Ancient Greek, the language of philosophers such as Plato, of literary giants like Sophocles and Aeschylus, of the authors of the New Testament, was the lingua franca Alexander gave to the ancient world. According to the ancient Roman historian Suetonius, even the famous last words of Julius Caesar were not the Latin “et tu Brute” but rather the Greek “καὶ σὺ τέκνον;”. I learned this last bit of Greek language trivia from my professor, Dr. Bronwen Wickkiser, on the first day of my Greek 101 class this past fall. I opted to study Greek for several reasons. First, I’m hoping to attend graduate school in Classics, so Greek is pretty necessary for me to know. Second, I really believe that the Classics are about as “liberal artsy” as it gets, and Greek literature covers some of the most valuable contributions to human knowledge and understanding ever made. Lastly, it seemed more challenging than Latin, which I had already taken, so I wanted even more to conquer Greek. I have, so far, not been disappointed with my Greek education.
My first reason for learning Greek isn’t widely shared, so I’ll skip to the second. I’ve often
felt that I should read certain books, simply because they are too important for me to ignore. It seems to me that a liberally educated person ought to know something about Homer and a little about Plato. While one could read these writers in English, translations always leave something out of the works’ original character. I gain much more understanding of a Greek poet’s intentions when I read his or her work in Greek than when I read it in English. Happily for me, I’ve already memorized the first two lines of the Iliad in Ancient Greek as part of an extra credit assignment. While this skill may seem nerdy, I did manage to impress a few of my fraternity brothers with it at lunch one day. Moreover, my class read the story of the birth of Christ in the Gospel of Luke in the original. When I heard those same words in English at Wabash’s annual Christmas festival, I felt as though I had a little deeper connection to them, as though I recognized them better than I had before. It’s gratifying to get this close to texts that are fundamental to Western thought.
As for the second reason I chose to study Greek, the challenge of it, I won’t lie; Greek is no cake-walk. However, I’ve discovered a real sense of accomplishment from my new ability to read a language that doesn’t even use the same alphabet as English. I’m convinced that other students who really want to study Greek will find similar satisfaction. After all, Wabash men take their education seriously.
Lastly, I’ll add that I’ve found the setup of my Greek class very enjoyable. The class size is relatively small, which allows for a fun dynamic. Dr. Wickkiser even had us all sing Christmas carols in Greek around campus right before our final. We’ve practiced our grammar with games and competitions, and we often get to read portions of “real Greek”, like the Homer and New Testament passages I mentioned earlier. And it’s only Greek 101! The fun has proved to be icing on the proverbial cake for me, though, as I grow in my understanding of Greek, my appreciation for the ancient world, and my satisfaction with my liberal arts education. Wabash men have many unique opportunities of which they take advantage. More of them should make taking Greek one of them.