Greek typography

GFS Jackson

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted something directly related to design/typography, and for various reasons this has been a nice evolution for me. The writing/posting in Rome and here in Greece allows me to open up a new kind of expression that sweeps over larger parts of my life.

But I have been casually examining Greek typography while I’m here. When I say casual I mean a more “in-the-street” view of the letterforms that surround me in Athens and elsewhere, rather than a deeper investigation. My focus lately has been on meaning — the words themselves, rather than what they look like (of course, how meaning and appearance relate to each other is a whole other matter).

Recently I stumbled upon the Greek Font Society. They have a generic, clunky website via 2005 that is in serious need of an update. But what’s remarkable is that they’ve written a simple history of Greek typography, with free downloads of several Greek fonts.

I saw some version of this typeface (Jackson, above) in and around Mount Athos — enough to think that it was part of a branding effort. The visitor’s visa, a few road and dock signs, books. When it’s hand-painted it takes on different personas, but there’s a formality to the digital face, plus the distinctive yellow-orange color and the two-headed eagle. I later discovered that these are the official identity assets of the Greek Orthodox Church.

It’s Greek uncial script, more commonly referred to as “Byzantine” style — majuscule letterforms that were a critical part of the evolution of the modern Latin alphabet. Here’s an overly simplified chart showing where uncial script fits in (please excuse my lazy use of Wikipedia, the Cliff’s notes of the internet, but it helps). Greek uncial script evolved from the 3rd to 8th centuries as monks transcribed key biblical manuscripts, like the 5th century Codex Alexandrinus — one of the earliest known Greek Bibles, found in a monastery in Mount Athos. Lovely how it all connects.

It’s interesting to note the differences. The C shape is used instead of the modern sigma Σ for the “S” sound, and I’m assuming that the zeta “Z” sound is produced by the last character, which does not exist in today’s Greek alphabet. Psi Ψ is missing, as is omega Ω.

One Comment

  1. The progression on the Wiki-page is pretty amazing (arcane taxonomy and nomenclature notwithstanding). Love that you’re getting your Greek Geek on!

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