Monday, May 23, 2016

Why the Complutensian Polyglot Did Not Use Greek Accents for the NT

John 1.1-14. Note the dot under the
superscript ‘c’ before εγεννηθησαν
in the second line from the bottom.
From John Lee’s translation (emphasis added):
So that you may not be surprised, diligent scholar, or be displeased with us that in the present Greek printing of the New Testament, in a way different from that of the Old, only the letters, without the breathings and accents, have been set in print and published, we have thought it important that the reason for this be made clear to all at the outset. It is as follows.

That the most ancient of the Greeks were accustomed to write with out these points (κορθφαί) on the letters is too clear to need many testimonies. For certain old copies (ἀντίγραφα), not a few in number, clearly show this, such as poems of Kallimakhos and the verses of the Sibyll, and carvings of great age on stone in the city, engraved simply with letters alone. So it is quite evident that, in that first bringing into being of the Greek language, the placing on of these small strokes and marks was not devised, nor contributed to the full completeness of the said language in any way.

Since also all acknowledge that the whole New Testament, apart from the Gospel according to Matthew and the Epistle to the Hebrews, was written down in the Greek language from the beginning just as it was imparted by the Holy Spirit, we too decided piously to preserve the archaic antiquity and majesty therein of the same language, and to publish the book without the least addition whatever, in the manner of the ancient writings, so that we may not seem to have introduced novelty into something so holy and full of revered lofty thought, by means of alien and new operations imposed on it. Moreover, if the truth be told, the lack of breathings and accents could cause no obstacle to those with any training at all in Greek letters. I mean this with reference to the pure thought of what is said.
Instead of accents, the editors used “a simple mark” (κεραία) in polysyllabic words to show where the accent would go if it had been included. This is to aid pronunciation.

Interestingly, the vocabulary referencing system between Greek and Latin includes small dots under the reference letter to indicate ambiguous Greek meanings. See the dot under the ‘c’ before εγεννηθησαν in John 1.13.

The translation above is from John A. L. Lee, “Dimitrios Doukas and the Accentuation of the New Testament Text of the Complutensian Polyglot,” NovT 47, no. 3 (2005): 250–90.

For more on the Complutensian Polyglot, see here.

1 comment

  1. This is a remarkable awareness of the interpretive power of the paratext.