Don't get me wrong: I think it's fine and dandy to keep some semblance of classical Greek kicking, but as Brennan notes at the start of his review, nobody has really done that--that's why this book can count as "one of the most important pieces of Ancient Greek prose written in many centuries": it has no real competitors.
Classical Greek is a rather interesting phenomenon. What survives is a very tiny selection of the finest literary output of one of the greatest civilizations the world has known. The Greek that we read in the New Testament is really quite different. It is in a dialect usually referred to as koinê--that's just the Greek word for "common"--which is a kind of compromise between the vulgar Greek on the street and the more refined literary Greek used in published or publishable poetry and prose. The expression "Classical Greek", by contrast, is a modern coinage used to refer to the very high quality literary Greek of the fifth- and fourth-centuries BC. Some of the authors that one could read in "Classical Greek" are Aeschylus, Euripides, Plato, Thucydides, Pindar...well, you get the idea.
Or maybe you don't. New Testament koinê, after all, is the Greek of the first century of the Christian Era; perhaps "Classical Greek" is just the street Greek of four hundred years earlier, as different from koinê as the English we speak is from Shakespeare's. Just as Shakespeare's English was the street English of his day, who's to say that the Greek of the Classical period is all that different from what the folks on the street heard and spoke in the Agoras and Harbor Towns of Plato's day?
It's hard to say, given the limited documentary evidence from the period. But just as the English that I use when I'm speaking to my dog differs from the English that I use when I'm writing a philosophical paper, I think that it's fair to say that the Greek spoken by your average citizen on the street was somewhat different from the Greek that Plato wrote in his dialogues. Why anyone would want to speak to their dog in the same tone, using the same vocabulary, that they use in their finest prose, is beyond me, and yet here's an attempt to do just that with the Potter novel. It's not a particularly noble plot, as story-lines go; the characters are woodenly drawn; the settings are goofy and cartoonish; and yet we're supposed to find it inspiring that it is now preserved in the same language that Sophocles used to tell the story of Oedipus.
I don't mean to be a fuddy-duddy about this. It's not that I think it somehow sacriligious to use classical Greek as a medium for the Potter stories. But one thing in particular about Brennan's review struck me as rather troubling:
It will also be of great value to teachers of mid-level Greek who are casting about for texts with which to encourage and entertain their students. After the Xenophontic parasangs have lost their charm and the Euripidean trimeters are limping, students can refresh themselves with a bout of "ikarosphairikê" (Wilson's spot-on neologism for quidditch), or enjoy the bantering of Fred and George.Why do I find this troubling? Well, just this morning, as I was giving an exam in my ethics class, I had a student come up to me with a question about something on the test. I was asking them to assess arguments for validity and soundness. In case you've forgotten, an argument is valid whenever it is impossible for the conclusion to be false when all of the premises are true. An argument is sound whenever it is both valid and all of its premises are true. So it is important to know whether a premise is true if you are looking for soundness as opposed to validity. In one of my sample arguments on the test, I used a premise that said "Since Shakespeare wrote Moby Dick...". The student had come to me to ask whether this premise is, in fact, true or false. I told him that I couldn't answer his question, as that would give the answer away. I didn't mention to him, however, that I thought it should be something that everyone in the class already knew. In short, I'm troubled by the Potter translation not because I think it is a bad idea in itself, but because I think it is a manifestation of the dumbing down of American tastes in general that folks would prefer to read Potter to reading Xenophon, Thucydides, Plato, or Euripides. Brennan spends some time in his review showing how the themes in the Potter novels are not unlike the themes that one finds in such sources as Lewis, Kipling, Plato, Mallory--well, why not read Lewis, Kipling, Plato, and Mallory? Why not translate them into Greek, if you must?
Because they're not as popular. Potter is popular. He's banal, but he's popular. Why should we ask kids to read Plato on the immortality of the soul when they'll have more fun reading about a game played on a broomstick 100 feet in the air? Education is useless if kids don't enjoy getting it. College has to be fun or it isn't relevant. This is just one step away from saying that we shouldn't teach kids about subjects that they don't like, let alone in a manner that they don't like. Hey! Moral theory is boring! Political theory is boring! Let's read about sports! Especially sports that can never be played by real people! Now that's educational!