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this means the discrimination of objects as it respects unity, binity, and multiplicity,

is easily carried out in speech. The language presents three genders; masculine, feminine,

and neuter. The article (ho, he, to) accompanies the noun and follows its inflections. It

also has an independent use, being capable of representing the absent noun as by a

delicate innuendo. In its power of nominal combination no other, language has equaled the

Greek. There was practically no limit to the ability of a Greek author to form compound

nouns, expressing the most complex ideas. The striking out of case-endings and the

juxtaposition of radicals was a process so easy and natural as to suggest itself in the

ordinary flow of speech, and the laws of the language were so tolerant of growth as to put

no restriction on either the poetic imagination or the necessity of philosophy. A whole

hexameter might flow in a word, if fancy suggested the combination.

The adjective was specially full and rich in its expressiveness. Each word of this class

was capable of one hundred and thirty- five endings! Of course, many of these were

duplicates of others, but the full scheme showed the number here indicated.1 In general

the adjective conformed to the mutations of the noun. There was thus established between

fact and epithet the closest bonds of sympathy. The adjective did obeisance in its forms

to the noun with which it was joined. It swayed to and fro with its master, followed his

fortunes and vicissitudes, shared his wealth and his poverty.

But it was the Greek verb which most of all exhibited the fecundity of the language. Here

was revealed the great force and perspicuity of the speech of the Hellenes. A double

series of affixes, added or prefixed to the verb-roots, clearly distinguished the tenses

as to the time and completeness of the action expressed by them. For past time the

augment, and for completed action the reduplication, furnished delicate discriminations

for which we should look in

1 That is, five cases multiplied by three numbers, by three genders, by three degrees of

comparison = 135 adjectival forms.

vain in Latin or in any other tongue ever spoken in Europe. The root of a Greek verb was

thus subject to a kind of development by means of endings and prefixes until the exact

notion of the time, its point and duration, and the completeness of the action, was

expressed with a specific delicacy of which no other language has ever shown itself


There was thus established among all the parts of the formal structure of the Greek tongue

a kind of sympathetic union which moved the whole as one. A Greek sentence was agitated

through all its length and depth by the stress of expression. The paragraph trembled from

end to end when the thrill of life awoke in any part. The language, with its multitudinous

endings, all in harmonious accord, lay like a rich meadow of stately timothy swaying and

waving in the breezes of thought. Each stalk nodded to his fellow. The ripple of mirth

danced over the surface like a scarcely perceptible breath of air. The shadow chased the

sunshine, and the sunshine the shadow. A sigh came out of the forest, and a deeper wave

moved gently away to the distance. The thrill of joy, the message of defiance, the moan of

the disconsolate spirit, the paean of battle, the shout of victory, every mood and every

emotion which the mind of man in his most vigorous estate is capable of experiencing,

swept in rolling billows across the pulsating bosom of this beautiful speech.

The tongue of the Greeks was, in its kind, as preeminent as their literature. The one was

the counterpart of the other. So wonderful in its completeness is the grammatical

structure of the language that it has been made, not without good reason, the foundation

of linguistic study in nearly all the universities of the world. The historian, Curtius,

in summing up the structural elegance of Greek, thus assigns to its true place the speech

of the Hellenic race: "If the grammar of their language were the only thing remaining to

us of the Hellenes, it would serve as a full and valid testimony to the extraordinary

natural gifts of this people, which, after with creative power appropriating the material

of their language, penetrated every part of it