Tag Archives: Phoenician

Calligraphy

Calligraphy is a word that means ‘beautiful writing.’



Remember the Egyptians used reed pens to write, but since they were drawing images—pictures of things—the nib was kept narrow or else they used a fine-tipped brush. I’m not sure when it happened, but either Greek or Roman scribes began drawing letters with a broad-nibbed pen (a nib is the tip). They became concerned about the angle of the pen when they wrote. They kept their pens always at the same angle, so that a group of letters would have a pleasing consistency. Or maybe they used a chisel-tipped brush. Several calligraphers I link to below use a brush.*

https://www.behance.net/gallery/31572863/Broad-nib-calligraphy-exemplar
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jttJrajs4vw
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Y1HId0XIWI
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W-cQ5U3CLYo
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S6fsXkiUlgk
In Italian a serif is called a ‘grazia,’ a grace:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jklAtL-ytfU
You can even use a chisel-point marker for calligraphy:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bc2gclT6CMw
https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/calligraphy

* The idea of writing with thick and thin strokes may well have come from the Muslim world, where the Phoenician abjad was evolving into Arabic script. I’ll look into that.

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Alpha to Omega

You can recognize in these Greek letters some we use today in the Latin alphabet.


The Greek alphabet goes from Alpha to Omega. As you Sunday school students know, the New Testament part of the Bible was originally written in Greek. When the Lord says “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” He means that He is the beginning and end, the first and the last—everything.

https://bible.knowing-jesus.com/topics/Alpha-And-Omega
https://www.biblehub.com/revelation/22-13.htm

This website shows the progression of letters from Egyptians to Greek to Latin—
http://ixoloxi.com/alphabet/index.html
© August 10, 2005 by Dennis J. Stallings

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Boustrophedon: as the ox plows

I mentioned earlier that Phoenician and Hebrew were written and read from right to left. Hebrew still is. Greek is written and read from left to right; the same way you’re reading this sentence.

That big change didn’t happen all at once. For a while the Greeks couldn’t decide which direction they liked better, so they switched directions every other line. They wrote a paragraph of text in the same way a farmer plows a field.



I’m happy to tell you they finally stopped doing that and settled on left-to-right.

https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/boustrophedon

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Homer starts the Vowel Movement


We speak by letting air flow from our lungs and through our vocal cords, located deep in our throats.

The Phoenician abjad was all consonants. A consonant is a hard sound you make in your mouth by closing off the air flow from your lungs. You make ‘D’ or ‘T’ by pressing your tongue to the roof of your mouth then releasing air. You make ‘K’ by closing the back of your mouth, then releasing air. Close your lips then pop ‘em open to make ‘P.’ Every consonant is made by closing the air flow in your mouth, then releasing it. To make ‘H, R, W & Y’ you don’t cut off air flow completely, but you do restrict it by a lot. You push a sudden gust of air out to say ‘hey.’ You lips and mouth tighten up to say ‘roo woo yay.’

On the other hand, vowel sounds are made by keeping your mouth open and letting the air flow freely. You adjust the shape of your open mouth to make ‘A, E, I, O & U.’

‘Y’ can be a vowel or a consonant.

Homer needed vowels to compose and recite poetry because a vowel can be extended over more than one beat. Try singing this without vowels: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZbrnXl2gO_k

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IuQ63QlJIMY

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Vowels


The Phoenician abjad had letters to represent many of the sounds we still use today when speaking. BUT, it also had letters for things like ‘glottal stops,’ when you quickly close the back of your throat to say ‘button’ or ‘kitten’ without using Ts. There was a letter for a throat-clearing that kind of sounds like ‘ecccckkkhhhh.’

Polyphemus the cyclops. This is, hands down, the funniest cartoon I ever drew.


All together there were a handful of letters that the Greeks simply didn’t need: Aleph, He, Yod, and Ayin. Instead of throwing them out, the Greeks gave them new sounds: A, E, I and O. Vowels, gang.


https://www.thoughtco.com/how-the-greek-alphabet-developed-118641
http://ixoloxi.com/alphabet/pnc2grk.html
https://daedalus.umkc.edu/FirstGreekBook/JWW_FGB1.html
http://www.greatscott.com/lessons/vowels/

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The alefbet

There’s a silver lining to all this misery. Up until the Babylonian Captivity, the books of the Hebrew Bible had been memorized and recited orally. But when the Jews found themselves far from home and their Temple, in danger of losing everything that made Jews who they are, afraid that future generations would forget G-d and His covenant with His chosen people—they started writing the Bible. They wrote down everything from Adam and Eve up to just before the prophets, then they wrote down the prophets, too.

The Bible was written and copied in beautiful Hebrew letterforms that were adopted and adapted from the Phoenician alphabet. Their alefbet made the Bible far easier to read than other holy writing. Jews learned to read (they posted words on the doorways of their houses!). People who weren’t Jews learned how to read and the Word of G-d spread far beyond Israel. The idea that each of us has a purpose and is loved by G-d is central to the Bible and central to Western culture.

And since you’re here, reading this, now seems a good time to remind you: you have a purpose and you’re loved by G-d. Hold that news in your heart because it’s absolutely true.

https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/news/when-was-the-hebrew-bible-written/
https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/article/origins-written-bible/
https://jewishmuseum.org.uk/schools/asset/hebrew-alphabet/

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The Hebrew alphabet

Phoenician trade routes

The Phoenician cities were located where Israel, Lebanon and Syria are now. Their alphabet was adopted by the Greeks to the west and, on the eastern side of the Mediterranean, by Canaanites, Moabites, Arameans, Amonites and Hebrews. Through them the Phoenician alphabet evolved into the Hebrew alphabet.

There are similarities between the Phoenician alphabet and the Hebrew alphabet. Both have 22 letters; neither have vowels; the names of many letters are similar; aleph (A) and ayin (O) are glottal stops; you read both alphabets from right to left.

Phoenician, the corresponding Latin, and Hebrew letters. The Latin column shows A and O as ‘ to indicate glottal stops—they hadn’t become vowels yet.

It’s fascinating to see how the alphabet developed in the Near East and Middle East compared to the West. I drew you a chart with Phoenician, Latin (our alphabet), and Hebrew letters. My Hebrew letterforms are less-than-spectacular. If only there were someone I could call who is good at Hebrew calligraphy, but who? Who?

https://www.ancient-hebrew.org/alphabet/history-of-the-hebrew-alphabet.htm
https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/4069287/jewish/The-Hebrew-Alphabet.htm
https://www.deadseascrolls.org.il/learn-about-the-scrolls/introduction?locale=en_US
https://ramatracheldig.wordpress.com/2008/08/12/120808-the-phoenician-alphabet/

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Carthage

The Phoenicians were mighty sea-traders. Wherever there’s trade, you can bet there will be armed protection of trade routes and access to markets. The Phoenicians are thought to be the first people to build ships for military use—for a navy. They set up a humongous colony on the north coast of Africa called Carthage. Carthage was on the western side of the Mediterranean—so Phoenician traders had a safe place to land when they were far from home ports in the east.

Eventually Carthage became big and powerful enough that it was a threat to the Roman Empire. The wars between Carthage and Rome were called the Punic Wars. Maybe the Romans couldn’t pronounce the ph sound? Anyhoo, this was the conflict where Hannibal brought his army across the Alps on elephants, and when Carthage was finally conquered the Romans knocked everything down and salted the fields there so nothing would ever grow.

Rabbit hole time: I wonder if our word ‘punish’ comes from how the Romans treated Carthage? I’m noodling around on the search engine thinghy but can’t find a line from ‘phoenician-punic’ to the Latin verb ‘punire.’
https://www.etymonline.com/word/punish
https://www.etymonline.com/word/Punic
https://www.ageofempires.com/history/phoenician-culture/
https://www.ancient.eu/hannibal/

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Canaanite turquoise miners fool around with hieroglyphics during lunch break

My pals (and Western Civ User’s Guide Irregulars) Ilene L and Jeffrey K each sent me a link to this Nova series on PBS about the origins of the alphabet—in it, archaeologist Orly Goldwasser asserts that a group of Canaanite turquoise miners working in Egypt were fooling around with hieroglyphics and almost-by-accident invented the alphabet. I think it’s a compelling theory—that’s exactly how a creative mind works: by fooling around. Okay so far. If that’s how it happened, their invention would still need to be promoted, spread far-and-wide, made popular. How do you do that?

The beautiful top drawing of an ox head was drawn by an expert drawer. Under that is an ox head as the Egyptian hieroglyphic symbol Aleph. Under that is a pathetic attempt at drawing ox heads by some ham-fisted Canaanite turquoise miner. At the bottom is our letter A.

The Phoenician traders and all their customers needed an efficient writing system to keep business records. The alphabet turned out to be the writing system they needed. The Phoenician trade routes were a communications network—like social media today but without the kitten photos. Those sea-captains visited every port around the Mediterranean Sea. Once the Phoenicians started using the alphabet, everybody started using the alphabet.

And how did the Canaanite miners get their invention to Phoenician sea-captains? You kids who go to Sunday school and Hebrew school knew this one already. Look in the back of your study bibles at the map—the Phoenician cities Sidon, Byblos and Tyre are in the Land of Canaan. Canaanites = Phoenicians.

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-9122891/Alphabet-Canaanite-miners-Ancient-Egypt-simple-letters-intricate-hieroglyphs.html
https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2016/12/30/did-illiterate-egyptian-miners-invent-alphabet/95992202/
Very good article here: https://barzilaiendan.com/2012/06/08/cine-a-inventat-alfabetul/

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A sea-change

Sure, they would have used Demotic script but hieroglyphics is much funnier.

If you own one of these Phoenician trading ships, you’re carrying cloth or papyrus or books or glass or copper or oil. You need to keep track of all that merchandise, how much it cost you and how much you want to sell it for. You’ll be putting in to different ports, unloading some of your cargo and taking on new merchandise. You need to keep records of what you sold and what you bought and who ordered which merch in advance. Egyptian hieroglyphics are way too complicated—even Demotic is cumbersome with symbols for entire syllables—and having a scribe aboard was an additional expense.

The Phoenicians looked at the Egyptian writing system and threw out all the pictograms and ideograms. They kept only the symbols that represented sounds and wound up with a 22 letter alphabet. That’s it. The alphabet was so simple that a sea-captain could write a list of all the stores in his ship without a scribe’s help.

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