you can do with fewer words (I think–I’ll contradict myself in a few months when I actually know something about Greek). Partly, it’s actually loads better to be doing this language for no practical reason at all, because it keeps me in the happy and rarefied mental place where the language matters because poetry and the history of science matter. And those two thoughts, untenable some nights in my version of the real world outside the Institute, within it are mutually reinforcing–the language makes me care about poetry more, just-so stories (and more rigorous ones) about ancient science motivate learning the language.

The biggest difference, which I hope I remember when I fall off the diligence wagon, is that I am drilling my morpho and syntax like hell this summer. Last summer I think I was still somewhat in student mode (immature one at that)–oh, I’m doing okay on assessments, so I can afford to be lazy about knowing exactly what the syntax of this one ablative is. Now I don’t feel like it’s an option for me to be lazy about syntax or uncertain about morphology (that we’ve learned and practiced, I mean–sight is of course different). It makes such a huge difference for how much I enjoy the language! Which I knew it would, even when I was not doing it quite right last year. But I’m glad I’ve been able to carry through and treat Greek with the care and attention a beautiful language (redundant? yes–) deserves. I wanted to go in and “do the Institute right” at the beginning of the summer, and I’m feeling grateful to all the people supporting me, and yeah, proud and excited, that I haven’t flaked on myself (or the community that is the Institute), as I so often do.

Time for sentences! Then more drilling old & new morphology. I really am finding it all fun–with Ray, I hope (wish incapable of fulfillment in present or future time) that our shirt this year isn’t something about bitter study bearing sweet fruit. This is a joy and a privilege. This is a community getting an astonishing amount of good things done in a summer together. This is what learning could be, if we give and get elsewhere the kind of support we give and get here. I get wanting to be in an insider’s club that’s done this terribly hard thing, but I hope we talk about the Institute in a way that does justice to what happens here when we’re through. Is it a harsh way to learn a dead language? Sure. Maybe. It certainly doesn’t work for everyone–and we shouldn’t get into “special flower” thinking if it happens to work for us. But it is, and could also be, such a joyous way to learn that really affirms, continuously, progressively, repeatedly, emphatically, that this language and what was written and thought in it matters. Just because. Because it’s sacred, to my (devoutly atheist) way of thinking.

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