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Ancient Greek had a large impact on scientific and mathematical language and thinking leading into the Enlightenment period and beyond. But "ancient Greek" could refer to any dialect spanning a period of hundreds of years. Today, the Ancient Greek taught e.g. in Greece is Koine Greek (I believe), and this aligns with e.g. Aristotle who was obviously hugely influential in Medieval and Enlightenment thought, so I would assume this is the dialect that would have been taught to budding scientists and mathematicians like Newton. But I'm looking for some type of reference which can clarify what was taught and when?

=Edit= Correction: Koine Greek was Roman, Attic Greek was used in Athens so that seems to align more with Aristotle and Enlightenment ideals.

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    $\begingroup$ Clarke's Classical Education in Britain, 1500-1900 does not address this directly. But I suspect that natural philosophers did not get special treatment, and judging by the list of Greek authors used, grammar schools and universities taught Epic (Homer, Hesiod) and Attic (dialect of Athens, Plato, Aristotle, classical tragedies). Koine is essentially a redux of Attic, and the dialect of New Testament, see ΑΟΙΔΟΙ: Greek Dialects, so it was the base. $\endgroup$
    – Conifold
    Dec 10 '20 at 7:30
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    $\begingroup$ The ancient greek language was spoken in many different dialects. Given that philosophy emerged in dialogue, that is spoken speech; after all, that is how Plato presented it as, we must assume philosophy was spoken in many different dialects. However, the earliest Greek natural philosophy arose on Asia Minor, that is in Miletus. Here, they spoke Aeolic. In fact, it's considered as a subdialect of Aeolic. $\endgroup$ Dec 12 '20 at 5:06
  • $\begingroup$ @Mozibur Ullah To the best of my knowledge, there is no extant Ancient Greek text on anything remotely scientific or mathematical in Aeolic, no? $\endgroup$ Dec 12 '20 at 14:49
  • $\begingroup$ @cosmas zachos: Nevertheless we do know they spoke a dialect of Aeolic in Miletus. And we do know that greek natural philosophy began there (they would not have used the term Greek). Discussion is done not only in writing but also in speaking. $\endgroup$ Dec 13 '20 at 7:02
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    $\begingroup$ Shouldn't this really ask "What dialect of ancient Greek did most natural philosophers learn?" It sounds unlikely that once it was realized that someone was a natural philosopher, they would be carted off and taught very different things (incl. language) than the other people they were around. $\endgroup$
    – gktscrk
    Dec 13 '20 at 9:26
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Attic, the highest prestige dialect, hands down. For centuries, this has been the mainstay of Greek language education in Europe.

There is no better reminder of this than Newton's Trinity College Notebooks taken down in serviceable, not perfect, classic Attic. (Note he uses Attic syntax, verbs in 3rd person singular, matching a plural subject.)

Of course, works of Italiot authors, like Archimedes, were written in Doric, but have not survived, and all extant excerpts in our possession were "translated" to Attic in antiquity. Aristotle's books and Euclid's elements are basically in Attic, virtually fully overlapping with Koine, and serving as its cynosure; and fully comprehensible to educated Koine readers, then and now. Even Diophantus, 3rd century AD, writes in Classical language, the language of all mathematical texts he'd read, and not in Koine, the language he probably spoke at home.

The Ancient Greek taught in Greece today is Classical (Attic), with some Homeric. Koine need not be taught as "Ancient Greek" there, as Testament (funny Koine) Greek is used in churches every day, and underlies the reconstructed formal language, Καθαρεύουσα, used for higher education and state functions for close to two hundred years; much of this language was taught as "modern" Greek. Panegyric school speeches were given in it, arguably comprehensible to students. It was abandoned only recently in the mainstream, but still lingers in the culture; as English incorporates Shakespeare maxims, so does colloquial Greek run on Testament maxims. Wonderful 150 year old works of literature in Koine/Καθαρεύουσα have started being translated to colloquial Greek only recently.

In Western Europe, and the US, "Ancient Greek" textbooks have, almost exclusively, been covering Classical (Attic) Greek, given the bulk of the corpus of Greek authors; with a smattering of Homeric. I think Biblical scholars in the last century have splintered off and are hyper focussing on Koine, but this is a side phenomenon.

(I know I might irritate people to scream with this, but you might think of Homeric as Robert of Gloucester, Classical as Chaucer, and Koine as Shakespeare.)

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  • $\begingroup$ There's a whole mini-industry busy proving that Shakespeare wasn't Shakespeare. Are you suggesting that Koine is to be added to that list? No, of course not. $\endgroup$ Dec 13 '20 at 7:30
  • $\begingroup$ In my personal opinion, that mini industry just demonstrates the class ridden society of England because the 'university' & 'aristocratic' crowd could hardly believe that a mere grammar school kid could beat them at their own game ... $\endgroup$ Dec 13 '20 at 8:08
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The ancient greek language was spoken in many different dialects. Given that philosophy emerged in dialogue, that is spoken speech; after all, that is how Plato presented it as (there's only one dialogue where a document is presented and this is in Parmenides where he and Zeno meet Socrates), we must assume philosophy was spoken in many different dialects.

However, the earliest Greek natural philosophy arose on Asia Minor, that is in Miletus. Here, they spoke Aeolic. In fact, it's considered as a subdialect of Aeolic. Note, that they would not have used the term 'Greek'.

The case of Parmenides is interesting as he wrote his major work as a poem in traditional greek epic, that is, derived from Homer & Hesiod and this is written and this was written in a combination of Ionic & Aeolic, and whilst it's literary form was influenced by Attic,

Homeric Greek is like Ionic Greek and quite unlike Classical Attic Greek in shifting the long a to [e=eta]. So for example attic troia became Ionic/Aeolic troie.

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  • $\begingroup$ @Danu: Can you explain why you deleted my answer? It answers directly 'what dialect of Greek' was taught the Greek natural philosophers. $\endgroup$ Dec 13 '20 at 7:06
  • $\begingroup$ @Sam Gallagher: Why do you think that this doesn't answer the question? $\endgroup$ Dec 13 '20 at 7:06
  • $\begingroup$ The venue for Parmenides is the Latin.greek SE; but, being from Southern Italy, he was miles and miles away from Aeolic. His surviving fragments are in Classical Greek, with a few Epic affectations, not too different than the Ionic idiom of Herodotus, manifestly mainstream Classical. No trace of Aeolic in them. $\endgroup$ Dec 13 '20 at 14:01
  • $\begingroup$ @Cosmos Zachos: That's just rubbish. According to Strabo 'outside of the Ithmus, all Greeks were Aeolians except the Athenians, the Megarians and the Dorians ... but only Eleans and Arcadians continued to speak Aeolic'. Parmenides was an Elean. $\endgroup$ Dec 13 '20 at 14:32
  • $\begingroup$ @cosmos zachos: I put it to you that you are a racist. $\endgroup$ Dec 13 '20 at 14:34

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