Thursday, February 17, 2011

Greek Key

Keys have power. Think about how some people display their keys. Think about what is involved when someone gives you (or will not give you) the key to their house. I remember how hard it was to turn over my keys when I retired from the college, even though there was no reason I would need to open the practice rooms or the piano lab again.

I think it was this feeling, the feeling of someone handing us the key to something important, that made Nicodemus and me so enjoy our first class in Fourth Century Greek. Most of the people I have mentioned this to have reacted as if we were studying Trilobites in Turkestan. Three friends actually understood our enthusiasm, and one of them was the daughter of a Classics teacher.

Every time a New Testament passage comes up, N and I grumble about the various translations, always preferring the King James. The original Greek, of course, is always the same, but it is considerably different from the modern Demotic which we try to practice at dinner time, when we read the Divry’s calendar, with its historic notes, its bad jokes, and its two dates—one Julian, one Gregorian.

The second session of this class happened to be held on a night when neither of us had a rehearsal to attend or a lesson to give, and on a lark, we drove up to San Francisco, found the place, and took our seats. There were about twenty interesting-looking people in the church library, one of them in priest’s black. The teacher was a comfortable-looking woman wearing a beret who proved, in the course of two hours, to have a mind like a fine-honed steel edge.

Nicodemus took notes. I sat with my mouth open most of the time after we did a jet-speed sweep from the Phoenicians to the possibility of a class party in Greece.

So now N is trying to learn his lower-case Greek letters and I am trying to absorb the fact that what looks like an apostrophe is really an “h”, as in hoi polloi, which is pronounced the way it looks in classical Greek, but which is “ee poh-lee” (the many) in Demotic.

Just think: the next time we go to the British Museum, we’ll be able to read the Rosetta Stone!