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Atticist Lexica and Atticistic Pronunciation

Carlo Vessella

It has been argued that the Atticists adopted a special pronunciation of Greek, possibly modeled on the one current in Attica in the 2nd century CE, but that they showed “very little overt interest in pronunciation both in their lexica and in other works in which the practices of sophists are discussed” (James 2008). My paper challenges this view: it shows that the Atticist lexica do contain information on the pronunciation of Atticistic Greek.

Atticist lexica were composed chiefly in the first two centuries of the Roman Empire. Among other functions, they served as an aid to those who wished to use the correct Attic words. However, they possibly aimed at more than just guiding the selection of words: in the preface to his Ἐκλογή Ἀττικῶν ῥημάτων καὶ ὀνομάτων, ‘Selection of Attic verbs and nouns’, the Atticist Phrynichus says that his work is designed for those who wish to ‘discourse in the ancient and accurate way’ διαλέγεσθαι ἀρχαίως καὶ ἀκριβῶς, Phry. Ecl., praefatio, 13). Διαλέγεσθαι here can be interpreted not only as referring to the composition of texts in archaizing Attic, but also to the actual pronunciation of this literary dialect.

There is evidence in literary sources of Imperial times that pronunciation was a key factor in appraising an orator’s skills – e.g. Philostratus’ remarks on Pausanias of Caesarea, who spoke with his regional accent "shortening the long and lengthening the short [sounds (possibly the vowels)]" (Vitae Sophistarum 594.7–10). While the purist and archaizing strains of Atticism have normally been studied as regards their position on word-choice, syntax and style (from Schmid’s pioneering work to Swain 1996 and Whitmarsh 2005; 2013: 112-3), the pronunciation of Greek associated with Atticism has received little attention so far. I shall show that, if correctly interpreted, the Atticist lexica can be a major source for our understanding of the ideas that the Greek-speaking educated elites of the 2nd century CE had about their own language.

The paper will examine the four main groups of glosses on which the reconstruction of the Atticistic pronunciation can be based:

(1) glosses that directly address the pronunciation, these normally (but not necessarily) contain the verb προφέρω or its derivative προφορά (e.g. Ael. D. α 53, Phry. Ecl. 72, Phry. PS 118,3-4);

(2) glosses which clearly refer to pronunciation even if they lack the technical terminology typical of group (1), e.g. Phry. Ecl. 80 πελαργός· οἱ ἀμαθεῖς ἐκτείνουσι τὸ α, δέον συστέλλειν, ‘Pelargós: the ignorant lengthen the alpha, whereas it needs to be short’. The alpha in question is in a closed syllable and is never accented: the gloss does not address the scansion or the accent of πελαργός, but indeed the pronunciation pelārgós;

(3) glosses which contrast different spellings with one another, e.g. Phry. Ecl. 268 ψύα· οἱ μὲν ἁπλῶς ἁμαρτάνοντες διὰ τοῦ υ, οἱ δὲ διπλῇ ἁμαρτάνοντες ψοία [...]. ‘psýa: those who make a simple mistake [spell it] with y, those who make a double mistake [spell it] psoía’;

(4) glosses which discuss accentuation, e.g. Phry. PS 10, 9–11 αὐτοχειρίᾳ [...] πρὸ μιᾶς ὁ τόνος. οἶδα δέ τινας οὐκ ἀδόξους περισπῶντας τὴν τελευταίαν, οὐχ ὑγιῶς (cf. Colomo (forthc.) on the use of lectional signs in prose papyri).

The glosses belonging to these four groups do not only confirm that the Atticist lexica do indeed contain information on the pronunciation of Greek, but they also support the idea that it reflects the pronunciation current in Attica between the 1st and the 2nd centuries CE (James 2008, Threatte 1982): the contemporary Atticist lexicographers overlooked phenomena that belonged exclusively to the substandard (Vessella 2012), yet paid special attention to those sound changes that were incipient in Attica at the time when the lexica were composed.

Session/Panel Title:

Receptions of Classical Literature in Premodern Scholarship

Session/Paper Number

31.2

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