Overview

Greek alphabet


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In early Greece various forms of alphabet were current, but they all derived from a Phoenician (Semitic) source, which must have reached the Aegean in the earlier 8th cent. (before our earliest Greek examples of c.740). The alphabet was taken in the order of the Semitic model:Not all states used all letters, but all probably retained them in the original order. The most striking feature in the Greek adaptation of the Phoenician model is that by altering (consciously or unconsciously) the original significance of AEIO and adding ϒ Greek, unlike Phoenician, achieved an independent representation of vowel‐sounds. ϒΦXΨΩ are all Greek additions. ϒ appears to be a variant of F. Ω, an Ionic invention, is also a doublet, formed by breaking the O. Received Semitic shapes were generally ‘tidied up’ in Greece—with verticals and horizontals conditioning the appearance of individual letters; hence a number of ‘indeterminate’ Semitic shapes yielded different Greek versions. The three double‐consonant letters ΦXΨ all appear early.

Most colonies used the script of their metropolis. One variety of the eastern alphabets, namely the East Ionic, eventually became predominant. It was officially adopted by Athens in the archonship of Euclīdēs (403–402 bc). Its acceptance by the whole Greek world was complete by about 370. Many changes in letter shape were also introduced, largely in the late 4th and 3rd cents., from writing in ink, so‐called ‘cursives’; they present rounded, simplified forms, c from Σ, ε from E, ω from Ω, and the like.

Greek names

English equivalents

A

Alpha

a

B

Bēta

b

Γ

Gamma

g

Δ

Delta

d

E

Epsīlon

ĕ

F

Vau

w

I

Zēta

sd

H

Ēta

ē

Θ

Thēta

th

I

Iōta

i

K

Kappa

k

λ

Lambda

l

M

m

N

n

Ξ

ks

O

Omikron

ŏ

Π

p

M

San

ϙ

Qoppa

P

Rhō

rh

Σ

Sigma

s

T

Tau

t

ϒ

Upsīlon

u

Φ

Phī

ph

X

Khī

kh

Ψ

Psī

ps

Ω

Ōmega

ō

Subjects: Classical Studies.


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