One of the only fluent speakers of Ancient Greek spoke on campus. Twitter

One of the only fluent speakers of ancient Greek in the world, Dr. Christophe Rico, spoke on the impor­tance of studying ancient lan­guages and his work to make achieving fluency easier. Rico made his remarks during a lunch with stu­dents last Thursday. 

Dr. Rico is the director of POLIS — The Jerusalem Institute of Lan­guages and Human­ities. POLIS is a non profit aca­demic insti­tution founded by an inter­na­tional group of scholars and is located in Jerusalem, according to the website. At the Institute, many ancient tongues, including Koine Greek and Bib­lical Hebrew, are taught as living, spoken lan­guages. According to Rico, learning an ancient lan­guage is essential to under­standing texts written in that language. 

“We don’t speak ancient lan­guages for the sake of reading ancient lan­guages — that would be com­pletely silly,” Rico said. “We do it because it is the only way to read a text without a dic­tionary and without trans­lation. If you can’t do it then you will never be able to read Plato as if it were English or French.” 

Under­standing ancient lan­guages has impor­tance beyond being able to read a certain text. According to Rico, the purpose of his Institute is “for the revival of the humanities.”

“We con­tribute to the renewal of the human­ities,” Rico said. “How? By reviving and speaking ancient languages.”

As well as teaching ancient Greek, Rico is cur­rently working on a the­matic dic­tionary of Clas­sical and Neo-Clas­sical Greek, which will provide instructors and stu­dents with the tools they need to speak ancient Greek flu­ently. According to Rico, Greek in its original form stopped being spoken around the 16th century, when the Ottoman Turks ruled Greece and influ­enced the lan­guage. Now, because the lan­guage stopped evolving, ancient Greek speakers have to come up with words to describe modern items that didn’t exist 500 years ago. Rico’s dic­tionary will help to fill in those gaps.

Another issue that faces ancient Greek speakers is approx­i­mating an authentic accent. According to Assistant Pro­fessor of Classics Patrick Owens, however, it’s not as hard as it seems. 

“There’s a lit­erary tra­dition of writing dia­critical marks and accen­tu­ation into texts, so it’s not impos­sible for him to approx­imate an accent,” Owens said. 

Rico said that ancient texts leave other clues for modern scholars.

“We can better under­stand the evo­lution of Greek by looking at mis­takes,” he said. “When you see a spelling mistake in writing, it’s because the lan­guage is changing.”

Although Rico said that he could never pick a favorite philosopher, he said that he loves to read Plato.

“What I like in Plato is that very human way of making phi­losophy. It’s dia­logue, and there is always a tension in the dia­logue between two people,” he said. “And there is always a quest for the truth.”

Rico also loves to read Sophocles. “I think he’s a real genius — more pow­erful than Shake­speare,” he said. 

Ulti­mately, Rico said that reading ancient works in the original allows us to deeply under­stand both the author and the text. 

“When you read in trans­lation, you read in black and white,” Rico said. “When you read the original, you read in color.”