HomeIndexancient greek : section indexIntroduction to Ancient Greek

What comes to mind thinking about the Ancient Greek?
Classical high school, hours and hours of endless lessons on declinations, conjugations, etc. and yet it should not be so the attitude towards one of the languages that, together with Latin, has profoundly influenced the linguistic structure of many languages. Greek civilisation, which laid the foundations for much of European culture.

The problem perhaps with this attitude towards the Ancient Greek is the way of teaching that often and willingly is not the most exciting, but this is not the purpose of the article,rather it is in my interest to show here that: there is no Ancient Greek. What? You say, you just used the term “Old Greek.”
In fact, it is not properly correct to speak of Ancient Greek as a unique and unique language, but it is more correct to speak of dialects.

ancient greek

Until the 4th century BC the Greek language was not unitary, but fragmented in various dialects depending on geographical areas and also the literary genre. To be honest, diversification in the various dialects is to be found in phonetics, morphology and syntax rather than in the basic linguistic aspect, for example I noticed that in the Ionic and penthouse dialect as well as in the Doric grammar, verbal declines and conjugations do not change except at the level of mere phonetic.

A Brief History of ancient Greek

The earliest evidence of ancient Greek is found in the Mycenaean (15th-13th century BC), documented by tablets found in mainland Greece such as Pilo,Tirinto,Mycenaean,Tebe, etc. and on the island of Crete. The various fires of the buildings would have resulted in a loss of that testimony except that the tablets were made of clay which, thanks to the heat of the fire, turned into terracotta, a much more resistant material, thus allowing the preservation of that Material. The documents are written in linear B, whose texts were found by the British archaeologist Arthur Evans in 1900 in Crete, in the Palace of Knossos. Mycenaean writing came from the Minoan script, called Linear A, used in Crete between the 17th and 15th centuries BC. His decipherment is due to Michael Ventris and John Chadwick, between 1952 and 1953. Linear writing B is written from left to right and has about 200 signs, of which a ninety are syllabic signs with phonetic value while the remaining are ideograms with semantic value. With the decline of the Mycenaean civilization and consequent destruction of the palaces (which occurred in about 1200 BC) this writing was also lost for a long time until 800 BC. At the end of this period the alphabet was introduced to Greece and the different varieties of ancient Greek, known as dialects, appeared. Of course, the Miceneo also draws its origins in the Proto-Greek and seems to have been spoken in the Balkan area around the 3rd millennium BC whose linguistic unity of the proto-Greek is made to coincide with the beginning of the migrations of the Greek peoples. The various migrations, the changes of some customs, changes in social structures would then create differences within the Protogreco, leading over time to the emergence of the various Greek dialects. Protogreco in turn can be considered the son of the linguistic league (group of languages that have become similar to each other due to geographical proximity) Balkan pale.

Types of dialects

-geographic distribution

As mentioned, the various dialects can be divided according to their geographical and literary distribution. We have 4 different groups:


The penthouse was spoken in the restricted region of Attica, while the ionic had a distribution that ranged from Eubea, most of the Cyclades, the Calcidica, the banks of the Ellesponto, the central part of the Aegean coast of Asia Minor and the West Ionian coasts.


Here we have three speakers: archaic, Cypriot and panphilio. Their geographical distribution documents the achea expansion, which took place in the second millennium BC in Cyprus,Panphilia while the archaic we find in continental Greece such as the Peloponnese and Arcadia from which it takes its name.


Eolic was widespread in Thessaly, Northern Asia Minor and the island of Lesbos.

4.Western group

This talk belongs to the Dorians who, lastly, went down to Greece. Widespread in Laconia,Messenia,Argolide (Peloponnese),some southern islands of the Cyclades such as Melo,Tera etc. We find it in the southern end of Asia Minor, in the Focide, in Locride, in Etolia, in Acarnania, in Epirus and in the western Doric colonies such as Syracuse, Taranto etc.

-literary distribution

As mentioned, there is also a literary distribution of the various dialects linked to gender and not ethnicity, just think of Bacchilide,Pindaro who were, respectively, Ionic and beotic but wrote in Doric. Let’s see the types.

a) Ionic dialect
Also called Homer’s dialect, it was the language of epic poetry, elegy and giambo as well as some prosators such as Herodoto, the first logographers.

b) attic dialect
It is the language of the dialogued parts of the plays, historiography, philosophy, oratory and prosa.

c) Doric dialect
This is the dialect of choral poetry, the lyrical parts of the plays, bucolic poetry and some works produced in a siciliota and Italiota environment.

d) eolic dialect
It’s the language of monodic poetry.

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