Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Poesy Post: A Lament (for the First-Year Greek Student)

(Luke 1:1-2 from the Codex Basiliensis A.N.IV.2; image is in the public domain)

Back in my seminary days, I took the required classes in New Testament (Koine) Greek, and I did very well at them. I've always had a good mind for languages, but Greek was the toughest one I'd come across (even after having learned a bit of French, Sudanese Arabic, Swahili, Portuguese, and biblical Hebrew, and done brief linguistic studies of Kikinga and Ngangela). Nonetheless, I enjoyed it. But after a few years in ministry, my Greek skills had slipped a bit, and so I undertook a course of independent study in Classical Greek (somewhat more complicated than the Koine version). The goal was to see if I could bring myself back up to speed in the language while also opening a way for me to read the great works of ancient Greece in their original language. But the first few weeks back in language study were agonizing, and in the middle of the endeavor I penned this bit of doggerel, slightly hyperbolic and tongue-in-cheek, about the trials of learning Greek. Though I've come to peace with my clumsy-but-still-growing skills in Greek, and really bear no hard feelings for the language anymore, maybe some poor first-year seminary student out there can find some sympathy in these words.

A Lament (for the First-Year Greek Student)

They say that God is merciful,
They say that He is kind;
But if that’s true, then I still have
One question on my mind:

Of all the languages to choose
For His inspired scrolls,
Why did he go with ancient Greek,
A monster to behold?

Now students have to wrestle hard
Against that monster fierce,
Dressed in linguistic armor
Too indurate to pierce.

We memorize tense formatives
To find they don’t apply.
“Irregular” seems normative;
It makes me want to cry.

Athematic and deponent,
Then second aorists—
Oh, I don’t blame Augustine now
For never learning this!

Nouns change case on slightest whim,
More so than you might think;
Prepositions all look the same
And mean a thousand things.

A hundred forms for part’ciples,
Each used in twenty ways;
And words are strewn through sentences
With no order (save for case).

Perhaps God wants interpreters
Who are diligent and smart,
For those less so will never reach
The fullness of this art.

Perhaps it’s thlipsis that he wants
His servants to go through;
For after Greek no torment is
Too wretched to endure.

God grant that we who study here
May treasure still Your words,
Despite the fact they’re written in
The worst tongue in the world.