the classics pages letters

Sent: 12 July 2005 20:17


I stumbled on your pages by accident during a Google search for translations into Greek, and was pleasantly surprised.
Although saddened by the fact, I find that the comment made by the photographer from "Ελευθεροτυπία" about classic Greek sounding chinese to contemorary Greeks is quite true.
Classic Greek was removed from the syllabus in high schools in the early 1980's and there is a whole generation of young Greeks that have lost the historic continuity of their language.
I hear there are translations now of such writers as Papadiamantis andRoidis (end of 19th beginning of 20th century). I wonder what's next.
Anyway, to add my two cents of wisdom, as our over the Atlantic friends
would put it:
Μυς is the word for mouse. In modern Greek the word for mouse is ποντικός
and the word for rat is αρουραίος . I suppose in ancient Greek they would be μυς ποντικός (sea mouse - from pontos -maybe ships were already infested with
them?) and μυς αρουραίος (earth mouse - from the word αρούρη = χθων ) There
is a Homeric expression "αχθος αρούρης" = "a burden of the Earth"
I tend to believe your reader from the 4th century BC would understand μυς
ποντικός and αρουραίος.

Best regards,

Apostolos Ioannidis
Athens, Greece

It is indeed very sad that this continuity is being lost - the only European language with an unbroken literary tradition going back 3000 years. In England the situation is desperate - so few schools are still allowed to teach ancient Greek - far less than 1000 pupils now take the GCSE exam at 16.

On the mouse/rat problem - have you read Umberto Eco -" Mouse or Rat?: Translation as negotiation". It came too late to help me with my dilemma, but shows that things are just as complicated as I had supposed. I think I do use μυς αρουραίος somewhere for "rat": μυς ποντικός sounds like what we in England know as the Black Rat - nowadays virtually unknown, but this was the rat which came by ship (with the bubonic plague) in the middle ages from the east. Our tame rats (white rats) are an albinistic variant of the Black Rat, and so ποντικός would have been appropriate (although Scabbers' colour is not divulged!). But I'm sure he wasn't a town rat (Brown Rat in English - Rattus norvegicus) - which is the Greek country rat/mouse!

Thanks for your entertaining email