Earlier this August, deep in a beautiful, remote resort on the Peloponnese, Professor of Classics Joseph Garnjobst spent his days diving into the discussion of Greek literature and enjoying scholarly conversation with peers in an intensive course.
Despite the obvious attraction that any classically educated student would feel towards such a course, there came one twist that made this class elite: everything was read and discussed in ancient Greek.
Following his return from this once-in-a-lifetime experience, Garnjobst plans to initiate new practices into his Introduction to Greek course this fall.
Garnjobst spent these two weeks as a part of the Living Greek in Greece intensive course offered by the Paideia Institute. The range of Greek experience among the 15 students ranged from undergraduates with one year of college Greek to professors with decades of experience, like Garnjobst.
A typical day included a morning class with readings from various writers: Plato, Longus, Aristotle, Euripides, Heraclitus, and John the Evangelist. Afternoon classes worked with “The Odyssey,” primarily focusing on books six and eight, where Odysseus encounters Nausicaa and then is welcomed by the Phaeacians. Following the last class, all the students came together to discuss the day’s work at Greek table.
“We would never translate into English, but we would paraphrase, summarize, and discuss all in Greek,” Garnjobst said.
The long days speaking Greek with peers were not without independent work. Students were expected to keep up with class assignments derived from the ancient Progymnasmata, a series of rhetorical exercises for students.
“We had to write and perform speeches in ekphrasis: description; enkomion: in praise of someone; and ethopoeia: characterization,” Garnjobst said.
Preparing for the fall semester, Garnjobst gave himself his own personal assignment: a new approach to his Introduction to Greek class. After playing with different ideas, he decided to add a spoken Greek component to his introductory course, something never done in his previous classes.
“I want to have the students hear the language every day, speak the language every day, read the language every day, and write the language every day,” Garnjobst said. “Ideally, I want to add cultural component in addition to that.”
He decided to do this by writing the Greek equivalent of a Latin book.
“I am working on a book of my own, essentially a Greek version of the ‘Lingua Latina’ book used in a previous Latin class of mine at Hillsdale,” he said.
“Lingua Latina” is a book written in Latin that introduces new vocabulary while reinforcing themes about Latin culture as well as common themes such as geography and family.
While there is an appeal to speaking a dead language, some Greek students question its initiation into the classroom.
Joshua Shaw ’17, a classics major who has taken Greek for the past two and a half years, said the spoken component of a language brings with it an additional workload.
“Speaking a language adds another dynamic to a language,” Shaw said. “It takes a lot of time and work, which makes you ask, for as much work as it is, is it really worth the amount of work? Especially if the goal of learning Greek is to access the books of the Western tradition, reading Homer and Sophocles doesn’t require that you can speak the language.”
According to Garnjobst, these additional components will enrich his students’ overall experience.
“Even for my first year Greek students, I want them to have one page of Greek to read each night,” Garnjobst said. “If I can do this, by the end of the semester they will have read a couple hundred pages of Greek. Get them that much Greek, reinforce vocabulary, and add a cultural component and you’ve got a real game changer.”
Meg Prom ’16, a former student of Garnjobst’s Latin courses, spent her summer interning for the Paideia Institute. After being sent to the Greek program that Garnjobst was attending, the two started meeting.
“Once a day, we would meet for civilization hour,” Prom said. “I had been talking to Garnjobst earlier and I mentioned to him that I wanted to learn Greek, and that I kinda wanted to learn ancient Greek and modern Greek at the same time. He needed a person like me to test his ideas. We began to try it out. Each day we would meet for an hour and a half and I would read paragraphs in Greek. It was amazing.”
Prom started from reading 300 words a day and built up to reading sections of Homer’s “Iliad.” She said Garnjobst’s proposed book and new teaching method will change the process of learning Greek for many and could perhaps even spread to other schools throughout the nation.
Speaking ancient Greek certainly will add a new dynamic to classroom learning. Garnjobst’s book will aid in the well rounded pursuit of knowledge for his students, resurrecting ancient Greece in a new way for Hillsdale’s students.