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Greek Language

GREEK LANGUAGE. Greek is one of the eight main branches into which the Indo-European languages (q.v.) are divided. The area in which it is spoken has been curiously constant throughout its recorded history. These limits are, roughly speaking, the shores of the Aegean, on both the European and the Asiatic side, and the intermediate islands (one of the most archaic of Greek dialects being found on the eastern side in the island of Cyprus), and the Greek peninsula generally from its southern promontories as far as the mountains which shut in Thessaly on the north. Beyond Mt. Olympus and the Cambunian mountains lay Macedonia, in which a closely kindred dialect was spoken, so closely related, indeed, that O. Hoffmann has argued (Die Makedonen, Gottingen, 1906) that Macedonian is not only Greek, but a part of the great Aeolic dialect which included Thessalian to the south and Lesbian to the east. In the north-west, Greek included many rude dialects little known even to the ancient Greeks themselves, and it extended northwards beyond Aetolia and Ambracia to southern Epirus and Thesprotia. In the Homeric age the great shrine of Pelasgian Zeus was at Dodona, but, by the time of Thucydides, Aetolia and all north of it had come to be looked upon as the most backward of Greek lands, where men lived a savage life, speaking an almost unintelligible language, and eating raw flesh (ayvdjarbraTOi. dl yhuaaav (cat a>juo</>ayoi, Thuc. iii. 94, of the Aetolian Eurytanes). The Greeks themselves had no memory of how they came to occupy this land. Their earliest legends connected the origin of their race with Thessaly and Mt. Pindus, but Athenians and Arcadians also boasted themselves of autochthonous race, inhabiting a country wherein no man had preceded their ancestors. The Greek language, at any rate as it has come down to us, is remarkably perfect, in vowel sounds being the most primitive of any of the Indo-European languages, while its verb system has no rival in completeness except in the earliest Sanskrit of the Vedic literature. Its noun system, on the other hand, is . much less complete, its cases being more broken down than those of the Aryan, Armenian, Slavonic and Italic families.

The most remarkable characteristic of Greek is one conditioned by the geographical aspect of the land. Few countries are so broken up with mountains as Greece. Not only do mountain ranges as elsewhere on the European continent run east and west, but other ranges cross them from north to south, thus dividing the portions of Greece at some distance from the sea into hollows without outlet, every valley being separated for a considerable part of the year from contact with every other, and inter-communication at all seasons being rendered difficult. Thus till external coercion from Macedon came into play it was never possible to establish a great central government controlling the Greek mainland. The geographical situation of the islands in the Aegean equally led to the isolation of one little territory from another. To these geographical considerations may be added the inveterate desire of the Greeks to make the iroXis, the city state, everywhere and at all times an independent unit, a desire which, originating in the geographical conditions, even accentuated the isolating effect of the natural features of the country. Thus at one time in the little island of Amorgos there were no less than three separate and independent political units. The inevitable result of geographical and political division was the maintenance of a great number of local characteristics in language.^ differentiating in this respect also each political community from its nearest neighbours. It was only natural that the inhabitants of a country so little adapted to maintain a numerous population should have early sent off swarms to other lands. The earliest stage of colonization lies in the borderland between myth and history. The Greeks themselves knew that a population had preceded them in the islands of the Cyclades which they identified i with the Carians of Asia Minor (Herodotus i. 171 ; Thucydides i.

' 4. 8). The same population indeed appears to have preceded them on the mainland of Greece, for there are similar place-names in Caria and in Greece which have no etymology in Greek. Thus the endings of words like Parnassus and Halicarnassus seem identical, and the common ending of place-names in -tvffos, K6piv0os, Ilpo/SdXtvflos, etc., seems to be the same in origin with the common ending of Asiatic names in -nda, Alinda, Karyanda, etc. Probably the earnest portion of Asia Minor to be colonized by the Greeks was the north-west, to which came settlers from Thessaly, when the early inhabitants were driven out by the Thesprotians, who later controlled Thessaly. The name Aeolis, which aftef times gave to the N.W. of Asia Minor, was the old name for Thessaly (Hdt. vii. 176). These Thesprotians were of the same stock as the Dorians, to whose invasion of the Peloponnese the later migration, which carried the lonians to Asia and the Cypriot Greeks to Cyprus, in all probability was due. From the north Aegean probably the Dorians reached Crete, where alone their existence is recorded by Homer (Odyssey, xix. 175 ff . ; Diodorus Siculus v. 80. 2) : cp. Fick, Vorgriechische Ortsnamen (1906).

Among the Greeks of the pre-Dorian period Herodotus distinguishes various stocks. Though the name is not Homeric, both Herodotus and Thucydides recognize an Aeolian stock which must have spread over Thessaly and far to the west till it was suppressed and absorbed by the Dorian stock which came in from the northwest. The name of Aeolis still attached in Thucydides' time to the western area of Calydon between the mountains and the N. side of the entrance to the Corinthian gulf (iii. 102). In Boeotia the same stock survived (Thuc. vii. 57. 5), overlaid by an influx of Dorians, and it came down to the isthmus; for the Corinthians, though speaking in historical times a Doric dialect, were originally Aeolians (Thuc. iv. 42). In the Peloponnese Herodotus recognizes (viii. 73) three original stocks, the Arcadians, the lonians of Cynuria. and the Achaeans. In Arcadia there is little doubt that the pre-Dorian population maintained itself and its language, just as in the mountains of Wales, the Scottish Highlands and Connemara the Celtic language has maintained itself against the Saxon invaders. By Herodotus' time the Cynurians had been doricized, while the lonians, along the south side of the Corinthian gulf, were expelled by the Achaeans (vii. 94, viii. 73), apparently themselves driven from their own homes by the Dorian invasion (Strabo viii. p. 333 fin.). However this may be, the Achaeans of historical times spoke a dialect akin to that of northern Elis and of the Greeks on the north side of the Corinthian gulf. How close the relation may have been between the language of the Achaeans of the Peloponnese in the Homeric age and their contemporaries in Thessaly we have no means of ascertaining definitely, the documentary evidence for the history of the dialects being all very much later than Homeric times. Even in the Homeric catalogue Agamemnon has to lend the Arcadians ships to take them to Troy (Iliad, ii. 612). But a population speaking the same or a very similar dialect was probably seated on the eastern coast, and migrated at the beginning of the Doric invasion to Cyprus. As this population wrote not in the Greek alphabet but in a peculiar syllabary and held little communication with the rest of the Greek world, it succeeded in preserving in Cyprus a very archaic dialect very closely akin to that of Arcadia, and also containing a considerable number of words found in the Homeric vocabulary but lost or modified in later Greek elsewhere.

On this historical foundation alone is it possible to understand clearly the relation of the dialects in historical times. The prehistoric movements of the Greek tribes can to some extent be realized in their dialects, as recorded in their inscriptions, though all existing inscriptions belong to a much later period. Thus from the ancient Aeolis of northern Greece sprang the historical dialects of Thessaly and Lesbos with the neighbouring coast of Asia Minor. At an early period the Dorians had invaded and to some extent affected the character of the southern Thessalian and to a much greater extent that of the Boeotian dialect. The dialects of Locris, Phocis and Aetolia were a somewhat uncouth and unliterary form of Doric. According to accepted tradition, Elis had been colonized by Oxylus the Aetofian, and the dialect of the more northerly part of Elis, as already pointed out, is, along with the Achaean of the south side of the Corinthian gulf, closely akin to those dialects north of the Isthmus. The most southerly part of Elis Triphylia has a dialect akin to Arcadian. Apart from Arcadian the other dialects of the Peloponnese in historical times are all Doric, though in small details they differ among themselves. Though we are unable to check the statements of the historians as to the area occupied by Ionic in prehistoric times, it is clear from the legends of the close connexion between Athens and Troezen that the same dialect had been spoken on both sides of the Saronic gulf, and may well have extended, as Herodotus says, along the eastern coast of the Peloponnese and the south side of the Corinthian gulf. According to legend, the lonians expelled from the Peloponnese collected at Athens before they started on their migrations to the coast of Asia Minor. Be that as it may, legend and language alike connected the Athenians with the lonians, though by the 5th century B.C. the Athenians no longer cared to be known by the name (Hdt. i. 143). Lemnos, Imbros and Scyros, which had long belonged to Athens, were Athenian also in language. The great island of Euboea and all the islands of the central Aegean between Greece and Asia were Ionic. Chios, the most northerly Ionic island on the Asiatic coast, seems to have been originally Aeolic, and its Ionic retained some Aeolic characteristics. The most southerly of the mainland towns which were originally Aeolic was Smyrna, but this at an early date became Ionic (Hdt. i. 149). The last important Ionic town to the south was Miletus, but at an early period Ionic widened its area towards the south also and took in Halicarnassus from the Dorians. According to Herodotus, there were four kinds of Ionic (xapaicrijpts 7\t!x7oijs Tfoatpts, i. 142). Herodotus tells us the areas in which these dialects were spoken, but nothing of the differences between them. They were (i) Samos, (2) Chios and Erythrae, (3) the towns in Lydia, (4] the towns in Caria. The language of the inscriptions unfortunately is a noivii, a conventional literary language which reveals no differences cf importance. Only recently has the characteristic so well known in Herodotus of K appearing in certain words where other dialects have jr (picas for OTUS, KOU for Troy, etc.) been found in any inscription. It is, however, clear that this was a popular characteristic not considered to be sufficiently dignified for official documents. We may conjecture that the native languages spoken on the Lydian and Carian coasts had affected the character of the language spoken by the Greek immigrants, more especially as the settlers from Athens married Carian women, while the settlers in the other towns were a mixture of Greek tribes, many of them not Ionic at all (Hdt. i. 146).

The more southerly islands of the Aegean and the most southerly peninsula of Asia Minor were Doric. In the Homeric age Dorians were only one of many peoples in Crete, but in historical times, though the dialects of the eastern and the western ends of the island differ from one another and from the middle whence our most valuable documents come, all are Doric. By Melos and Thera Dorians carried their language to Cos, Calymrus, C'nidus and Rhodes.

These settlements, Aeolic, Ionic and Doric, grew and prospered, and like flourishing hives themselves sent out fresh swarms to other land. Most prosperous and energetic of all was Miletus, which established its trading posts in the Black Sea to the north and in the delta of the Nile (Naucratis) to the south. The islands also sent off their colonies, carrying their dialects with them, Paros to Thasos, Euboea to the peninsulas of Chalcidice; the Dorians of Mcgara guarded the entrance to the Black Sea at Chalcedon and Byzantium. While Achaean influence spread out to the more southerly Ionian islands, Corinth carried her dialect with her colonies to the coast of Acarnania, Leucas and Corcyra. But the greatest of all Corinthian colonies was much farther to the west at Syracuse in Sicily. Unfortunately the continuous occupation of the same or adjacent sites has led to the loss of almost all that is early from Corinth and from Syracuse. Corcyra has bequeathed to us some interesting grave inscriptions from the 6th century B.C. Southern Italy and Sicily were early colonized by Greeks. According to tradition Cumae was founded not long after the Trojan War; even if we bring the date nearer the founding of Syracuse in 735 B.C., we have apparently no record earlier than the first half of the 5th century B.C., though it is still the earliest of Chalcidian inscriptions. Tarentum was a Laconian foundation, but the longest and most important document from a Laconian colony in Italy comes from Heraclea about the end of the 4th century B.C. the report of a commission upon and the lease of temple lands with description and conditions almost of modern precision. To Achaea belonged the south Italian towns of Croton, Metapontum and Sybaris. The ancestry of the Greek towns of Sicily has been explained by Thucydides (vi. 2-5). Selinus, a colony of Mfyara. bewrays its origin in its dialect. Gela and Agrigentum no less clearly show their descent from Rhodes. According to tradition the great city of Cyrene in Africa was founded from Thera, itself an offshoot from Sparta.

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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