1902 Encyclopedia > Greece > Greek Language - Introduction

Greece
(Part 17)




UNIT III: GREEK LANGUAGE

Introduction

The possession of a common language was always regarded by the Greeks themselves as the most significant and important of the bonds which united the scattered members of the Hellenic nationality. Wherever there was a community speaking the Greek tongue, whether in Europe, Asia, or Africa, from Olbia on the Hypanis to Cyrene in Libya, from Salamis in Cyprus to Maelaca near the Pillars of Hercules, there was a portion of the Hellenic people linked to the rest by mutual intelligibility, and sharply marked off from the jabbering and inarticulate fiapfiapoi. who surrounded them. The earliest written records of this speech are probably to be found in what was at the same time the most precious common possession of this great nationality, the poems that bear the name of Homer. It is possible indeed that, in the form in which they have come down to us, they are later than the fragments of the earliest elegiac and iambic poets, such as Callinus, Mimnermus, Archilochus, and Simonides of Amorgus ; but it cannot be doubted that in substance they go back to an earlier date. These, however, are in a literary language,—a language which bears the most evident marks of a free combination for artistic purposes of various popular dialects, along with many reminiscences of archaic forms and usages, and not a few formations due only to false analogy. For the early history of the Greek language we are obliged to have recourse to the reconstructions of linguistic science.






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