Sprechen Sie Attisch? — A Review

Ἆρ’ ἀττικίζεις;

Do you speak Attic?

I stumbled upon this book in an Ancient Greek chat group I am a member of and was immediately intrigued. It was written in German in the middle of the 19th century and contains conversational Attic Greek phrases; and I shall herein attempt to provide a brief overview of the book and translate some of the phrases to the best of my abilities. The earliest version of this book I was able to find is a microfiche of the printed book from 1889; and considering the version I am using is from 1901 and is the second edition, I am fairly certain that this 1889 version is the first edition.

Why conversational Attic Greek?

Conversing in Attic Greek is, rather obviously, not something a majority of people studying the language actually do; and whilst the language may indeed be spoken in a classroom setting, I don’t believe many people hold an actual conversation as they would with a modern language. This is despite the fact that, as I had mentioned in various other texts of mine, learning actual vernacular is actually rather helpful; a point which the book itself raises too: —

Wer die Umgangſsprache eines Volkes kennt, hat den Schlüſſel zum Verſtändnis ſeiner Schriftwerke gleich den Volksgenoſſen ſelbſt.

He who knows the vernacular of a people has the key to understanding their (the people’s) literature as the natives do.

I find this to be a rather important aspect of language learning that frequently gets overlooked, as learning the vernacular as one would with a modern language helps contextualise things. Additionally, another rather interesting aspect about Ancient Greek is mentioned which makes learning vernacular especially important when it comes to learning Ancient Greek (and less so when it concerns the study of Latin): —

Denn während man auf unſeren Gymnaſien im Lateinischen faſt nur ſolche Schriften lieſt, welche der höheren Kunſtſprache angehören [...] werden wir im Griechiſchen weit mehr auf die Sprache des gewöhnlichen Lebens hingewieſen. Im Griechiſchen leſen wir Geſpräche bei den Dramatikern, Geſpräche bei Plato; die Redner ſprechen nicht zu Senatoren [...].

For whilst only those scriptures that belong to a more refined artistic language are read in the Latin education of our secondary schools — specifically those secondary school preparing pupils for a higher education —, we are confronted by the day-to-day vernacular much more frequently in Greek. In Greek we read dialogues of the playwrights, dialogues of Plato; the speakers do not speak to senators.

What the author wants to showcase by his last statement is one of the reasons I wanted to learn Greek instead of Latin, as Greek literature quite frequently utilises constructions that were in common use in regular speech and does not use highly refined prose as in an epic or poetry — though the latter, obviously, do exist. This makes the experience of reading actual Greek texts — especially the dialogues — akin to actually hearing the people speak. One did not sit down hours upon hours to perfect one's prose; instead, it is the ordinary vernacular of the (educated) people.


And whilst I am sure such literature exists in Latin as well (Cicero’s Tusculanae Disputationes comes to mind as being similar, for rather obvious reason), I do believe that it occurs much less frequently than it does in Greek. I was therefore quite rather delighted to find this little book — Büchlein — which provides you with quite a large number of useful vernacular phrases.

The author thus decided to write a small book translating some common German vernacular phrases into Attic Greek; and those concepts for which Attic Greek did not have a word were generally taken from Modern Greek and re-written to fit into Attic Greek morphology. The latter are marked with an asterisks so that you can quite clearly tell when something has been newly created.

The structure of the book

The book is separated into several chapters containing the different conversations (Geſpräche) on various subjects or at various locations; these are then further divided up into subcategories containing the kinds of things you would say at such an even or at such a location. Examples for these subcategories include things such as Wieviel Uhr iſt es? (What time is it?), Leben Sie wohl! (Farewell!) or Können Sie Griechiſch. (Can you speak Greek?). Examples of the different conversations include: —

Geſpräche Conversations
A. Allgemeinen Inhaltes About generic topics
B. In der Schule At school
D. Aus dem politiſchen Leben Of political life
E. Beim Skatſpiel During a game of Skat*

*Before we continue, I would like to briefly explain what the aforesaid Skat is; namely a three-player card game which was and still is highly popular in Germany. Look it up if you would like to learn more about it, there’s quite a lot of information on it.

Returning to our original topic, however: these, then, contain phrases that would have been commonly used in Germany at the time and whilst the majority of them are still rather helpful and are still used, a number of them is quite clearly rather dated; and the inclusion of some of them is somewhat beyond my understanding. Let us now briefly explore some of these phrases.

Phrases and other interesting bits

Indeed, a book containing conversations in Attic Greek would be somewhat incomplete without aforementioned phrases being included, so let us take a look at some of them and see whether they really are useful or whether they can be tossed aside as being antiquated or of no practical use whatsoever.

Come here! (and another 2020 classic, I want to go to the hairdresser’s)

I will herein cherry-pick a handful of phrases and attempt to translate them so that people who are not native German speakers and not aware of some of the cultural quirks of this country can understand them without too much trouble. Should you find something that could be translated in a better manner, feel free to contact me.

A. 1. Guten Tag — One of the first things you are introduced to is different ways of greeting people, many of which have a rather antiquated tone to them; nevertheless, I am fairly certain the Ancient Greek equivalents are still perfectly useable. Some rather humorous sentences, such as Freue mich außerordentlich, Herr Müller! — I am most delighted (to see you), Mr. Müller — which would obviously not have been used in Ancient Greek whatsoever.

A. 2. Wie geht’s? — We are then given several different phrases which can be used for asking how one feels and for answering questions concerning one’s current physical and mental state; examples of this include things such as τί πράττεις; (How are you?), πάντ’ ἀγαθὰ πράττω, ὦ φίλε. (Thank you, I am doing well) and the 2020 classic: Ich habe gar keine Freude mehr am Leben.οὐδεμίαν ἔχω τῷ βίῳ χάριν., Life is no longer joyous to me.

B. 21. In der Schule — Jumping ahead a few dozen pages we arrive at the section on conversational titbits concerning schools and education in general. These contain, as you would perhaps expect, sentences and dialogues centreing around people’s academic abilities — such as You’re not putting in any effort (οὐκ ἐπιμελής εἶ.) — or other things that can be heard in such educational institutions: Your work contains 20 mistakes. (ἔχει τὸ σὸν εἴκοσιν ἁματρίας.), You are oblivious to many things (πολλά σε λανθάνει.), You are speaking in riddles (δι’ αἰνιγμῶν λέγεις.) and so on.