Ancient language

An Introduction to Lucian of Samosata: Ancient Science Fiction?

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Long before Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin set foot on the Moon in 1969, Lucian of Samosata and a band of heroes were travelling in outer space, encountering alien life-forms, interplanetary war and artificial intelligence. Lucian’s ‘True History’, and successive writings like Kepler’s ‘Somnium’, illustrates that dreams to reach the moon and beyond have long been in the minds of humanity. Lucian calls his work ‘The True History’. He claims it to be false and yet is there some truth after all? Where have Lucian’s claims come from? Is there mythological and ideological basis behind Lucian’s imagined journey? And has this fake ‘true’ history acted in any way to inspire humanity to make their dream of moon landing a reality?

At first appearance the True History appears almost absurd. Wine flavoured fish, talking trees, horse-vultures, sun and moon inhabitants at war, Ostrich-slingers, catapulting of huge radishes, winged acorns ridden by dog headed men, pirates sailing in giant pumpkins, cloud centaurs…etc. The story is certainly a bit different. After a war between the races of the Sun and Moon, on his subsequent trip to the underworld, he is put on trial for being alive in the land of the dead, and he meets a myriad of famous characters: the most famous of these being Homer. Lucian’s account claims the ‘true’ reason why Homer wrote the Iliad and the Odyssey…basically why not?…

Lucian’s view of truth

Lucian opens his history by stating that “Men interested in athletics and in the care of their bodies think not only of condition and exercise but also of relaxation in season; in fact, they consider this the principal part of training. In like manner students…after much reading of serious works may profitably relax their minds and put them in better trim for future labour.”

Lucian’s main concern is the relationship between truths and lies. He associates lying with the poets, historians and philosophers who ‘wrote many marvellous stories’, such as Ctesias of Cnidos and Iambulus. He asserts that his own work will allude to these ‘liars’ in an approach which is mocking and amusing. Lucian from the very start confesses that he draws satirically on the fashionable tales of the past, but what is more imperceptive is the way he draws off the very truth of human character to look to certain things and ask questions as many a scholar and poet which he draws on has done previous. Lucian admits that he himself has turned to lies but defends his choice to tell them by admitting that there is nothing worth telling that has happened to him in his monotonous life. He justifies this by claiming he will be far more reasonable in his lies that the others. Lucian continues on a tradition of illustrating the human condition through fiction.

In his declaration and following introduction, Lucian parodies the preliminary works of Socrates at the commencement of his apology and Ctesias who claimed to be telling the complete and unvarnished truth. Lucian uses authorial and narratorial voices and in doing so exemplifies the way in which the truth and fiction are constantly threatening to coalesce. So Lucian is looking to show how the falsehoods can be presented as truths. But in doing so he is still presenting us with human truths which are the foundation of natural thought processes and with cultural ideologies in his context.

The journey – reasons and significance

The journey in the ‘True History’ is indicative of imaginative expressions, expressions of our desire to give shape and being to change. Lucian uses his writing to explore topics such as generic transformation, the construction of both individual and communal subjects and the contemporary sense of an ending. Augustine of Hippo explains this concept of expression and need for explanation well in his sentiment that “it is the mind that looks for things that are being looked for by the yes or any other sense of the body (since it is the mind which directs the sense of the flesh); and it is the mind that finds what is being looked for when the sense comes upon it.” Lucian is essentially displaying a sense of self and a questioning of life’s questions by developing the enquiries already laid out for him in myths and history.

The trip across the sea

Lucian’s voyage across the sea illustrates the journey, the physical portraying imaginative and inner thought. The physical outward journey of the travellers and our narrator is used by Lucian to present the inward mental journey. In doing this Lucian is presenting truth as well as fiction. It echoes the works of Homer in the Odyssey as a parody of the search for philosophical truth. McKee attests that the sea voyage embodies many of the elements of the tradition of allegorical interpretation of the Odyssey. I argue that this attestation has merit as Odysseus’ wanderings are paralleled in the major stages of the voyage in Lucian through successive episodes of peril and discovery. In Lucian however they are in the form of the moon journey, the whale and the Land of the dead.

The Sea had become a natural association with the philosophical journey by the time Lucian penned his so-called history. It had also become a standard symbol for Homer and epic poetry. Romm makes a fair analysis of the the analogy between Homer and the Oceans concluding that it was an especially popular concept in the late first and second centuries AD, when Lucian of Samosata was composing his works. Many of Lucian’s contemporaries use the image of the sea journey in their works. Longinus, On the Sublime. 35.3-4[1] and Quintilian, Inst. Orat. 10.1.46 to name but a few.[2]

Lucian’s voyage also demonstrates myth being used to parallel narrative to create symbolic readings. Lucian draws on the images and cultural understandings of myths such as the labours of Heracles to display his truths and questions. Lucian starts by travelling through the pillars of Heracles in 1.5 and arriving at the island of the Vine-women where the voyagers find an inscription recording the visit of Heracles himself in 1.7. This voyage across the sea has also been suggested as another part of the trip to the underworld imagery where the voyage across the sea is reminiscence of the river Stix. And the three-headed horse vultures in 1.11 who guard the moon are parallel to the Cerberus character of myth. The Whale episode in Lucian 2.1 when the travellers are trapped inside and escape by setting fire to the innards, killing the whale is reminiscence again of Heracles’ adventures in the rescue of Hesione by killing the sea-monster from the inside. I argue that this is a paragon of the Heraclean ideal of virtue where fighting from inside represented battling against illusion and falsehood itself. The whale episode has also been compared to a form of ‘descent for knowledge’ which is paralleled in Plato’s allegory of the Cave and Plutarch’s cave of Trophonius in de Genio Socratis 590A-592D.[3] This is a kind of journey for truth which is a search for knowledge in relation to an escape from a prison-like space of darkness where one is isolated from reality. The episode ends when knowledge has been gained and the voyagers escape back into the real world. This entrapment with eventual resolution is a recurring theme in the True History which is seen throughout Graeco-Roman epic. It illustrates how the mind searches for truth through knowledge and experience but only at the presentation of an intellectual torpor of lack of genuine original knowledge.

Lucian also parallels Plato’s use of initiatory journeys of the mind and soul which comes from a long tradition of mythical episodes. Plato’s Republic, for instance, relates the myth of Er in 614B-621D where Er recounts how his soul left his body and travelled to a place of judgement where the souls of the judged were separated between the good and the bad. The good souls went right and up and the bad went left and down (614B-E). This episode in Plato parallels Lucian’s account of the Isles of the Blessed and the Wicked in 2.29-31.

The journey to the moon

The journey to the moon illustrates the natural instinct that humans have to look up and wonder. It is a caricature of the human imagination as Kerslake puts it. Lucian’s portrayal of the moon and the sun at war partly illustrates the disagreement between the various groups of philosophers. Again Lucian presents far more truth in his fiction. The trip to the moon parodies the soul’s journey to the beyond, an idea that has obsessed the human mind since the beginning of time. It could even be related to the boarding of Charon’s boat, if indeed the idea is that the voyagers are all ready dead as some scholars have suggested. I argue that Lucian may have been echoing the journey to the afterlife but that he was doing it in the sense of the wonderings of the living and hence the voyagers are not dead. Death does not work as well with later parts of the narrative where they cannot remain on the Island of the Blessed because they still live. The war between the sun and moon peoples also satirises the wars of the Homeric tales.

Trip to the underworld

The trip to the underworld in the True History further demonstrates Lucian’s wish to find truth and the human desire to learn what comes after death. The Isles of the Blessed and the Wicked are an imaging of the afterlife as well as a way of posing questions to the dead which stayed at the forefront of the intellectual mind in the period. McKee asserts that Lucian here parallels Plato’s dialogue Phaedo which described the final hours of Socrates’ life when he tells his followers that he does not fear death because the soul of a moral person ‘departs to the place where things are like itself – invisible, divine, immortal and wise; where on its arrival, happiness awaits it, and release from uncertainty and folly, from fears and gnawing desires, and all other human evils.’ This theme of thanatology illustrates Lucian’s conscious and unconscious need to explain the hereafter. It is a theme which still overwhelms the modern consciousness. We just need to look at modern media to see that it is a part of human nature to search for such truths. For example Philip K Dick’s novel Ubik which presents the afterlife as a strange and unnerving limbo, or Logan’s Run.

The underworld instalment includes the Isle of the Blessed, where the travellers are told that they cannot remain because they still live. Thus they can only stay seven months before they must leave and later be judged for their life’s actions upon their actual death. The episode shows what is termed by Holliday as, the ‘journey of the soul.’  This subsidiary journey of knowledge also includes the meeting of Homer and many of the philosophers whose writing’s and ideals Lucian is parodying in the True History. Ctesias and Herodotus also appear suffering punishments on the Isle of the Wicked because of their habit of lying so seen by Lucian.

The journey to discover the truth of life and death is continued in the concluding shipwreck episode of the True History. At the beginning of the narrative, Lucian tells us that the voyage’s goal is to reach the telos of the sea. Telos has many meanings in the Greek language but is also associated strongly with death and finality. The shipwreck episode has this sense of finality the equivalent of death and signifies the ending of the voyage and thus the end of this particular search for truth and knowledge.


We see that Lucian of Samosata was influenced by sources which he used to portray the ideas of truth and falsehood but have Lucian’s narratives stemmed from a deeper ideology and influenced later ones. We can see why many scholars have previously focused on how close Lucian’s True History is to modern day science fiction as science fiction is both symptomatic of cultural disruption and an expression of our desire for advancement and knowledge, using the future and the surreal to comment of the present and familiar as Lucian does.

The True History is also significant as it continues a theme very close to Lucian’s personal values. This theme is vastly seen in his earliest pieces such as his ‘Instructions for writing history’ where he bade the historian first to get sure facts, then tell them in due order, simply and without exaggeration or toil after fine writing. Lucian’s quest for the truth continues as he advises that the historian should aim not less at an enduring grace given by Nature to the Art that does not stray from her, and simply speaks the highest truth it knows. The dialogues of Lucian also aim at protecting against false opinions by bringing the satire of the likes of Aristophanes and the sarcasm of Menippus into disputations that sought to dispel false idols before setting upon discovering the truth.

You can see why it isn’t generally mentioned among the classics. The ‘True History’ seems a bit far-fetched for any audience. But if you want to read something different, written way back in the second century before the advent of Stargate, Mars Attacks and Independence Day, then I suggest you give it a look. And as we have seen, there is much truth behind Lucian’s fantasy. The basic structure of the True History deals with the concept of separate worlds between the living and the dead which is analogous with religious ideals. Parody and allusion are used constantly to create Utopian visions combining history and myth to answer questions of the mind and soul.[4][5] The True History is a means of commenting on the existing or potential conditions of Lucian’s field and society in fantastical settings. This is not so far removed from the political and social criticism of modern Science Fiction, for, in the ancient context especially; philosophy incorporates not only metaphysical, but also political and scientific concerns.

[1] Therefore even the whole world is not wide enough for the soaring range of human thought, but man’s mind often overleaps the very bounds of space. When we survey the whole circle of life, and see it abounding everywhere in what is elegant, grand, and beautiful, we learn at once what is the true end of man’s being. 4 And this is why nature prompts us to admire, not the clearness and usefulness of a little stream, but the Nile, the Danube, the Rhine, and far beyond all the Ocean.

[2] I shall, I think, be right in following the principle laid down by Aratus in the line, “With Jove let us begin,” and in beginning with Homer. He is like his own conception of Ocean,which he describes as the source of every stream and river; for he has given us a model and an inspiration for every department of eloquence.

[3] “He said that on descending into the oracular crypt his first experience was of profound darkness; next, after a prayer, he lay a long time not clearly aware whether he was awake or dreaming. It did seem to him, however, that at the same moment he heard a crash and was struck on the head, and that the sutures parted and released his soul. As it withdrew and mingled joyfully with air that was translucent and pure, it felt in the first place that now, after long being cramped it had again found relief, and was growing larger than before, spreading out like a sail; and next that it faintly caught the whir of something revolving overhead with a pleasant sound.  When he lifted his eyes the earth was nowhere to be seen; but he saw islands illuminated by one another with soft fire, taking on now one colour, now another, like a dye, as the light kept varying with their mutations.

[4] Utopian visions – utopian philosophical schemes, such as Plato, may also have been an important source for Lucian; these are parodied most extensively in the visit to the Isle of the Blessed, but some of the details of the life of the moonmen seem to be drawn from utopian visions – (ferguson (1975), Doyne Dawson (1992)

[5] Swanson (1975) suggests that Lucian’s VH ‘exposes philosophy, ostensibly a mode of inquiry into truth, as being patently effective, once it has come to a terminus in belief, only to the degree that it serves falsehood’ and proposes that the narrative can best be categorized as “philosophical science fiction”. P.230-231


 [A1]The man in the moone – Page 135 Godwin, William Poole – 2009 – 176 pages – Preview

Appendix B: From Lucian of Samosata, The True History [The ironist Lucian of Samosata (c. 125-c. But it is in Lucian’s True History that the moon is properly explored. The translation excerpted below is that of Francis Hickes,

Collected Ancient Greek Novels – Page 619 P. Reardon – 2008 – 827 pages – Preview

LUCIAN A TRUE STORY TRANSLATED BY BP REARDON Introduction The name of Lucian is well enough known, but usually one thinks of him not as a writer of romance but as a satirist. He did, however, write some works that we should characterize

Lucian and the Latins: humor and humanism in the early Renaissance – Page 187 Marsh – 1998 – 232 pages – Preview

Lucian, True History. 1.3. For the Odyssey as “lying” model for Lucian. see Dane 1988, 70-73, “The Traveler’s Tale and the Lie”; for the Odyssey as the primordial hypertext of Western literature, see Genette 1982, 200-201. 20.

Lucian‘s True history (of Samosata.) – 1902 – 117 pages – Snippet view

LUCIAN: HIS TRUE HISTORY. EVEN as champions and wrestlers and such as practise the strength and agility of body are not only careful to retain a sound constitution of health, and to hold on their ordinary course of exercise,

Homosexuality in Greece and Rome: a sourcebook of basic documents – Page 471 K. Hubbard – 2003 – 558 pages – Preview

10.11 Lucian, True History 1.22 The True History was a kind of science fiction novella, based on fantastic voyages to faraway places populated by strange races with unique customs. I should like to describe the novel and unusual things

Trips to the Moon – Page 33 of Samosata – 2007 – 100 pages – Preview

Lucian’s True History, therefore, like the Duke of Buckingham’s Rehearsal, cannot be half so agreeable as when it was first written; there is, however, enough remaining to secure it from contempt. The vein of rich fancy, and wildness of

Utopian thought in the Western World – Page 103 Edward Manuel, Fritzie Prigohzy Manuel – 1979 – 896 pages – Preview

Virtually all the major Utopian themes of the novelistic Greek Utopias are parodied in the True Story of Lucian. This second-century rhetorician and satirist had served as an administrator for the Romans in Egypt, and in the spirit of

The library of wit and humor, prose and poetry: selected from the …: Volume 4 Rand Spofford, Rufus Edmonds Shapley – 1894 – Snippet view

THE TRUE HISTORY. (Translated by W. Tooke.) [LcciAN, a classic satirist and humorist of the first merit, Lucian was one of that class of men who do not readily embrace any form of religion — men whose sharp critical eyes see too

Lucian‘s science fiction novel, True histories: interpretation and … – Page 5 Georgiadou, David Henry James Larmour – 1998 – 254 pages – Preview

Allegory was well-established as a literary and philosophical technique before Lucian’s day and was current at the aim is to propagandize social change, imaginary voyages like Lucian’s The True History, Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels.



Welcome to GraecoMuse!

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This site is aimed at similar people who are interested in archaeology, ancient history, philology and epigraphy. Interesting stories, archaeological tidbits and blogs will be put up as I partake in digs myself and come across things to share.

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The Language of Trees: Ogham (Archaic Irish Script)

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One of the stranger ancient scripts one might come across, Ogham is also known as the ‘Celtic Tree Alphabet’. Estimated to have been used from the fourth to the tenth century AD it is believed to have been possibly named after the Irish god Ogma but this is debated widely. Ogham actually refers to the characters themselves, the script as a whole is more appropriately named Beith-luis-nin after the order of alphabet letters BLFSN.

Ogham and Pictish symbols on a stone from Brandsbutt in Aberdeenshire


The script originally contained twenty letters grouped into four groups of five. Five more letters were later added creating a fifth group. Each of these groups was named after its first letter. There are some four to five hundred surviving ogham inscriptions throughout Britain and Ireland with the largest number appearing in Pembrokeshire. The rest of the inscriptions were located around south-eastern Ireland, Scotland, Orkney, the Isle of Man and around the border of Devon and Cornwall. Ogham was used to write in Archaic Irish, Old Welsh and Latin mostly on wood and stone and is based on a high medieval Briatharogam tradition of ascribing the name of trees to individual characters. The inscriptions containing Ogham are almost exclusively made up of personal names and marks of land ownership.

Origin Theories

There are four popular theories discussing the origin of Ogham. The differing theories are unsurprising considering that the script has similarities to ciphers in Germanic runes, Latin, elder futhark and the Greek alphabet.

The first theory is based on the work of scholars such as Carney and MacNeill who suggest that Ogham was first created as a cryptic alphabet designed by the Irish. They assert that the Irish designed it in response to political, military and/or religious reasons so that those with knowledge of just Latin could not read it.

The second theory is held by McManus who argues that Ogham was invented by the first Christians in early Ireland in a quest for uniqueness. The argument maintains that the sounds of the primitive Irish language were too difficult to transcribe into Latin.

Page of the Book of Ballymote

The third theory states that the Ogham script from invented in West Wales in the fourth century BC to intertwine the Latin alphabet with the Irish language in response to the intermarriage between the Romans and the Romanized Britons. This would account for the fact that some of the Ogham inscriptions are bilingual; spelling out Irish and Brythonic-Latin.

The fourth theory is supported by MacAlister and used to be popular before other theories began to overtake it. It states that Ogham was invented in Cisalpine Gaul around 600 BC by Gaulish Druids who created it as a hand signal and oral language. MacAliser suggests that it was transmitted orally until it was finally put into writing in early Christian Ireland. He argues that the lines incorporated into Ogham represent the hand by being based on four groups of five letters with a sequence of strokes from one to five. However, there is no evidence for MacAlisters theory that Ogham’s language and system originated in Gaul.

Mythical theories for the origin of Ogham also appear in texts from the eleventh to fifteenth centuries. The eleventh century Lebor Gabala Erenn tells that Ogham was invented soon after the fall of the tower of Babel, as does the fifteenth century Auraicept na n-eces text. The Book of Babymote also includes ninty-two recorded secret modes of writing Ogham written in 1390-91.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)”]
Ogham alphabet [non-IPA]
Ogham Consonants

The Characters

  • Right side/downward strokesB beith [b] (*betwias)
    • luis [l]
    • fearn [w] (*wernā)
    • saille [s] (*salis)
    • nuin [n]
  • Left side/upward strokes
    • úath [j]?
    • duir [d] (*daris)
    • tinne [t]
    • coll [k] (*coslas)
    • ceirt [kʷ] (*kʷertā)
  • Across/pendicular strokes
    • muin [m]
    • gort [ɡ] (*gortas)
    • NG gétal [ɡʷ] (*gʷēddlan)
    • straif [sw] or [ts]?
    • ruis [r]Ogham alphabet (non-IPA)
      Vowels and Additional Characters
  • notches (vowels)
    • ailm [a]
    • onn [o] (*osen)
    • úr [u]
    • edad [e]
    • idad [i]
Examples of Ogham Texts
Irish Language in Ogham
The stone of Lugnaedon son of Limenueh


Latin in Ogham Script
Numus honoratur sine. Numo nullus amatur.
Money is honoured, without money nobody is loved
From: The Annals of Inisfallen of 1193

Additional Reading

Carney, James. The Invention of the Ogam Cipher ‘Ériu’ 22, 1975, pp 62 –3, Dublin: Royal Irish Academy
Macalister, Robert A.S. The Secret Languages of Ireland, pp27 – 36, Cambridge University Press, 1937
Macalister, Robert A.S. Corpus inscriptionum insularum celticarum. First edition. Dublin: Stationery Office, 1945-1949.
McManus, Damian. Ogam: Archaizing, Orthography and the Authenticity of the Manuscript Key to the Alphabet, Ériu 37, 1988, 1-31. Dublin: Royal Irish Academy.
McManus, Damian. A Guide to Ogam, Maynooth 1991.
MacNeill, Eoin. Archaisms in the Ogham Inscriptions, ‘Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy’ 39, pp 33–53, Dublin

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Important Rules to Remember When Learning Ancient Greek Part 2

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Well with part one of ‘Important Rules to Remember When Learning Ancient Greek’ being the most viewed post in last three months, let me present you with part two. Important rules to remember when looking at the imperfective and the aorist. Hopefully this will be helpful in remembering terms and simple rules when you are in the process of learning or improving your Greek.

The secondary active suffixes

MS 2649 LEVITICUS 10:15 - 11:3; 11:12 - 47; 12:8 - 13:6; 23:20 - 30; 25:30 - 40
  • Kind of action = verbal aspect
  • Past tenses of the active indicative = Imperfect and Aorist
  • Greek verbs have three sets of forms for indicating action in past time
    • Imperfective aspect = imperfect indicative
    • Aoristic aspect = aorist indicative
    • Perfective aspect = pluperfect indicative
  • Past time is indicated by the prefixing of the past time morpheme = AUGMENT ε
  • Augment appears only in secondary tenses
  • All aorists and imperfects use Greek secondary suffixes (For a full list of the secondary suffixes see Black, p.49)

The imperfect active indicative

  • Imperfect tense = augmenting the present stem, attaching the connecting vowels ο/ε, adding secondary suffix
1st Person Singular:   ἔ-λυ-ον = I was releasing
2nd Person Singular: ἔ-λυ-ες
3rd Person Singular:  ἔ-λυ-ε(ν)
1st Person Plural:        ἐ-λύ-ομεν
2nd Person Plural:      ἐ-λύ-ετε
3rd Person Plural:       ἔ-λυ-ον
The Aorist active indicative
  • Aorist Active Indicative = augment, add aoristic aspect morpheme σα, add secondary active suffix
  • Major difference = aoristic aspect morpheme
1st Person Singular:   ἔ-λυ-σα = I released
2nd Person Singular: ἔ-λυ-σας
3rd Person Singular:  ἔ-λυ-σε
1st Person Plural:        ἐ-λύ-σαμεν
2nd Person Plural:      ἐ-λύ-σατε
3rd Person Plural:       ἔ-λυ-σαν

Amalgamation in the aorist tense

  • When aoristic aspect morpheme σα added
  • Same kind of modifications are made in the final consonants of the stem as are made when the future time morpheme σ is added to form the future stem
  • Κ, γ, χ + σ = ξ
  • Π, β, φ + σ = ψ
  • Τ, δ, θ +σ = σ

The Augment

  • Several important allomorphs
  • If the verb stem begins with a consonant = ADDITIVE MORPHEME = SYLLABIC AUGMENT
  • If the verb stem begins with a short vowel = PROCESS MORPHEME, TEMPORAL AUGMENT = lengthens the short vowel to the corresponding long vowel
  • If the verb begins with a long vowel/long diphthong = ZERO MORPHEME AUGMENT = no visible phonetic change
  • Some Greek verbs take a double augment = both an additive and a process morpheme = αγω = αγαγ- = ηγαγον
  • Some are irregular = εχω = ειχον

The imperfect indicative of ειμι

  • Its person-number suffixes are those of the secondary active tenses with the exception of the first person singular = middle/passive suffix, and 3rd Singular = takes a nu

First and second Aorists

Panel from an Ivory box (The Maskell Ivories), Rome, Present Location: British Museum, Date: 420-430
  • Two basic patterns
  • Difference is one of form only
  • -ed
  • First Aorists have σα aoristic aspect morpheme
  • Most Greek verbs have first aorist forms
  • Second aorist forms are identical to the forms of the imperfect tense except for their stems
  • The second aorist differs from the imperfect by differences within the stem itself
  • The only difference between the imperfect and the second aorist indicative is that the imperfect is formed on the present stem, while the second aorist is formed on the aorist stem = VOWEL GRADATION = like the English ‘sing’/’sang’
  • Some verbs form their second Aorists by substituting entirely different forms = SUPPLETIVES = λεγω = ειπον eg. Went and go

Second aorist stems

  • Add the augment and imperfect ending to the second aorist stem
  • The second aorist is translated exactly the same as the first aorist
  • The original stem of a Greek verb is often preserved in the second aorist

Uses of the imperfect and aorist

  • PROGRESSIVE IMPERFECT = continuous action in the past = I kept loosing
  • CUSTOMARY IMPERFECT = habitual action in the past = I used to loose
  • CONATIVE IMPERFECT = attempted action in the past = I tried to loose
  • INCEPTIVE IMPERFECT = initiation of an action in the past = I began to loose
  • CONSTATIVE AORIST = views an action in its totality = was built
  • INGRESSIVE AORIST = emphasises beginning of an action = lived
  • EFFECTIVE AORIST = views action from the vantage point of the conclusion = I have learned

Resources that may help you further:

Perseus Vocabulary Tools

New Testament Greek Grammar Books

Learn to Read New Testament Greek, Third Edition, By: David Alan Black

Little Greek 101

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Important Rules to Remember When Learning Ancient Greek Part 1

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There are many reasons why one may study ancient Greek and Koine Greek; as a student of the classics, archaeology, new testament studies, pure interest, but when we learn a new language we are often bowled over by the amount of rules and terms to remember with just the basics. So in response to some of my students I am here providing some of the most important rules when learning basic Greek so one can remember them, refer to them and read the Greek better.

The Alphabet:

  • 24 Letters, many similar to English ones
  • 7 vowels
  • Short vowels = α  ε  ι  ο  υ
  • Long vowels = α  η  ι  ω  υ = note Eta and Omega are long forms of Epsilon and Omicron
  • Γγ is pronounced as ng. Thus ἅγγελος is angelos (angel)
  • There is still debate over how eta is pronounced
  • Iota can sometimes behave as a consonant when it begins a work (ie. Like a Y in English). Thus IAKWB is Yakob
  • Ensure that there is a difference in sound between k and x, by over-emphasising the h sound in x.
  • Watch Nu – it looks like an English V
  • Watch Rho – it looks like an English P
  • The letter sigma is written in two different ways, depending on where it is in the word. Lunate sigma at end of word. Eg. χριστός
  • It can often be helpful to know that in English words derived from Greek the U has become a Y, eg. Mystery
  • DIPHTHONG = Two different vowels combined into one syllable
  • Four sibilants or s sounds = ζ ξ σ ψ

Accents and Breathings:

  • Rough breathing mark ( = initial h
  • Smooth breathing mark ) = no initial h sound
  • E(n = one = hen
  • E)n = in = en
  • Initial rho and upsilon always have the rough breathings, eg. ῥῆμα (word) and ὑποκριτής (hypocrite)
  • With a rho = H not pronounced
  • If with a capital letter = breathing goes to left
  • Acute /
  • Grave \

    Oldest Known Image of Jesus from Duras Europos 235AD
  • Circumflex ~
  • Accents occasionally distinguish between words that are otherwise identical. Eg. εἰ means ‘if’; εἶ means ‘you are’
  • Accents serve to indicate which syllable in a Greek word is to be stressed in pronunciation
  • Apostrophe indicates the omission of the final short vowel before a word that begins with a vowel or a diphthong δι’ αὐτου= (through him)
  • This is called ELISION
  • DIAERESIS (¨) occurs where two vowels that normally combine to form a diphthong are to be pronounced separately
  • CORONIS (‘) indicates the combination of two words with the loss of an intermediate letter or letters. Combination of two words = CRASIS eg. I’m, eg. κἀγώ = καί ἐγω “and I”

Present and Future Verbs:

  • ACTIVE VOICE = subject is performing an action
  • PASSIVE VOICE = subject is being acted upon
  • MIDDLE VOICE = subject is pictured as acting in its own interest
  • AFFIRMATION is said to be INDICATIVE mood
  • Express a command = IMPERATIVE mood
  • Express a contingency = SUBJUNCTIVE mood
  • Express a verbal idea without limiting it by person and number = INFINITIVE MOOD
  • Expresses a polite request = OPTATIVE mood
  • PRIMARY (or PRINCIPLE) TENSES = present, future, perfect and future perfect
  • SECONDARY (or HISTORICAL) TENSES = imperfect, aorist and pluperfect
  • Greek has separate sets of person-number suffixes for the primary tenses and for the secondary tenses
  • Greek adds a vowel before the suffixes –men and –te = CONNECTING VOWEL
  • By removing the –w we obtain the present stem
  • The conjugation of present active indicative of –w verb = substitute present stem of that verb, add primary suffices with appropriate connecting vowels
  • Greek indicates future time by adding a sigma to the present stem = FUTURE TIME MORPHEME = ‘will’ equivalent
  • When the stem of a verb ends in a consonant, a phonological change will occur when the future time morpheme sigma is attached.
  • Π, β, φ, + σ = ψ
  • Κ, γ, χ + σ = ξ
  • Τ, δ, θ drop out before the σ
  • ‘Not’ is expressed by the adverb οὐ
  • Used with the indicative mood
  • μή is used with all other moods
  • Both precede the word to which they refer
  • Finite verbs convey = tense, voice, mood, person, and number
  • + its source (lexical or vocabulary form) of the verb

Nouns of the Second Declension:

  • NOMINATIVE = subject
  • ACCUSATIVE = object
  • GENITIVE = possessor
  • DATIVE = indirect object
  • VOCATIVE = person or thing addressed
  • Greek nouns can be grouped together according to the manner in which their endings change
  • Change in case and number
  • Number = singular or plural
  • Nouns with the same pattern of ending are called declensions
  • Three basic declensions in Greek
  • Second declension may be divided into two main groups = nouns whose nominative singular end in –os; and those than end in –on
  • There are also several feminine nouns of the second declension
  • Some second declension nouns are irregular in their formulation eg. ἰησοῦς
  • ABLATIVAL GENITIVE = indicates a source = ‘from a house’
  • LOCATIVE DATIVE = ‘in a field’
  • INSTRUCTIONAL DATIVE = ‘by a word’
  • Definite article = THE
  • NT writers typically placed the subject after the verb

Nouns of the First Declension:

Papyrus 66: This manuscript contains almost the complete Gospel of John
  • Next most regular declension after the second
  • Five paradigms
  • Differences between these paradigms are due to certain phonetic changes and are confined to the singular
  • No neuter nouns of the first declension
  • If the stem of a word ends in the phonemes ε, ι, or ρ, then the α of the nominative singular is retained
  • If the stem of the word ends in a sibilant phoneme then the α of the nominative singular lengthens to -ης and –η
  • If the stem ends in a phoneme other than ε, ι, ρ, or a sibilant, then the η in the nominative singular is retained throughout the singular
  • Mostly feminine
  • 112 masculine nouns of the first declension
  • All five paradigms have the same plural endings
  • Prepositions with One Case
    • Used with a noun (or pronoun) in order to clarify the relationship of the noun to some other word in a sentence
    • Located before the noun = PRE-POSITION
    • In Greek, numerous prepositions take a single case, but others take two or even three cases
    • Four Greek Prepositions that are used with a single case
    • Απο = takes genitive case = from, away from, of = αφ’ before rough breathing
    • Εις = takes accusative case = into, to, for, in
    • Εκ = takes genitive case = out of, from, by
    • Εν = takes the dative case = in, within, by, with, among
    • A preposition is always to be read in conjunction with what it governs in a sentence
    • This combination is called a prepositional phrase
  • The Paradigm of the Definite Article
    • The feminine article followed the paradigm of φωνη
    • The masculine and neuter inflections follow ανθρωπος/δωρον with the exception of the nominative singular
    • The root of the definite article is the rough breathing in the nominative masculine and feminine (singular and plural) and τ elsewhere


  • A Greek adjective agrees with the noun that it modifies in gender, number, and case.
  • Most adjectives will therefore have 24 forms like the article
  • Called THREE-TERMINATION ADJECTIVES as have for masculine, feminine and neuter
  • Smaller number of TWO-TERMINATION ADJECTIVES with no separate forms for the feminine
  • Frequently these include COMPOUND ADJECTIVES = composed of two of more constituent parts eg. Αδυνατος ‚impossible‛
  • Feminine forms follow the first declension
  • Masculine and neuter forms follow the second declension
  • When stem ends in ε, ι, or ρ, the feminine singular will use α; otherwise it will use η
  • Summary of the Uses of the Adjective

Resources that may help you further:

Perseus Vocabulary Tools

New Testament Greek Grammar Books

Learn to Read New Testament Greek, Third Edition, By: David Alan Black

Little Greek 101

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Survivor PhD: Close Encounters of the First Kind

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In the beginning there was the word and the word was ahhhhh! Ok so I started a PhD and the first thing i found out was that this was…actually i found out nothing at all. The first year of a PhD is not exactly what you would term structured. The reality is that you are likely to be told to just ‘ready steady GO!’ The same is generally said for any postgrad and the way to react is very simple and should, and will, be followed to the letter: 1.) Celebrate (Woo! I got in!), 2.) PANIC!!!

So let me tell you how it is, this odd and unique experience, the first year of a very long period where you feel like you are achieving nothing and drink way too much tea.

In the words of a very wise colleague of mine ‘If you don’t regularly have a breakdown, you are doing it wrong!’ But ultimately, in the run of things, if you are not enjoying it you are also doing it wrong. That is the thing with a PhD you see, its your chance to finally do what you want to do, to research what you want to research, to go where NO STUDENT HAS GONE BEFORE! *cough* sorry, side tracked…Basically one does a PhD not to add to the research of the age but because they have a love of a subject and they want to find out more. If you are doing it for the sake of doing it then you are going to have four years of misery, too many energy drinks and no money for no reason, which is frankly a waste.

Lets take me, after all I am the one writing this, I think, yes it’s definitely me…as you can see doing a PhD can make you quite erratic, eccentric and noticeably tired even in the middle of a relaxing weekend. But I research what I research because I find it interesting and I not only see the benefits of my research for future students of history but for myself. In my first year as a PhD student I developed awesome researching skills, read a ridiculous amount of interesting hypotheses (most of which I decided were arguable) and I finally learnt to touch type after twenty-one years in a technology age (it was seriously about time). I stressed over time and work loads and whether my topic was original but I loved what I was doing and that made it worth my while.

But we come back to the same point we started with; when one starts one does not have a clue where to go, what to do and generally why one is doing it. The university only gives you so much direction so let me share some of my wisdom for those of you starting out, continuing or who are just interested. In the words of Corporal Jones DON’T PANIC! Well panic a little bit, that’s healthy, but don’t stress out. No one knows what they are doing at the start, you are not there by a fluke (imposter-syndrome is very common – I have always been a sufferer myself), people are interested in what you have to say and don’t take any criticism to heart.

The best thing to do is read, read like you have never read before! It is very rare for someone to start out knowing exactly what they want to do and even when they do it doesn’t often work out the same as what it started. Don’t panic if you only have a general topic, it took a super intelligent Doctor I know two and a half years of his PhD to work out what on earth he was going to write about. Obviously don’t fluff around but one can only benefit from knowing their topic area from all angles first and then deciding where to take it.

You WILL be prone to procrastination. I certainly found new and exciting ways to waste my time. When you work as hard as is required with a PhD this is actually healthy in my opinion. About the only time my brain turned off the Greek translations, medical jargon and epigraphic analysis was during an episode of QI or a random trip to the supermarket to buy new eyeliner and chocolate which I didn’t need. FYI you will forget fruit and vegetables within the first few months and convert to instant meals, try to avoid this if possible…I’m not sure it’s possible…

Everyone’s first year goes a little differently, there is no structured instructions because they would never apply to everyone involved. The thing to do is work out what works for you, discuss it with your academics, your peers, your pets, and then accept that it isn’t going to go as planned. Love what you are doing, if you don’t you will go mad. You may go mad anyway but generally in a more lovable way.  So keep this in mind after your 20th coca cola of the week. You are not alone, we are watching! Twilight Zone Theme