OCR ANTHOLOGY FOR CLASSICAL GREEK for GCSE
Edited by Judith Affleck and Clive Letchford, Bloomsbury, London 2016, p270, paperback £17.56
Anthologies are always welcome. No doubt they are always useful for teachers at any level. This volume is for teachers and pupils involved in GCSE and I should say is extremely welcome.
From page 24 to page 259 we can enjoy lovely texts from Homer (Odyssey VI and VII) Herodotus (Histories books 1, 3, 2), Euripides (Alcestis, Electra, Bacchae) Plato (Phaedo) Plutarch (Life of Lycurgus) and Lucian (The Isle of the Blest). Plutarch and Lucian have been set into the same chapter. As anyone can check, prose and verse texts are evenly mixed; in fact 115 pages are devoted to verse and 112 to prose. Excellent balance!
Each chapter starts with an introduction to the writer. Then the authors move to the context and frame where the selected passages of either verse or prose can be better understood, in fact no more than one page under a common title “The story so far”. Then different selected texts are to be found there for commentary and translation. A suggestion is made immediately after ending the translation passage: “What happens next?”. The reader is informed about the final development of the story or is invited to find it and write it themselves. As expected some Final Questions close each section
The texts the authors have selected are definitely excellent, and I should say even gorgeous. Any qualified student should face them and enjoy them at the same time. Odysseus the hero, so tired and sleeping on the sea shore of Phaeacia, woken up by a ball thrown by Nausicaa’s charming friends doing their laundry on the beach; the dialogue between Solon and Croesus, king of Lydia; a farewell to life by Alcestis addressing her husband Admetus and her two children: the last minutes of Socrates in prison before finally drinking a cup of poison; those two brave Spartan boys stealing a little fox and bringing it home with no screams nor complaints even if the fox, close to their bodies, hidden by their fine clothes was hurting their chest along the way: finally the land where there is no rain nor snow nor strong winds described by Lucian……what else would you like to enjoy?
Anyway, gorgeous as they are, they don’t look easy to be commented on nor to be translated. We have touched the very crucial point of any anthology. Should the authors select the texts according to their meaning, their linguistic difficulties, their literary values? Which patterns have the authors followed in order to make their choice? Are the texts useful and appropriate in order to fulfil the expectations the users look for?
In this particular case the texts are under the patterns of GCSE. As GCSE is not an elementary level exam, anybody could think that the selection is good and fits into the requirements. I agree but anyway there are such a lot of footnotes on the page –really side page notes, that the students must pay more attention to them than to the text itself. As an example in page 72, Homer Odyssey VII 58-75, each verse requires at least a couple of notes, the first one even four! Each word requires an explanation! In my opinion that is extremely tiring for any reader.
After these reflections you will better understand why I have kept for the closing of my short review the very beginning of the book. In fact I have started mentioning page 24 and onwards. But before page 24 there are seven short sections: Timeline, Who is Who, Map of the Ancient Mediterranean ,Technical terms and –last but not least- How to use this book, and Tips for translation
I am still quite astonished thinking that nominatives in light blue color together with verbs in dark blue (infinitives and participles not included)-sic in page 12-should be considered the starting points for a proper translation of the text and a support for a grammatical understanding. Two pages further, p.14, the authors mention Intelligent deduction as an important skill to start developing. Even if I would trust the method-but of course I completely disagree- I can image how many hours any student will need to understand and even to translate one single page. Are the authors conscious that infinitives and participles are half of the verbal forms-exactly 49,5 %- any one could find in Ancient Greek texts? No colour, no mention, nor a specific chapter to explain how they work? Could anyone achieve their working through Intelligent Deduction? Maybe yes but it would take quite a long time. I know methods are always a discussion point, but in this particular case I have the feeling of solving “oscura per oscuriora”
Congratulations anyway to the authors. They have achieved an excellent selection. This anthology if presented in translation would really be very difficult to surpass. However, as a material for learning and improving Ancient Greek, I am afraid it is not so useful. Even so it is very welcome indeed.
José Luis Navarro
GCSE (General Certificate of Secondary Education) is an intermediate public examination usually taken at about age 16+.
OCR is an English examination board which sets public examinations for the UK Department of Education