Monday, May 13, 2013


Evan Hayes, Stephen Nimis, Lucian's 'On the Syrian Goddess': An Intermediate Greek Reader. Oxford, OH: Faenum Publishing, 2012. Pp. xix, 114. ISBN 9780983222880. $12.95 (pb).

Reviewed by Patrick Paul Hogan (

Version at BMCR home site

Hayes and Nimis' recent intermediate Greek reader on Lucian's De Syria Dea joins two others by the same authors on Lucian's Ass and A True Story, as well as one on Plutarch's Dialogue on Love. As a scholar of the Second Sophistic, I am delighted with the idea of undergraduates reading these important works alongside their Classical predecessors.

As with their other volumes in this series, the authors aim to provide extensive grammatical and vocabulary help for the intermediate Greek student who has only recently left the comfortable environs of his or her introductory textbook. This time they have chosen a fascinating and sometimes difficult text, the De Syria Dea ascribed to Lucian. It is a difficult text for students for two principal reasons: it describes Near Eastern cults that may strike intermediate students as quite foreign from the kind of Greek cults that they may have encountered in earlier readings, and the prose, though straightforward, is also written in an archaizing Ionic dialect. Students at this point in their acquisition of Greek have almost certainly been exposed to very few extended passages of Ionic Greek, Classical or otherwise, but the authors provide a convenient four-page summary of the unusual forms and conventions of Ionic Greek before the main text, and they also frequently point out such forms in the notes until e.g. the substitution of ὦν for οὖν and the use of the article for the relative pronoun no longer seem jarring to the reader. In fact, this commentary will have the added benefit that once a student finishes the De Syria Dea, he or she will be ready to tackle Herodotus. The stories of Stratonice, Antiochus, and Combabus, which occupy the center of the treatise, will also be sure to hold the attention of young readers.

The text itself, which the authors take from the old Loeb edition by Harmon, is divided into clearly marked sections, reflecting the long outline provided beforehand (p.2). Each page has the text of the De Syria Dea on the top third of the page; in the middle lie glosses for all the vocabulary words pertinent to the portion of the text immediately at hand; and at the bottom the reader finds brief grammatical notes that aid smooth translation. In addition, the authors spread throughout the book a half-dozen boxes that review important differences between Attic and Ionic Greek, e.g. common words (p.4) and third declension nouns (p.35), as well as topics important for proper translation, e.g. the different meanings of αὐτός (p.14) and the role of time and aspect in verb forms (p.19). A list of irregular verbs and their principal parts (pp.91-97) and a full glossary (pp.101-114) follow the commentary, but as the authors themselves hope, a student will rarely need to use them, except perhaps for review. In fact, the vocabulary and grammatical help is extensive enough that the teacher who employs this book would be justified in having his students sight-read portions of the text in class.

I will add, however, that this reader would be improved if the authors provided some references to Smyth or another Greek grammar, so that students could more easily find further information about topics not covered in the review boxes, e.g. case uses or types of subordinate clauses. As students progress farther from their textbook, they will have a growing need for another anchor like Smyth especially as they encounter Greek "in the wild."

Some grammatical notes on the bottom of the page are at variance with the vocabulary glosses given just above. For instance, on p.3 the student encounters the word ὁκόσα in the text, then reads the vocabulary entry "ὁκόσος, -η, -ον: how many, how great" and finally at the bottom of the page finds that the word introduces an indirect question and should be translated "what sort of things are in it," as though the adjective were instead ὁκοῖος, -η, -ον, which the glossary in the back of the book gives as "of what sort, what kind" (p.109). Intermediate Greek students need practice translating Greek as literally as possible (without falling into "translationese") before they can gain some independence in their renditions.

The authors also frequently abbreviate their explanations of verb forms, but I think it would be helpful for students at this level to find the full identification of all the verb forms referred to in the notes, since their teachers will have drilled them in identifying verb forms according to tense, voice, mood, person, and number. This will be invaluable for students when they encounter difficult forms. For instance, on p.4 the form ἐδάην is identified in the notes as the "ao. of δάω" and translated as "I learned." Both the gloss above on the page and the full glossary in the back of the book only give "δάω to learn." Since the verb does not appear in the list of irregular verbs, the reader will not know that it is in fact the defective Homeric verb *δάω and that this form in particular is a 2nd aorist passive indicative 1st sg., which the author employed instead of the reduplicated 2nd aorist active because that form has the causal force "to teach," like its kin verb διδάσκω. The student may recognize the aorist passive ending and become momentarily confused, but then he or she is likely to submit to the authors' gloss without understanding the matter fully. Since the same verb form (and same treatment) appear again on p.8, giving a little added explanation would both relieve the student of any lingering confusion and alert him to the unusual nature of this verb. Another I noticed was the gloss: "ᾖον: impf. of ἔρχομαι" on p.47 (and a similar one on p.44); here the authors should note that this is not the usual Ionic form and should remind the students that for the imperfect and future of ἔρχομαι, the corresponding tenses of εἶμι are customarily used, but only the future tense of εἶμι is reflected in the principal parts of ἔρχομαι in the list of irregular verbs (p.93). As students move from the curated zoo of textbook readings to the jungle of "real Greek," identifying the more exotic fauna more fully the first time they appear will give lasting benefits for the reader who is sure to encounter them again.

Students may be confused (as this reader was) by the Ionic perfect middle/passive indicative 3rd pl. forms for verbs with consonantal stems, i.e. –αται instead of –νται, which the authors do not cover in their overview of Ionic forms and only translate without explanation in their commentary, e.g. ἀποδεδέχαται (p.72); the same can be said for the present form ἵσταται (p.8). The authors also do not draw to the reader's notice the fact that Lucian uses both πολλόν (Ionic) and πολύ (Attic) forms for the neut. sg. nom. and acc. of πολύς. Misspellings are very rare; I caught only ἔπχομαι instead of ἔρχομαι in a footnote on p.87. There are very few omissions: e.g. the contracted form ἤν for εἰ + ἄν is absent from both the list of glosses in the text and in main glossary; it is translated without a comment on the contraction in a note on p.48.

A number of illustrations of coins, statues, and reliefs are included throughout the text, which do help the reader visualize the gods and objects involved, especially the striking Semeion (pp.63-64). This is especially advantageous, since the reader here is passing beyond the familiar practices of Greco-Roman religious observances; although the names of the gods, thanks to syncretism, remain familiar, marvels like sacred roosters, ritual castration, and monumental phalluses will greet the students intermittently. Furthermore, the addition of a small map would help orient readers geographically.

My other main criticism of this book centers on the very brief introduction, in which the authors discuss the controversy over the authorship of the book, summarizing the theories of Lightfoot and Polanski (pp.ix-x), and provide a short bibliography that will lead enterprising students and their instructors on profitable paths of further reading. But the introduction does not do much to place the book in context. For example, the authors say very little about Lucian himself except that he is "one of antiquity's cleverest authors and a frequent critic of religious hypocrisy" (p.ix), and they speak only generally of trends in his work. They also provide no overview of the rest of his works or of literary trends of the Second Sophistic, e.g. the renewed interest in Herodotus that would lead to the composition of such an unusual work over a half millennium after his death. An extra page or two discussing these issues would enhance the student's understanding and appreciation of the text. Lightfoot's text and commentary on the work would be an excellent place to start (BMCR 2003.11.16), as the authors themselves admit, but undergraduate students are not able to tackle that work easily by themselves.

At the end of the introduction the authors include an important disclaimer that this book is a self-published "Print-On- Demand" work not vetted or edited as books usually are by established publishing houses. As a result, the book itself has a low price, which is no small enticement to teachers and students alike, and the authors can easily correct errors, fill omissions, and generally revise the work at will.1

Despite the reservations I made above, I believe that books like this and in general POD publishing are poised to do our field a service in bringing less mainstream works into the classroom, so that Classics students may be exposed to a wider spectrum of Greek and Latin literature at an earlier level in their language acquisition. Furthermore, the format of Hayes and Nimis' book and its tight focus on vocabulary and grammar provides enough assistance to the intermediate student that he or she may wander through the sanctuary of Atagartis in the trail of the curious narrator without any fear of getting lost.


1.   This can, however, encourage hasty errors, e.g. the repetition of an entire paragraph word for word on p.x and xii.

1 comment:

  1. Personally I feel that publications such as this are clearly intended to encourage and aid intermediate students to do much more extensive reading in Greek than is usually done in an Intermediate classroom and and overly detailed notes and explanations and extensive introductions and references to other sources of information are unnecessary. My intermediate students found many of the notes unnecessary and they generally agree that they rarely read lengthy introductions but prefer to get right to the actual text.
    Also references to a fuller grammar should be unnecessary for an intermediate student - they should already have been instructed on how to seek out information in such reference books. references to some particular Grammar (such as Smyth) will be useless if the reader does not happen to have that book and also gives the impression that the referenced grammar must be the best or only place they should be looking for such information.
    I do agree that the lexical glosses the several publications Hayes & Nimis have produced so far are often at odds with the suggested translation helps given in the notes - which are also not always correct, but these are minor quibbles compared to the usefulness of the extensive number of glosses and notes which are supplied. Other similar publications aimed at intermediate students tend to give dreadfully inadequate notes - usually far too few and those that are given are often cryptic or digressive.