Getting started on ancient Greek
Getting started on ancient Greek

Start this free course now. Just create an account and sign in. Enrol and complete the course for a free statement of participation or digital badge if available.

Free course

Getting started on ancient Greek

9.1 Athens

Some minor variations of letter forms can be observed on the Themistocles ostraka, seen earlier in the course. Themistocles was ostracised from Athens at the end of the 470s. Over 2,000 ostraka with his name have been found, including a group of 190 discovered in a well on the north slope of the Acropolis. This group appears to have been written by a small number of individual hands, which suggests that the ostraka were prepared in advance for distribution to voters who were unable to write.

ΘΕΜΙΣΘΟΚΛΕΣ ΝΕΟΚΛΕΟΣ

Described image
Figure 2 Themistocles ostraka

Activity 14 Different letter forms

Timing: Allow about 5 minutes

Do you detect any differences between these letter forms and the capitals you have learned? Look especially at theta, lambda and sigma.

Discussion

Theta is written in two forms. Two ostraka (the ones at the top centre and bottom left) place a dot inside the circle. The rest are written with a cross, a form sometimes referred to as a ‘hot cross bun’! The ‘bun’ gave way to the dotted form in Athens during the course of the fifth century.

Lambda, which consists of two strokes of unequal length, looks less like the standard Λ and more like English L. The ‘François Vase’ (seen earlier in Session 5, Section 7.1) contains an example in the name of Achilles. There were many Greek settlements in Italy and it was this L-shaped lambda that influenced the Roman alphabet, which is why it looks familiar.

Sigma consists of three lines rather than the four which became standard later (Σ).

You have observed the use of a second theta instead of a tau in Themistocles’ name. There is one other difference between Themistocles’ name on the ostrakon and the standard, dictionary form Θεμιστοκλῆς. Can you find it? (Hint: it relates to one of the vowels.)

Discussion

The ostrakon uses Ε (epsilon) as the penultimate letter instead of Η (eta). At this time, the Athenian alphabet did not contain either eta or omega, using epsilon and omicron instead for both the short and long forms of ‘e’ and ‘o’ throughout much of the fifth century BCE.

GCG_1

Take your learning further

Making the decision to study can be a big step, which is why you'll want a trusted University. The Open University has 50 years’ experience delivering flexible learning and 170,000 students are studying with us right now. Take a look at all Open University courses.

If you are new to University-level study, we offer two introductory routes to our qualifications. You could either choose to start with an Access module, or a module which allows you to count your previous learning towards an Open University qualification. Read our guide on Where to take your learning next for more information.

Not ready for formal University study? Then browse over 1000 free courses on OpenLearn and sign up to our newsletter to hear about new free courses as they are released.

Every year, thousands of students decide to study with The Open University. With over 120 qualifications, we’ve got the right course for you.

Request an Open University prospectus371