Phoenicians Invent the Modern Alphabet Part 3: Eyewitness Reports

About the Phoenicians and comments by Herodotus and Pliny the elder on inventing the modern alphabet, the process in history and linguistics whereby pictures or ideograms are broken to component sounds to creat a writing system.


EYEWITNESS REPORT: Herodotus, the Greek historian, said, "The Phoenicians introduced into Greece the knowledge of letters, of which, as it seems to me, the Greeks had heretofore been ignorant."

Pliny the Elder, Roman statesman and author, made some interesting observations: "I have always been of the opinion that letters were of Assyrian origin, but other writers, Gellius, for instance, suppose that they were invented in Egypt by Mercury; others, again, will have it that they were discovered by the Syrians; and that Cadmus brought from Phoenicia 16 letters into Greece. To these, Palamedes, it is said, at the time of the Trojan War, added these 4, Th, X, Ph and Ch. Simonides, the lyric poet, afterwards added a like number, Z, E [long], Ps, and O [long]; the sounds denoted by all of which are now received into our alphabet.

"Aristotle, on the other hand, is rather of the opinion that there were originally 18 letters, A B G D E Z I K C M N O P R S T U Ph, and that 2, Th namely, and Ch, were introduced by Epicharmus and not by Palamedes. Aristides says that a certain person of the name of Menos, in Egypt, invented letters 15 years before the reign of Phoroneus, the most ancient of all the kings of Greece, and this he attempts to prove by the monuments there. On the other hand, Epigenes, a writer of very great authority, informs us that the Babylonians have a series of observations on the stars for a period of 720,000 years, inscribed on baked bricks. Berosus and Critodemus, who make the period the shortest, give it as 490,000 years. From this statement it would appear that letters have been in use from all eternity. The Pelasgi were the 1st to introduce them into Latium. [Latium was an ancient country in central Italy.]"

Dr. Isaac Taylor, Canon of York, famed scholar and author of a 2-volume work, The History of the Alphabet (1899), wrote: "It is only by means of the potent simplicity of the alphabet that the art of writing can be brought within general reach. The familiar instances of Egypt, Assyria and China are sufficient to prove that without the alphabet ... science and religion necessarily tend to remain the exclusive property of a sacerdotal caste; any diffused and extended national culture becomes impossible, religion degenerates into magic, the chasm which separates the rulers and the ruled grows greater and more impassable, and the very art of writing, instead of being the most effective of all the means of progress, becomes one of the most powerful of the instruments by which the masses of mankind can be held enslaved."

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