Ancient Greek: Past, Present & Future

Eugenia Manolidou

Eugenia Manolidou is a musician, composer and conductor of symphonic music. Since 2017 she has been directing Elliniki Agogi, a school specialising in Ancient Greek, History and Philosophy. Her passion for the Classics began when she left Athens at the age of 19 to study composition at the Juilliard School. Amazed by the depth and richness of the Greek Civilisation she decided to learn Ancient Greek in order to understand the original texts. Her compositions and performances, including a concert given for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, were entirely based on the Greek civilisation.

Eugenia is the Director and Program Coordinator of Elliniki Agogi. Where they apply the Living Language method. Since 1994, they have been teaching the Ancient Greek language to children from the ages of 3 to 16 years old. They also teach adults who wish to broaden and advance their knowledge of Ancient Greek, history and philosophy. Eugenia’s role, as the Director and Program Coordinator of the school, is to continuously research, develop and evaluate the curricula, as well as, introduce and create new approaches to learning Ancient Greek. She does her best to ensure the learning programme remains interesting, compelling, engaging and fun for both children and adults.

How did you become interested in this area?

Once I realized the plethora of benefits derived from learning the Ancient Greek language, for all ages, it propelled me to research and develop new methods and techniques to improve the educational model by effectively connecting learning, communication and experience. These methods allow students to approach their distant past by integrating knowledge and experience, in and outside of the classroom. Offering so much knowledge in such a fun and gratifying way is what attracted me the most to this area.

What’s the most important concept or idea that you teach people?

The most important concept we try to communicate and demonstrate to our students is that Ancient Greek is not a “dead” language. As Greeks, most of our everyday vocabulary comes directly from the ancient Greek language. We use phrases, quotes, jokes, in Ancient Greek, even as kids. By naming the language “dead” automatically separates what comes natural to us, as a continuation of the ancient form of our language. As a result, when students start studying Ancient Greek in high school they feel they are studying something “dead” and therefore, useless. At Elliniki Agogi, we try to bring our students in contact with the wealth of Ancient Greek thought and culture, showing the temporal continuity and enhancing it morally and spiritually.

What do you think is the most important piece of practical advice that we can derive from your work?

Many people still question why they should learn Ancient Greek and what the practical use may be. Of course we can speak about the beauty of reading the original texts of Greek drama or philosophy or the wealth of vocabulary building and improved grammar comprehension. The most important practical reason to learn Greek is to improve the knowledge of all the other Western languages, as a significant amount of words are derived from both Greek and Latin. Many scientific words are Greek and many abstract meanings come from this very rich language. I believe it is worth trying to learn, even a few words, anyway! There are words of Greek origin like “disaster” (dysastron) that don’t sound greek at all, and yet they come from Greek. The hardest part is for someone to decide to learn Greek; once the decision is made and the first few lessons begin, a whole new irresistible world full of ideas and noble concepts opens up!

Do you have a favorite quote that you use?

There are many quotes that I use in my everyday life. My most favourite quote of mine is by Chilon of Sparta: ΜΗΔΕΝ ΑΓΑΝ – “Nothing in excess”. Moderation as a principle of life and at the same time, a key part of personal development. Another favourite of mine, which is used a lot to encourage our young students, is the wise counsel found in rapsody Z in the Iliad: Αἰὲν ἀριστεύειν καὶ ὑπείροχον ἔμμεναι ἄλλων, μηδὲ γένος πατέρων αἰσχυνέμεν – “Ever to excel, to do better than others and to bring glory to your forebears”. For me, this is the foundation of excellence, to try your best, without harming others, thus avoiding disgracing ones ancestors.

What advice would you give someone who wanted to learn more about what you do?

I would advise and encourage them to come and attend our classes and lectures, or register online. Elliniki Agogi is an educational institution open to everyone who wishes to investigate the Greek civilisation by either studying the ancient greek language, or by listening to lectures on philosophy or drama which ultimately founded the roots of Western thought.

Suppose you were able to give a talk or workshop at the original location of Plato’s Academy, in Athens. How would you feel about that and what topics would you cover?

Just the thought of it gives me the chills! I study Plato’s philosophy. In fact, at Elliniki Agogi, we recently concluded the whole Platonic Corpus after two years of weekly lectures, and I would be so grateful to watch scholars talk in this amazing place. It’s considered a sacred place amongst the Greeks. It is the first “University” of the Western world where the foundations of Western Science and Philosophy were laid two-and-a half millenia ago. If I were given the opportunity, I would present on the relevance of music in Ancient Greece and the importance of melody, rhythm and harmony in today’s world.

Elliniki Agogi’s children’s tribute to Thermopylae and Salamis in Ancient Greek with English captions.

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