Wondering if any of the following letters were or are ever written in the way described for each.

  • Δ : If it is ever filled in black.
  • Ξ : If it is ever written as similar to E or Ǝ, with a side edge backing it up.
  • Ω : If it's ever written more spread out, such as like a top hat, sort of _∩_ but with less protusion on the edges. But basically a wider gap in the center, and less folding inward.
  • ω : Likewise, if this is ever written as a w, perhaps not with sharp edges but not with a closing-in angle to the ending points of the lines on the top.
  • Σ : If this is ever written more rounded, sort of like Ɛ. But no, maybe that would confuse it with epsilon, be interesting to know if it's ever done like that.

The answer will depend somewhat on whether you're asking about historical variants or modern typography.

For example, I wouldn't be surprised to see a filled-in Δ in some sort of "artistic" modern typeface, but it would be unlikely to appear in a real written form, simply because filling the triangle in with a pen or other writing implement would be unnecessary work.

Ξ in ancient times was sometimes written with a vertical stroke right through the middle (so not like an E), but that's historical only (as far as I know). It's also seen in more modern times with the horizontal strokes connected with right-to-left oblique strokes, so that the net effect is somewhat like a two-layered Z.

Both Ω and ω have been written with various proportions and details of the basic shapes.

Σ was commonly written in a more cursive way as C, especially in uncial manuscripts. This is referred to as a "lunate" (or "moon shaped") sigma.

Late addendum - Here's an image of the connected form of Ξ that I referred to above:



(I'm assuming you're asking about the use in ancient/Classical times; please correct me in the comments if this is wrong.)

Delta (Δ) was never filled in with black, for a simple reason: the Greek alphabet (and similarly the Latin alphabet, and their predecessor, the early "block" form of the Phoenician abjad) evolved to be carved with a stylus or chisel, not written with a pen or brush. That's why there are so many straight lines and simple half-circle curves. And that's also why there are never any solid blocks of color: modern pens could color in the inside of a delta, but on a wax tablet or a stone monument it would take lots of time and effort and potentially damage the medium.

Later on, Greek was written on papyrus and other media, and at this point things started getting smoother and curvier. That's when delta lost its sharp corners and became a single smooth stroke, giving "δ". But now the emphasis was on writing quickly and easily, and going back to fill in with ink would just make this harder.

Xi (Ξ) was originally written with a line down the middle: it comes from Phoenician samekh which (in the "block" form) looks like a vertical line with three bars through it. However, this vertical line disappeared in Greek, probably because it made xi look too much like epsilon (Ε). In handwriting, the ends of the bars tended to get joined together; this is where you get the lowercase Greek form (ξ) and the Coptic form (Ⲝ). (Compare English cursive writing.)

Omega was a Greek invention, which is why you don't see it in related alphabets like Phoenician. They took omicron (Ο) and broke the circle to make a new letter; when this wasn't an obvious enough difference, they put little serif-like lines on the ends, to make the break easier to see (Ω). This worked great in inscriptions but wasn't always clear enough in handwriting, so the flat horizontal part got longer, then started curving up at the ends, and eventually you end up with the lowercase form (ω) where the circle itself has been reduced to a tiny nub! So yes, both your variant forms of omega existed as in-between stages of this process.

Sigma and epsilon were both written with straight lines because, again, it made them easier to carve/incise. Curves happened in handwriting (which is how you get ε) but sigma tended to be simplified further in these contexts: it was often written in a "lunate" (crescent-shaped) form, "Ϲ", with the little indentation on the left totally gone. Alternately, the bottom stroke was sometimes left out, and when that version got curved in handwriting it gave "S".

(Plus, a couple other un-asked-for but potentially interesting notes, since orthographic history is something I'm excessively interested in! Latin "C" is unrelated to lunate sigma; its Greek sibling is gamma. And a few alphabets did in fact contrast the three-stroke and four-stroke sigma shapes, such as Etruscan, which used three strokes for the sound in "sip" and four strokes for the sound in "ship"; the four-stroke one came from a merger of four-stroke sigma and the separate letter "shan". Now, some modern alphabets are doing the same, using Latin "S" for the "sip" sound and borrowing sigma back from Greek for the "ship" sound!)

  • A filled-in delta can easily be produced on papyrus, of course (not that there's any reason anyone would). – TKR Jan 12 at 20:00
  • @TKR Very fair! Added a note about papyrus. – Draconis Jan 12 at 20:03
  • "some modern alphabets" - interesting! Any chance you could name one? – Silverfish Jan 13 at 0:37
  • 1
    @Silverfish The African Reference Alphabet is the first one that comes to mind; it's used for transcribing African languages that don't have standardized orthographies, as a sort of halfway point between IPA and a full new orthography. – Draconis Jan 13 at 0:44
  • @Draconis Thanks! (Wikipedia link for anyone interested) – Silverfish Jan 13 at 0:49

Not a real answer to your question - just wanted to show how different Ancient Greek writing was from the way we perceive it now. Here's a possible (ortho)graphic reconstruction of the first ten lines in the Iliad by Barry Powell (originally presented in Powell 1991 with a typo; see a slightly revised version below taken from Powell 2009/2011): enter image description here

I wonder how many people would be able to recognize it.

  • Hmm... I'm no expert in epigraphy, but it looks like in the first line ΑΕΙΔΕ is mispelt as ΑΕΔΕ (should have a true diphthong, surely?). – varro Jan 13 at 18:49
  • That statement doesn't apply - the ει does not (i think) represent an "e long fermé", but a true diphthong [ei]. (Yes, I know that eventually [e:] and [ei] merged in Attic, but this should be long time before that merger.) – varro Jan 13 at 20:08
  • @varro you were right, thanks for catching this! I uploaded a revised version Powell uses in his more recent, 2009/2011 book. – Alex B. Jan 14 at 1:57
  • The assumption that the Homeric language still had digamma is also questionable. – fdb Jan 14 at 22:55
  • @fdb do you mean [w] isn’t there at all in Homer? I mean the sound, not the letter. – Alex B. Jan 15 at 2:42

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