« PreviousContinue »
The Modern Greek language is the direct descendant of the language of the Byzantine or Eastern Roman Empire (whence its name Romaic), as this was immediately developed from the Alexandrine Greek, or "common dialect," resulting from a blending and merging of all the various Greek dialects when the ascendency of the Macedonian king and conqueror, Alexander the Great, united the various tribes of Greece, and spread their language as the medium of intercommunication among the subjugated populations of his enormous empire. Although the political supremacy of Greece, even in its comparatively bastard Macedonian and Byzantine forms, in which, however, alone it can ever be said to have existed as a united and powerful nationality, has long been a thing of the past, the inherent vitality, and vigour, and self-recreating power of the Greek language have never waned, and in the present day Greek performs much the same office, as the language of the most thriving commercial race in the East, that it did in the days of Alexander's successors. The subjects of free Greece—two millions and a half of souls—are but a fraction of the Greekspeaking population of the East. In the days of Mezzofanti, at the beginning of this century, Greek was still commonly spoken among the remnants of the ancient Greek colonies on the coast of Calabria, part of the old Magna Greecia in Italy; and even in Sardinia, it is said, there are still Greek-speaking colonies. But however this may be, Magna Greecia, "Great Greece," is still outside the limits of "Little" or "Free Greece/' In Bulgaria, in Albania (the ancient Macedonia and Epirus), in Thessaly (which was part of Ancient Greece), in all the islands east of Greece in the Mediterranean Sea, on the coasts as well as far inland in Asia Minor and in Egypt, in many parts of Palestine and Syria, indeed throughout the dominions of Turkey. Greek is the one language which is almost everywhere spoken and understood. A person with a competent knowledge of Modern Greek may travel nearly anywhere in the East without invoking the aid of that most terrible institution of modern tourism, the dragoman, who, by the way, is generally a Greek. This alone is a fact which has only to become duly known and appreciated in order to secure for Greek a foremost place among the modem languages which the ubiquitous English traveller is, or ought to be, anxious to acquire.
But it has another, and, if possible, a still stronger recommendation to our notice. Ten years ago I stated in my book "The Modern Greek Language in its relation to Ancient Greek" (published by the Clarendon Press, Oxford, in 1870), that "Modern Greek is nothing but Ancient Greek made easy." Constant study and converse with Greeks since that period have but served to confirm me in the opinion that that statement is literally correct. But if so, what follows? Why, that the study of Modern Greek is the true key to the mastery of the