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Writing in Ancient Greece

Writing began in Greece with the Minoan Culture. It started with Hieroglyphs and moved on to a sylabic alphabet. The Minoan sylabic alphabet was called Linear A by Arthur Evans. The Mycenaeans seem to have adapted this alphabet to their own language. This adaptation was called Linear B. All these alphabets were difficult and required a special scribe to write and read them. Tablets written by a scribe were unique to that scribe so archeologists have been able to determine how many scribes there were. No myths have been found written in these alphabets. All that has been found are essentially business statements. The fact that the Mycenaean language was found to be an early version of Greek was most significant find of this language. The Mycenaean culture conquered the Minoans about 1450 BCE but their culture later collapsed about 1100 BCE. After that writing seem to have stopped in ancient Greece.

Neither the nature nor the source of the Minoan Language has been identified. For this reason the Linear A tablets have not been translated entirely. The Mycenean language has been identified as an early form of Greek. With this information the linear B tablerts can be read. Greek has been identified as an Indo-European language. This means that the ancentors of the Indo-Europeans spoke an ancient language that was formed in the region of the Caucasus Mountains. Indo-European peoples moved into Greece some thousands of years before the Mycenaean language was spoken. In Greece they picked up so called loan words from the previous residents of Greece and from other cultures because of trade contacts. Some of these loan words are identified at Click Here. Loan words can often be identified as not being a Greek word with an Indo-European root. A number of Greek words with Indo-European roots are listed here Click Here. Some of the loan words are Minoan words and in a number of cases Linar A words and Linear B words can be identified. Further details about the Mycenaean language can be found at Click Here.

A number of the words on the Linear B tablets can be found in the works of Homer. These include:

  • a-pi-po-re-we (KN Uc 160)– ‘large jar or pitcher with two handles’ — ἀμφιφορῆα, Homer, Odyssey, 24.74
  • wa-na-ka (KN Vc 73) — ‘lord, master’ — ἄναξ, Homer, Iliad 1.442
  • di-pa (KN K 875) — ‘beaker, goblet’ — δέπαι, Homer, Odyssey 10.316
  • e-ke-si (PY Jn 829.3) — ‘spear, lance’ — ἔγχος, Homer, Odyssey 1.99
  • ta-ra-nu (PY Ta 707) — ‘footstool’ — θρῆνυν, Homer, Odyssey 19.57
  • ko-ru (KN G 5670) — ‘helmet’ — κόρυθος, Homer, Odyssey 24.523
  • o-ro-me-no (PY Ae 134) — ‘keep watch’ — ὄρονται, Homer, Odyssey 14.104
  • pa-ka-na (KN Ra 1540) — ‘sword’ — φάσγανον, Homer, Iliad 14.104
  • po-ti-ni-a (KN Gg 702) — ‘mistress, queen’ — πότνια, Homer, Iliad 21.470
  • te-me-no (PY Er 312) — ‘king’s estate’ — τέμενος, Homer, Odyssey 17.299
  • te-tu-ko-wo-a (Iklaina Tablet)–‘fully finished’ — ἐτεύχετον Homer, Iliad. 13.346. (τεύχω — make, cause)

When it reappeared about 750 BCE the ancient Greeks believed the alphabet used came from Phoenicia. Greek historian Herotodus (5th century BCE) called the Greek letters “phoinikeia grammata” (φοινικήια γράμματα). But the alphabet is also called Cadmeia (Καδμήια) because the Greeks believed that Cadmus brought the letters from Phoenicia to Ancient Thebes. The original Phoenecian alphabet containined only consonants, some of which could not be used by the Greeks. These they turned into vowels. There were many local alphabets but in 403 BCE Athens adopted the Ionic or Milesian alphabet, which involved the addition of the eight Ionic lteeres to the alphabet. These included η, ω, θ, φ, χ, ζ, ξ, ψ. This alphabet eventually
became common in all Greece and is still used today. In ancient Greece there
was no distinction made between the upper and lower case letters. The word
“alphabet” comes from the first two letters of the Greek alphabet, which are
alpha and beta. The names of the letters of the Greek alphabet are:
alpha, beta, gamma, delta, epsilon, zeta, eta,
theta, iota, kappa, lambda, mu, nu, ksi, omicron, pi, ro, sigma,
tau, upsilon, phi, chi, psi, omega. The Greek Alphabet is illustrated at:

Click here

We often speak of Fates writing the book of life. The lots are like runes
with letters of the alphabet written on them with each letter standing for an
event type for the future. The fates are often credited with the invention
of the alphabet. You can read about forcasting the future with the Greek
alphabet at:
Click here
In spite of the example of the Fates, women were not as much
involved with writing as men so we do not have as good a record of their

The motivation for the development of the Greek alphabet came mostly from the desire to record trade details. But there was also a desire to produce and read spells. Eventually the Greek writing was used to write down works involving the religion of Greece such as the works of Homer.

During the Classic Period the writers of Ancient Greece produced some of
the most significant works ever written. These works have been widely
influential and are still worth reading. The works include:

  • Aesculus 525-456 BCE Tragedies including the Orestia Trilogy
    • Agamemnon
    • Choephoroe
    • Eumenides
  • Aesop c. 6th cent. BCE Fables
  • Aristophanes c. 448-380 BCE Comedies
    • The Clouds
    • The Knights
    • Lysistrata
    • The Birds
    • The Frogs
  • Aristotle 384-322 BCE Philosophy
    • Nichomachean Ethics
    • Politics
    • Poetics
    • Organon
    • Metaphysics
  • Demonsthenes 383-322 BCE Orations
  • Euripides c. 484-408 BCE, Tragedies and Tragi-Comedies
    • Alcestis
    • Hippolytus
    • Medea
    • The Trojan Women
  • Herodotus c. 484-425 BCE History
  • Hesiod c. 770 BCE Theogony
  • Homer c. 750 BCE
    • Iliad
    • Odyssey
  • Pindar 522-443 BCE Odes
  • Plato c. 447-347 BCE Dialogues
    • Apology
    • Phaedo
    • Symposium
    • Gorgias
    • Republic
  • Sophocles 496-406 BCE Tragedies
    • Oedipus Rex
    • Antigone
  • Theocritus, Bion, and Moschus 300 – 200 BCE Idylls
  • Thucydides, c.470 -400 BCE, The Peloponennesian Wars
  • Xenophon 431 -355 BCE.
    • Anabasis
    • Memorabilia
    • Oeconomicus

There were also significant woman writers and Poets:

  • Perictyone/writer and Philosopher
  • Cleobuline/Poet
  • Corinna of Tanagro/Poet
  • Praxilla/Lyric poet and composer
  • Ante
  • Erinna
  • Nossis

Some copies of Greek manuscripts have been preserved from ancient times.
Here is a copy of the Iliad on Papyrus:
Homer, Iliad 22, 111-149 (P.Duk.inv. 4 R)


  • Linear A
  • Linear B
  • Murphy, James J. (Edt), “Short History of Writing Instruction : From
    Ancient Greece to Modern America”, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, March 2001,
    ISBN: 1880393301, Language Arts & Disciplines/Composition & Creative Writing – Academic.
  • Ancient Greek Language
  • Lardinois, A. P. M. H. (Edt)/ McClure, Laura (Edt)/ Lardinois, Andre,
    “Making Silence Speak : Women’s Voices in Greek Literature and Society”,
    Princeton University Press, May 2001, ISBN: 069100465X, Literary Criticism & Collections/Ancient and Classical
  • Woodard, Roger D., “Greek Writing from Knossos to Homer: A Linguistic
    Interpretation of the Origin of the Greek Alphabet and the Continuity of
    Ancient Greek Literacy”, ISBN: 0195105206 / Hardcover / 4/1/1997.
  • Dover, Kenneth James; Bowie, E. L.; Griffin, Jasper; West, M. L.; Dover,
    K. J., “Ancient Greek Literature (2nd) Edition: 2nd, ISBN: 0192892940 /
    Paperback / 12/1/1997, ISBN: 0192891243 / Paperback / 6/1/1980
  • Balme, Maurice; Lawall, Gilbert, “Athenaze: An Introduction to Ancient
    Greek”, ISBN: 0195056213 / Paperback / 2/1/1990, Synopsis With its unique
    combination of features and lucid presentation of material, Athenaze: An
    Introduction to Ancient Greek helps students learn to read Greek fluently,
    with an intelligent understanding based on a firm grasp of its cultural and
    historical context, while at the same time demanding high standards of
    linguistic precision.
  • Betts, Gavin; Henry, Alan, “Ancient Greek”, ISBN: 0844237868 / Paperback
    / 3/1/1993, This book presents Ancient Greek clearly and concisely and is
    ideal both for beginners and for those with some previous knowledge.
  • Chadwick, John, “Lexicographica Graeca : Contributions to the Lexicography
    of Ancient Greek”, ISBN: 0198149700 / Hardcover / 1/1/1997.
  • Nagy, Gregory (Edt), “Oral Traditional Background of Ancient Greek
    Literature (Greek Literature Vol. 1)”, ISBN: 0815336829.
  • Tod, M.N, “Ancient Greek Numerical Systems”, ISBN: 0890052905

Writing and its Impact on Greek Art and Culture

Questions and Answers

Question: send me some ancient greece writing

Answer: Ancient Greek writing is imaged at:
Minoan Linear A and Linear B

Question: how did the paperback book come abut?

Answer: High speed mass production techniques developed toward the end of the
Nineteenth Century allowed production of large numbers of books at low cost.

Question: Can you bring me to a website with information on Greek
literature in History during the 6th century?

Answer: Cameron and Beyond: Review-discussion of Averil Cameron: Procopius and the Sixth century

Question: what materials did the greeks write with? pencils, pens, ink?

Answer: There were a number of options:

  • The most common was a stylus on wax or clay. The wax was poured into a
    hollowed out depression in piece of wood.
  • Papyrus was available from Egypt on which ink was used.
  • Since papyrus was expensive and sometimes not available parchment was
    developed. Ink was used on the parchment.
  • Writing could be carved into wood or stone for signs or plaques.

Question: what is wrasse?

Answer: A fish, of the tropics, often brightly colored.

Question: what is first greek alphabet

Answer: Linear A, a hieroglyphic alphabet only partly deciphered.

Question: do yuo havee any information abou the ancient greek’s language and

Answer: The people of Greece speak the Hellenic subfamily of Indo-European
languages. Modern Greek resembles closely the classical Greek, but it has lost
some inflectional forms and certain features of accent and vowel change. The
Greek language has its own Greek alphabet which is similar to the Roman
alphabet, but also quite distinct. The word “alphabet” comes from the first
two letters of the Greek alphabet, which are alpha and beta. There are several
dialects of Greek including Old Ionic, the language of Homer; New Ionic, the
language of Herodotus; Attic, the language of the great philosophers and
playwrights of Athens; Aeolic; Doric, the language of Pindar.

we often speak of Fates writing
the book of life. The lots are like runes with letters of the alphabet
written on them with each letter standing for an event type for the future.
The Fates are sometimes credited with the development of the alphabet.
The names of the letters of the Greek alphabet are:
alpha, beta, gamma, delta, epsilon, zeta, eta,
theta, iota, kappa, lambda, mu, nu, ksi, omicron, pi, ro, sigma,
tau, upsilon, phi, chi, psi, omega. The Greek Alphabet is illustrated at:

Click here

The Greek alphabet was not used until about 650 BCE.

Question: Where can I find pictures of epic poems or a sample of an epic

Answer: The following epic poems are available:

Question: What are the ancient symbols of elements?

Answer: Hellenic civilization elements

Question: What are the writing materials?

Answer: Wooden and quill pens were used for ink and a stylus of wood was
used for beeswax or clay book plates. Parchment was developed by the ancient Greeks. The Egyptians developed papyrus

Question: when was the first ever writing of greek alphabets
were first used

Answer: Linear B was first used between 1450 and 1200 BCE. The Phoenician alphabet was used about 650 BCE

Question: do you have any information on Aristophanes’ wasps and
frogs? If you do please send them to me

Answer: Notes on Wasps, Aristophanes’ Frogs

Question: what did the ancient Athenians write with?

Answer: In the beginning they wrote with a stylus in beeswax or clay. They
also wrote with ink on papyrus. Later they invented parchment and wrote with
ink on that.

Question: How did the Greeks use writing as a form of comunication?

Answer: The Ancient Greeks wrote letters to each other and they wrote
books which they shared. Books were published by having them copied
by hand. They also wrote on tablets which were left on altars and on
signs which could be read publicly.

Question: How did the Ancient Greeks spell “Zeus” in their language.(using Greek letters)

Answer: Zeta epsilon upsilon sigma.


Answer: “It is significant to note that infanticide was not just a
‘primitive’ practice; Aristotle and Plato recommended it for eugenic
reasons. And if infanticide is not acceptable today, it may be (as Gordon
suggests) because we have better birth control methods, not because we are
morally superior.”
The History of Birth Control

“Hysteria is a Greek word meaning a uterine condition. Ancient Greeks
believed that the nervous symptoms were due to the uterus and therefore were
experienced by women only. Plato described the uterus as an animal endowed
with spontaneous sensation and emotion that was lodged in a woman,
ardently desiring to produce children. If the uterus remained sterile long
after puberty, it became ill-tempered and caused a general disturbance in
the body until it became pregnant. The common prescription for the
hysterical female in those days was marriage and child birth.”
Female hysteria

“Philosophers such as Aristotle and Plato had many ideas surrounding
fertility and believed that abortion was necessary as a means of birth
control in order to prevent the birth of unwanted, unhealthy children.
Herbal potions were used but as they were often known as poisons, it is
unclear from the literature whether they were used to prevent or terminate a
pregnancy. There were strange beliefs surrounding conception. Aristotle
believed that man carried the seed and the woman provided the place for the
foetus to develop. Galen, a Greek scientist had similar ideas, believing
that women carried the embryos which would require the mans’ semen to make
them grow. Barriers were then developed to prevent the semen meeting the
embryo. Women were advised to place a mixture of substances,
such as cedar oil, olive oil, frankincense, probably over the cervix to
prevent the growth of the foetus.

Recipes used the leaves and the bark of hawthorn, ivy and willow. Juniper
berries were placed in vulva or on the penis to produce temporary sterility.
Peppermint and honey were used as suppositories prior to intercourse.
Honey, gum and acacia were used as ‘plugs’ in order to prevent conception.”
History of Female Contraception

“Classically, the womb was regarded as an independent organism, a
kind of animal within the female body hungry to bear children.
The Book of Proverbs speaks of the grave and the womb being
equally insatiable. Plato in his Timaeus wrote that the womb was
a creature longing to be fertilised. If unfruitful for long it
became restless and angry and left its proper place and wandered
about the body, closing the passages for air, stopping
respiration and causing anxiety, feelings of dread and other
symptoms of illness. Hysteria (from the Greek hystera, meaning
‘womb’) was long thought to be caused by the womb tearing itself
loose from its anchorage and wandering in the female body. In
Bavaria, the hungry uterus was offered small round morsels made
of cat’s grease, honey, nutmeg and other ingredients. It was
believed that while the woman slept, the womb-creature would
emerge from the woman’s mouth and partake of the fare and be
appeased. In modern societies, “pre-menstrual syndrome” is a
medically recognised condition that has also recently been
accepted as a legitimate legal defence in a number of court
cases in the US and Europe.”

Question: Why were the Greeks so amazing and why we are botherng to study their cultures and art

Answer: We study the ancient Greeks so we can learn about life, our place
in the universe, and about ourselves. Many of the things they did became
the foundation of our culture. But they also set ideals which are still our
ideals. And their ideas about sex, love, art, and entertainment have filled
our subconscious. They were amazing because of their high level of energy,
their delight in rational discussion, their feverish religiosity, and their
love of art, science, and culture. But though many have tried to copy their
culture, everyone has failed.

Question: How do you write Courtney in greek

Answer: COURTENEY: From surname meaning, “from the court,” “born at court,”
or, “from the enclosed land.” Variant, Courtney, exists. Courtland is a
related name. In Greek this relates to a dancing ring used by a chorus–
khoros or in Greek chi, omega, rho, omega, sigma.

Question: How would you write Michael in Greek?

Answer: Michael is not a Greek name, but is rather Hebrew.
mu, iotta, kappa, alpha, lamda.

Question: who did the ancient greece people send their messages to?

Answer: Most messages related to business matters. Inventories of goods
were most commonly sent. These could be holdings, orderings, or shippings.
Some messages dealt with political relationships. A few messages were
prayers and other appeals to the divine. Mesaages were commonly sent by a messenger who memorized the message and often ran the message to the recepient.

Question: Pindar’s ode for Diagoras of Rhodes

Answer: Click here

Question: when did ancient greek start wrting

Answer: Greeks started writing literature about the time of Homer. Writing
before this time was mainly for financial records. Writing was also used for
religious purposes such as prayers and encantations.

Question: Ancient Greek language

Answer: Because the literature of Greece was so rich, the language that
was used was preserved as classical Greek. You can still study this language
and the wonderful works written in it.

Question: give me some poems about greece

Answer: The Iliad and the Odyssey of Homer are poems about Greece and
you should read both of them.

Question: What effect did changes in classical Greek education, have on the change from oral memory to written memory?

Answer: The ancient Greeks were fanatics about education and writing was
an import subject. They wrote everything down with the result that much
material has been preswerved. They were the first scholars and some made
efforts to document what they wrote and studied. This process began about
the time of Homer so the oral tradition was destroyed about that time.

Question: what did the ancient greeks write with? ink?

Answer: Most writing was done on a tablet of wax or clay. The typical
configuration is as follows:

In the Mycenaean culture writing was done on clay tablets that were rolled
out flat.

Papyrus from Egypt was available but expensive. It was reserved for
special documents like treaties. Parchment was developed during the
Greek period. The ink used was many soot in water with a plant gum binder.
reeds, sticks, and quills were used to apply the ink.

Question: If as you say, “There were also significant woman writers and
Poets: ” then why not include their “classic period?” Why are their names not
included amongst the list of male writers? Also, some do not have a genre
listed next to their name. It comes across as though the female writers are
mediocre and not as meaningful to the historical periods. If you ask me, their
writings are equally important. Were there not two genders living during that
period? So why shouldn’t there be two perspectives?

Answer: Yes there should be two perspectives. The problem is two-fold.
Men have often belittled the other sex, and woman have not risen to the
challenge. Research has shown that abilities of men tend to be more extreme,
suggesting men would be more often the greatest, than woman. But even though
women may have to accept second place more often, this does not mean that
their voice is unimportant.

The truth is that the names of significant women writers are hard to find.
The first reason is that there were not that many because they did not get
the opportunities or pressures that the men did. If they did succeed later
men struck their names from the record through prejudice. Many women wrote
under a man’s name to avoid this problem. The names that I do have are as

  • 6th c. BCE/Sappho/Poet
  • 3rd c. BCE/Amyte/Poet and healer
  • 5th c. BCE/Cleobuline/Poet
  • fl. 490 BCE/Corinna of Tangro/Poet
  • 6th c. BCE/Erinna/Poet
  • fl. 600 BCE/Meglalostrata/Composer and Poet
  • 3rd c. BCE/Moero of Byzantium/Poet
  • 6th c. BCE/Myrtis of Anthedon/Poet and educator
  • 8th c. BCE/Neobule/Poet
  • 3rd c. BCE/Nossis/Lyric Poet
  • fl. 450 BCE/Praxilla/Lyric poet and composer
  • fl. 300 BCE/Hipparchia/Philosopher and playwright
  • 3rd c. BCE/Leontium/Philosopher and writer
  • 5th c. BCE/Perictyone/Writer and philosopher

Question: send me a proverbs of greeks


  • one fire burns more fiercely than another, one wolf is more savage than other wolves, one hawk swifter than another, that Menalcidas outdid in treachery Callicrates, the worst rascal of his time, one who could never resist a bribe of any kind. Pausanias, Description of Greece, 7.12.1
  • There is also a Dionysus by Lysippus; the standing image, however, of Dionysus, that Sulla dedicated, is the most noteworthy of the works of Myron after the Erectheus at Athens. What he dedicated was not his own; he took it away from the Minyae of Orchomenus. This is an illustration of the Greek proverb, “to worship the gods with other people’s incense.”
    Pausanias, Description of Greece, 9.30.1.
  • The oracle given them was this:–
    I will match in fight mortal and immortal,
    And to both will I give victory, but more to the mortal.
    [5] On receiving this oracle, the Phocians sent three hundred picked men with
    Gelon in command to make an attack on the enemy. The night was just falling,
    and the orders given were to reconnoiter without being observed, to return to
    the main body by the least known route, and to remain strictly on the
    defensive. These picked men along with their leader Gelon, trampled on by
    horses and butchered by their enemies, perished to a man at the hands of the
    Thessalians. [6] Their disaster created such panic among the Phocians in the
    camp that they actually gathered together in one spot their women, children,
    movable property, and also their clothes, gold, silver and images of the gods,
    and making a vast pyre they left in charge a force of thirty men. [7] These
    were under orders that, should the Phocians chance to be worsted in the battle,
    they were first to put to death the women and the children, then to lay them
    like victims with the valuables on the pyre, and finally to set it alight and
    perish themselves, either by each other’s hands or by charging the cavalry of
    the Thessalians. Hence all forlorn hopes are called by the Greeks “Phocian
    despair.” On this occasion the Phocians forthwith proceeded to attack the
    Thessalians. [8] The commander of their cavalry was Daiphantes of Hyampolis,
    of their infantry Rhoeus of Ambrossus. But the office of commander-in-chief
    was held by Tellias, a seer of Elis, upon whom rested all the Phocians’ hopes
    of salvation. [9] When the battle joined, the Phocians had before their eyes
    what they had resolved to do to their women and children, and seeing that
    their own salvation trembled in the balance, they dared the most desperate
    deeds, and, with the favour of heaven, achieved the most famous victory of
    that time. [10] Then did all Greece understand the oracle given to the Phocians
    by Apollo.


Answer: Descriptions of events were verbally provided. Poets versified these
descriptions to make them easier to remember. These descriptions were strung together
to make the telling more interesting. Much later the versified, strung together pieces
were copied down as epics.

Question: With writing being invented in the Near East, how did it influnce the Greeks with their writing and their alphabet? What other aspects of teh Near East would have beeninfluencial to the Greek culture?

Answer: As with so many other things Near Eastern the Greeks took writing and improved upon it. Before Greek writng was the province of a special class of scribes. In Greece writing was modified so it could be used by the merchants. The incorporation of vowels greatly simplified writing and allowed not only the recording of transactions by merchants, but also the recording of history, laws, and religious incantations. The use of writing was so important to Greek religion that they ascribed its invention to the Fates. These multiple uses caused the Greeks to emphasize edutation and before long the entire society was literate. This literateness caused a profusion of literature of all sorts which we still enjoy today.

The other aspects of Near Eastern Cuture which provided Greece with resources included its architecture, economy, crafts including cotton and steel, religion, agricultural products especially wheat.

Question: How did writing in Ancient Greece get started?

Answer: Writing got started in ancient Greece in a fitful way. The first writing, found in Crete was hieroglyphic in nature. Later the Minoan civilization produced a syllabic writing called Linear A. When the Mycenaeans took over control of Crete they adopted the writing ideas of the Minoans and produced writing now called Linear B. After the Mycenaeans went into decline the writing of the Minoans seems to have been forgotten. The Dorians and other Greeks during the Greek Archaic period studied the Phoenician alphabet and developed an alphabet out of which the syllables could be formed with a few letters. This alphabet is essentially the same as the one used in Greece today and was also the foundation of the Roman alphabet and all those dependent upon it.

The Minoan hieroglyphics and the Linear A alphabet remain essentially undeciphered because no language has been found related to the one the Minoans used. But because Linear A is related to Linear B and because the Mycenaens spoke an early form of Greek, Linear B can be read and some inferences can be made as to the translations of some Linear A scripts.

The earlier writing is also fairly scarce and contains no poetry or religious writings. Mainly they seem to be used for accounting and business. Furthermore they were so difficult that scribes had to be employed. Business seems also to have been the impetus for the later Greek writing as it was developed during a period of great expansion of trade and commerce. But Greek, as we know it, had other pushes as well. The next push was religious. Poetry, incantations, spells, and myth were all written down. These things became so important that literacy rose to a high level in the ancient Greek classical period. Writing was so easily learned that everyone could be involved in it. Then during the Classical period the structure of language was observed to be important and philosophy was developed. Athens was the center of world learning for over a thousand years and this learning was greatly facilitated by the writing of the Greek language.

Most recent studies seem to suggest that Minoan may be related to the languages of Africa and the Minoans may have migrated from there. If so there is some hope that the Minoan scripts may yet be read. But it is not likely that much will be learned unless more examples can be found as well.