What did the ancient Greeks write with?

drummist · 2 · 123190


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wondering what the common writing tools were.  some sort of pen?  paint brush? chisel?  of course, the follow-up is what were they writing on?
« Last Edit: 13 Jan, 2007, 15:10:54 by nickel »


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The word “paper” is derived from the papyrus plant, an Egyptian marsh reed that was gathered, split, crisscrossed, and pressed wet into a sheet of any desired width or length.  When dry, it was about as flexible as thick bond paper and presented a surface that could absorb ink without blotting.  Sheets of papyrus could be joined with gum to form a roll (biblos or biblion). On the Internet you can Google a goodly number of sites that describe its manufacture in Egypt from the third millennium B.C. onward.  Egyptian papyrus was traded throughout the Mediterranean.  In Greece, it was used from the time when any significant literary text needed to be written down, copied, and disseminated, i.e., from the eighth century B.C. onward.  (In the earlier Mycenaean period, writing seems to have been used primarily for materials inventories inscribed with pointed sticks on wet clay tablets shaped like palm leaves—which must have been used as paper in even earlier times.)

The Greek pen was simply a hard reed (kalamos), perhaps split at the bottom to hold enough ink for a word or two.  Ink came in small dried blocks of all sorts of material—from octopus ink to vegetable juice—which the scribe mixed with water.  Again, loads of sites are available for detailed information on page layouts, typical lengths of papyrus rolls, book publishing (using slaves as copyists), etc., along with references to other occasional writing media like parchment (animal skins).  You might start your search with something like "ancient Greek writing" or "ancient Greek books."

As the independent, freedom-loving Greek city-states evolved in the first millennium B.C., writing was recognized as a valuable tool for the preservation of culture and tradition, and as an indispensable part of education.  Even children practiced writing on wax-inlaid wooden tablets and large pieces of broken pottery.  As far as I know, the Greeks were the first people to implement universal literacy.  Previous Mediterranean cultures had relegated writing to professional scribes whose task was mainly to record decrees, religious texts, prescribed rituals, inventories, and commercial transactions.  The Greeks, by contrast, used writing to create and share an entire culture.  And a majority of the population participated, to one degree or another, in this creative process. So the alphabet was turned into a sort of cultural DNA, if you will.

Hope I’ve covered the basic ground here.  Happy Googling!
« Last Edit: 15 Feb, 2020, 13:49:19 by spiros »


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