[If you haven’t yet, read about the first semester here.]
Πᾶσα τέχνη καὶ πᾶσα μέθοδος, ὁμοίως δὲ πρᾶξίς τε καὶ προαίρεσις, ἀγαθοῦ τινὸς ἐφίεσθαι δοκεῖ· διὸ καλῶς ἀπεφήναντο τἀγαθὸν οὗ πάντ᾿ ἐφίεται.
All arts and all investigations, and similarly both actions and choices, are held to aim at some good; thus, people have nobly declared that the good is that at which all things aim.
(Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, 1094a1-2.
Translated by Derek Foret, AGI’20)
Language learning is one of life’s top joys. What could be better than having more potential friends to talk to across time and space? That Johnnies can study and find themselves in Homer’s epics, Bashō’s poetry, and Carl Jung’s psychology is a testament to the power of translation. How much richer and many-splendored our world becomes when I have so many guides with which to observe it! We’re fortunate that English already offers a host of such guides — how did we win the lottery with Shakespeare? — but how can we be sure our mind is free when we’re tied to just one way of speaking about it?
As any one of the band of graduate students in the Ancient Greek preceptorial might have put it, we can’t. These select few students are now reaping the rewards of their perseverant efforts to understand those foundational Hellenes on their own terms. However, it’s not simply the skill of reading and writing in another alphabet and system of grammar that compels these students; it’s the greater understanding of language as a whole, that wondrous tool by which all of us, monolingual or not, are free to familiarize ourselves with others, both living and long gone.
Don’t just take my word for it, though; try these English ones of Mr. Ludwig, the tutor elected to lead the preceptorial for both the fall and the spring:
“I got interested in teaching the GI Greek precept[orial] when I heard about the extra commitment it required of GI’s: coming to campus an extra night (Tuesdays) in order to meet twice a week. That meant something to me; these students, many of whom are working full-time, really wanted it. I had also heard about the class for many years from my friend, tutor Mera Flaumenhaft, who never tired of saying how much fun it was. I thought I’d give it a try, and it turned out to be all I had expected and more.
GI’s can go faster than undergrads [who are also taught Ancient Greek], and both times I have taught it, we came close to finishing Mollin and Williamson’s An Introduction to Ancient Greek in the first semester. That’s quite an accomplishment because the text forces you to think extensively about language in general, and specifically the English language, in addition to learning the Greek.
Going that fast also leaves most of the second semester for pure fun: translating passages from a great work that we read both in English and in Greek. Last year it was Xenophon’s Anabasis, which was the most fun I’ve ever had in a class. This year is Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, which is illumined immeasurably by paying close attention to the Greek. This GI precept truly is a candidate for the single best course at St. John’s.”