Greek Stories, John Taylor and Kristian Waite

Greek Stories: a GCSE Reader, John Taylor and Kristian Waite, second edition, Bloomsbury 2017, ISBN 978-1-3500-0565-5, Paperback, £15.99

This second edition of Greek Stories, as explained in the Preface, is a revised and re-formatted version of the 2012 edition, redesigned to follow the new format of the OCR GCSE* Greek examination. This edition now contains four sections: Section 1 with 30 passages ‘starting with very simple stories and building up to GCSE standard’; Section 2 with 30 passages at GCSE level on historical themes; Section 3 has 20 passages, all stories from mythology, with comprehension questions, grammar questions, or alternatively simple sentences in English to be translated into Greek, all in the style of Section A of the OCR Language paper; and Section 4 presents 20 passages from Greek history with comprehension questions and a part of the passage to be translated, in the style of Section B of the OCR Language paper.

So there are in all 100 passages of varying length, each self-contained and designed to be used as one exercise (though in Section 3 the passages are mainly in pairs, telling two parts of the same story, and a few of the historical passages are consecutive in time), and each with a full vocabulary containing any words not in the OCR GCSE list. The original sources on which the passages are based are listed for each passage at the end of the book. The stories are interesting and well told, and as far as I could detect are in impeccable Attic Greek and at GCSE level. And that is no mean feat. In the distant past, before books like this were readily available, and despairing of endless sentences designed to illustrate points of Greek grammar, I made various attempts to produce simplified passages for my own students to translate. It is not easy, and these 100 passages do the job very well.

A few points:

·      Though the Preface says that Section 1 starts ‘with very simple stories’, in fact from passage 1 a knowledge of all noun and adjective forms, of most tenses of the indicative, and of all participles and infinitives is assumed, and the level of difficulty of passages thereafter increases very rapidly as sentence length increases and the clausal structure becomes more complex. In passage 5 an accusative and infinitive construction appears, a result clause (actually with the indicative) and a purpose clause (with the optative) in passage 11. From that point on the passages appear to me to be more or less of GCSE standard.

·      In Section 3 each of the passages with associated questions takes up four pages, but in each case the third page is almost blank, containing only the words ‘Answer either Question 10 or Question 11’. This may well have something to do with the formatting of the whole book, but 20 almost blank pages seems unnecessary.

·      . . . and for lovers of minutiae, in passage 84, according to Herodotus Democedes did actually cure Atossa.

But there is no doubt this is an excellent book, offering to GCSE candidates a taste of Greek prose literature at an appropriate level and in a clearly presented format. I certainly enjoyed reading the stories.



John Thorley


*OCR is an examination board that sets examinations and awards qualifications.  GCSE (General Certificate of Secondary Education) is a public examination taken in England, Wales and Northern Ireland at the age of around 16 years.