Scope of a Hellenistic Greek Grammar V: The "Problem" of Dialect

When we discuss the “scope” of any grammar it is possible to discuss two quite different things. One is the range of issues it should address (See Scope IV). The other is the range of literature it seeks to cover, what I called “Documentary Scope” in my original post on this issue (Scope I, II, and III).

The problem of defining the documentary scope of a Hellenistic Greek Grammar in the past century was fairly straight forward. It included either the Christian New Testament, or the New Testament plus the Septuagint. Little outside that body of literature was of immediate interest. The computer revolution, however, has made this limitation seem unreasonable, since we now have relatively easy access to a much broader range of literature.

What I have written in my first three posts on Scope was written as a way of thinking through the implications of this challenge. I suggested that an authoritative grammar of Hellenistic Greek should address at least (outside the biblical texts) a broad representation from other early Jewish and Christian literature and much of the available papyrii from outside the Jewish and Christian traditions.

Now I would like to consider the “problem” of dialect. This issue is acutely problematic with some authors who were able to manage more than one dialect reasonably fluently. Take Flavius Arrianus, for example. He wrote the Discourses of Epictetus (ΤΩΝ ΕΠΙΚΤΗΤΟΥ ΔΙΑΤΡΙΒΩΝ) and the Manual of Epictetus (ΕΠΙΚΤΗΤΟΥ ΕΓΧΕΙΡΙΔΙΟΝ) in fluent Hellenistic Koiné, but his History of Alexander (ΑΛΕΞΑΝΔΡΟΥ ΑΝΑΒΑΣΕΩΣ) is a clear attempt to imitate the Attic of Xenophon and in his Indica (ΙΝΔΙΚΗ) he strives for the Ionic of Herodotus. In neither of these last two does he represent the actual speech of his time, but he certainly did represent the language of fine literature.

In my original post on Scope I suggested that we should include Arrian’s History of Alexander, but I would now reject that judgment. If our aim is to reflect the Hellenistic Koiné, the language seen in the biblical texts, then we should limit the Documentary Scope of the grammar to works that reflect that level of literature.

In this case, what we need goes well beyond a list of Hellenistic authors, but a considered discussion of each of their works and its relationship to the Koiné.