“Phoenician Letters”: Greeks on Where Writing Game From

Photios, Lexikon s.v. Φοινικήια γράμματα Ν.

“The Lydians and Ionans [report] that letters came from Phoinix the son of Agênor who invented them. But the Cretans report differently that they were developed from writing on the leaves of palm trees [phoinikes].

Skamôn, in the second book of his Inventions, says that they were named for Aktaion’s daughter Phoinikê. The story goes that he had no male children, but that he had daughters Aglauros, Ersê, and Pandrosos. Phoinikê died still a virgin. For this reason, Aktaion named the letters “Phoenician” for her, because he wished to give some honor to his daughter.”

Λυδοὶ καὶ ῎Ιωνες τὰ γράμματα ἀπὸ Φοίνικος τοῦ ᾽Λγήνορος τοῦ εὑρόντος· τούτοις δὲ ἀντιλέγουσι Κρῆτες, ὡς εὑρέθη ἀπὸ τοῦ γράφειν ἐν φοινίκων πετάλοις. Σκάμων δ᾽ ἐν τῆι δευτέραι τῶν Εὑρημάτων ἀπὸ Φοινίκης τῆς ᾽Ακταίωνος ὀνομασθῆναι. μυθεύεται δὲ οὗτος ἀρσένων μὲν παίδων ἄπαις, γενέσθαι δὲ αὐτῶι θυγατέρας ῎Αγλαυρον, ῎Ερσην, Πάνδροσον· τὴν δὲ Φοινίκην ἔτι παρθένον οὖσαν τελευτῆσαι· διὸ καὶ Φοινικήια τὰ γράμματα τὸν ᾽Ακταίωνα, βουλόμενόν τινος τιμῆς ἀπονεῖμαι τῆι θυγατρί.

Suda, s.v grammata

“Letters: Know that Phoenicians were the first to invent letters. For this reason, letters are also called Phoinikeia. People also say that Kadmos first brought them to Greece. And Apis, the Egyptian, brought medicine. Asklepios improved the art itself. Look also in the entry on Phoenician Letters.” [reference is the same as reported in Photios’ Lexicon.]

Γράμματα: ὅτι τὰ γράμματα Φοίνικες ἐφεῦρον πρῶτοι. ἔνθεν καὶ Φοινίκεια ἐκλήθησαν. καὶ τὸν Κάδμον φασὶ πρῶτον ἐς τὴν ῾Ελλάδα κομίσαι· ἰατρικὴν δὲ ὁ ῎Απις ὁ Αἰγύπτιος· ὁ δὲ ᾿Ασκληπιὸς ηὔξησε τὴν τέχνην. καὶ ζήτει ἐν τῷ Φοινικήϊα γράμματα.

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8th Century BCE Nora Stone (from biblicalarchaeology.org)

Students without Teaching: Against Illiterate Literacy

Plato, Phaedrus 274e-275a (go here for the full dialogue)

Socrates is telling a story of the invention of writing in Egypt

“When it came to the written letters, Theuth said, ‘This training, King, will make Egyptians wiser and will give them stronger memories: for it is a drug for memory and wisdom!’ But the king replied, “Most inventive Theuth, one man is able to create technology, but another judges how much harm and benefit it brings to those who use it. Just so now you, who are father of letters, declare the opposite of what they are capable because of your enthusiasm.

This craft will engender forgetfulness in the minds of those who learn it from the disuse of the memory since they will trust external writing struck by others, no longer recalling their own thoughts within them. You have discovered a drug for reminding, not one for memory; you will offer students the reputation of wisdom but not the true thing. For many who become students without instruction will seem to know a lot when they are mostly ignorant and difficult to be around, since they have become wise for appearance instead of wise in truth.’

Ph. Socrates, you can easily make up any story about Egypt that you want to…”

ἐπειδὴ δ’ ἐπὶ τοῖς γράμμασιν ἦν, Τοῦτο δέ, ὦ βασιλεῦ, τὸ μάθημα, ἔφη ὁ Θεύθ,

σοφωτέρους Αἰγυπτίους καὶ μνημονικωτέρους παρέξει, μνήμης τε γὰρ καὶ σοφίας φάρμακον εὑρέθη. ῾Ο δ’ εἶπεν, ῏Ω τεχνικώτατε Θεύθ, ἄλλος μὲν δυνατὸς τεκεῖν τὰ τέχνης, ἄλλος δὲ κρῖναι, τίν’ ἔχει μοῖραν βλάβης τε καὶ ὠφελείας τοῖς μέλλουσι χρῆσθαι. Καὶ νῦν σὺ πατὴρ ὢν γραμμάτων δι’ εὔνοιαν τοὐναντίον εἶπες ἢ δύναται. Τοῦτο γὰρ τῶν μαθόντων λήθην μὲν ἐν ψυχαῖς παρέξει, μνήμης ἀμελετησίᾳ, ἅτε διὰ πίστιν γραφῆς ἔξωθεν ὑπ’ ἀλλοτρίων τύπων, οὐκ ἔνδοθεν αὐτοὺς ὑφ’ αὑτῶν ἀναμιμνησκομένους. Οὐκοῦν οὐ μνήμης ἀλλ’ ὑπομνήσεως φάρμακον εὗρες, σοφίας δὲ τοῖς μαθηταῖς δόξαν οὐκ ἀλήθειαν πορίζεις. πολυήκοοι γάρ σοι γενόμενοι ἄνευ διδαχῆς πολυγνώμονες εἶναι δόξουσιν, ἀγνώμονες ὡς ἐπὶ πλῆθος ὄντες καὶ χαλεποὶ ξυνεῖναι, δοξόσοφοι γεγονότες ἀντὶ σοφῶν.

ὦ Σώκρατες, ῥᾳδίως σὺ Αἰγυπτίους καὶ ὁποδαποὺς ἂν ἐθέλῃς λόγους ποιεῖς.

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The Danger of Students without Teaching: Against Illiterate Literacy

 

Plato, Phaedrus 274e-275a (go here for the full dialogue)

Socrates is telling a story of the invention of writing in Egypt

“When it came to the written letters, Theuth said, ‘This training, King, will make Egyptians wiser and will give them stronger memories: for it is a drug for memory and wisdom!’ But the king replied, “Most inventive Theuth, one man is able to create technology, but another judges how much harm and benefit it brings to those who use it. Just so now you, who are father of letters, declare the opposite of what they are capable because of your enthusiasm. This craft will engender forgetfulness in the minds of those who learn it from the disuse of the memory since they will trust external writing struck by others, no longer recalling their own thoughts within them. You have discovered a drug for reminding, not one for memory; you will offer students the reputation of wisdom but not the true thing. For many who become students without instruction will seem to know a lot when they are mostly ignorant and difficult to be around, since they have become wise for appearance instead of wise.’

Ph. Socrates, you can easily make up any story about Egypt that you want to”

ἐπειδὴ δ’ ἐπὶ τοῖς γράμμασιν ἦν, Τοῦτο δέ, ὦ βασιλεῦ, τὸ μάθημα, ἔφη ὁ Θεύθ,

σοφωτέρους Αἰγυπτίους καὶ μνημονικωτέρους παρέξει, μνήμης τε γὰρ καὶ σοφίας φάρμακον εὑρέθη. ῾Ο δ’ εἶπεν, ῏Ω τεχνικώτατε Θεύθ, ἄλλος μὲν δυνατὸς τεκεῖν τὰ τέχνης, ἄλλος δὲ κρῖναι, τίν’ ἔχει μοῖραν βλάβης τε καὶ ὠφελείας τοῖς μέλλουσι χρῆσθαι. Καὶ νῦν σὺ πατὴρ ὢν γραμμάτων δι’ εὔνοιαν τοὐναντίον εἶπες ἢ δύναται. Τοῦτο γὰρ τῶν μαθόντων λήθην μὲν ἐν ψυχαῖς παρέξει, μνήμης ἀμελετησίᾳ, ἅτε διὰ πίστιν γραφῆς ἔξωθεν ὑπ’ ἀλλοτρίων τύπων, οὐκ ἔνδοθεν αὐτοὺς ὑφ’ αὑτῶν ἀναμιμνησκομένους. Οὐκοῦν οὐ μνήμης ἀλλ’ ὑπομνήσεως φάρμακον εὗρες, σοφίας δὲ τοῖς μαθηταῖς δόξαν οὐκ ἀλήθειαν πορίζεις. πολυήκοοι γάρ σοι γενόμενοι ἄνευ διδαχῆς πολυγνώμονες εἶναι δόξουσιν, ἀγνώμονες ὡς ἐπὶ πλῆθος ὄντες καὶ χαλεποὶ ξυνεῖναι, δοξόσοφοι γεγονότες ἀντὶ σοφῶν.

ὦ Σώκρατες, ῥᾳδίως σὺ Αἰγυπτίους καὶ ὁποδαποὺς ἂν ἐθέλῃς λόγους ποιεῖς.

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On the (rather thorough) Absence of Writing in Homer

From F. A. Wolf’s Prolegomena ad Homerum section XX:

 

“Now there is not only no evidence or even whisper of [epistles] in Homer and no indication at all of even the most tenuous beginnings of institutionalized writing or that “gift of Cadmus” but—and this is clearly the most significant piece—only contradictory evidence. The word for ‘book’ is nowhere; a word for writing is nowhere; mention of letters is nowhere.

In so many thousands of lines there is nothing about reading while everything is set up for hearing. There are no contracts or treaties except in person; there is no source for stories from earlier days except for memory, rumor and uninscribed monuments. We find the repeated and, in the Iliad, diligent, invocation of the Muses, the goddesses of Memory. No title is inscribed on pillars and tombs which are often mentioned.

There is no other kind of inscription at all: we don’t find stamped coin or fabricated money; there’s no use of writing in domestic affairs and trade; there are no written or drawn maps; and, finally, there are no couriers or letters. If these had been customary in Odysseus’ homeland or if “folded tablets”* had been available to the inquiries of the suitors and Telemachus, we probably would have a much shorter Odyssey or, as Rousseau decided, we wouldn’t have any Odyssey at all!”

 

Iam vero non modo nullum tale in Homero exstat testimonium rei vel vestigium, nullum ne tenuissimorum quidem initiorum legitimae scripturae vel Cadmei muneris indicium, sed, quod longe maximi momenti est, contraria etiam omnia. Nusquam vocabulum libri nusquam scribendi nusquam lectio-fiis nusquam letterarum: nihil in tot millibus versuum adlectionem, omnia ad auditionem comparata; nulla pacta aut foedera nisi coram; nullus veterum rerum famae fons prae-ter memoriam et famam et illitterata monumenta. eo Musarum, memorum dearum, diligens et in Iliade enixe repetita invocatio; nullius incippis et sepulcris, quae interdum memorantur, titulus; non alia ulla inscriptio; non aes signatum aut facta pecunia; nullus usus scripti in rebus domesticis et mercatura; nullae geographicae tabulae; denique nulli tabellarii, nullae epistolae, quarum si consuetudo fuisset in patria Ulyssis, vel si percontationibus procorum et Telemachi suffecissent, procul dubio Odysseam aliquot libris breviorem, aut, ut Roussavius coniiciebat, omnino nullam haberemus.

 

*A reference to the only indication of writing in Homer, coming from Glaukos’ speech to Diomedes when he describes Bellerophon as sent to Lykia by Proitos with a “folded tablet” (6.168-170):

“He sent him to Lykia, and he gave him murderous signs
Which he wrote on a folded tabled, many heart-rending things,
In which he ordered his father-in-law to welcome him in order to kill him.”

πέμπε δέ μιν Λυκίην δέ, πόρεν δ’ ὅ γε σήματα λυγρὰ
γράψας ἐν πίνακι πτυκτῷ θυμοφθόρα πολλά,
δεῖξαι δ’ ἠνώγειν ᾧ πενθερῷ ὄφρ’ ἀπόλοιτο.

tablets
The Vindolanda Tablets from Britain

Literacy Was Shameful in Ancient Thrace: Aelian Varia Historia, 8.6

“People say that none of the ancient Thracians knew how to read. In fact, the barbarians who live in Europe all believe that reading is the most shameful thing. As the story goes, the barbarians in Asia made a better use of literacy. For this reason, many also dare to claim that Orpheus was not sophisticated because he was Thracian and that the myths about him are complete lies. Androtion alleges these things, if he is any kind of a trustworthy source for the illiteracy and uneducated nature of the Thracians.”

Τῶν ἀρχαίων φασὶ Θρᾳκῶν μηδένα ἐπίστασθαι γράμματα• ἀλλὰ καὶ ἐνόμιζον αἴσχιστον εἶναι πάντες οἱ τὴν Εὐρώπην οἰκοῦντες βάρβαροι χρῆσθαι γράμμασιν. οἱ δὲ ἐν τῇ ᾿Ασίᾳ ὡς λόγος ἐχρῶντο αὐτοῖς μᾶλλον. ἔνθεν τοι καὶ τολμῶσι λέγειν μηδὲ τὸν ᾿Ορφέα σοφὸν γεγονέναι, Θρᾷκα ὄντα, ἀλλ’ ἄλλως τοὺς μύθους αὐτοῦ καταψεύσασθαι. ταῦτα ᾿Ανδροτίων λέγει, εἴ τῳ πιστὸς ὑπὲρ τῆς ἀγραμματίας καὶ ἀπαιδευσίας Θρᾳκῶν τεκμηριῶσαι.