Past Event

Roger Woodward on the Formation of the Greek Alphabet

April 19, 2018
7:30 PM - 9:00 PM
Columbia University Faculty House


The evening will begin with drinks at 5:45 PM at the first-floor lounge of Faculty House, followed by dinner at 6:15 PM.Please email our rapporteur, Jeremy Simmons (, by noon on Monday, April 16th in order to make a dinner reservation. Note that the price of the meal is $30, payable only by check to "Columbia University." Professor Woodard's lecture will begin promptly at 7:30 PM.

The Greek alphabet likely appeared as a functional writing system in the late ninth century BC in a particular eastern Mediterranean locale, but the process by which it took shape is one that stretched temporally from that moment back into the Bronze Age, and geographically from Anatolia and Syria-Palestine, through Cyprus, to Pylos, Knossos, and other Mycenaean palace sites. In this seminar we will examine that formative process as one characterized by various episodes of the transfer of knowledge between structured systems – transfers that left traces of operational elements of earlier, pre-alphabetic systems within the emerging alphabet. We will further explore a scenario in which this alphabetic system could have plausibly found motivation and achieved functionality among non-literate Greeks operating within the multi-lingual and multi-graphic context of the complex armies of the Neo-Assyrian empire.