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25 years ago I was reasonably good in modern Greek, could read Popeye comic books and have a basic conversation with a taxi driver. I was thinking it would be a fun and challenging project to try to learn enough ancient Greek to read Homer. I assume this would take several years of pretty intensive part-time study. I'm worried/uncomfortable about interference between my remaining modern Greek and Homeric Greek.

For pronunciation, is anything likely to go wrong if I just mentally pronounce Homer using modern pronunciation? Pronouncing βλέπω as "blepo" rather than "vlepo" actually gives me an involuntary feeling of ridiculousness. It just sounds extremely silly to my ear. I don't even know if Homer rhymes or has meter, but if so, will this get messed up? For example, οίκος is two syllables in modern Greek, but I assume it's three in ancient Greek.

I'm reluctant to put a lot of effort into programming the ancient language into my brain if that then means I'll be stumbling and unable to speak if I ever go back to Greece.

  • 1
    For anyone coming here from HNQ (or similar) who was confused to see a question about Greek on Latin Language, this is on-topic. – Lightness Races with Monica Mar 26 at 12:58
  • Homers texts are good examples for Dactylic hexameter (Odýsseia and Iliás). Iliás first line: μῆνιν ἄειδε, θεά, Πηληϊάδεω Ἀχιλῆος -> dactyl, dactyl, spondee, dactyl, dactyl, spondee – Offler Mar 26 at 16:01
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The differences aren't really too intense, fortunately. Here are the big ones:

  • β, δ, γ, φ, θ, χ are fricatives in Modern Greek but plosives in Ancient Greek. If you substitute one for the other, nothing much really changes: my introductory Greek professor was from Greece and used the fricative pronunciation, and we understood him just fine.
  • Homer's Greek had a few sounds that Modern Greek has lost completely, like the English "w" and "h". These won't cause huge problems if you ignore them, though you'll sometimes see weird alternations in prefixes that won't make a lot of sense.
  • Ancient Greek had a whole lot more vowels. In Epic Greek in particular, α, ε, η, ει, ι, υ, ου, ω, ο, αι, οι, υι, ῳ, ῃ, ᾳ, ᾱ, ῑ, ῡ were all pronounced differently. Keeping their pronunciations distinct will help you keep them straight in your head, and make learning words easier.
  • Ancient Greek had vowel length. This is the big one: out of the vowels listed above, α, ε, ι, υ, ο are short, while η, ει, ου, ω, αι, οι, υι, ῳ, ῃ, ᾳ, ᾱ, ῑ, ῡ are all long. And this is what Homer's meter is primarily based on. If you pronounce the vowels like in Modern Greek, the meter won't make as much sense.

I'd suggest learning the ancient pronunciations of the vowels, but not particularly worrying about the consonants. Even if you pronounce Modern Greek a bit more like Ancient, people will still understand you (though they might think you have a bit of an accent).

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Homer does have meter. Whether or not it's worth it to learn how to read Homer's poetry aloud with meter is a matter of opinion; you'll have to decide for yourself. I think that native Greek speakers learning Homer typically give the usual modern Greek pronunciations to the letters and letter combinations (I don't know Greek at all, so don't take my word for it, but the only thing I can think of that might be different is that ι might not be given its non-syllabic value after a consonant the way it often is in modern Greek pronunciation).

The pronunciation of consonants like β isn't related to meter. The main Greek sound change that is relevant to meter is the loss of vowel and consonant length. Ancient Greek meter is based on patterns of long and short (or "heavy" and "light") syllables.

The Ancient Greek word οἶκος was two syllables, but the first syllable was heavy because it contained the diphthong οι.

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