Karilyn Sheldon joined Concord Academy’s Modern and Classical Languages Department as a Latin teacher in 2018. Now, she is offering a new advanced elective, Ancient Greek, in STACs 5 and 6 this year. The class will give an introduction to the Greek language while discussing the cultures, politics, and history of the ancient world in similar depth to other Advanced Latin courses.
As an archaeologist, Karilyn says, “As much as I love digging in the dirt, it’s actually when you study the language and you connect with people through their thoughts that you get to dig into humanity.” With this in mind, Karilyn is hoping that after a few weeks of learning new alphabets, inflected systems, and various verb forms, the class will begin reading some thought-provoking stories in Greek.
The Greeks were diasporic – the geography and topography of Greece formed city-states with different dialects and separate cultural practices. Yet they were bound together by the same set of myths, legends, and fables. Therefore, the second half of the Ancient Greek class will focus on reading Aesop’s fables to investigate humanity through the lens of anthropomorphized characters.
These fictions pointing to truth, as Karilyn describes, reflect and refract human behavior. They don’t belong to one group of people – new versions of myths and fables are constantly being translated and rewritten today. Students who take the Ancient Greek elective will write their own fables as the final project. Karilyn explains, “It is our kind of imperative and delight to remold ancient stories to reflect our own version of morality and experience in the world.”
However, it is necessary to tackle the complex grammatical structure of Greek before immersing oneself in fun stories. Greek has an entirely new alphabet! Karilyn shares, “[I] like the very structures of the letters themselves, and how Greeks thought about phonemes. My favorite letter [is] ksi (ξ). It is two consonants collided with each other, and then you add a vowel sound at the end so it doesn’t sound like total garbage.”
The first step in mastering this language is to write everything by hand. Karilyn says, “I believe in the kinetic and graphic power of language learning. Write it by hand as much as you can until it feels natural to work through it, to move through it, and then to think through it will come last.”
As with the study of Latin, memorizing charts is crucial to understanding Greek. Greek has almost twice as many verb cases as Latin, with a unique middle voice where a person acts on themselves and the optative mood that is only used to show desire. Karilyn emphasizes, “[The charts] are the answer keys to everything, the answer keys to unlocking the power, the meaning, and the force of a sentence.”
Don’t get too nervous, though. Karilyn encourages students, “Make mistakes, let it be messy, [and] learn from it. That’s how you will get the richest experience in Greek.”