Ancient Greek influence in Modern Greek and English

Ancient Greek is the form which was used in Ancient Greece from the 9th century BC to the 6th century AD. It is divided into the Archaic period, the Classical period and the Hellenistic period.

It was the language of Homer and of classical Athenian historians, playwrights, and philosophers and therefore it gained prestige. It has influenced not only Modern Greek, but also English, as it has contributed many words to English vocabulary.

To facilitate learners I am going to quote Ancient Greek phrases that are still used in Modern Greek and English words of Greek origin.


These phrases have survived over the centuries, they are used mainly in the formal language and are considered authoritative

| Phrase | Translation | More info |

|αίεν αριστεύειν (e-en a-ree-ste-veen) | Always be excellent / Always to Excel | Phrase from the sixth book of Homer's Iliad|

|άπαξ λεγόμενον (a-pax le-γo-me-non) | Once said | - |

|από μηχανής Θεός (a-po mee-ha-nees the-os) | God from the machine | Someone who solves a problem from nothing|

|βασιλεία των ουρανών (va-see-lee-a ton u-ra-non) | God's kingdom | Phrase from the New Testament

|γνώθι σεαυτόν (γno-thee se-af-ton) | Know yourself | Ancient Greek aphorism inscribed over the entrance to the temple of Apollo at Delphi|

|Γόρδιος δεσμός (γor-δeeos δe-smos) | Gordian knot | It's associated with Alexander the Great. It is used as a metaphor for an intractable problem, solved by a bold stroke|

|διαίρει και βασίλευε (δee-e-ree ke va-see-le-ve) | Divide and rule | - |

|αμύνεσθαι περί πάτρης (a-mee-ne-sthe pe-ri pa-trees) | To fight for your country| - |

|εν οίδα ότι ουδέν οίδα (en ee-δa o-tee u-δen ee-δa) | I know one thing, that I know nothing | ~Socrates |

|εύρηκα (e-vree-ka) | I have found it | While Archimedes was taking a bath, he noticed that the level of the water rose as he got in, and he realized that the volume of water displaced must be equal to the volume of the part of his body he had submerged. This meant that the volume of irregular objects could be measured with precision, a previously intractable problem. He was so excited that he ran through the streets naked and still wet from his bath, crying "I have found it!".

|η ταν ή επί τας (ee tan ee e-pi tas) | Either with your shield, or on it | Meaning "either you will win the battle, or you will die and then be carried back home on your shield". It was said by Spartan mothers to their sons before they went out to battle to remind them of their bravery and duty to Sparta and Greece.

|ήλθον, είδον, ενίκησα (eel-thon, ee-δον, e-nee-kee-sa) | I came, I saw, I conquered | ~ Julius Caesar|

|και σύ τέκνον; (ke see te-knon;) | And you young man? / Et tu Brute| On March 15, 44 BC, Julius Caesar was attacked by Brutus. When Caesar saw Brutus, he spoke those Greek words asand resigned himself to his fate.|

|καλλίστη (ka-lee-stee) | The most beautiful | From the myth of the Golden Apple of Discord|

|κτήμα ες αεί (ktee-ma es a-ee) | Possession for eternity | Said by Thucydides|

|Κύριε ελέησον (Kee-ri-e e-le-ee-son) | Lord have mercy | A very common phrase in Greek Orthodox liturgies, and also used in Greek in the Roman Catholic Mass|

|μέτρον άριστον (me-tron a-ree-ston) | Moderation is best | On occasions where neither too much nor too little is a good choice|

|μη μου τους κύκλους τάραττε (mee mu tus kee-klus ta-ra-te) | Do not disturb my circles | The last words attributed to Archimedes. During the raid of Syracuse by the Romans, Archimedes was busy drawing circles. He was eventually attacked and killed by a Roman soldier|

|μη χείρον βέλτιστον (mee hee-ron vel-tee-ston) | The least bad is the best| - |


| English Word | Ancient Greek word | Modern Greek word | More info |

|academe, academia, academic | ἀκάδημία | ακαδημία (a-ka-δee-mee-a)| - |

|acrobat | ἀκροβάτης | ακροβάτης (a-kro-va-tees) | - |

|acropolis| ἀκρόπολις | ακρόπολη (a-kro-po-lee) | - |

|acroterion or acroterium | ἀκρωτήριον | ακρωτήριο / ακρωτήρι (a-kro-tee-ree-o / a-kro-tee-ree) | - |

|aerodynamic | ἀεροδυναμικός | αεροδυναμικός (a-e-ro-δee-na-mee-kos) | - |

|aeronautics| - | αεροναυτική (a-e-ro-naf-tee-kee) | - |

|aeroplane / airplane | from ancient Greek verb ἀερόπλανος | αεροπλάνο (a-e-ro-pla-no) | - |

|agape | ἀγάπη | αγάπη (a-γa-pee) | - |

|agony | ἀγωνία | αγωνία (a-γo-nee-a) | - |

|antagonist | ἀνταγωνιστής | ανταγωνιστής (a-da-γo-nee-stees) | - |

|agronomy | ἀγρονομία | αγρονομία (a-γro-no-mee-a) | - |

|demagogue | δημαγωγία | δημαγωγία (δee-ma-γo-γee-a) | - |

|strategy | στρατηγική | στρατηγική (stra-tee-γee-kee) | - |

|synagogue | συναγωγή | συναγωγή (see-na-γo-γee) | - |

|telescope | from ancient Greek adjective τηλεσκόπος | τηλεσκόπιο (*tee-le-sco-pee-o) | - |


Information source: Wikipedia

September 3, 2016


Hey, that is interesting. Most of these sayings and sentences also exist in Latin.

I should note for the others however, that these transcriptions from Greek to Latin script are aimed at English speakers and (I'm not sure of this) transcribed from Modern Greek pronunciation to English.

September 3, 2016

Isn't more accurate to speak for Ancient Greek in plural? There was not a single dialect of Greek in the Archaic era in contrast with the 'Koine Gree'k during the Hellenistic era, 'Byzantium Greek' during the Medieval age, or Modern Standard Greek nowadays.

Differences among the various ancient dialects included pronunciation / lack of pronunciation of 'ϝ' (e.g. Attic ιδέα vs Aeolian ϝιδέη), different palatalization patterns (e.g. Attic θάλασσα vs Doric θάλαθθα), difference in pronunciation of diphthongs, different developments of * kʷ / gʷ / xʷ (either became labial or dental, unless it was adjacent to *u), some minor grammar alternations, different vocabulary, etc.

September 4, 2016

It's not proper English to say "Ancient Greek are...". You have to say "Ancient Greek is..." :)

October 17, 2016

Cinema also comes from Greek (from κίνημα = 'movement'). Ironically, Modern Greek has the word σίνεμα = 'cinema', having borrowed it from French.

September 4, 2016

We do say κινηματογράφος -- or σινεμά.

January 9, 2017

You're right! There were many different dialects at the same time in Classical Greece with a lot of differences between each one. However, their dialects were understood by Ancient Greeks who knew another dialect.

As about cinema, you are right :P

September 4, 2016

This isn't true. Have you ever read Pamphylian or Macedonian? I bet you won't understand them, even if you knew perfectly Attic/Ionian or Doric (the two most widely spread dialects in ancient times). Macedonian, for example, had all aspirated consonants pronounced voiced which would have been very confusing for southern Greeks. Pamphylian, on the other hand, didn't use any articles... Furthermore, there are direct accounts for Ancient Greeks from different tribes not able to understand each other (e.g. -

September 4, 2016

True! Pamphylian was an isolated dialect and there are a lot of differences. As about Macedonian there are many theories, but it is indeed very different from other Greek dialects verbally and grammatically.

I have read some Macedonian inscriptions, but except names of people and places and a few more words, I couldn't understand anything!

September 4, 2016

"The Ancient Greek language includes the forms of Greek used in Ancient Greece and the ancient world from around the 9th century BCE to the 6th century CE."

This suggests a definition of "Ancient Greek" that includes Koine. How common is it to define it that way, as compared to excluding Koine from Ancient Greek?

January 16, 2019

I think koine is usually defined as part of "Ancient Greek", along with Homeric, Attic (most notably), and less "popular" dialects, like Doric, Ionic, Aeolian, etc.

January 16, 2019
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