THE EARLIEST GREEK ALPHABET

MS 108
MS Short Title THE EARLIEST GREEK ALPHABET
Text ABECEDARY: 20-30 LINES IN ARCHAIC GREEK CAPITALS WITH SOME NORTH SEMITIC (PHOENICIAN) LETTER FORMS
Description MS in Greek on copper, Cyprus, ca. 800 BC, 2 tablets, 21x13 cm, single column, (19x10 cm), 20-23 lines in archaic Greek capitals with some North Semitic (Phoenician) letter forms by 2 or more scribes.
Binding Greece, ca. 800 BC, strung together on both sides so as to fold in concertina fashion with holes in all 4 corners of both tablets.
Context

This is the oldest European alphabet, the oldest writing tablets extant, and part of the world's oldest book in codex form. The other old writing tablets are 2 from Nimrod, one ivory, the other walnut wood, dated 707 - 705 BC., in addition to a 8th c. BC Neo-Hittite wood tablet. (Roberts/Skeat: The Birth of the Codex, pp. 11-12.) Apart from the present MS the oldest Greek inscription of any length is the Dipylon oinochoe from Athens, ca. 740 BC. The oldest short inscriptions are dated ca. mid 8th c. BC.

A third tablet originally bound with the present ones is: "The Würzburger Alphabettafel", published by A. Henbeck: Würzburger Jahrbücher für Altertumswissenschaft, 12, pp. 7-20, 1986 and housed at the University of Würzburg, Martin-von-Wagner-Museum; a fourth is owner by a private collector. The codex originally consisted of at least 5 tablets.

Provenance 1. School archive, Cyprus (ca. 800 - ca. 2nd c. BC); 2. Excavated in Fayum, Egypt; 3. Professor Aziz Suryal Atiyah, Utah, U.S.A. (-ca. 1960); 4. H.P. Kraus Cat. 165(1983):25.
Commentary The alphabet on the plaques is now called the Fayum alphabet. The earliest Greek MS extant. An ABECEDARY contemporary with Homer, an amazing preservation of students' learning of the Greek alphabet at the very inception of its use. The Alphabet is repeated over and over, and contains the North Semitic (Phoenician) number of letters (22), ayin/aleph to taw/tau in Phoenician and Greek order, written in continuous retrograde lines. It represents the earliest and most complete link between Greek letter forms and the North Semitic parent forms. Writing tablets were familiar to Homer. It was on a folded tablet Proitos scratched the "deadly marks" that were intended to send Bellerophon to his death. The Iliad VI:168-179.
Published Papyrologica Florentina, vol. XXXV. Rosario Pintaudi: Papyri Graecae Schøyen. Firenze, Edizioni Gonnelli, 2005 (Manuscripts in The Schøyen Collection V: Greek papyri, vol. I), pp. 149-160, by R.D. Woodward, D.A. Scott, P.K. McCarter, B. Zuckerman, M. Lundberg
Exhibited 1. Conference of European National Librarians, Oslo. Sept. 1994. 2. "Preservation for access: Originals and copies". On the occasion of the 1st International Memory of the World Conference, organized by the Norwegian Commission for UNESCO and the National Library of Norway, at the Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art, Oslo, 3 June - 14 July 1996. 3. The Norwegian Institute of Palaeography and Historical Philology (PHI), Oslo, 13.10.2003-06.2005.
Mentioned
Boxing
See also
Place of origin Greece
Dates ca 800 BC

Location