Greek: Just Beauty and Perfection

Basil Gildersleeve, Hellas and Hesperia

“No lover can avoid the catalogue of the charms of his mistress. Petrarch is eloquent in sonnet and canzone on the subject of Laura’s eyes. Shall our mistress lack eyes? Again, your true lover is sublimely indifferent to the fact that the audience is utterly unacquainted with the object of his adoration, and so even after many years of close communion with Greek, I was capable in 1869 of holding forth ecstatically on its physical charms, for I am enough of a heathen to recognize in physical beauty the only true incentive of love. It is the physical beauty of Greek that constitutes its intimate attraction, that redeems, for instance, the tedious obviousnesses of the old man eloquent, and I could still rhapsodize, as I did forty years ago, on the sequences of vowels and the combinations of consonants, the concert of mute and liquid, the clear-cut outline of every word in Greek, clear and sharp as the sky-line of the mountains of Greece, as the effigies on Greek coins. I could still wax lyrical about the paradigm of the Greek verb. The Greek verb is, indeed, a marvel.

‘Flexible and exact, simple in its means, abundant in its applications, with varying tones for colorless statement, for eager wish, for purpose, for command, now despatching the past with impatient haste, now unrolling it in panoramic procession, but bringing forth its treasure of vowels and diphthongs to mark the striving of the will, the thought, the desire, toward the future,’ and so on and so on. Perhaps discourse like this might rouse the curiosity of the student and win here and there a friend for Greek. The teacher can never know whether shall prosper either this or that. I remember to have read in Gogol’s ‘Dead Souls’ a eulogy of Russian that would have Inspired me, if I had been endowed with ample leisure, to attempt the acquisition of that difficult idiom. But I am not quite sure that this unverifiable laudation Is the right way to lend vitality to the study. ‘The king’s daughter is all glorious within.’ But he that is without remains cold as a rule. The love of a language from this point of view is a matter of individual experience, a business to be transacted under four eyes only, and as much of the physical beauty of a language depends on the pronunciation, it may be well to relegate the whole thing to the realm of ‘fancy,’ that admirable old word for love. I will, therefore, waive the whole subject of the perfection of the Greek language, both in Its form and Its function, the wealth of its vocabulary, and the flexibility of its syntax, and limit myself to a few remarks on the relation of Greek to our daily life.”

petrarch1

3 responses

  1. Pingback: Some Truth and Beauty for A Scatographic Week « SENTENTIAE ANTIQUAE

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