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Modern Greek

Gessner treated modern Greek separately, after the classical language. His sources included literary texts and personal contact with a Cypriot traveller, and he also noted the existence of Stefano Nicolini da Sabbio’s Corona preciosa, a tetraglot wordlist of Italian, Latin, modern Greek, and ancient Greek, with 1526 entries, which had been published for the use of merchants in Venice in 1527 (he knew an edition of 1546).[1] The modern language was, Gessner reflected, as different from classical Greek in many places as modern Italian and Spanish were from classical Latin, and a few years later, the German theologian and humanist David Chytraeus (Kochhafe) would note that the modern clergy, even though they used a Byzantine liturgy, did not all understand the ancient language.[2]

Whereas the Corona preciosa was a practical dictionary, and other vocabularies including modern Greek which claimed to be similarly practical circulated in the sixteenth century, one lexicographer produced a modern Greek wordlist which was rather differently motivated. This was Martin Crusius (Kraus), from 1559 onwards professor of Greek and Latin at the university of Tubingen in the Lutheran duchy of Wurttemberg, known in his own day for a parallel grammar of classical Greek and Latin, and today for his collections on the history of Swabia and for his Turcograecia, a collection on the history of Greece since the Turkish conquest. His own command of classical Greek was masterly, as evidenced by the collection of no fewer than seven thousand summaries which he wrote in classical Greek of sermons which he had heard, two or three a week for fifty years.[3] From the news of the Christian victory over the Turks at Lepanto in 1571 onwards, Crusius started to study Greek in a new way, reading the cheap books in modern Greek which were published in Venice, and making sense of their distinctive language.[4] In 1579 (there was one isolated earlier interview, in 1557), he began to interview native speakers of modern Greek in order to learn more about the language; sometimes he would ask them about words in the cheap books he was reading, and sometimes he would elicit words relating to the surroundings in which the interview took place.[5] By his death in 1606, he had conducted nearly sixty of these interviews, recording information about some of his informants together with words which he had learned from them in a remarkable section of one of his notebooks, headed ‘Graeci homines’—‘Greeks, who have been with me (in Germany) at various times, from whose mouths I have noted down what might pertain to the corrupted Greek language of today’.[6] No other lexicographical fieldworker of his age described his informants so carefully.

Here is a characteristic account, made between 21 and 27 February 1579.[7] The informant was called Stamatius Donatos, and said that he came from Cyprus, though the hometown he named does not exist, and his spoken Greek was not characteristically Cypriot. He said that his mother and his two brothers had been slaves in Constantinople for the last seven years, and that he was travelling to beg the price of their manumission and his own (he was evidently on something like parole from his owner): 250 ducats, equivalent to eight years’ income for a poor man, or slightly more than the price of a peasant’s house.[8] Crusius thought him very decent and pious, and very prayerful. He was not tall; of a good colour; about thirty years old. He had a small black beard. Instead of a sword—long-distance travel on foot was dangerous for a solitary man carrying money, so he needed a weapon—he carried a light spear.[9] The only document he had to prove the authenticity of his story was a broken Papal seal; he said that the Pope had given him a warrant to travel and beg, but that it had been destroyed by soldiers in the Netherlands. He had apparently travelled from Constantinople via Ancona on the Adriatic coast of Italy (where there were many Greeks, and much trade with the Turks) to Rome, then north to the Low Countries, and then southwards again along the Rhine and Neckar to Tubingen. He knew very little German, so Crusius communicated with him in a mixture of Greek, Latin, and Italian, with quite a lot of gestures. This was enough for him to use his guest ‘as my teacher of modern Greek—so that he could stand in for a dictionary for me’.[10] Donatos was illiterate, so difficulties which Crusius had encountered in written texts had to be discussed orally with him; some words were elicited by discussing pictures of life in Constantinople, of which Crusius had a small stock. The two men worked hard together, and Crusius gathered 2607 words from Donatos over seven days, noting with satisfaction that ‘I gave him no rest, and he himself was eager’.[11] This scene of happy cooperation between lexicographer and informant is very pleasant. Crusius gave his guest some money as well as food and lodging, arranged for him to be allowed to beg in Tubingen, and gave him a written reference for his further journey. Nothing is known about the rest of Donatos’ life.

Some of the material on modern Greek which Crusius gathered in meetings like the series with Stamatius Donatos appeared in the Turcograecia, and at least a little passed thence into the Glossarium Graecobarbarum of Johannes Meursius, first published in 1610, which belongs to a tradition of the learned lexicography of Byzantine Greek.[12] However, the most important collection, to which Crusius gave the title Alphabetum vulgaris linguae Graecae, was not meant for publication. He wrote it in the fine wide margins of his copy of the Thesaurus cornu copiae, a linguistic compilation published by Aldus Manutius in 1496, using four sequences of alphabetically arranged material in the printed book as guides to arranging his own lexical notes alphabetically.[13] This technique had the advantage that the space available for words to be written down in each alphabetical range would correspond roughly to the space taken up by that range in print: in Greek, for instance, more than twice as many words begin with M as begin with N, so it is helpful to have more than twice as much space set aside for them. Crusius recommended the technique on 13 April 1579 to a correspondent in Constantinople as a method for collecting modern Greek (Barbarograeca) words, and began his own collection a week later.[14] It comprises more than 17,500 entries.[15] The great majority of these are from printed texts: only 670 are recorded on oral testimony alone.[16] But looking at that figure from another perspective, gathering as many as 670 otherwise unrecorded words by interviewing informants was an unusual achievement in the sixteenth century. Crusius’ wordlist is a monument to a long curiosity about the least glamorous varieties of the Greek language, those of the wandering poor, as well as to the evident decency with which he talked to his informants.

  • [1] Gessner, Mithridates (1555) fos. 46v-47r (‘De lingua Graeca uulgari hodie’); for the Corona preciosa,see Lauxtermann, ‘Of frogs and hangmen, esp. 172 (entry count), 173 (editions), and 174-5 (Gessner).
  • [2] Gessner, Mithridates (1555) fo. 46v, ‘non minus fere in multis locis a uetere Graeca recessit . . . quamItalica et Hispanica a uetere Latina’; Chytraeus, Oratio de statu ecclesiarum sig. A6r, ‘plaerosq[ue] sacer-dotes ac Monachos etiam ueterem linguam Graecam ignorare, followed by Brerewood, Enquiries 12.
  • [3] Toufexis, Alphabetum 28.
  • [4] Toufexis, Alphabetum 67-9, 125-57; annotated catalogue 321-50.
  • [5] Toufexis, Alphabetum 167 (overview), 169 (interview in 1557).
  • [6] Crusius, ‘Graeci homines’, in Toufexis, Alphabetum 161 (facsimile 162), ‘Graeci homines, qui mecum(.in Germania.) fuerunt diversis temporibus: ex quorum ore, ea, quae ad hodiernam corruptam Graecamlinguam pertinerent, annotavi’.
  • [7] Toufexis, Alphabetum 184-204.
  • [8] For the equivalences, see Braudel, The Mediterranean 1: 454-8; ibid. 456 suggests that 60 ducats wouldhave been a normal price for a slave in Italy in the second half of the sixteenth century, although there waslocal volatility in the slave market, so Donatos’ figure of 250 ducats for four people seems plausible.
  • [9] Crusius, ‘Graeci homines’ notebook in Toufexis, Alphabetum 185, ‘Valde humanus et pius vir, multumnpoaeuxo^evo^. Non est longus: est bono colore: habet barbulam nigram: nescio, num ultra .30. annosnatus. Non habet gladium, sed Kovrdpiov ^ levem hastam.’
  • [10] Crusius, ‘Graeci homines’ notebook in Toufexis, Alphabetum 191, ‘Incepi eo uti praeceptoreBarbarograecae linguae ^ ut esset is mihi loco lexici.’
  • [11] Crusius, ‘Graeci homines’ notebook in Toufexis, Alphabetum 191, ‘Ich hab im kain ruh gelassen: etipse fuit лробицос;’; for their day to day progress, see ibid. 203-4.
  • [12] Toufexis, Alphabetum 57 (for instance, Meursius cites the Turcograecia in his Glossarium s.v. KaXia); for the Glossarium, see Considine, Dictionaries in Early Modern Europe 254-6.
  • [13] Toufexis, Alphabetum 105-23 (specimen facsimile with transcription 111-12, selective edition 245-320).
  • [14] Crusius, letters to Salomon Schwiegger of 13 April 1579 and 29 September 1580, in Toufexis,Alphabetum 102-4; for the date of Crusius’ own collection, see ibid. 107.
  • [15] Entry count from Toufexis, Alphabetum 19.
  • [16] Entry count from Toufexis, Alphabetum 20.
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