The Origin of the Greek Alphabet

The origin of the Greek Alphabet may first have begun with Semitic tribesman who passed the knowledge of their alphabet through trade to surrounding countries thus falling into the hands of the Greeks. However, ancient mythological accounts suggest that

The Greek alphabet commonly known today first began by a Semitic people living near and around Egypt.  The Semitic alphabet was developed under the same notion as the Egyptian alphabet but was replaced with Semitic symbols instead.  Due to their location, the Semitic people were able to pass the knowledge of their alphabet through trade to surrounding civilizations such as the Canaanites, Hebrews, and the Phoenicians.  Next, the Phoenicians spread the knowledge of their language and adopted symbols of their alphabet to their surrounding neighbors such as the Arabs, Etruscans, Ancient Greeks, and other tribes that occupied Asia Minor and parts as far West as modern day Spain.  However, the alphabet adopted by the Ancient Greeks, from the Phoenicians, went through a series of changes resulting in Ancient Greek text to be read from left to right rather than from right to left as the Phoenician alphabet is.  The Ancient Greeks also developed their own symbols for certain pronunciations of words thus creating what is known today as the modern day Greek alphabet.

According to Ancient Greek mythology however, the Greek alphabet was first invented by ‘the Fates’ who are accredited for creating the first five to seven sounds.  Next Palamedes and Io are accredited by Ancient Greek mythology for adding an additional 11 sounds to the Greek alphabet.  Hermes is accredited for adding shapes to these sounds by using the symbols from the shapes and formations that cranes and other birds fly in.  This is one of the many reasons why Hermes is commonly referred to as the ‘messenger of the Gods.’  According to Ancient Greek mythology Hermes did this so that mankind could spread the alphabet from Greece to Egypt.

Other historical accounts document the origin of the Greek alphabet to derive from religious cults as they would use symbols during ritual events to pay homage to certain Gods and Goddesses.  These symbols were known as Runes and were based off of shapes the human body posed during worship.  The Etruscans for example were recognized for their religious devotion and their use of symbols to communicate with the Gods and were even consulted on important matters by surrounding civilizations such as the Romans.  Priests of Apollo may have been responsible for inventing the vowels in the Greek alphabet because of the seven uplifting hymns sung to the God and the seven strings found on the lyre.    

Each letter of the alphabet however has a special characteristic and meaning regarding its specific shape.  For example, the first letter of the Greek alphabet A or Alpha (in Greek Alphe) means ‘to honor’ which almost confirms its religious background and the word Alphainein means ‘to invent.’  

Sources:

Etruscan and Pelasgian Monuments of Italy.” By Coen Vonk

A Greek Alphabet Oracle.” By Apollonius Sophistes 

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Alden Morris
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Donata L.
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