The Critical 'I'

Read. React. Repeat.

Sunday, February 22, 2004

You'd figure a book series as massive as Harry Potter would be available in several languages. Heck, it's even available in Greek, my primary second language.

But it hasn't been available in ancient Athenian Greek--until now. Classics teacher Andrew Wilson has just completed a translation of "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone" into ancient Greek. (Note that this is the original, UK title of the book/movie known in the States as "Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone"; I guess philosophy turns off American audiences...)

"I suspect very few people will read it all the way through," he said. "You will need a degree in Ancient Greek to get a great deal out of it."

But Wilson hopes students studying the ancient language will enjoy reading extracts of the book as a "relaxation."

I've tried reading ancient Greek before. It ain't easy, although I was struck more by the number of similarities with modern Greek than with the differences, considerable as they are. The Greek alphabet hasn't changed a whole lot over the centuries, which helps a little. Learning Cypriot Greek might help some too, as it's my understanding that it's the closest existing dialect to ancient Greek that's left.

I'll never forget one time, at a museum exhibit, looking at an ancient stone tablet, filled with Greek writing from around 200 BC. It was all bunched together (spacing was a concept that didn't come along until later) and worn away and hard to make out. But as my eyes passed along it, I finally made out a name: "Orestes". Clear as day. It was a slightly exhilerating feeling to have been able to personally decipher even such a small sliver of information, come to me from across the centuries.

Quidditch becomes Ikarosfairike or "Ikarus ball" -- in a reference to the mythological boy who few too high -- while Hogwarts is Huogoetou, deriving from words meaning "hog" and "wizard."
Harry Potter is Hareios Poter. Hareios means "belonging to Ares," the war god, or "warrior" and Poter, a "cup" or "goblet."

Lord Voldemort, Potter's nemesis, becomes Folidomortos, which literally means "scaly death."

"Ancient Greek has a massive vocabulary," said Wilson. "Now it's got a slightly bigger one."