Re: identifying greek characters in an old book

From: John Hudson (
Date: Fri Oct 14 2005 - 22:19:21 CST

  • Next message: suzanne mccarthy: "Re: identifying greek characters in an old book"

    Morgan Wahl wrote:

    > firstly, there's a vowel (it must be, since it takes tone marks) that
    > looks like ȣ (u0223). I figured it was just a glyph varient of υ
    > (u03c5) upsilon, since I didn't see any other possible upsilon glyphs
    > on the page. But a few pages later there's another Greek translation
    > that uses the usual upsilon glyph alongside the funny-upsilon.

    This is a ligature form of the omicron_upsilon diphthong. This is one of very few
    traditional ligatures still occasionally encountered in Greek handwriting. I've even seen
    it used in graffiti in Thessaloniki.

    > the second word in the first line has some glyph that I've never seen
    > anything like (see attached hem.png). This word appears multiple times
    > and each is identical. I can make out eta-with breath-mark and mu, and
    > maybe that's a delta at the end...

    Believe it or not, that is a ligature of mu_omega-perispomeni_nu, so the word is ἡμῶν.
    Since this word is very common in New Testament Greek, it came to be written as a kind of
    logotype, with the perispomeni being written as part of the ligature.

    > the last word in the first line (uraiois.png) has an example of the
    > funny-upsilon and a ligature that I _think_ is rho-alpha

    Yes this is a rho_alpha ligature. I think you have misidentified the badly printed letter
    after the alpha, though: this is almost certainly nu, so the word is οὐρανοῖς.

    > on the first numbered line the first word (Agiatheto.png) has what
    > look's like theta-eta, but the theta is different from the one in the
    > next line (Eltheto.png). Contextual variant?

    This is a free stylistic variant. Some publishers employ house rules for when to use the
    different forms of theta, but mostly it seems to be either free choice or, as in this
    case, the form employed in a ligature. The image is a little unclear, but it looks like
    this is actually a sigma_theta_eta ligature. So the word would be Αγιασθητω.

    > In line three there's some symbol between two words (urano_opi.png).
    > No clue on this one. The second word has what I've guessed to be a
    > omicron-pi ligature, but I'm not at all sure about that.

    The 'symbol' is another ligature; I think it is tau_epsilon, although I don't have my
    reference books handy so am doing this from memory. The epsilon is an interesting letter
    in traditional ligatures, because it can take a wide variety of forms that don't relate to
    the normative shape at all (even taking the form of a small hook attached to the top of
    another letter or, as in this case, something misleadingly like a lunate sigma). As
    another example of this phenomenon, the first letter of the final word is also an epsilon,
    so I believe the three words in your image are ουρανω, τε επι.

    > on line four there's another odd letter (ton.png). at first I thought
    > it was some kind of intial-tau, but there's a regular tau glyph in
    > initial position elsewere in the same text, and this symbol is in the
    > middle of a word later on.

    Yes, this looks like a stylistic tau. As noted above re. theta, there isn't necessarily
    any rule-based consistency in the choice of where to use stylistic variants, so you may
    see this used in one place but not in another identical context.

    > finally, the last two words (aidnas.png, amen.png) have
    > indecipherables. I've guess the first one starts with alpha and ends
    > nu-alpha-finalsigma. a delta before the nu would make sense
    > phonetically, but what to make of what's attached to it? mu?
    > iota-iota?

    I'm pretty sure that this is αἰῶνας: another case of the perispomeni being written in a
    ligated form. This is the sort of form that develops when scribes are writing very
    quickly, and then becomes a convention.

    > The last word is, I'm assuming, "amen", but what are the
    > specific characters here?

    Ἀμήν. I've no idea how this strange eta_nu ligature originated.

    If you write to me off-list, I can send you a copy of a PDF that shows all the ligatures
    from two sizes of Granjon's Greek types with a key of corresponding letters (the PDF is
    about 3MB).

    John Hudson

    Tiro Typeworks
    Vancouver, BC
    *Note new e-mail address:*

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