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Learn to speak ancient Greek!

Let's discover how to use the language of the Greek heroes and gods in our everyday lives, by learning a few key phrases of ancient Greek


The Ludovisi Battle Sarcophagus depicting the Romans at war with the Goths (3rd century CE)
Ancient Greek inscription on stone, near the Archaeological Museum of Delphi. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

DISCOVER


The ancient Greek language was used for thousands of years and, even though it has evolved, is not all that different from the language spoken by Greeks today. Ancient Greek was also widely used – it was not only spoken in Greece but in Italy and Turkey as well. After Alexander the Great led Greek armies to conquer the Persian Empire, people were even speaking Greek in India, and you can read our previous article about the colony of Massalia to learn how people ended up speaking ancient Greek in France!


So, to help us step into the shoes of an ancient Greek, Egyptian, Indian or French person, and to sound like a mythic hero, we’re going to learn some useful ancient Greek phrases:


'Hello'

Khy-reh! (χαῖρε)


This is an essential phrase. If you ever time travel back to ancient Greece, being able to greet someone correctly will let them know you are friendly. This same word is used even today in modern Greek with a different pronunciation (“heh-reh”), though it is less frequent than it was in the ancient world.


'How are you?'

Pos ekheys? (πῶς ἔχεις;)


'I'm well, and you?'

Kalos ekho, su deh? (καλῶς ἔχω, σὺ δέ;)


Notice how the ancient Greeks – just like modern Greeks – use a semicolon (;) instead of a question mark? This dates back to the 700s CE when the question mark was first invented.


'Here boy!' or 'Here girl!'

Deh-uro, pydeh! (δεῦρο, παῖδε)


Dogs were common pets in ancient Greece and Rome. In the ancient Greek language, the word “pydeh” is used for both "boy" and "girl". By learning this phrase, you can teach your dog ancient Greek as well!


Do you know of any famous ancient Greek dogs? One of the most well-known is Argos, the dog of the Greek hero Odysseus.


'Teacher of unhappiness'

Kakodymonias didaskalos (κακοδαιμονίας διδάσκαλος)


Xenophon, the great ancient historian, recorded a conversation in his book Apomnemeumata where Antiphon insults the philosopher Socrates by calling him nothing but a "teacher of unhappiness." However, Socrates took this as a compliment! Because he taught people to have restraint and never to become lazy or comfortable, this meant that he taught people how to deal with unhappy circumstances. Do you know anyone you could call a teacher of unhappiness?


'Little Ares'

Areidion (Ἀρῃδίον)


Ares was the Greek god of war. Therefore, “Areidion” or “little Ares” may be used to describe someone who often gets into fights, and never seems to rest from their desire for war and conflict!


'Hey, get that sphinx away from me! What are you, nuts?'

Ba-bye! Apheh-leh towten ten sphinga! Ti pote ei, aphron tis?

(βαβαῖ! ἄφελε ταύτην τὴν σφίγγα! Τί ποτε εἶ, ἄφρων τις;)


Sphinxes were a terror to Greek cities (in mythology, at least!) and you did not want to be caught face-to-face with one. In Thebes, a sphinx was responsible for the deaths of many citizens, until Oedipus approached it and solved its riddle: “What has four legs in the morning, two legs at midday, and three legs in the evening?”


Do you know the answer to this famous riddle? Have a guess, then check the answer at the bottom of the page. And, if you ever travel to ancient Greece and find yourself stumped by a sphinx's riddle, remember the above phrase – it just might come in handy!


 
Frieze of the Pergamon Altar depicting Nike and Athena battling Alkyoneus
The School of Athens, by Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

CREATE


Now that you know these phrases, you can use them in your everyday life! Throughout much of history, it was normal for educated people to use ancient Greek and Latin phrases in their everyday speech.


Next time you get a chance, we challenge you to bring history to life by speaking some ancient Greek. You can also teach others the phrases, so that they can use them too. That way, you and anyone else who knows these phrases will have your own secret language!


If you would like to know more ancient Greek phrases, you can ask a question in the comments section below, and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can.


Until next time,

λεῖος πλόον!*


*leios plo-on, which is ancient Greek for smooth sailing. This phrase was used to wish someone good luck.


 

Riddle Answer

The answer to the famous riddle, "what has four legs in the morning, two legs at midday, and three legs in the evening?" is a person throughout the different stages of life: crawling on four legs as a baby, walking on two feet as an adult, and using a walking stick in old age!

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