I’ve been using ChatGPT over the past week to supplement Duolingo’s Modern Greek track, as one of the drawbacks of Duolingo is that it isn’t that great at reinforcing or providing grammatical infrastructure scaffolding. (I love grammar.) It’s also difficult for me to think about how words are actually spelled or where the accents are because Duolingo doesn’t have me do that — I press buttons with whole words on them. One reason for trying to learn a bit of Modern Greek is because I worship many Hellenic Gods and am wondering what is being said behind the language barrier (because a lot of things are not translated), and it’s also honestly very fun to learn a language and to learn more about another culture. Greek changes slowly, so it’s even helping me poke at what’s what in the ancient language on the facing page of Plato/Proclus/Iamblichus/&c. translations, although that is a bit risky at this point because there are some grammatical things I haven’t been taught.
ChatGPT has been helping me with everything from “explain why this grammar is doing this thing” — which, I confess, is mostly me asking how prepositions work — to building out my vocabulary. I’ve also asked it to write short dialogue vignettes that will help me learn Greek vocabulary and grammar, with a focus on religious vocabulary due to my learning goals. Here are a few of the dialogues it has output:
Me: Write an easy Greek dialogue between two women offering to the Gods that will help me learn simple modern Greek grammar?
ChatGPT: Sure! Here’s a simple dialogue between two women offering to the Gods in Greek:
A: Γεια σου! Τι κάνεις; (Ya sou! Ti káneis?)
B: Είμαι καλά, ευχαριστώ. Προσεύχομαι στους Θεούς. Και εσύ; (Ime kalá, efharistó. Prosevhomai stous Theous. Kai esý?)
A: Εγώ επίσης προσεύχομαι στους Θεούς. Θέλεις να συμμετέχεις; (Egó epísís prosevhomai stous Theous. Thélis na symmetécheis?)
B: Ναι, σας ευχαριστώ! Τι θα συναντήσουμε; (Nai, sas efharistó! Ti tha synatísumai?)
A: Θα συναντήσουμε την θεία του ήλιου και την θεία της Σελήνης και θα τους δώσουμε νερό και μυρωδείς. (Tha synatísumai tin theía tou íliou kai tin theía tis Selínis kai tha tous dósumai neró kai myrodhes.)
B: Πολύ καλό! Δεν περιμένω να το δοκιμάσουμε. (Polý kaló! Den periméno na to dokimásumai.)
This dialogue uses simple Greek grammar structures, including the use of the present tense, the verb “είμαι” (ime) to express “I am,” and common Greek greetings. It also introduces the words “προσεύχομαι” (prosevhomai), which means “I pray,” and “θεία” (theía), which means “goddess.”
Me: What does συμμετέχεις mean? And δώσουμε?
ChatGPT: “Συμμετέχεις” (symmetécheis) is the second person singular form of the Greek verb “συμμετέχω” (symmetécho), which means “to participate” or “to join.”
“Δώσουμε” (dósumai) is the first person plural form of the Greek verb “δίνω” (díno), which means “to give.”
So in the context of the dialogue, “Θέλεις να συμμετέχεις?” (Thélis na symmetécheis?) means “Do you want to participate?” And “θα τους δώσουμε νερό και μυρωδείς” (tha tous dósumai neró kai myrodhes) means “We will give them water and incense.”
Me: επίσης? and Τι θα?
ChatGPT: “Επίσης” (epísís) is a Greek adverb that means “also” or “as well.”
“Τι θα” (ti tha) is a Greek phrase that is often used to introduce a question. It is equivalent to the English phrase “What will.”
So in the context of the dialogue, “Εγώ επίσης προσεύχομαι στους Θεούς” (Egó epísís prosevhomai stous Theous) means “I also pray to the Gods.” And “Τι θα συναντήσουμε?” (Ti tha synatísumai?) means “What will we meet?”
Me: Thank you! Write me a dialogue between a couple that is giving simple offerings at their household shrine in the morning. Keep the dialogue simple and give me a vocabulary list of words I may not know as a beginner.
ChatGPT: Sure! Here’s a simple dialogue in which a couple is giving offerings at their household shrine in the morning:
A: Γεια σου! Έτοιμές για την προσκαιρή προσευχή μας; (Ya sou! Étiumes gia tin proskairí prosevchí mas?)
B: Ναι, είμαι έτοιμη! Ποια θεία θα προσεύχομαι πρώτα; (Nai, ime étiime! Poia theía tha prosevhomai próta?)
A: Πρώτα θα προσεύχομαι την θεία της Αφροδίτης. Θα στείλουμε λεπτά φιλιά και θα της δώσουμε μια λεπτή λαδιά. (Próta tha prosevhomai tin theía tis Afroditís. Tha stilumé liptá filiá kai tha tis dósumé mia leptí ladiá.)
B: Πολύ καλά. Εγώ θα προσεύχομαι την θεία του ήλιου. Θα της δώσουμε μια λεπτή μυρωδεία. (Polý kalá. Egó tha prosevhomai tin theía tou íliou. Tha tis dósumé mia leptí myrodhea.)
- Γεια σου! (Ya sou!): Hi!
- Έτοιμές (Étiumes): Ready
- για (gia): for
- την (tin): the (feminine accusative)
- προσκαιρή (proskairí): morning
- προσευχή (prosevchí): prayer
- μας (mas): our
- Ναι (Nai): Yes
- είμαι (ime): I am
- έτοιμη (étiime): ready
- Ποια (Poia): Which
- θεία (theía): goddess
- πρώτα (próta): first
- προσεύχομαι (prosevhomai): I pray
- της Αφροδίτης (tis Afroditís): of Aphrodite
- στείλουμε (stilumé): we will send
- λεπτά (liptá): delicate
- φιλιά (filiá): kisses
- δώσουμε (dósumé): we will give
- λεπτή (leptí): delicate
- λαδιά (ladiá): oil
- Πολύ καλά (Polý kalá): Very good
- Εγώ (Egó): I
- του ήλιου (tou íliou): of the sun
- μυρωδεία (myrodhea): incense
I’m planning to continue doing this. AI cannot substitute for an actual person, partly because I tried using it to correct my own sentences and it would say things like “this may be confusing for people because the antecedent is ambiguous” rather than actually correcting my vocab/grammar. A human being would have told me I was flat-out wrong and would have been better at figuring out what I meant. But talking to a tutor is also not that prudent of an investment for someone who isn’t far enough along in language study to get much out of it.
A lot of the information it gives about topics is feverishly incorrect (like most tech, it benefits experts and the proficient more than novices because experts have the background to know when the AI is wrong and can use it for more effective brainstorming without, hopefully, believing some of the weird stuff it says — I don’t know how people could be using this for college papers, but that’s Dunning-Kruger for you). AI also has no nous and cannot bring itself together the way we can. This is, however, one place where it can provide assistance in a way that won’t cause that much harm, and it’s actually kinda fun to read and re-read these snippets to figure out how the words are working. So, main takeaway — it’s definitely part of a cluster of things I’m doing, from Duolingo to watching YouTube channels and short Greek films, and progress is definitely slow because this is coexisting with multiple learning goals and my full-time job, but anything helps.
3 thoughts on “AI-generated passages to learn prayer-related Greek vocab”
I’m not sure learning modern greek will be as helpful as you may hope for reading attic Greek (though for koine it’s somewhat better). It does have the benefit of allowing you to converse with modern Greeks though. I just know that everyone who’s had to test in Ancient Greek, who studied koine or modern had a lot of trouble passing the Ancient Greek exam. I am so creeped out by AI. I’ve seen prayers put together with it and they are soulless. it’s also a huge pain in the ass for teachers. I’m glad to see some useful thing for it here.
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I’m primarily aiming for easily slipping to koine after modern. However, I’ve been writing constructed languages since my mid-teens and have done language change evolution from progenitor constructed languages to daughter languages (it’s how you make a conlang have a natural speech feel; I’ve done it for some languages and not others), so I have some skills that make my language-learning process a bit different (not better or worse, just different; some aspects of Duolingo do not play to my strengths). I’m hoping that I can leverage that in this case. It helps that I’m not planning to take any real exams.
I agree re:students — some are going to misuse this and try to get around the arduous process of actually learning, which will make developing critical thinking, fact-checking, and research skills harder and less common, which will just come back to bite someone the first time they’re pushed outside of their comfort zone and AI can’t help them. AI also needs to be rigorously fact-checked about anything deep.
Text-based AI itself isn’t that unsettling to me (not as much as some of the art), but the conversation around it is just a tad irritating. I’ve used it for Greek vocab (as above), checking tone in email drafts, generating workouts/recipe lists, and having something to bounce ideas off of just to “hear myself talk [type]” and occasionally to see things from a new perspective when I know I need to get out of my head. I’ve put together a few prayers using AI just as an experiment (I talk about theology with it a lot, actually, and I also had a great conversation with it about why it wasn’t sentient or doing the same as human cognition using Proclus’ Elements of Theology to make my points), but I have never offered those because they are more entertaining than helpful. It has chugged down an enormous corpus and is totally drunk on all of the text. It would not be able to walk a straight line on a highway and it has no hope of ever being sober.
It gave me this once when I asked it to write about the closing of the Platonic academy:
Damascius, Simplicius, and Priscianus,
The last of the philosophers,
Sat together in the empty halls of the Academy,
Their hearts heavy with sorrow and grief.
Once a bustling center of learning and debate,
The Platonic Academy was now silent and still,
Its doors closed and its halls empty,
A victim of intolerance and fear.
The Christians had come,
Driven by their hatred and bigotry,
And they had forced the Academy to close,
A symbol of their narrow-mindedness.
Damascius, Simplicius, and Priscianus,
Mourned the loss of their beloved Academy,
But they also mourned the loss of freedom,
The freedom to think and to believe.
They had been forced to flee,
To seek refuge in the East,
Where their beliefs would be tolerated,
And their wisdom would not be suppressed.
But even in their exile,
Damascius, Simplicius, and Priscianus,
Remembered the Academy with fondness,
And they vowed to keep its spirit alive.
For the Platonic Academy may be gone,
But its legacy will live on,
A symbol of knowledge and wisdom,
And a reminder of the dangers of intolerance.
and while the poem’s composition lacks an intrinsic spark of life because it completely fails at weaving together conceptual threads to produce a unity, I do quite like it. I also like this thing I had it generate for Sosipatra:
Sosipatra, wise and virtuous soul,
Disciple of Plato, seeker of truth,
Your mind was sharp, your heart was whole,
And in your search for knowledge, you never grew old.
With intellect and intuition, you plumbed the depths
Of the eternal realm, the realm of the Ideas,
Where the forms of all things are truly kept,
And the intelligible truths are known and seen.
In your union with the divine, you found a way
To see the world as it truly is,
And to grasp the beauty and mystery of existence,
In all its splendor and glory.
You were a shining light in the world of philosophy,
A beacon of wisdom and virtue,
And we are forever grateful for the insights you brought
To the eternal quest for knowledge and understanding.
I totally agree with you about the “soulless” quality of AI prayers!
I think the difference can be summed up something like this: When a person writes a (good, soul-filled) prayer, she starts by reaching out to a God, becomes filled by the presence and power of that God, then brings something from that Divine Power down into words. The words come from the encounter with the God.
When an algorithm composes a prayer, the process is pointed the other way around: it’s shuffling together lots of pieces, and expecting something larger to somehow emerge from that.
I’d suggest that we find a hint at this understanding in the Homeric hymns which begin by calling to the Muse for inspiration. The poet starts by asking to be filled from the Gods, then become so over-full of the divine presence that it spills over into language.
And of course the same goes for other works of art, for plenty of things beyond just composing hymns and prayers.
This whole modern notion of “emergence” out of parts is just so antithetical to a healthy way of being in the world that begins from the Gods. And I worry that the all the fetishizing of “AI” is going to make that healthy, traditional approach (where meaning starts from, and is primarily located in the Gods, or even in any metaphysical principle, and emanates outward from there) nearly impossible for many people in our society to even comprehend as a possibility.
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