Sunday, March 14, 2021


Hillard & Botting

G. Zuntz (1902-1992), "On Greek Primers," Didaskalos 4.2 (1973) 360-374 (at 360-361):
The traditional English primers — Hillard & Botting may be named as their representative — are not an attraction but a deterrent. At this point I expect to be told by respected colleagues — in fact, I have so been told more than once: 'Are primers really so important? After all, you've got to learn your elements — a matter of cramming and drudgery, unavoidably; and it does you good. I did get my Greek from Hillard & Botting, and I learned it quite well, I dare say.' And one would, I suppose, have to admit that a gifted and devoted learner, and even a listless crammer, may acquire quantum satis from the dreariest manual. We could perhaps suggest that he would have worked more pleasantly and efficiently with a better primer; but what we cannot, within the bounds of politeness, tell him, and what he will never know, is the essential; namely, that his whole concept of Greek, and his attitude to it, has been distorted for life by that perverse first experience and its automatic sequel. But for Hillard & Botting and their like we would not be told, in this year of Grace 1973, that one learns Greek because 'it provides a valuable training of the mind' (crossword puzzles serve the same end at less expense) and that its supreme upshot is 'a really nice prose', parading Gladstone in the garb of Demosthenes, Macaulay à la Thucydides, and Spinoza πλατωνίζοντα. And 'verse', too.

Few youngsters of the present age will be attracted by goals like these, and we can no longer force them: they are free to choose. If they are to choose Greek, we must be able to offer them something better than these broken shells of a once flourishing rhetorical tradition. They expect by learning Greek — if they choose to learn Greek — to open up the way to experiences which no précis and no translation can convey. They are right in this expectation; but if it is to be fulfilled a lot of Greek will have to be mastered. A mere smattering — such as, for example, most theologians are given today — will not get them nearer the original message than (in fact, not even as near as) a competent and responsible translation; and a mere 'inkling' is not worth the time lost in securing it. They will then have to be taught effectively, and in a manner which can hold and stimulate their interest. These needs cannot be met by the Hillard & Botting type of primer.
Id. (at 368):
I have written down these criticisms with much reluctance. They tend, however, to confirm a tenet which I have urged before; namely, that nobody today is able to write what could pass for original Greek, or for its equivalent. And why should we trouble to do it? Enough original Greek has been left by the original Greeks — and this is what we want to study.

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