The first major complete grammar of Classical Greek in the English language in nearly a century put together by a team of eminent scholars:. What is not to love? The Cambridge Grammar of Classical Greek (CGCG) grammar is a great addition to the Greek learner or scholar’s library. But Smyth is free, so what makes this worthy to get?
With a 2019 publication date this book is no longer exactly new, but it is worth paying some specific attention to as it really represents some major advances in areas where our traditional reference grammars are pretty weak. Having been using regularly since it came out, I have put together a list of what I feel are some of its best features:
1. Is up to date on areas where Greek scholarship has substantially advanced in the past 100 years. Some obvious areas are its description of the verbal system in terms of verbal aspect (anyone enamored with the Porter or Campbell perspective which has been so influential in NT studies will be let down; CGCG presents the (correct) understanding of tense in the indicative mood). The chapter on particles/conjunctions is an enormous advance of traditional accounts. If you look in Smyth or a more NT-focused reference grammar like Blass-Debrunner-Funk, they will give lots of translation equivalents for conjunctions but don’t really describe how they work, that is, what they actually do in linking parts of a discourse together. CGCG moves the ball forward with a consolidated description of the various particles in terms of their discourse functions. On that note, you won’t even find discourse cohesion discussed as a specific topic in Smyth. CGCG has a couple chapters unpacking it in a very clear and approachable way.
2. CGCG uses language which is more familiar to the modern student. Many grammatical categories and descriptions in older reference grammars are strongly beholden to the Latin tradition. You don’t need to know Latin to understand the grammar terms in CGCG, but basic exposure to linguistics will be rather helpful. This reflects one of the major directions of current Greek study: engagement with Greek from the viewpoint(s) of linguistics, rather than classical studies as such. Often times the way topics are discussed in CGCG will be more familiar to people who have cut their teeth on some measure of modern linguistics (talking about heads and modifiers and so forth). That being said, they do not attempt to do a wholesale description of Classical Greek in terms of any particular modern linguistic theory. Most of the categories of traditional Greek grammar are maintained (you’ll find a chapter on “the Aorist” rather than on the “perfective aspect”, for instance). This makes the grammar a comfortable go-between: it is a good introduction to contemporary areas of interest in Greek studies as well as understandable from the terms of traditional categories.
3. Its pages are huge and its text is clean and easy to read. Compared to most reference grammars, this one is extremely reader friendly. It is not packed full of small font with even smaller foot notes, but is readable, clean, and makes successful use of bold and italic text for emphasis. No squinting required to make out a paradigm in this book! A Greek grammar that is user-friendly really is a once in a blue moon kind of event.
4. It majors on the majors and generally leaves out the minors. By comparison, this grammar gives a lot less information than what is in Smyth, but that is often really nice for just finding what is important to find for most reading. Rather than discussing the different dialect variations of the verb paradigms, or detailing peculiar usages by the dozen, it sticks to the main meanings and usages. Of course, this means that it is not an exhaustive reference grammar like those in the German tradition (I’m thinking especially of the bazillion volumes of small print in Schwyzer’s really good grammar, for instance). On the plus side, this means CGCG is also not an exhausting grammar.
5. Extensive cross-references between sections enables easy navigation. The index is not as robust as one might like it to be, especially if you are used to using a grammar like Smyth, but the cross-referencing largely makes up for that.
CGCG has become my first stop grammar for Ancient Greek, period. But certainly don’t get rid of Smyth or the other older reference grammars (NT or Classical). Smyth still covers many facets of the Greek language which CGCG does not. There are whole categories of meaning touched on in Smyth, et al., that don’t appear here. But, this grammar will put the reader in a much better position to understand what is going on in current Greek study than Smyth (or BDF, or Robertson, or Turner, or [insert name of other reference grammar, Classical or NT Greek, which you have seen or read, with the notable exception of von Siebenthal]) will, which will make it far easier to understand the specialist studies and works that are currently driving academic interest in Greek and which are leaving more and more of an imprint on commentaries focused on the Greek of the NT. Beyond that, it will also help those who are simply learning and need a solid grammar.