Ancient Greek, the language used in ancient Greece and the ancient world from around 1500 BC to 300 BC, has been a standard subject of study in Western educational institutions since the Renaissance. Its periods include Mycenaean Greek, Dark Ages, the Archaic period, and the Classical period. Notable figures such as Homer, Athenian historians, playwrights, and philosophers communicated in this language, which has contributed significantly to the English vocabulary.
Following the Hellenistic period, Ancient Greek evolved into Koine Greek, which eventually approached Medieval Greek. There were multiple regional dialects of Ancient Greek, with Attic Greek developing into Koine.
Ancient Greek comprised several dialects including Attic and Ionic, Aeolic, Arcadocypriot, and Doric. Each of these dialects had subdivisions, some of which were standardized and used in literature, while others are only found in inscriptions. Homeric Greek, a literary form used in epic poems, is a derivation of Archaic Greek and shows marked differences in grammar and pronunciation from Classical Attic and other dialects.
The origins and development of the Hellenic language family are still somewhat obscure due to the lack of contemporaneous evidence. However, scholars believe that major ancient Greek dialect groups emerged no later than 1120 BC, coinciding with the time of the Dorian invasions. The divisions of all Greek people during this period—Dorians, Aeolians, and Ionians—each had their distinctive dialects. Over time, these dialects evolved under the influence of settlers or neighbors speaking different Greek dialects.
After the conquests of Alexander the Great, a new international dialect known as Koine or Common Greek developed. Based largely on Attic Greek, it gradually replaced most of the older dialects. By about the 6th century AD, Koine had transformed into Medieval Greek.
Among Indo-European languages, Greek is argued to have the closest genetic ties with Armenian and Indo-Iranian languages. Phonologically, Ancient Greek differs from Proto-Indo-European and other Indo-European languages in several ways, such as the restriction of word endings to a vowel or /n s r/, and multiple sound changes including the debuccalization of PIE *s and *y, the loss of PIE *w, and the shift of PIE "voiced aspirated" stops to aspirated stops in ancient Greek.
Pronunciation in Ancient Greek significantly differed from Modern Greek. Notably, Ancient Greek featured long and short vowels, many diphthongs, double and single consonants, voiced, voiceless, and aspirated stops, and a pitch accent, whereas in Modern Greek, all vowels and consonants are short, many vowels and diphthongs are pronounced as /i/ (iotacism), and the pitch accent has transitioned to a stress accent. Many of these changes took place in the Koine Greek period, although the writing system of Modern Greek does not reflect all pronunciation changes.
The Attic Greek language of the 5th century BC employed a complex system of consonants and vowels, with numerous variations and inflections to articulate different sounds, tones, and meanings. Consonant sounds included nasal, plosive, fricative, trill, and lateral types across bilabial, dental, velar, and glottal points of articulation. For example, [ŋ] was an allophone of /n/ that was used before velars and an allophone of /ɡ/ before nasals, while /r/ was possibly voiceless when word-initial and /s/ assimilated to [z] before voiced consonants.
Vowel sounds, classified into front and back categories, were either unrounded or rounded, and ranged from close to open in quality. Over time, vowel sounds evolved; for instance, /oː/ raised to [uː], probably by the 4th century BC.
Ancient Greek, being a highly inflected Indo-European language, contained numerous morphological features that allowed for intricate expressions of grammatical relations. Nouns had five cases (nominative, genitive, dative, accusative, and vocative), three genders (masculine, feminine, and neuter), and three numbers (singular, dual, and plural). Verbs were marked for four moods (indicative, imperative, subjunctive, and optative), three voices (active, middle, and passive), and three persons (first, second, and third), and were conjugated in seven tense-aspect combinations. Notably, there were no future subjunctive, imperative, imperfect subjunctive, optative, or imperative forms.
The language also employed an "augment," a prefix added to the indicative of past tenses, originally serving to indicate temporal context. Augments were syllabic or quantitative and were added to stems beginning with consonants or vowels, respectively. Some verbs, however, augmented irregularly. Compound verbs with a prefix that wasn't a preposition kept the augment at the start of the word, whereas those with a preposition placed the augment between the preposition and original verb. The augment was sometimes omitted in poetry, following the practice of Homer.
This text covers multiple aspects of Ancient Greek, primarily focusing on the reduplication process, writing systems, historical samples, modern use, and relevance in education.
Reduplication in Ancient Greek refers to the repetition of the initial syllable of the verb stem in the perfect, pluperfect, and future perfect tenses. Three types of reduplication are outlined: Syllabic reduplication, the augment, and Attic reduplication. The first adds a syllable consisting of the initial consonant followed by e, while the second refers to verbs beginning with a vowel or a cluster that reduplicate similarly to the augment. The third type involves adding a syllable consisting of the initial vowel and following consonant, and lengthening the following vowel. Irregular duplications can be comprehended diachronically.
The Greek alphabet became standard for writing from the 8th century BC, evolving from the syllabic script Linear B. Modern editions of Ancient Greek texts usually include accents, breathing marks, interword spacing, modern punctuation, and sometimes mixed case.
Samples of texts are provided from Homer's Iliad and Plato's Apology, representing the Archaic and Classical periods of Ancient Greek, respectively.
Ancient Greek is taught in various institutions worldwide, often combined with Latin as part of classical studies. It is considered a compulsory or optional subject in many traditional or elite schools throughout Europe, with different educational systems having varying levels of requirement for Ancient Greek. It is also taught in state primary schools in the UK and all gymnasiums and lyceums in Greece.
Modern use of Ancient Greek is relatively limited. Few modern authors write in Ancient Greek, but some works, such as Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone and some volumes of Asterix, have been translated into the language. Ancient Greek is also used in modern technical terms' coinage in the European languages, scientific names of species, and scientific terminology.