Why did Greek survive?

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Why did Greek survive?

Postby Lucius Tyrrhenus Garrulus on Fri Apr 16, 2004 6:03 am


Italia, Gallia, Hispania, Lusitania, Dacia... I understand that Latin evolved into many languages in these areas, but why didn't Latin replace Greek in Greece? Or, was Latin ever spoken in Greece?

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Postby Gnaeus Dionysius Draco on Fri Apr 16, 2004 8:55 pm

Chaire Garrule,

As controversial or provocative this comparison may be, you might compare the ancient Greeks to the present-day French. The Greeks had once controlled an empire stretching from Makedonia to the Indus, in which the administrative and trade language was Greek. To them, the Romans were just uncultured peasants, even though their own heyday had long since passed. As such, the Romans didn't press for Latin being accepted as lingua franca because (1) they actually held the Greeks in high esteem, (2) there was already a lingua franca extant, unlike in the North and West where there were only scattered languages and Latin already *was* the common trade language and (3) the Greeks wouldn't have accepted Latin as sole administrational language.

Plus, I might add, the East of the empire was more densely populated than the West. Today this is different, but back then the West still didn't have a lot of large cities.

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Postby Quintus Marius Primus on Mon Apr 19, 2004 8:55 pm


Another reason why Greek survived was that it as also a language of high esteem within the Roman Republic and Empire, and was in fact the language of learning for many Romans. Those non-native Romans who had the financial clout to have an education actually learnt Greek before they moved onto Latin, even though Latin was the working language of (most of) the Empire. In fact, many learned (latin-speaking) Romans criticised their own language as being insufficient for conveying certain ideas efficiently when Greek could, much in the same way that Europeans did about their own vernaculars during the Renaissance.

Many people today think of the Empire as being (fairly) linguistically homogenous, when this was not the case at all. Not only was Greek the only every-day language spoken in the Greek lands, but Greek also continued to be used as a lingua franca within certain parts of the Empire and beyond, especially in some of Greece's former colonies around the Aegean and Black Sea.

It's rather strange that when Latin was no longer a spoken language, it was used as a lingua-franca and language of learning througout Europe, but when Latin was spoken, it was actually Greek that served this purpose!

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Postby Quintus Pomponius Atticus on Mon Apr 19, 2004 10:32 pm

Salve Prime,

In fact, many learned (latin-speaking) Romans criticised their own language as being insufficient for conveying certain ideas efficiently when Greek could

Strangely they did indeed. The Roman elite especially liked to speak Greek (e.g. Caesar to my knowledge did not cry out "tu quoque fili mi", as we were thought at school, but "kai su teknon" when he was murdered by Brutus c.s.), somewhat similar to our Belgian upper classes who, in the past at least, liked to talk French among each other, although their first language was Dutch.

More exactly, it was Cicero who complained that Latin was still inadequate to precisely word advanced philosophical concepts. His contemporary Lucretius however, claimed exactly the opposite, and argued that Latin was more than sufficiently rich. The great philosophical and poetical quality of his masterpiece, and the quality of Cicero's prose works as well, proves him, at least in my humble opinion, to be quite right.

I also, studying Roman legal texts today for an exam, once again marvelled at the brief and precise way in which Latin can express things. Often, when the Latin original only needed a few words to convey a meaning, my translation in Dutch mounted up to a full sentence, or more.

Vale optime,

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