4 ways good things come in 3s

(1) The 3 most important factors in real estate: Location, location, location.

(2) The 3 most important faculties of an orator, according to Demosthenes: Delivery, delivery, delivery (ὑπόκρισις, ὑπόκρισις, ὑπόκρισις).

(3) How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice.

(4) How do you learn a dead language well? Read, read, read.

6 degrees of Homer and Hesiod

As a follow-up to my previous post on the importance of laying a solid foundation in Homeric Greek for reading the SibOr:

(1) I came across an item mentioned briefly in passing by Chris Weimer at Thoughts on Antiquity that led me to

(2) the front page of The BibleWorks Blog where, after a little browsing, I found

(3) an announcement posted by Michael Hanel about a user-database of the entire Homeric/Hesiodic corpus that can be imported into BibleWorks, made possible (and free!) by the generous dedication of

(4) John Jackson at Handheld Classics, who also, incidentally, offers some excellent and compelling 2nd-hand advice on efficient 2nd- (or 3rd- or 4th-)language learning; and not only that, but

(5) a surprisingly wide variety of other user-created BibleWorks files by (no doubt) equally dedicated and generous persons is available here. It all seems too good to be true, and

(6) if this isn't also a shameless plug for BibleWorks, then I don't know what is!


On preliminary studies

It's one thing to read the SibOr in translation, and another thing entirely to read them in Greek, especially if the Greek you're most familiar with is NT/Koine, and prose. That they're composed in dactylic hexameter verse isn't so much of a problem (the metrical conventions are learned easily enough), but the archaic/arcane morphology and vocabulary that come along with it can be daunting.

The best advice I ever got about learning how to read patristic Greek well was: begin by immersing yourself in the great Attic orators. Why? Because they set the lexical, rhetorical, and stylistic standards that so many Church Fathers aspired to emulate, that's all. Similarly, if you want to learn how to read the SibOr well, you should begin by immersing yourself in Homer. Here are three good places to start:

  • Allen Rogers Benner, Selections from Homer's Iliad (New York: Irvington Publishers, 1931).
  • Clyde Pharr, Homeric Greek: A Book for Beginners (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1985), rev. John Wright.
  • P. A. Draper, Iliad, Book 1 (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2002).

Even among the OT Pseudepigrapha, the SibOr are overwhelmingly under-read, and that's surely mostly due to their (actual or perceived) peripherality to biblical studies, more narrowly construed. Still, I wonder how much their marginalization might also be due to the (perceived) difficulty, or at least strangeness, of the kind of Greek they're written in? Form and content would seem to be totally anisomorphic here: God's own Word in truly pagan dress. Are the SibOr too pagan, in language as well as in (ostensible) authorship, to be more than an antiquarian curiosity, a literary/theological dead end? Would the SibOr have more of an audience today if they had only come down to us in more maddeningly fragmentary condition, in more fashionably exotic languages like Ethiopic or Coptic?

If there were a scriptural canon of ancient Greek literature, the Homeric corpus would be its Torah. We might then think of the Jewish and Christian Sibyls as aspiring to be (respectively) its Jeremiah and Matthew. That alone should be worth the price of admission, I'd think.

Ἄγε Ὁμηρίδης ὢν πιστὸς ἀναγίγνωσκε/"Go and read, being a loyal admirer of Homer". You might be surprised at the extent to which facility in reading dactylic hexameter verse can open up new windows on early Jewish and Christian literature.

UPDATE (2.4.07) Also well worth considering are these two recently developed resources for learning Homeric Greek that I came across lately . . .

  • Frank Beetham, Beginning Greek with Homer: An Elementary Course based on Odyssey V (London: Bristol Classical Press, 1996).
  • Raymond V. Schoder, S.J. and Vincent C. Horrigan, S.J., A Reading Course in Homeric Greek, Book 1 (Newburyport, MA: Focus Publishing, 2004), revised, with additional materials by Leslie Collins Edwards.

. . . both of which (like the volume by Draper listed above) are designed to function "teacherlessly", if need be.