Posts Tagged ‘Madingley Hall’

About learning Ancient Greek

May 4, 2015

That answers one question…

I have received the following query from Juan Coderch

Then, I feel curiosity about what you have done: how did you study Greek/Latin? As a university degree, or just for personal enjoyment And what books did you use, what methodologies, etc.? 

When I was a student studying Physics I took up Greek in my spare time.  I think the reasons for this were:

i)  curiosity as to what the Greek letters in maths really wanted to do;

ii)  the ‘real’ students of Russian (my first love, which I’d also studied independently while in the sixth form) could go to Russia, while I couldn’t–the same didn’t apply to Ancient Greece;

iii)  I’d got bored with doing the same kind of thing (maths, physics) all the time;

iv)  I was intrigued by the word ‘boustrophedon’, which I’d come across somewhere.

So I applied myself to the Reading Greek series, which had just come out.  After that, I spent something like 3 months sitting up at night reading the Greek text of the Iliad. And after that I stopped being a student and for a time I lived in Newcastle and honed my skills in living without apparent means of support and also went to some evening classes given by Janet Watson at the university.

Some years later my interest was rekindled when I came across a book about Heinrich Schliemann and I was struck by the idea that you could be both a practical person–in fact, a swindler on a titanic scale–and interested in Greek.  I went to some of the reading groups that City Lit used to have in the evenings, and certainly benefited from the helpful and supportive approach of Barbara Goward.  I also went to some Greek summer schools over the years and more recently I’ve been to some courses at Madingley Hall.

I’ve given some comments about teaching Ancient Greek here.  I think that I would add the following points from the learner side:

i)  the only real reason for doing it is because you can’t not do it–others will end in disappointment;

ii)  it shares the refractory nature of (for instance) physics–it never becomes easy, but with effort you can make progress and you’re all right;

iii)  it’s helpful to know something about modern linguistics and in particular phonetics;

iv)  it certainly helps if you can read/recite it so it sounds like an actual language used for communication;

iv)  I think it makes it less frightening if you start off by thinking of it as a European literature with some slightly complicated grammar–not some form of message from another star;

v)  at some stage you have to have it in your head rather than on the page, even if this can be frightening in a class;

vi)  as ever in language learning–do something every day!

About methodologies:  I have some sympathy with Lenin, who apparently said about learning foreign languages that you should first of all learn all the grammar and all the vocabulary, then worry about fripperies like idiom.  As I say elsewhere, there are good systematic reasons why Greek grammar (and words) are the way they are, and again it becomes less frightening if you know something about them.  If I was starting off knowing what I know now, I might well go for something more formal than Reading Greek, but it was fine at the time.

Finishing off Agamemnon at Madingley Hall

November 30, 2014
Happy Helllenists

Happy Hellenists

I strike him twice and in two cries of oimoi
his limbs gave way, and I give him once fallen
a third blow in addition

A slightly reinforced group completed its assault on the most formidable text in surviving Greek literature under the leadership of Tony Verity, who congratulated his team on their heroic achievement.  The seven participants each in turn read aloud and translated passages of 10-15 lines and the group covered a bit more than 100 lines per 90-minute session.  I certainly learned some interesting things about the use of different metres and how the agon between two parties sometimes came down to whose metre would prevail.

During our free time on Saturday afternoon, I wandered round the grounds and took some photographs (as well as getting muddy).

Madingley Hall in the Autumn sunshine

Madingley Hall in the Autumn sunshine

We also had a talk from Dr Lucilla Burn of the Fitzwilliam Museum on Greek Myths (as illustrated by Greek vases).

Enigmatic vase from the Fitzwilliam with pigs

Enigmatic vase from the Fitzwilliam with pigs

More about Greek at Madingley here.

Half of ‘Agamemnon’ at Madingley Hall (12-14 September)

September 16, 2014
A refractory passage from the 'Agamemnon'

A refractory passage from the ‘Agamemnon’

To start off with, Tony Verity emailed us:

A message for you in preparation for tackling Aeschylus at his most baffling.

To the brave Aeschylus group:

I’d forgotten how tough the Greek is in Agamemnon, especially the parodos and choruses. I must have read the play a dozen times, but I’m still finding it hard here and there to puzzle out the language, much to my annoyance. It’s not helped by the text being dodgy in places.

We were in fact due to go as far as line 809 this time, with the remainder to come in November.  The six brave souls assembled were keen to tackle every last knotty problem in the Greek text, though some may have suffered more than others in the attempt.  As I explained to more than one person over dinner, the format was to go round the group in order with each student reading aloud then translating, and the tutor helping and commenting.  We did in fact manage the to achieve the scheduled 809 lines by means of a spirited joint attack on the chorus at the end.

I think this was about the most rewarding Greek reading group I’ve been to,  probably due to having a small group and a text that forced itself in people’s attention, as well as a very inspiring tutor.  The other candidate would be doing Aristotle with the great and good Barbara Goward, where once again the text made claims that a rather small group could not dismiss as that’s all very lovely.

We had a talk from Malcolm Schofield, Emeritus Professor of Ancient Philosophy at Cambridge, and he also called the Agamemnon the most formidable text in surviving Greek literature.  Apart from that, he was talking about love and the Symposium, where Aristophanes had defined love as the desire for wholeness, Agathon as the desire for beauty, and Diotima as the desire for immortal goodness.  After that, Alcibiades had rather muddied the waters.  One was not meant to understand the character of Socrates, and there was a lot about him that was unappealing.

We also had a meeting to discuss future texts for the Advanced groups, and I discovered (what I had not noticed) a set pattern:  Homer for both groups in February, a shorter text for both the poetry and prose groups in May, and one longer piece of poetry/prose occupying both September and November.

In giving general suggestions for courses on my feedback form, I suggested that on the one hand Madingley could do life skills courses aimed at their specific demographic (to be based on research evidence of course):  Preparing for retirement, Managing your investments, while on the other hand recidivist readers of classical texts might benefit from some systematic instruction in linguistics, a course in Proto-Indo-European/historical linguistics, a course on the Ancient Economy (especially demography).

You can see the Madingley course listing here.  Do feel free to  write to me  if you have a query about all this I might be able to help with!





Texts for Advanced Greek at Madingley Hall in 2013

August 10, 2012

Apollo and Python

Madingley have written as follows:

There are four Reading Greek weekends planned for the following dates:
15 – 17 February 2013
24 – 26 May 2013
13 – 15 September 2013
29 November – 1 December 2013
Details of the texts to be studied during each weekend are shown belo

15 – 17 February
Homer, Odyssey 10 [ed. Stanford 1-12, Bristol Classical Press, £20]; both groups.
24 – 26 May
Homeric Hymn to Apollo [in Three Homeric Hymns, ed. Richardson, CUP green-and-yellow, £20.99] + possibly some unseen translation of the Aphrodite hymn.
Thucydides 4.1-41 [ed. Cress & Wordsworth, CUP £13.95]
13 – 15 September
Sophocles, Antigone 1-680 [ed.Griffith, CUP green-and-yellow £21.99 or ed. Brown, Aris & Phillips £18 or ed. Jebb, Bristol Classical Press £18]
Herodotus, selections from Book 1, 1-52 [ed. Sleeman, Bristol Classical Press, £16.99]
29 November – 1 December
Sophocles, Antigone 681-1353 [as above]
Herodotus 53 -94 [as above]

Odyssey XI, Madingley Hall 18-20 February

February 26, 2011

Evidence of study

This time I was determined not to lose my return ticket or my glasses or to catch a cold, and I just about managed it, though my very nice taxi driver did manage to miss the Madingley turning on the drive from the station, which ended up costing me some money…

The ten of us in our group had little difficulty in disposing of the 640 or so lines of Odyssey XI in the nine hours (6 x 1.5 hour sessions) available.  Elizabeth Warren our instructor described us as well-prepared and eager to share our views.  She also produced a photo of her husband holding a winnowing-fan to show how it might be confounded with an oar (or rather, the other way round).

Cambridge. February.

Peter Jones gave a talk on the Saturday evening.  After treating us to an imitation of ‘dear old Enoch’ Powell as part of his mission to bring classics to the masses, he said that a certain number of lines in Od. XI didn’t make sense, and furthermore there were large-scale errors in composition.  Tiresias never did tell Odysseus how to get home, and it looked as though a catalogue of Theban women had been inserted for no reason.  Odysseus had gone from summoning the spirits of the dead to travelling through the underworld without any explanation, and the suddenly cut and run at the very thought of a Gorgon’s head.

In the taxi back to the station, I had an interesting talk with a young woman who had been doing Forensic Facial Reconstruction and felt it would be practically useful to her in her future career.

New Testament Greek, Madingley Hall 4-6 February

February 7, 2011


1 Peter with anxious annotations


I had set myself some simple performance targets this time:

i)  do not have a cold;

ii) do not lose return ticket.

In the event, I found that I had managed to leave most of the course papers behind.  I also managed to leave my glasses in the taxi.  And on the Sunday I woke up with a cold.

This time round, there were nine of us, and we managed our quota of 50 verses in a 90-minute session easily enough.  The texts covered were:

Luke  1-15

1 Peter 1-5

1 Maccabees 1

Psalms 22 and 137.

Of these, Peter was a bit tricky at the beginning, while people definitely appreciated 1 Maccabees.  Dr John Taylor, our tutor, gave a talk entitled ‘Between the testaments’ on the Saturday evening; he also seemed to have decided it was his job to keep the course members supplied with wine.

We had a sensible and non-garrulous female taxi driver for the drive to the station at the end, and I didn’t lose my return ticket.

Greek Texts at Madingley Hall 2011

January 7, 2011

Madingley Hall again (from

Here are the texts advertised for this year:
18 – 20 February
A. & B. Homer, Odyssey Book 11 ed. Stanford (BCP) £20
27 – 29 May
A. Theocritus, Selected Idylls ed. Hunter (CUP) £18.99 [all poems to be read]
B. Theophrastus, Characters ed. Ussher (BCP) £16.99 [selection pgs 33 to 209 inclusive]
9 – 11 September
A. Euripides, Iphigeneia at Aulis Loeb vol. VI £15.95 or Oxford Classical Text Vol. III £25 [lines 1 – 800]
B. Plato, Protagoras ed. Denyer (CUP) £17.99 [309a1 – 328d1]
11 -13 November
A. Euripides, Iphigeneia at Aulis [lines 801 – end]
B. Plato, Protagoras [334c7 – 348c4, 353c1 – 354e2, 358a1 – 358d5, 360e6 – 362a3]

I personally have signed up for Odyssey XI and I imagine I’ll give Protagoras a go.  There is more information (including courses at other levels) to be found here.

New Testament Greek at Madingley Hall, 4-6 February 2011

July 30, 2010

Madingley Hall

I have received from the tutor John Taylor the following suggestions for texts for next February’s NT Greek at Madingley Hall:

Psalms 22 and 137 (=LXX 21 and 136) [40 verses]
I Maccabees ch 1 [64 verses]
Luke chs 13-15 [101 verses]
I Peter chs 1-5 [105 verses]

In this context, it’s probably a good thing that the Hebrew original of Maccabees has disappeared–that will stop people from worrying about what the text really said, which is often a cause of concern when reading the Septuagint.

If you’re interested in the course, I’m sure it will be fine to email John Taylor with queries about the course content.   Or you can also consult my posting on the 2010 course here.

Greek Lyric Poetry Madingley Hall 28-30 May

May 30, 2010

This course was based on Campbell’s Greek Lyric Poetry (shown above);  since I had owned the book for 28 years without making any use of it I thought I would give the course a try.  In the event, there were eight of us (of whom three were still working for a living) under the direction of Tony Verity.  We had six 90-minute sessions of read-translate-discuss and one evening lecture from a visiting lecturer (Dr Renaud Gagné). And we also had one modern Greek poem in honour of our Modern Greek course member, who had come all the way from Modern Greece to be with us (and visit her son in London).

Those of us who were still working for a living did feel that there was slightly too much general discussion and slightly too little engagement with the specific texts.  I think the most popular items were the longer fragments of Sappho and also a folk-song that was nice and simple.

The participants in the other Advanced Greek course, who had been studying ‘Everyday Greek’ in the form of letters excavated from the Oxyrhynchus rubbish tip were certainly well content.  I think that both of these (letters and lyrics) were deviations from what is normally done on these courses, and the letters were the more successful.

And here with great pedantry is what we covered:

Greek Lyric Poetry ed. David Campbell. Bristol Classical Press

Archilochus 1, 2, 6,7 , 22, 25,60, 66, 103, 104, 112, [if time, 196A]

Tyrtaeus 9

Semonides 1

Alcman 26

Mimnermus 1,2

Solon 5, 10, 13,24

Sappho 1, 2, 31, 47, 94[1-17], 96, 105a, 105c, 130, Fr.Adesp. 976

Alcaeus 326,332,346,347,357, 333

lbycus 286,287

Anacreon 348, 358, 359, 360, 395,413,417

Xenophanes 2,10, 13, 18

Theognis 39-68, 237-54

Hipponax Frag.Adesp.

Simonides 581, 83d, 92d, 99d, 121d, 135d, 122d

Carm. Pop. 848

Scolia 884, 887, 893, 894

Here, italics mean that we didn’t actually cover it; conversely bold means we covered it even though it wasn’t on the original list.

And here’s Η ξανθούλα (by Dionysios Solomos, regarded as the first poet of modern Greece):

Την είδα την ξανθούλα,
την είδα ‘ψες αργά
που εμπήκε στη βαρκούλα
να πάει στην ξενιτιά.

Εφούσκωνε τ’ αέρι
λευκότατα πανιά
ωσάν το περιστέρι
που απλώνει τα φτερά.

Εστέκονταν οι φίλοι
με λύπη με χαρά
κι αυτή με το μαντίλι
τους αποχαιρετά.

Και το χαιρετισμό της
εστάθηκα να ειδώ,
ως που η πολλή μακρότης
μου το ‘κρυψε κι αυτό.

Σ’ ολίγο, σ’ ολιγάκι
δεν ήξερα να πω
αν έβλεπα πανάκι
ή του πελάγου αφρό.

Και αφού πανί, μαντίλι
εχάθη στο νερό
εδάκρυσαν οι φίλοι
εδάκρυσα κ’ εγώ.

Δεν κλαίγω για τη βαρκούλα
δεν κλαίγω τα πανιά
μόν’ κλαίγω την Ξανθούλα
που πάει στην ξενιτιά.

Δεν κλαίγω τη βαρκούλα
με τα λευκά πανιά
μόν’ κλαίγω την Ξανθούλα
με τα ξανθά μαλλιά.

(Performances here.)

New Testament Greek Madingley Hall 12-14 February

February 15, 2010


Picture of Madingley Hall--it's outside Cambridge


This course took place over the weekend, from Friday evening to Sunday lunchtime.  There were 7 teaching sessions of 90 minutes each: one on Saturday evening, four on Saturday and two on Sunday.  Six of these sessions consisted of the students in turn reading two or three verses aloud and translating them, while in the after-dinner talk on Saturday the lecturer gave a talk on ‘Acts and the Classical World’.

To give some specifics:  there were 17 students in the group–the age deistribution can be inferred from the class photo below.  Our tutor was Dr John Taylor, compiler of New Testament Greek:  A Reader, who took great care to make sure that nobody should feel embarrassed or humiliated because of not knowing something or making a mistake.  We covered Mark chapters 14-16, Acts chapters 12-14, Isaiah chapter 40 and Wisdom of Solomon chapter 3 (these last two being from the Septuagint and the Apocrypha rather than the NT of course).  There was a rough quota of 50 verses per session, and we finished bang on the end of the last session.

Participants were very enthusiastic about the course (and about Madingley Hall in general) and several had already been on many previous years’ editions of the same course.


Class picture from Mair's Facebook page

Class photo from Mair's Facebook page


At one meal, I had an interesting chat with a woman who had been coming to Madingley to teach Latin for 27 years.  She felt that the facilities had improved markedly over that time, while the actual Latin teaching had been more cyclical–to start off with, it had been people who had done Latin in the past and now wanted to revive it, then Beginners and Improvers had been introduced, and finally these had died off in response to last year’s increase in prices, so it was back to people reading texts.

The course will very probably run again next February, and you can see details of all Madingley Hall courses here.

There’s a general overview of what I know about provision for studying NT Greek here.