The Greek language and culture provided one of the cornerstones upon which Western civilization was based. Literary genres from tragedy and drama to comedy; political concepts from monarchy and tyranny to democracy; scientific terms from electron and atom to electricity and energy; philosophical ideas including the very words “philosophy” and “idea”; and many other important words can be traced back to Greek roots. The significance of the Greek contribution to the intellectual and artistic treasury of humankind is impossible to overestimate.
One thing that we need to be clear about when speaking of the Greek language is that it has evolved and changed over time. As a result, we have several versions of the language, each quite different from the others. From the pre-classical language of Homer's Iliad and Odyssey we go to the classical Attic language of Plato, Aristotle and Sophocles, then through the Koine of the New Testament and via Byzantine Greek of the Middle Ages we finally arrive at the modern Greek now spoken in Greece and Cyprus.
Most courses in Greek taught at North American universities are offered by the departments of the Classics, Classical Studies, or Greek and Roman Studies. The variety of Greek they teach is classical Attic Greek as we know it from the masterpieces of the ancient Greek literature of approximately VIII to III centuries BCE (Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Sappho, Plato, Herodotus, and many others). Departments of Religious Studies and Theological schools and seminaries sometimes offer courses in New Testament Greek. By the beginning of the Common Era, at about the time when Christianity emerged as a world religion, Greek (in the form of so called Koine) became a commonly spoken language all over the Eastern part of the Roman Empire. That is why the books of the New Testament were all written in Greek in spite of the fact that their authors may have been Jewish or people of other ethnicities. The choice of that language ensured that everybody would understand the Gospel stories or the apostolic epistles.
Modern Greek is a far less popular option to study, although depending on your career goal, this may be a worthwhile endeavor. Modern Greek is the official language of two countries, the Greek Republic and Cyprus. Many Greeks live in the diaspora, and their language enjoys varying degrees of official recognition in a few countries outside of Greece and Cyprus - most notably in Albania and Italy. Modern Greek is one of the official languages of the European Union. The total number of Greek speakers in the world is approximately 13 million people.
The Greek language is written down in a unique alphabet. Both the Latin (as used in most European languages) and the Cyrillic (as used in Russian, Bulgarian, Ukrainian, Serbian) alphabets were developed on the basis of the Greek alphabet. A prospective student of Greek may want to start with getting acquainted with the alphabet or basic phrases. The introduction to Greek developed by the BBC can help with that. Alternatively, this free of charge and very thoughtfully designed study plan will guide you through the elementary vocabulary and grammar all the way up to the advanced level.
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