Episode 13: Greece, Phoenicia and the Alphabet

Mycenaean Greek writing disappears during the Greek Dark Age, but the Greeks encounter the Phoenicians and adopt their alphabet. The Greek alphabet results in the spread of literacy. Modern English words from this period of Greek history are examined.

Map Prepared by Louis Henwood (Click Map for Larger Image)

Map Prepared by Louis Henwood (Click Map for Larger Image)

10 thoughts on “Episode 13: Greece, Phoenicia and the Alphabet

  1. Wonderful and intriguing set of talks so far, and looking forward to listening to them all!

    The thought crossed my mind while you were talking of the Phoenician alphabet and the alphabet’s being representative or phoneme’s that there is an obvious similarity between the two italicized words. Perhaps you address this somewhere but is there any connection you are aware of made by the Greeks?

    • Interesting observation, but looks like a coincidence. Phoenician is from the Greek Phoínikes, and was used by Homer. It may have existed before Greek, but its etymology is uncertain.

      Phoneme comes to English from the Greek phonema via French phonème, and ultimately from the Proto-Indo-European root bha, to speak. Kevin has a very interesting discussion of this in Episode 32, I think. Derivatives of PIE bha include fate and fame, infant (one who cannot speak), prophet, banish, confess, and blame.

    • John is correct. Despite the similarity, there does not appear to be a linguistic connection between ‘Phoenician’ and ‘phoneme.’

  2. First I wanted to say thank you for a really great podcast, I love listening to it so far.

    This episode was especially interesting to me, because of how some of it has been politicised, and I’ve already heard conflicting versions of parts of it.
    Hope you can help me understand it better.

    I wanted to ask what is the connection between the philistines in Canaan and phlistines today?
    Hebrews still have a similar religion and language.

    I was also curious about what evidence do we have of Semitic people inslaved in egypt, and which Semitic tribes where there?

    • Hi John. I don’t really know anything about modern Philistines, so I’m afraid I can’t provide an answer to that question.

      With respect to the enslavement of Semitic people in Egypt, I based this episode on several resources which I was using at the time for the early history of the Near East. After posting this episode several years ago, I received feedback from a couple of listeners who disputed the notion that the early Hebrews were enslaved in Egypt. Frankly, I am not an expert on early Hebrew or Middle Eastern history, so I can’t really give you a reliable opinion. If I was preparing this episode today, I would probably revise the statement that the Hebrews were enslaved since there appears to be some disagreement about that. I would add that the early books of the Old Testament reflect the oral tradition of the Hebrew people, and at least according to their oral tradition, their ancestors had been enslaved. But, of course, oral tradition is just that. It is not definitive proof.

      • “Philistine” in its modern sense was introduced into English by the Victorian poet and scholar Matthew Arnold to indicate the narrow-minded bourgeiousie. There’s some suggestion it may have been connected with university students using the term to represent the “town” population, who were seen as anti-intellectual, and simply casting them as the Biblical arch-enemies,

        • Thanks! I misunderstood the original question. I thought the question was about a modern community or ethnic group called the “Philistines.” I am aware of the use which you described. Thanks for the background.

  3. I really appreciate the maps that go along with these podcasts. As a side note, the lake-like areas of water on the Euphrates River seen in the maps did not exist in ancient times. They are the result of modern dams in Syria and Turkey. The one in Turkey, now known as the Ataturk Dam, flooded many villages and archaeological sites. (The one in Syria probably did, too.)

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