More Greek Mishaps and Some Runaway Sheep

Quick Update

Hello, how has your week been? Mine has been extremely busy, and I’m not much enjoying the weather.

I am writing this after the first week of Greek lessons—so brace yourself for some more interesting facts.

Did you know, that originally Greek was written entirely in capital letters, with no gaps between the words? I have taught children who do this, and it doesn’t make for easy reading. Greek later evolved to be written entirely in lower case letters (I’m guessing because they were faster to write). At some point, someone had to go along and put gaps between all the words, which must have involved some decisions, as it wouldn’t have always been obvious. Therefore, even when I am reading the New Testament in ancient Greek, some of it may be different to how the original was written, which I guess means I shouldn’t be too ‘purist’ about the whole thing. Each individual word was obviously not meant to be held in absolute holy awe, it was not dictated by God, it was written by people and has changed over time.

A Greek Temple

I talk of reading the ancient Greek, but of course this is being optimistic, I am currently struggling with remembering the letter sounds and the rather dodgy punctuation. In a bid to help myself practise, I decided it would be a good idea to write the shopping list on the fridge door in Greek letters—not the actual Greek words (because I don’t know them) but the English words written in Greek letters. Good idea, I thought. Except it wasn’t. Husband (bless him!) decided to join in, but he didn’t fully understand the exercise and put all the things he wanted me to buy through a Google Translate app. My shopping list is now full of words that neither of us understand. His writing is bad enough when he’s writing English, so some of the words contain symbols that are not even Greek, so we have no way of knowing what they say!

During a lesson, someone asked whether Jesus spoke Greek. My reaction was that no, we know that he spoke Aramaic. However, I was wrong. Apparently, Jesus probably spoke mainly Aramaic (the language of the Jews of the day) plus he would have read Hebrew (because all Jewish boys learnt Hebrew). But at the time, Israel was under Roman occupation, and they would probably have spoken Greek—so when Jesus spoke to officials, it is likely he would have used the Greek I am learning. (I thought that Romans spoke Latin, but although that was the official language of Rome, most citizens spoke Greek, and even in Rome, Latin was considered the language of the ‘educated’ rather than the common language.) Isn’t that interesting?

I do still have some life apart from Greek, though trying to learn it is very time-consuming and I’m very glad I’m not studying a full theology degree when it would have to fit around a whole lot of other subjects. My learning only has to fit around writing and selling books, and sorting the animals. The animals have been annoying this week, because I planted some bulbs ready for spring, and the chickens saw the freshly dug soil and rushed over to dig them all up again. Most of the bulbs are now kicked into random places and quite a lot of the lovely compost I lugged onto the flowerbed is now scattered across the path.

I am still making sourdough bread, though my enthusiasm is waning as it tends to be very heavy and slightly odd-tasting. I have branched out this week into making naan bread, and attempted peswari naan. It involved liquidizing sultanas and almonds and coconut, and I forgot to shut the lid properly so my kitchen floor is rather gritty. Dogs, it transpires, do not like sultanas.

We have a new flock of sheep in the field adjoining the house. The owner didn’t raise them, and the field is quite big, and he is having trouble catching them (which he needs to do soon because there’s a ram with them, so they’ll be in lamb). He did have a sheep dog, but clearly neither the dog nor the sheep had read the manual on how they are supposed to behave, as the dog responded wonderfully to commands and whistles but the sheep still managed to charge all over the field. We went to help him, and tried to funnel them into a small area of pens. Sheep are mostly pretty stupid animals, and as soon as they got near to the pens they charged away again. I didn’t take Kia because although she’s great with herding poultry, I don’t trust her with sheep and they are big creatures when running straight at you—a charging ram could easily break your leg. We never managed to enclose the flock, so the poor owner will have to find someone more experienced to help. I’ve only ever helped round up flocks that have been raised by the owner, so they follow rather than run away.

I hope your week goes well. Thanks for reading.

Take care.

Love, Anne x

Anne E. Thompson
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Trying to Learn the Greek Alphabet and other interesting stuff

Interesting Greek Facts

A Greek Temple

As I write this, I have managed to survive the introductory ‘Orientation Week’ at Spurgeon’s College and am about to embark on a term of Greek lectures. So far, it has been fine, as the main thing that would terrify me is the logistics—the whole ‘what if the traffic is bad,’ ‘where will I park?’ ‘how do I know where to go/sit/eat,’ ‘what if my brain runs out of energy before the end of a session?’ You can imagine the type of thing. Therefore a term (at least) of all lectures being online, is perfect for me.

Learning Greek

Greek Text Book

I haven’t had any proper lectures yet, but I have enthusiastically started reading the book they sent, and searched the resources they sent for interesting YouTube clips. I have to say, it has proven to be a very interesting week. I hadn’t realised how much of the English I speak has its roots in ancient Greek. Here are some fascinating facts:

The New Testament part of the Bible is written in Koine Greek. ‘Koine’ simply means ‘common’ because it was the common language for about 600 years. Obviously languages evolve—so if I wanted to read Chaucer, I would need to understand the language spoken in that period, whereas Henry VIII spoke a slightly different English. “Ah,” you might say, “but if it’s an ancient language, how do you know how to pronounce it?” Well, I thought the same thing, and the answer is brilliant. Historians study as many sources of the writing as possible—on tombs, and carved onto monuments, and written on manuscripts. They then compare them, and the spelling mistakes give clues about how the words were spoken. Isn’t that great? If you take an English example: “I read the book yesterday,” and find that in 200 instances, the word “read” had been misspelt as “red” then you could conclude that “ea” can be pronounced as the “e” in “red.”

When you learn the Greek alphabet, there are some letters which are very weird, and listed as sounds that we don’t say in English, like Psi. However, the Greek words have evolved into the words that we use today, we simply ignore the bits that we don’t pronounce. So the letter Psi gave us the words for psychology and psychopath and pseudo. (Now you know why they have odd spelling.)

There is a symbol in Greek called a breathing which looks like a tiny ‘c’ and floats above some vowels: αͨ εͨ ιͨ οͨ. When it’s backwards, it’s not pronounced (I don’t yet know what purpose it serves, that will have to be a later blog). But when it’s the correct way round (c) and it’s over a vowel at the start of a word, it adds an ‘h’ sound to the start of the word. In Greek, the letter P is called ‘rho’ and it is apparently a vowel (but only sometimes—again, I can’t yet explain this). This is interesting though, because when it has the breathing over it, an ‘h’ is added to the pronunciation. In English, we don’t say the ‘h’ but it is hidden in words like rheumatism and rhesus and rhetoric.

νόμος (sounds like nom-us) is the Greek word for law. If you add alpha (which looks like a fishy ‘a’ letter) to the front, it means the opposite. So νόμος = law and ανόμος = lawless. We still do this today with some words: symmetrical vs asymmetrical.

The word οͨ means ‘the’ when the word is masculine (I guess like ‘le’ in French, when ‘la’ is feminine) it’s pronounced ‘ho’ because the little ‘c’ adds an ‘h’. The word for God is θεος (‘Theos’) and in the places I’ve found it, it is preceded by the masculine ‘the’—so although I think God is genderless, certainly the Greek word was always masculine. The word θεος appears 1300 times in the New Testament, so I haven’t yet checked them all.

Learning the Greek alphabet in order is, I have decided, impossible. I have managed to learn the letter names (which gives a clue to how they sound) and the symbols for the lower-case letters. Everything I have read so far says not to bother learning capital letters at this stage as they are rarely used, so I have taken this to heart and ignored them completely. What is impossible though is learning the alphabet in order.

α alpha (sounds like ‘a’)

β beta (sounds like ‘b’)

γ gamma (g)

δ delta (d)

ε epsilon (e)

ζ zeta (z)

η eta (a long ‘e’ sound like in ‘air’) this one always confuses me!

θ theta (th)

ι iota (i)

κ kappa (k)

λ lamda (l)

μ mu (m)

ν nu (n) this is a tricky one too

ξ xi (x) easy to remember if you notice it looks like a pair of boobs so is ‘sexy’!

ο omicron (o) I always forget this one. Always.

π pi (p) brings back horrible memories of school mathematics

ρ rho (r) another tricky one because it pretends to be a ‘p’ and really it’s an ‘r’

ς σ sigma (s) this has two symbols, depending on whether it comes in the middle or at the end of a word. It is very hard to remember that σ is ‘s’!

τ tau (t)

υ upsilon (u,y)

φ phi (ph)

χ chi (ch)

ψ psi (ps)

ω omega (o, but a long one like in ‘bone’)

To be honest, I struggle over the order of letters in the English alphabet, and it’s only ever useful when I’m filing (which is never) or looking in a dictionary (which is rare) so why bother? I have tried making useful rhymes to help with the tricky bits: ‘epileptic zebras eat thick ice kittens’ and ‘lovely male nurses x-ray other people’ but I find I start to muddle up the rhymes too. I am shelving it for now and hoping that by the time I do an exam, the lecturer will have moved onto more complicated things and won’t bother to test us for the alphabet.

I sent one of my children a few words written in Greek, wanting to show-off a little. He was able to name all the letters, which was very disappointing (I long for the day I will know something my children don’t know—something beyond what temperature to use on the washing machine or how to hatch an egg). Apparently the Greek alphabet is used a lot in Physics, so he learnt all the letter names and symbols at uni. I think learning to read the language is much more interesting than Physics though, so I have decided that doesn’t count.

I hope you have something interesting too this week.

Thanks for reading. Take care.

Love, Anne x

Anne E. Thompson

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