Converting Classical to Demotic Greek

From The Broken Road: From the Iron Gates to Mount Athos, by Patrick Leigh Fermor (Journey Across Europe Book 3, NYRB Classics, 2014), Kindle pp. 261-262:

As we sat by the brazier before going to bed, I tried out the few bits of Homer I knew by heart on my host and hostess, and a couple of bits of Sappho. I suppose it was rather like a Greek, in an incomprehensible accent, hopefully murmuring passages of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight in Middle English to an old fisher couple in a Penzance cottage. Even so, the verses seemed to have a sort of talismanic value to their ears, and caused pleasure rather than the nonplussed tedium its English equivalent might have evoked in Cornwall. I struck luckier with Fauriel’s Greek folksongs, in the collection of Nadejda’s grandfather. They knew several of them, and my hostess Kyria Eleni – an alert old woman with wide-open blue eyes, dressed and elaborately kerchiefed in black – even sang a few lines here and there in a quavery voice. Once I had got the hang of the modern pronunciation of the vowels and diphthongs, with the fact that all hard breathings had evaporated and that all the accents merely indicated where the stress of a word fell, I saw that reading it aloud, though halting at first, would soon become plain sailing. I could also break down the construction of the sentences; even, now and then, and in spite of the deep demotic, the ghost of an inkling of their drift. Old newspapers hinted their meanings a stage more easily, as through a glass darkly, but with a battered missal I found on a shelf, it was almost face to face. All this was full of promise for the coming months; for, Constantinople once reached, I was planning a private invasion of Greece. But, infuriatingly, we were still confined in conversation to my halting and scarcely existent Bulgarian.

This dabbling with the mysteries of Greek caused many a sigh. They had never been to Greece, and now (unlike me) never would. They seemed glad to have a guest once more. I felt that my being English played a part in their kind welcome. At all events, when I tried to offer some money before setting off next day for Burgas, they both started back in horror as though the coins were red hot. I slept on the divan, under the twinkling ikon lamp. There was a silver-covered ikon of the Virgin (I was beginning to notice these things) and another of SS Constantine and Helen, holding up the True Cross between them; also two faded marriage wreaths intertwined in a glass case, carefully kept from their wedding day in the later decades of the last century.

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Filed under Britain, Bulgaria, education, Greece, language, literature, migration, nationalism, religion, travel

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