An Instant Classic About Learning Ancient Greek

Mary Norris:

When Andrea Marcolongo’s book “La Lingua Geniale,” subtitled “9 ragioni per amare il greco” (“Nine Reasons to Love Greek”), came out in 2016, I bought it, in Italian, and took it with me to Greece. I flashed it at a meeting with some highly accomplished multilingual women. “You read Italian?” one of them asked. Slowly, at a very low level, without full comprehension, I should have said. I had brought the book with me to the island of Rhodes because I thought it would be good practice in both Italian and Greek. I was writing a book on Greek myself, and the difficulty of Greek made Italian seem transparent in comparison. I had made it to page 10 of the first essay, on aspect—a property of verbs by which the ancient Greeks distinguished between the “how” and the “when” of an action—when I got distracted by a sidebar on Greek wine and decided that I really ought to get out more: take a walk in the Old Town, with its streets named after Socrates and Plato, and check to see if that bar called Beer Paradise had opened for the season.