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Constantine Lascaris’ division of vowels and consonants

July 19, 2012

This is the first page of the first European printed Greek grammar and as such is a fundamental text of both the Renaissance and the Reformation. This page is from the 1476 edition printed in Milan.   The author, Constantine Lascaris came to Italy after the fall of Constantinople and became a teacher of Greek. He wrote this grammar for his student, the young Ippolita Szforza. Ippolita later married the son of Ferdinand I and became a patron of humanist scholars, but died young at the age of 38.

In 1495 a bilingual Greek Latin edition was printed by the Aldine press with a translation by Johannes Crastonus Placentinus.

For years, I had wondered about the history of arranging the Greek alphabet according to distinctive features. For example, consonants are organized by voiceless stops, voiced stops, aspirates, liquids, and so on.

Although the fundamental principle of presenting vowels and consonants by their classification is found in each, the latter text is far more organized. This raises a lot of questions for me, as to whethe the Greek alphabet was always conceived of in this way, and how much its presentation shifted over time.

This also points to the often overlooked fact that the first generation of humanists and Bible translators learned Greek from native speakers of Greek, and Hebrew from Jewish rabbis.

This is the first book printed in Greek and so determines the style of font. The first Greek fonts involved ligatures, abbreviations, and variant forms of the same letter. The font was created in order to imitate manuscript Greek handwriting.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. July 19, 2012 11:28 pm

    You might be interested in the Τέχνη_Γραμματική by Dionysius Thrax, if you haven’t read through it already. ΠΕΡΙ ΣΤΟΙΧΕΙΟΥ, in particular, focuses on how Greek sounds are organized.

  2. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    July 20, 2012 12:41 am


    Thank you! I love reading how the different categories are labeled also, as the phoné and the aphoné (consonants – at least the stops) for example. I am not sure what δίχρονα means. I will have to look that up.

  3. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    July 20, 2012 12:44 am


    have you ever seen this?

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