4

The Antikythera Mechanism is an early analogue computer, discovered in a Roman shipwreck off the coast of Antikythera. It was ridiculously advanced for its time, being able to calculate eclipses, chart planetary positions, and convert between the solar and lunar calendars using a system of bronze gears.

Some fragmentary inscriptions (scroll down a bit to see them) were found along with the mechanism, possibly a sort of "instruction manual". They were definitely written in Greek—but what sort of Greek?

It's thought the device was made somewhere around the second century BC, so the obvious answer is Koinē. But other dialects definitely still existed at that point; I'm curious if the inscriptions show any hint at them.

(A better transcription can be found in the supplement to Freeth et al, "Decoding the ancient Greek astronomical calculator known as the Antikythera Mechanism", 2006. But that's not freely available, while Wikipedia is.)

  • Extremely interesting. – Cerberus Mar 25 at 22:29
5

While Freeth's 2006 paper (with the good transcriptions) isn't freely available, his 2012 paper (analyzing the text in more detail) is!

From here:

The inscriptions are engraved in skilfully executed serifed capital letters very similar to the lettering of inscriptions on stone from the last three centuries BC. The letter forms are most characteristic of the second half of the 2nd century BC, though a dating as early as the end of the third century or as late as the middle of the first cannot be excluded. Even by the standards of this period, when stone inscriptions with letter height about 5 mm were not uncommon, the lettering on the Mechanism is tiny, with the letter height ranging from about 2.7 mm in the "parapegma" inscription down to about 1.2 mm (i.e. smaller than modern 4 point type) in the inscriptions on the back spiral dials. The layout is stypical [sic] of contemporary stone inscriptions, with no space between words (but occasionally a bit of space before and after numerals and at the start of new sections of text) and no punctuation. At the ends of lines, words that are too long to be completed on one line are divided syllabically according to the standard rules for ancient Greek. Errors in the inscriptions are rare; it is likely that the text was first painted on the bronze plates as a guide to the inscriber, though of course no trace of such preparation survives. The text is in the standard koinê Greek of the time, with no characteristics of local dialects except for the Doric features of the Corinthian month names on the calendar dial.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.