Learn to Write Ancient Greek from the Start

By Lee Lanzillotta

When learning a language, I prefer to not only read and hear a language, but to write it too. Now, most people who study Latin and Ancient Greek in university to the most advanced level end up taking composition courses as Phd candidates. I believe this is way too late. Even though nobody can compose beautiful Ciceronian orations or dialogues in flawless Attic on day one – nor should you expect to, really – you can begin writing to help vocab and grammar stick in your brain. Now, if you’re using a book like Athenzae or even Logos, you should already be doing some really basic written exercises (if you aren’t, please do them – you need to do all the exercises to learn the material! I learned this the hard way with Familia Romana). That’s really a great start.

However, I believe one should go a step further and also create original exercises. When you come across a new word in a reading or find yourself struggling to memorize a word, write it down. Invent a sentence, even just a really simple one without any extra clauses or genitive absolutes. Getting creative really helps, especially if you invent something so silly or bizarre you can’t help but remember it. There is a reason people who build memory palaces tend to opt for weirder imagery. Don’t be afraid to be silly – goofiness is good when you’re still learning. The more you laugh when coming up with sentences, the better, because strong emotions help the words or concepts stick.

I would also suggest connecting vocabulary to people and places that are extremely personal to you. This is why keeping a diary in your target language can be so useful, especially once you’ve got a firmer grip on the language and a vocabulary of at least a thousand words. But even at the earliest stages you can compose simple sentences about your life. For example, if you have a friend who speaks Ancient Greek, you can write ὁ φίλος Ἑλληνιστὶ λαλεῖ. Or to remember “οἰκέω” and “Ἰταλία” I might write “ἐγὼ ἐν τῇ Ἰταλίᾳ οἰκῶ”, because I live in Italy. You only need to know a few basic words to start bringing them together like this. Writing short sentences like this can also help you link words together as a single unit, making them easier to remember in the long term. As much as I like flash cards, memorizing words in a vacuum is way harder than memorizing them as part of a set or sentence. Context really helps.

Describing images as an exercise also really helps reinforce vocab. There’s a reason so many spoken Latin and Ancient Greek teachers use images in their classes. But you can do this at home too – all you need are some pictures relevant to whatever you’re reading. This shouldn’t be hard to find if you simply flip through a book on old artwork depicting scenes from Greek mythology. Even simple photos of nature can work too, depending on what vocabulary you’ve learned so far. If you’re using Italian Athenaze, the publisher’s subsidia page has sets of images designed to go with each chapter’s vocabulary. Once you’ve got an image, try to name the objects. Do you see trees? Houses? People? Then try to form sentences. Think about where the trees are. In the field, perhaps? You could even do this walking around near your home, carrying a small notebook with you to write things down. This may work even better, because there’s something so much more vivid and engaging about interacting with tangible objects and naming them in your target language. 

Tips for Writing Ancient Greek (Summary)

  • keep it simple
  • make it goofy: the sillier the better
  • write to a friend
  • keep a diary in Ancient Greek
  • describe images
  • take a notebook with you and write down what you see on a walk


  1. Hi Lee,
    Loved your article. These are great tips for anyone working in a new language. It sounds like you have figured out some very powerful and effective strategies to maximize your learning. Thanks for sharing and keep up the good work!

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