I've tought myself to read the Greek alphabet, and it is still confusing to read and identify "h" sound in the ancient Greek. For example, Athena talks about Calypso that she has "αἱμύλιοι λόγοι" in Odyssey(1, 56). It seems 'aimylioi logoi' to me, because α has no diacritical mark on, but I have seen that is read as 'haimylioi logoi' elsewhere. Which one is right, and why? Is it to do with the Homeric Greek, or does ἱ after α affect the pronunciation? Thank you!


3 Answers 3


All words beginning with a vowel are marked with a 'breathing.' This looks like a single inverted comma. When the breathing is 'rough' (aspirate) it is c shaped < ;when the breathing is 'smooth' the inverted comma is reversed > . In the case of αἱμύλιοι the aspirate, the rough breathing, has been placed over the second letter of the vowel pair αἱ.

The other diacritical marks are tonal accents:
αἱμύλιοι is proparoxytone;
λόγοι is paroxytone. perispomenon and properispomenon are only found on long vowels and diphthongs, and can be, barely, heard as a rising-falling tone.


If a word begins with a diphthong, the breathing sign is written over the second vowel letter. "Haimylioi" is correct.

  • 7
    Incidentally, this can be used to distinguish between diphthongs and vowels with iota adscriptum when dealing with capitals (where in modern typesetting, iota subscriptum is actually placed next to the capital (thus adscriptum, instead of under it.) Thus, in ᾿´Αιδι, we know it's pronounced as "adi", not as "aidi", because if the latter were correct, it would have to be written as Αἴδι.
    – sgf
    Apr 12, 2019 at 12:20

fdb is absolutely correct (+1), but to address this part of your question:

does ἱ after α affect the pronunciation?

The answer is, yes, it absolutely does!

In (most dialects of) Ancient Greek, there were fourteen vowels (*):

  • α, ε, η, ι, ο, ω, υ are written with single letters
  • αι, ει, οι, υι, αυ, ευ, ου are written with double letters

The vowels in the second group are conventionally called "diphthongs", even though not all of them were actually diphthongs in the linguistic sense (ει and ου were monophthongs).

But even though they're written with two letters, these diphthongs act as single vowels. So the convention is, whenever you put an accent or breathing mark on a diphthong, it goes on the second letter.

So when you have a word like αἱμύλιοι, it has four syllables, each with one vowel: αἱ-μύ-λι-οι. The first vowel is αι, marked with a rough breathing, and transcribed hai in the Latin alphabet.

(*) Some dialects had more, some had less. In Epic, there were also three long diphthongs that disappeared before Classical Attic (ᾱι ηι ωι), and three long monophthongs that weren't indicated in writing (ᾱ ῑ ῡ). Other dialects had a distinction between ει and ε̄, and ου and ο̄, which Attic didn't—but I don't know if Epic is one of these.

EDIT: As fdb points out, the long diphthongs were still written in Classical Attic. My bad.

  • 1
    I take your point about diphthongs. ει and ου were digraphs, not diphthongs.The long diphthongs ᾱι ηι ωι were still written in Attic inscriptions of the classical period; in the Byzantine orthography they were written with subscript iota.
    – fdb
    Apr 12, 2019 at 18:26
  • 1
    @fdb Yeah, annoyingly my textbook at least calls those two "diphthongs" even though they linguistically weren't (they were long monophthongs), so I'm trying to use that same terminology here. I didn't know the Attics still wrote the long diphthongs though, I'll add a note about that.
    – Draconis
    Apr 12, 2019 at 18:27
  • Thanks for the detailed answer, I'm learning everyday. It is known to me that ου (/u:/) is a monothong, but not in the case of ει. I thought it would be like /ei/, just as I would read λέγειν as /legein/. Do I miss something here...?
    – kore
    Apr 13, 2019 at 21:49
  • 2
    @K.Park Originally, ου and ει were true diphthongs, but at some point before Classical times they merged into monophthongs (/o: e:/). That's why εε contracts to ει rather than η in Attic (but εα→η because η was a somewhat lower vowel). Then both of them raised, becoming /u: i:/. That said, the Erasmian pronunciation (one of the more common pronunciation schemes for Ancient Greek) uses /ei/, so you're not at all wrong for saying it that way. No native ancient Athenians are going to try to correct you on it!
    – Draconis
    Apr 13, 2019 at 21:58

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