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THE GREEK READER.
FOLLOWING the introductory books, whatever these may be, with which pupils break ground in the field of Greek study, there will now come something in the nature of Readers, so-called.
Greek Readers are made up of selections from literature of an easy and simple order, taken chiefly (of late, not wholly) from books written in the Attic dialect ; that is, the dialect of Greek spoken in Attica, of which Athens was the capital. In literature, Athens was to Greece what Paris is, and always has been, to France. Milton has in his “ Paradise Regained" a singularly beautiful passage, descriptive of Athens in her imperial supremacy of intellect:
“On the Ægean shore a city stands,
City or suburban, studious walks and shades.
Of bees' industrious murmur, oft invites
Lyceum there, and painted Stoa next :
Of fate, and chance, and change in human life,
To Macedon and Artaxerxes' throne:
Epicurean, and the Stoic severe." Our mention of a dialect will make it proper enough that we say a word or two here on the subject of those differences of speech, termed dialects, with which, in the course of your subsequent study, you must necessarily become more or less acquainted. There were three chief dialects of the Greek language, created in part by differences of age, and in part by differences of country. Homer was a figure in Greek literature so important and commanding, alike from his historic position at the beginning of known Greek literary development, and from the recognized rank of his poetry in the hierarchy of genius, that he is by some grammarians given the honor of being, as it were, the proprietor of a dialect of his own. That is to say, the diction in which he writes is sometimes called indifferently the Homeric, or the Epic, dialect. Prevailingly, this Homeric dialect is what is more strictly called Ionic, although the Doric element and the Æolic contribute each some share. You may safely consider that the differences which distinguish these dialects one from another, lie chiefly in the sound of the vowels, the vowels being always and everywhere the most variable element of human speech. The Ionic dialect, exemplified in Homer and in Herodotus, is characterized by fluent sweetness to the ear. The Doric is of a broader, harsher sound, in consonance with that sense of the word Doric, in which you often see it used to denote simplicity, plainness, bareness. The Attic dialect is the neatest, most cultivated, and most elegant of all the varieties of Greek speech. In this dialect the greatest works in Greek literature were most of them composed. The Æolic dialect has no separate extant representative in Greek literature.
The selections which compose our Greek Readers vary with the taste and judgment of the compiler. Generally there will be found some fables, anecdotes of illustrious men, wise and witty sayings excerpted from the surviving memorabilia of leading spirits among the wisest and wittiest race of all the ancient world, fragments of history, of geography, of mythology, etc., etc. The compilation can hardly fail to be a very interesting book to read.
We take up at hazard one of these Greek Readers, and give a few specimens of its contents. First, we find a number of the fables commonly attributed to Æsop. Æsop was born, uncertain where, about 620 B.C. He was, when young, brought to Athens, and there sold as a slave. He was eventually freed by his master. From his high repute as a writer, he was invited by Cree'sus, the rich king of Lydia, to reside at his court. Æsop's end was tragic, for while acting in the capacity of embassador for Cresus he was convicted of sacrilege at Delphi, and thrown headlong from a precipice in punishment. None of his writings survive. His fables he perhaps never wrote, but delivered them orally on different occasions. The fables that go under his name are mainly the collection of a monk of the 14th century, who, it has been said, without evidence and against probability described Æsop as ugly and deformed, so fixing for centuries the unfounded conventional idea of the fabulist's personal appearance. Such, at least, until lately, has been the general opinion concerning the authorship of this foolish and falsifying biography of Æsop. Now, however, the good monk, Planu'des, is apparently relieved of the imputation. Æsop's fables, so-called, are no doubt part of them in some real sense the production of their reputed author. The traditions of fables so ingenious, and of such contemporary fame, would naturally, however they might be modified in the process, be preserved.
We give a few specimens of the fables pretty literally translated. Our readers will, of course, among them recognize some old acquaintances.
I THE WOLF. A wolf, seeing some shepherds eating a sheep in a tent, came near and said, “What an uproar there would be if I were doing this !”
2. THE LIONESS. A lioness, laughed at by a fox for giving birth to but one offspring, said, “One, but a lion."