Monday, November 30, 2009


Greek Letters

Euripides, fragment 382 (from Athenaeus 10.454b-c, tr. Christopher Collard and Martin Cropp):
I am not acquainted with letters, but will tell you their shapes and identify them clearly: a circle such as is measured out with compasses, that has in its centre a conspicuous mark; the second, first of all a pair of lines, and another one holding these apart at their middles; third, something like a curly lock of hair, and the fourth has one part standing upright, and three more that are fastened crosswise on it; the fifth is not an easy one to explain—there are two lines that begin from separate points, and these run together into a single base; and the last of all is similar to the third.

ἐγὼ πέφυκα γραμμάτων μὲν οὐκ ἴδρις,
μορφὰς δὲ λέξω καὶ σαφῆ τεκμήρια.
κύκλος τις ὡς τόρνοισιν ἐκμετρούμενος,
οὗτος δ' ἔχει σημεῖον ἐν μέσῳ σαφές·
τὸ δεύτερον δὲ πρῶτα μὲν γραμμαὶ δύο,
ταύτας διείργει δ' ἐν μέσαις ἄλλη μία·
τρίτον δὲ βόστρυχός τις ὣς εἱλιγμένος·
τὸ δ' αὖ τέταρτον ἣ μὲν εἰς ὀρθὸν μία,
λοξαὶ δ' ἐπ´ αὐτῆς τρεῖς κατεστηριγμέναι
εἰσίν· τὸ πέμπτον δ' οὐκ ἐν εὐμαρεῖ φράσαι·
γραμμαὶ γάρ εἰσιν ἐκ διεστώτων δύο,
αὗται δὲ συντρέχουσιν εἰς μίαν βάσιν·
τὸ λοίσθιον δὲ τῷ τρίτῳ προσεμφερές.
The name spelled out in this way is ΘΗΣΕΥΣ (THĒSEUS). It would be a good exercise for beginning students of Greek, who are just learning the alphabet, to try to figure out the letters from their descriptions in Collard and Cropp's translation.

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