Tuesday, April 03, 2018

Samples of Early Printed Greek

Last week I gave a quick tour of Greek New Testament type design over on the Twitter. This was inspired by the arrival of the book Greek Printing Types: 1465–1927: Facsimiles from an Exhibition of Books Illustrating the Development of Greek Printing Shown in the British Museum, 1927 at my local library. The introduction to the book gives a really helpful overview of Greek type design by Victor Scholderer, curator of the incunabula section in the British Museum Library. He was also the designer of Monotype’s New Hellenic in 1927 (see here) which finally unsettled the dominance of Porson in England. Fun fact about New Hellenic: it was used in abecedaries for nearly three decades in Greece. I think it was more common in classics than Biblical studies, but you see it, for example, in the older Cambridge History of the Bible.

All that by way of introduction. For those particularly interested in reading historic editions of the GNT, one of the main obstacles to overcome is the proliferation of ligatures that grew out of the Aldine typefaces from the 15th century. The Aldine style was based on the hand of the Greek scribe Immanuel Rhusotas and, partly because it looked “scholarly,” it took off and would influence the major Greek New Testaments up to the nineteenth century. Practically, this means that reading anything before that can be a chore. To help, here is a website that gives a nice introduction to early printed Greek, especially the wild and woolly ligatures. Check it out if you’re interested in reading these old editions.

More resources

William H. Ingram, “The Ligatures of Early Printed Greek,” Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies 7.4 (1966): 371–89 and William Wallace, “An Index of Greek Ligatures and Contractions,” Journal of Hellenic Studies 43 (1923): 183–193; Robert Proctor, The Printing of Greek in the Fifteenth Century (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1900). For a nice overview of the development of Greek type design, see Gerry Leonidas’s article at the Association Typographique Internationale.


  1. Thanks for the link! This would also be helpful to anyone transcribing minuscule manuscripts.

  2. I remember my uncle one remarking, tongue in cheek, how much ink BDB saved with all its abbreviations. Think how much ink we could save with these!