Obrázky na stránke
PDF
ePub

ON THE LITERATURE AND LANGUAGE OF

MODERN GREECE.

Among the innumerable subjects of interest to scholars, are those, upon which we would now make a few remarks, the literature and language of modern Greece. To trace in any modern tongue the relics of an ancient one, and to notice these relics among all the revolutions of corruption and improvement, which languages undergo, in the progress of time, is as interesting to literary curiosity as it is useful in philology. When we find, as we do in most modern languages, the definite and certain remains of those long since dead, it is often with some such pleasure as we feel in meeting a friend, where we did not expect him. But if, instead of these traces, we could find an ancient language, in any good degree remaining entire, it would be like recovering one whom we thought to be dead. Of all the ancient languages but two, these scattered remains, which it generally falls to the etymologist to discover and investigate, are the whole which continues extant in common use. Some of them indeed, which were once the mediums of intercourse to nations, and the repositories of long accumulated learning, have utterly perished, without leaving a vestige, which can be recognized. Others, as the radical dialects of the north and east, proceeding as they did from the opposite corners of the world, have met and united in modern Europe, and form the foundation of the languages, which are now spoken there. But the fate of two of the ancient tongues may be considered as an exception to this common lot. These are the Hebrew and the Greek. These, while like others they have done their share towards the formation of the modern tongues, may be considered as never having properly ceased to be living languages. For though the genuine Hebrew has not been vulgarly spoken for twenty four centuries, yet it even now exists in great corruption indeed, in the Rabbinical dialect. The causes, which have led to the corruption of a language, which one would have thought would have been preserved in inviolate purity, and which, from the peculiar fate of the Jewish nation, perhaps might have been

80 preserved, it is not our purpose to inquire. The infamous reverence with which the Talmuds have been regarded, is doubtless a great cause of the preservation, in what may be called common use, of that corrupted Hebrew, in which they are written. However this be, we cannot as Christians but feel some interest in a dialect, which substantially retains the character and so much of the integrity of the language of the Bible. In the modern Greek, we feel a different, but perhaps as lively an interest. It affects us by those associations, which must naturally be attached to a language so like that, in which Homer wrote, and Socrates conversed. Besides, the modern Greek is much less corrupt than the Rabbinical Hebrew: and we think that could Plato and Demosthenes revisit their native land, they would hold a far more intelligible intercourse with their unfortunate posterity, than would Moses or David. For the difference between ancient and modern Greek, is not perhaps much greater than between the Attic and the Doric dialects of the former; and the scholar, who had read nothing but Demosthenes, would find as little difficulty in proceeding to the church history of Meletius, as to the pasto rals of Theocritus. The misfortune is, that while the varieties of the ancient dialects are considered only as varieties, the diversities between the modern and the ancient Greek are, alas, all corruptions. Yet with all these corruptions, and the regret with which we contemplate them, who can take up with indifference a volume, which salutes his eye with the Greek character; and read in it without satisfaction, a language, which he understands through the sole medium of the classical Greek, and consider moreover that this language is spoken among the scenes, which are consecrated to Minerva and her people? But though our feelings may be indulged a little in reflecting on Greek and Grecians, our present business is to dwell upon facts.

Of the corruptions then, which may be noticed in the modern Greek, the first is the introduction of barbarous words. Though Greece, as it never was settled by the different nations which overran it, has avoided that total obliteration of its ancient tongue which has taken place among the nations of Europe, it has No. 1. Vol. III.

11

not escaped this corruption. The Goths, the Vandals, and the Turks, though they left to the conquered Greeks the possession of their soil, left among them also many barbarous words, as trophies of their victory. But the principal source, whence foreign words have flowed in, is their commercial intercourse with other nations. They have borrowed many words from the Turks among them and on their left, from the Italians on their right, and the Russians in their rear, with all of whom they have had continual intercourse. The other principal corruption is the introduction of particles, from the analogy of modern languages, which, though they have not wholly, have partly superseded the use of the terminations of the nouns and verbs. This, as we just said, they caught from the contagion of modern languages; and it is the corruption, which, if any attempt should be made to recover the ancient purity of their speech, would be the hardest to be remedied; because, though barbarous words may easily be dropped, it will require a greater effort to reform a perversion in the structure of the language.

These are the principal corruptions, and it is obvious that they do not fix an impassable barrier to the reviving the integrity of the Greek. The language of life, the names of common objects and obvious ideas, is mainly unaltered:--because this language admits of little vicissitude, and as it has never been disused, it has never been lost. Chateaubriand tells us, that as he and his companion were going to visit the ruins of Athens, the Greek labourers, as they passed, stretched their hands above their heads, and saluted them with—“Kemas mabeti, uexortis Byte xechd 65 Tahasa A Omvage,?'* and they looked as proud, says he, as if they said to us, you are going to Phidias and Ictinus.' Lord Byron gives us a Greek war-song, which was written about forty years ago, by the famous Riga, who perished in the attempt to revolutionize Greece. It begins with a couplet, in which Isocrates would find nothing to correct;

Διότι, παιδις των Ελλήνων,

Ο καΐρος της δόξας ήλθεν. • Welcome, gentlemen, may you have a pleasant journey to old Athe

† Come! sons of the Greeks,

The time of glory has arrived!

cns.

If the language of common ideas has been thus admirably preserved; the language of abstract ideas, of philosophy, science, and sentiment, may be recovered for a different reason: viz. that it has been disused from the time that the most active causes of corruption began to operate; and has not undergone any great changes, from the moral debasement of the Greeks. Now if we consider what changes the English and French languages have passed through, within four centuries, we shall the more readily allow that there is nothing, in the present state of the modern Greek (or Romaic, as it is commonly called) which removes the possibility of bringing it back to the purity of the ancient. The process indeed of carrying it back, would be an operation just the reverse of what has taken place in the gradual improvement of modern languages, but it would be a far easier operation, because the classical Greek models remain to guide it and rectify it.

There is indeed an objection to the possibility of recovering the ancient Greek, which is not without apparent force. It is this: "the vulgar Greek of the present day, with all its corruptions, is known only to scholars, while the mass of the people speak a motley jargon, as far removed from the proper Romaic, as that is from the authentic Greek.”

This account, as will presently appear, is a little exaggerated; as we might also collect from the specimens already given, and many simi. lar ones to be found in the journals of the travellers. But al. lowing it to be substantially correct, that such a difference exists between the language of the populace and the well educated, it is no more than you may say, of almost every nation in Europe. How good-may we suppose is the French of a mob in Paris, or the Italian of the Lazaroni in Naples, or the English of the miners of Cornwall? The diversity between the cases is, that in Greece the number of those, who are well educated, is very small;—not enough to renovate the language, by the intercourse of society. You have only to multiply the means of education, or, as things are, to estimate the state of the language from those, who are educated in its best purity, and the objection vanishes.

We must however confess, that though the distance between

ence.

the colloquial dialect of the common people and the language of the learned is not greater than between the vulgar and classical dialects of any other nation, it is a more systematic differ->

It has been observed, by those best acquainted with the subject, and particularly by Du Cange in the preface to his Glossarium media et infima Græcitatis, that there are to be reckoned three dialects, if they may be so called, which prevail in modern Greece. The true classical Greek may be considered to be the first. It is perfectly understood by all persons of ed. ucation, is employed in the service of the church, and may be considered as holding the same place in respect to the eastern scholars, which Latin did in respect to the western in the sixteenth century. The Edinburgh Review speaks of a letter written to Crusius, by a native of Greece, in the sixteenth century, in which it is said, that, in the different provinces, the Doric, the Ionic, and the Æolic dialects yet prevailed, and that, in most, the common dialect is still in use. We shall give a pleasing specimen of the use of this hereafter. The second is the ecclesiastical dialect, used in the writings of the monks, and the sermons of the clergy. It is intermixed with foreign words, though it preserves in considerable purity the structure of the language of ancient Greece. The third is the proper Romaic, which is chequered with words of all tongues, and deformed with auxiliary particles. It is the dialect of commercial intercourse, and of the common people. A specimen of the best sort of it is the translation of the New Testament into the vulgar Greek.

There has been much written, for instance by Eton and Sonnini, to encourage the attempt of regenerating the modern Greeks and their language. Whether it be a probable event, we do not inquire. As to their language, we have already expressed an opinion, that there is nothing, in its present state, which precludes the possibility of restoring it to its primitive purity; for the same reason, and by the same means, that you might reform the provincial barbarisms of an inland county of England. That the language however could be thus restored, without restoring liberty and perhaps independence to those who are to speak it, may be doubted. It was among the

« PredošláPokračovať »