Of course, there had to be a website.
One of the sites I found when I went in search of Greek unseens online was Philoponia in which the whole issue of the use of Greek and Latin unseens in contemporary Classics departments in discussed. The site also includes a report that the authors made from a survey of classicists, including interviews. Browsing through that section I note
James Morwood put it well, “Don’t devastate the students with difficult passages”.
That’s more or less what happened to me. I remember that we got given an unseen from Thucydides, which would be like me giving my little darlings a passage from the Areopagitica and expecting them to understand it.
Younger instructors, instead, seem to have relied primarily on past papers to supply passages, at least in the earlier years of their teaching. Several recommended choosing unseens that will support and augment set book reading, whether linguistically or thematically, or – better yet – both. This last point seems extremely important as our project suggests that the future of unseens lies in their being employed as more than a narrow deciphering exercise.
That’s what I’d do myself. Unseens were anonymous passages which, for me, had little point. I wasn’t able to enjoy their content when I had little or no idea of why I was doing them and no training in how to tackle them. Things might’ve been better if I’d known that the object of the exercise was practice in dealing with some grammatical construction, or that I was reading some famous episode from Greek history or literature, or that it was some significant point of Greek culture.
I would argue that there needs to be a build-up to longer passages. It would’ve been better to start with unseen sentences which would be used in connection with a particular grammatical construction. The process ought to start with parsing and identifying verbs (finite and non-finite), nouns (their cases) and phrases (the adjective here might go with that noun over there). The biggest weakness is that unknown vocabulary may lack sufficient context for the reader to deduce the likely sense of a word. The Oxford Grammar of Classical Greek would be a good source for these, since each chapter on constructions has a set of sentences for translation. Nonetheless, students would know what they’re really being asked to deal with.
All right, I’ll put my money where my mouth is. This is the fourth sentence from the chapter on direct and indirect questions in Morwood’s book.
τί οὖν ποιήσαντος, ὦ ἄνδρες Ἀθηναῖοι, κατεχειροτονήσατε τοῦ Εὐάνδρου; (Demosthenes 21.176)
τί (prn) – nom/acc sg neuter (must be accusative because of the main verb); what or why.
οὖν (adv) – so, therefore. (One of those dratted particles, but not one of the really horrid ones.)
ποιήσαντος (vb) – gen sg masc aorist active participle of ποιέω make, do (can be a rather vague verb). Would appear to be genitive in agreement with τοῦ Εὐάνδρου. Possibly part of a genitive absolute, although it might be the dO of the verb.
ὦ ἄνδρες Ἀθηναῖοι (NP) – vocative plural.
κατεχειροτονήσατε (vb) – 2nd person pl, aorist indicative active of (and here’s where I’m guessing because I don’t know the word) καταχειροτον-ά/έ-ω (see below). Anyway, this is why τί isn’t the subject of the sentence. I know nothing about the verb and hence cannot satisfactorily translate this sentence because this is the key to the whole thing. I know that –χειρ– will have something to do with hands, but it could be some verb connected with manufacturing. The verb might take an object in the genitive.
τοῦ Εὐάνδρου (NP) – gen sg masc of a personal name.
Putting myself out of my misery, I find that according to the online LSJ, the verb is
καταχειροτον-έω, A. vote by show of hands against, vote in condemnation of or so as to commit for trial, τινος D.21.2, Din.2.20, etc.: c.inf., “ἀδικεῖν Εὐάνδρου κατεχειροτόνησεν ὁ δῆμος” D.21.175, cf. 51.8; κατασειροτονηθὲν αὐτοῦ καὶ ταῦτ᾽ ἀσεβεῖν a vote of condemnation having been passed against him, and that for sacrilege, Id.21.199; κ. θάνατόν τινος vote the death-penalty against him, Lys.29.2, D.19.31, Pl.Ax. 368e; “καταχειροτονίαν κ. τινός” Aeschin.3.52:—Pass., to be condemned, “πανδήμῳ φωνῇ” D.S.18.67, cf. Plu.Tim.23.
which takes the genitive (τινος), thus making ποιήσαντος…τοῦ Εὐάνδρου the dO. The sentence appears to mean something like “Why, men of Athens, did you condemn Euander when he did this?” (The entry from LSJ reveals that the next sentence is “The people condemned Euander for committing a crime”.)
The sentence illustrates how a lack of context can make it impossible to determine what a word might mean. I might’ve guessed that Euander was the object and then have inserted some verb that had some connection with hands (e.g. applaud, point accusingly at etc). It also shows how vital the verb is to the whole meaning of the sentence. The morphology told me that τί had to be accusative, but not whether it was a dO or an adverbial accusative.
This method is a little slow, but that’s what beginners need. When I did Latin and Greek at university it was 0-60mph in 3.5 seconds. First term, introduction to Latin grammar; second term, Virgil, Catullus etc. Greek was done across the first term and a half, I think, but we had five classes a week. Greek and Latin may not be learnt in the same way as modern languages, being largely confined to reading (though with writing in some instances), but reading, as I know from teaching EFL, is one of the harder skills to acquire. Unlike most of the people who were interviewed, I didn’t start doing Latin or Greek at the age of 12 and although at 18 I still had a facility for acquiring language more readily than I do now, I didn’t really have an adequate background in language to cope with it.
One volume I found via Google books that might be of some use is The Greek Reader by Frederic Jacobs (1835, 1838), which has exercises focussed on specific aspects of morphology. It seems less concerned with constructions. The 1835 edition of the book has a section called “Promiscuous Examples” (focus on no one nominal declension), but this has been renamed “Examples in all the Declensions” in the 1838 edition.
“Why are the sentences called promiscuous, sir?”
“Because, boy, they’re the sluttiest sentences in Classical Greek.”
1. Of course, one of the things I tell my students is to try and deduce the sense of unknown words from the context, but I also know from looking at passages from IELTS reading exams that even if you’re aware of the context, the word cannot be guessed because it might be a lexical content item, but it’s not a key word, or the range of possible meanings makes an accurate guess difficult.
2. I forgot that Morwood actually supplies a glossary.
3. I assume the infinitive supplies a reason for the condemnation rather than saying the condemnation forced Euander to commit the crime.