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The “Erasmian” Pronunciation of Greek

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Whose Error is It?

image of Erasmus Studies

In 1635 the Dutch scholar Gerardus Vossius (1577–1649) published a work on the Art of Grammar where he makes reference to the circumstances in which Erasmus wrote his Dialogue on the Correct Way of Pronouncing Latin and Greek (1528). Vossius quotes an account from 1569 which explains how Erasmus fell foul of a practical joke by which he was fooled into thinking that a new and more correct pronunciation of Greek had been discovered, and, wanting to appear the inventor of the matter, Erasmus quickly composed and published his Dialogue, only to discover later that the whole story was in fact a hoax. This account of the origins of Erasmus’ Dialogue has largely been taken at face value by those concerned, but I argue that it is a most unlikely explanation with several serious flaws. Although the practical joke could have taken place, it seems that it was subsequently misconstrued as the incentive for Erasmus’ Dialogue. On the contrary, I argue that the Dialogue was intended as a sincere popularization of an ongoing academic inquiry, but that the hypothetical Greek pronunciation therein has been misunderstood as a cue to replace the traditional (native) pronunciation. This article shows that the so-called “Erasmian” pronunciation of Greek at large today is not only un-Greek, but also un-Erasmian, for it has little to do with Erasmus and contradicts his example and counsel.

Affiliations: 1: Independent Scholar


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