Greek teachers are frequently asked which text they recommend for introductory Greek.  Although many new textbooks have come along since 1928, when An Introduction to Greek by Henry Crosby and John Schaeffer was first published, none has rivaled, much less surpassed, this old warhorse.  It is not that the rivals are without merit.  James Allen’s First Year of Greek offers the most systematic presentation of grammar; Chase and Phillips is an attractive book whose quotations from Plato inspire philosophy students, while more recent texts such as Athenaze are designed with today’s students in mind.  Some more recent texts emphasize biblical Greek at the expense of Attic, while others ignore biblical Koine altogether.  Still others share the fate of all projects designed by committee, though the text produced by the J.A.C.T. is more ungainly and less serviceable than any camel.

Crosby and Schaeffer, by contrast, is a meat-and-potatoes introduction that sticks with single-minded doggedness to the main goal: to teach the student enough Attic Greek to be able to tackle Xenophon’s Anabasis in his second year.  This book, while teaching students Greek gram-mar, also introduces them to the Greeks’ achievement in the visual arts (with over 120 photographs included) and to their traditional “gnomic” wisdom  (close to 100 aphorisms included).  While relegating many finer points of grammar to the Appendices, C&S takes the student by the hand and leads him step by step from the simple fundamentals of the alphabet and declensions all the way to the complexities of conditional sentences.

“The rules for the most part,” as the authors point out, “are phrased in the order in which the phenomena meet the eye of the reader of Greek and not as instructions for one translating from English into Greek.”  This is an important point, since all too many modern texts are either too fuzzy on prescriptive rules or else, in the case of many introductions to Koine, teach him only how to translate with a dictionary.  The student who masters C&S will have begun to learn how to think aloud in Greek.

Some sacrifices have had to be made for the sake of clarity.  For example, the fine points of Greek pronunciation have been glossed over, and the authors make the astonishing claim that accents “do not affect the pronunciation.”  These makeshifts, however, are necessary if the student is to get over the unfamiliarity of the alphabet and the alien quality of Greek phonology.  The point, after all, is not to give the student a proficiency of Greek that will require at least five (more likely ten) years of serious study but to set him on the right path.

The choice of Xenophon is not uncontroversial.  Many Greek teachers prefer to move on to Plato or the New Testament or even to Homer, because they underestimate the brilliance of Xenophon’s tale of adventure that Edward Gibbon thought one of the best historical narratives ever written.  There is no quick shortcut to learning Greek, and, even for students whose main purpose is to read the New Testament, C&S is equally valuable, since the usual preparation to read John’s Gospel is not at all adequate for reading Luke (to say nothing of many early Church Fathers).  I say this from an experience of teaching Greek to college students, students preparing for seminary, adult learners, and several of my own children.  After trying many textbooks, new and old, Koine and Attic, I settled on C&S as the best of a basically good lot.

Experienced teachers of Greek and Latin should not need the authors’ admonition to lay great emphasis on the exercises in Greek composition, but it is too easily forgotten that ancient languages, to be learned well, must be learned actively, not passively.  It is not enough simply to “recognize” Greek words: Vocabulary must be memorized from English to Greek, if it is to stick, and an hour spent on writing Greek sentences, however poorly, is probably worth several hours of passive study.  In passing on to a second year of Greek, the reading of Xenophon’s Anabasis should, therefore, be supplemented with exercises in Greek composition, perhaps through North and Hillard’s Greek Prose Composition.  (Supplemental Greek readers, designed to reinforce grammar and expand vocabulary, are also available from Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers.)

The study of Greek and Latin is not a theoretical discipline but a matter of patient study, of trial and error.  Crosby and Schaeffer developed this text at the University of Pennsylvania, where Crosby was both teacher and dean and where Schaeffer (a classics teacher at Franklin and Marshall) taught summer courses in Greek.  Like other solid textbooks and grammars published in the 19th and early 20th centuries, C&S reflected generations of practical teaching experience, and it is not entirely a wise idea to abandon the lessons of experience.  In fact, for Crosby and Schaeffer, Greek was not an exotic subject.  In their Introduction, they emphasize not only the continuity of the ancient world with our own (“An Olympic victor was welcomed home with all the enthusiasm and festivity that attends the winning of a World Series . . . ”) but the vital importance of the Greeks to the best qualities of our own civilization: “The best Greek is marked by a sense of proportion, by a striving for just the right word to convey the thought, and by a simplicity and directness of expression.”

It is highly unfashionable to say such things, but, not so long ago, the study of the classics was supposed to train the mind and temper the character.  Rudyard Kipling (in his story “Regulus”) stages a debate between a science teacher who believes that nothing sticks from the classics except “one score of totally unrelated Latin tags.”  The Latin master retorts that with Latin comes “Balance, proportion, perspective—life,” and, when one of the boys displays such a character and his friend praises him with an allusion to the Roman hero Regulus, the classicist exults: “You see, it sticks.  A little of it sticks among the barbarians.”

Parents and teachers are coming to realize that, in abandoning the classics, we have abandoned our children to barbarism.  In large numbers, they are rediscovering the value of the classical languages and the great literatures in which they are written.  In the revival of classical education, which is the best news, by far, in American education, there is no more pressing need than for schools (including homeschools) to have ready access to the tried and true textbooks of Greek and Latin.  The republication of Crosby and Schaeffer is a significant step.


[An Introduction to Greek, by John Nevin Schaeffer and Henry Lamar Crosby (Wauconda, Illinois: Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers, Inc.) 440 pp., $23.00]