Where and when the alphabet was adopted, and by whom, have been discussed and continue to be discussed, provoking acute controversy in the scholarly world. The oldest surviving inscriptions are on sherds of pottery vessels from Naxos, Ischia in the Bay of Naples, Athens, Euboea, Oropus (on a fishing net weight), and Al Mina in Syria. The last-named site has moreover been regarded as one of the likeliest for the adoption of the Phoenician alphabet. Greek traders, seeing the advantages the Phoenicians gained from the use of writing in commerce, hastened to copy them. But even if the initial use was due to economic factors, it was other reasons that permitted and subsequently assisted the rapid and wide spread of writing in the Hellenic world.

Even a child could learn the new alphabet with its few signs. The oldest alphabets that have come down to us exhibit a systematic attempt at learning it. What has been particularly emphasized in the last few years is the importance of the epic as a decisive factor in the process of the introduction and spread of writing. The Homeric heroes, with one exception only, seem as though living in a world without writing, by contrast with Hesiod, who undoubtedly wrote his works. Even if this is still an open question in Homeric studies, it seems most probable that the Iliad and the Odyssey were fashioned within a long oral tradition, while they probably took the form in which we know them today from one creator, whether or not the latter knew of writing. The need to write down such an extended and important work of literature contributed to the immediate reception and widening use of the alphabet initially adopted by the Greek traders. In connection with the above, one should not overlook the demand for written law that developed at the same time as the organizing of cities. Access by all citizens to the text of the law was the guarantee for just judgment. Participation in common affairs gradually became so dependent on literacy that by the end of the Archaic period key constitutional function such as ostracism were being addressed only to literate citizens.

The oldest specimens of writing on potsherds go back to about the mid-8th century B.C. Their appearance at the same time in different parts of the Hellenic world, already with important differences in the letters, has led to the view that there must have been a long period of development before this. Recent scholarship, however, argues that what we call 'evolution' - a better term might be 'process of transmission' - took place exceptionally quickly, within only a few decades. The moment in time when the alphabet was introduced is consequently set at the start of the 8th century B.C.

As we have already mentioned, the place of this cultural osmosis was beyond doubt one of the points at which Hellenes came into contact with Phoenicians. Various areas have from time to time been proposed: Thera, Rhodes, Crete, Euboea. But as the evidence for the presence of the Euboeans in the Orient has grown dramatically in the last few years, Al Mina in Syria is now the preference of most specialists. At the same time the view has emerged that the Hellenes' transmission of the alphabet to the Phrygians and Etruscans also took place at this early stage of its adoption in Greece.

| introduction | structures | law | values | Archaic Period

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