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1.2: More Sounds and Punctuation

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    Module 2

    © 2021 Philip S. Peek, CC BY 4.0

    Iota Subscript and Adscript

    When the long vowels, , η, and ω are combined with a short iota, the iota is written beneath the long vowels as an iota subscript. The prefix sub- means under.

    If the long vowel is capitalized, the iota is written beside the long vowel and is called an iota adscript. The prefix ad- means beside.




    The iota is not pronounced and the pronunciation of these combined letters is the same as it is for the plain vowels, , η, and ω. Practice pronouncing the name of Hades, the Greek god of the dead, ιδης.

    Note that the writing of the iota as a subscript or adscript is a writing convention begun in the Middle Ages. Originally the iota was pronounced with the long vowels, , η, ω, as a combination of two sounds. From the fourth century to the second century BCE the iota weakened to a glide, similar to the way the English y can affect vowels. Pronounce out loud late and day, noting how the y influences the sound of the vowel a. After the second century BCE the iota was not pronounced. When reading ancient Greek, you will soon discover that the iota adscript or subscript often helps you identify the form of the word it appears in.

    Gamma Clusters

    When followed by a gamma γ, kappa κ, xi ξ, or chi χ, gamma γ, forms a cluster that creates the combined sound indicated by the bold letters below.








    larynx, Sphinx

    λάρυγξ, Σφίγξ





    Greek uses the same period and comma as English. A single mark ( · ) serves as either a colon (:) or a semicolon (;) depending on context.

    ῾´Ελληνες· Σοφοκλῆς, Περικλῆς, Δημοσθένης.

    Greeks: Sophokles, Perikles, Demosthenes.

    δὲ λέγει· δὲ ποιέει.

    He speaks; she acts.

    The question mark in Greek is represented by (;) and looks the same as the English semicolon (;).

    σὺ δὲ τίς καὶ τί βούλει;

    Who are you and what do you want?


    Proper names and adjectives are capitalized, as are the first words of paragraphs and of quotations. The first word of a sentence is not typically capitalized. Note the capitalized words bolded in the paragraph below:

    Ἡροδότου Ἁλικαρνησσέος ἱστορίης ἀπόδεξις ἥδε, ς μήτε τὰ γενόμενα ἐξ ἀνθρώπων τῷ χρόνῳ ἐξίτηλα γένηται, μήτε ἔργα μεγάλα τε καὶ θωμαστά, τὰ μὲν Ἕλλησι τ δὲ βαρβάροισι ἀποδεχθέντα, ἀκλεᾶ γένηται, τά τε ἄλλα κα δι᾽ ἣν αἰτίην ἐπολέμησαν ἀλλήλοισι.

    Ἕλλησι is the Greek word for Greeks.

    Who Were the Greeks?

    The non-Greek Minoan civilization of Krete (Crete) flourished from c. 2200–1500 BCE and influenced the Greeks. The Iliad and the Odyssey mention Minos, legendary king of Krete (Crete), who ruled the island and those nearby with his many ships. Around 2100 BCE Greek-speaking people arrived on mainland Greece, bringing with them their customs, language, and religion. The geographic area we call ancient Greece or Hellas never became a nation state, but rather was a collection of independent city-states which were diverse, comprising many different customs and dialects. Though diverse, Greek culture shared important features, including architecture, athletics, literature, music, religion, and science. The ancient Greek love for athletics led to our establishing the modern Olympic games. Their polytheistic religion and the accompanying stories of gods and heroes, their mythology, permeated much of what they accomplished and believed. Through their music, poetry, and prose writings they made sense of the world and their place in it. The richness the Greeks created continues to influence people all over the globe.

    Greek Dialects

    The earliest known dialect is the Mycenaean, attested in the Linear B syllabic script deciphered by the self-taught linguist, Michael Ventris. In the Classical period, roughly 750–350 BCE, there were about twenty-three Greek dialects, including Aeolic, Attic, Doric, and Ionic. At the end of the 4th century, the koine or common dialect began to be used, spreading to Asia and Egypt and eventually replacing the dialects that preceded it. The many dialects correspond roughly with Greek geography and their diversity was caused by many factors, including conquest, lineage, migrations, and natural barriers. Another influence on dialect was literature itself. The Homeric or epic dialect is a literary dialect, comprised of elements of the Ionic, Aeolic, and Arcado-Cypriot dialects. Later writers such as Apollonios Rhodios in his Argonautica, and Nonnos in his Dionysiaca, imitate Homer’s literary dialect. Ionic was the dialect used to write elegiac poetry and poets used Doric for composing choral lyric poetry. For specifics on the Ionic-Attic dialect, see Appendix XII.

    Arkhilokhos of Paros, Ἀρχίλοχος Πάρου, c. 680–645 BCE. The son of Telesikles, an aristocrat, and a slave woman, Arkhilokhos was a mercenary soldier and poet from Paros, a chief center for the worship of Demeter. In association with Demeter and Dionysos there was a tradition of iambic poetry, ἴαμβοι, a genre of poetry marked first by invective and scurrility, scatology, and sex, and second by its iambic meter. This iambic genre may have originated in the cult of Demeter, where insulting and abusive language, αἰσχρολογία, formed part of the ritual worship of the deity. In iamboi a first person narrator regales the audience with accounts of extravagant orgies or other escapades in which he claims to have taken part. Some of Arkhilokhos’ iamboi were concerned with Lykambes and his two daughters, one of whom was named Neobule. In addition to iambics, he wrote about current events and military, personal, and political concerns. It is believed that his poetry was banned at Sparta because of its seditious qualities. In 708 B.C. his fellow islanders colonized Thasos, a northern Aegean island. The Parians who colonized it were often attacked by tribes from Thrakia. At some point Arkhilochos went to Thasos and fought against the Thrakians. The Saians, mentioned in the poem below, are a Thrakian tribe.

    Module 2 Practice Reading Aloud. Practice reading this poem by Arkhilokhos. Read the poem a few times, trying to hear the rhythm of the words.

    ἀσπίδι μὲν Σαΐων τις ἀγάλλεται, ἣν παρὰ θάμνῳ

    ἔντος ἀμώμητον κάλλιπον οὐκ ἐθέλων,

    αὐτὸς δ᾽ ἐξέφυγον θανάτου τέλος. ἀσπὶς ἐκείνη

    ἐρρέτω· ἐξαῦτις κτήσομαι οὐ κακίω.

    Verse Translation

    Dropped beside a bush, my shield no more some Saion

    With grasp and grin takes up. I blame myself.

    Sadly leaving, fleeing gladly, I sidestepped Death.

    Without a shield I live to buy anew.

    To hear me read, followed by Stefan Hagel’s expert reading with a pitch accent, follow the link below:

    Arkhilokhos’ Ripsaspis Poem.1

    This page titled 1.2: More Sounds and Punctuation is shared under a CC BY 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Philip S. Peek.

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