Last week was another humbling experience. Again I learned how little I know when it comes to Greek. I sat in on one of this semester’s Septuagint classes. The assignment was to translate an English passage into Greek (and Hebrew). We were asked to also include the diacritical markings.
Other than the smooth and rough breathing marks, punctuation, and how to distinguish εἶ “you are” from εἰ “if,” I have never learned nor been taught breathing marks. Sure, I know that ´ is an acute, ` is a grave, and ῀ is a circumflex. But where, how, and when they appear, ich weiß nicht.
In the midst of this demoralizing exercise, I recalled a quote from A. T. Robertson from the previous week’s reading:
Chandler indeed laments that modern scholars scatter their Greek accents about rather recklessly, but he adds: “In England, at all events, every man will accent his Greek properly who wishes to stand well with the world.” It is a comfort to find one’s accents irreproachable, and Chandler rightly urges that the only way to use the accents properly is to pronounce according to the accent.
Needless to say, I would not be able to stand well in Chandler’s or Robertson’s world. I’m not sure if this is true today. Accenting is a matter on which few rarely speak. My beginning grammar teacher taught us a few basic rules in the second week of class, but he promptly told us to forget them. Between then and now, only Dr. Black has stressed the importance of putting the emphasis on the right syllable.
Call me crazy, but this experience drove me to pick up D. A. Carson’s book Greek Accents: A Student’s Manual. I’m not sure if this is the best place to start, especially since this Student’s Manual is almost the size of a beginning Greek Grammar. The back of the book reads, “Here is everything you need to know about New Testament Greek accents, a subject often slighted or ignored by introductory grammars. Those ‘grammars which deal with accents scatter their information throughout their pages and some of that information I soon discovered to be correct for Attic Greek, but incorrect for the Greek of the New Testament.’”
Now that I have the book, I need to find the time to read it. Here is to hoping I find the time, and find something profitable in this work.