Adapting archaic Greek glyphs

bsleeper's picture

Hi all,

I'd love some feedback on these glyphs, especially from Greek speakers and classicists. Just in case the heavily coved serifs and x-height don't give it away, I'm developing them as companions to ITC Bookman.

[sample setting that includes several characters discussed below]

Beyond the usual distortions brought about by my latin-alphabet prejudices, it's not surprising that the most challenging shapes for me have been several archaic letters used mostly in academic contexts and for formal numeration (not unlike the use of roman numerals in latin scripts).

I'm not looking to replicate these letters' historic forms in an epigraphic way, but rather to see how far I can stretch them into the modern face with which I'm working, while retaining their recognizable features.

As letters that never survived the medieval period, their basic shapes are uncial, but I want to adapt them into miniscule/majuscule forms. I'm far from the first to try this; in fact, several advocates who congregate around Unicode successfully lobbied to get both forms into the standard over the past couple years. I've used some of these folks' examples and descriptions as the basis of my own doodling.


The miniscule stigma is a well-established form very similar to the final sigma. Because the origins of this modern form are based upon medieval uncial ligatures of sigma and tau, the capital letter has less tradition behind it.

Playing around with the shapes, my goal was to evoke both the lunate Sigma (the source of the Cyrillic C [Es]) and the uptick and tail of the letter's miniscule form. In the following image, I've suggested an array of glyphs that increasingly move toward the form of the lunate Sigma; in fact, the very last one is a literal ligature of this letter and a capital Tau; something like the Ethel (

bsleeper's picture

Another idea I've entertained for the lower-case san is something like the following.

Alternate san

For the most part, I like it more than either my or the "official" M-derived version, although it's not as fun to draw.

Obviously, it's based directly on the miniscule mu. It also references the cursive version of the Cyrillic sha (English "sh", Slavic š), a phoneme which is closer to the actual sound of san than is the literally referenced mu.

However, this is further away from the shapes that the Unicode standard suggests for the letter, even if the reference glyph is itself a constructed form with no direct historic antecedents.



speter's picture

Wow! I'm just seeing this for the first time now. Any further development?

dan_reynolds's picture

I like it, but I think that the mu looks too Latin. Can you bringe more "hand" into that?

dezcom's picture

I think Dan is right about the Latin feel. Have a cup of Greek coffee, break some dishes while dancing and try again :-) Keep trying though, I would like to see more work in pushing Greek further.


hrant's picture

You might be interested in reading my essay in issue #4 of Spatium magazine (soon to be republished in the Greek "Hyphen" journal) titled "Latinization: prevention and cure", especially since it deals with Greek to some extent. I'm not implying you're doing it all wrong or anything - in fact it seems like you're taking it very seriously, which is great. The thing is though that what we consciously think is "good design" is often not in the still-murky realm of multi-script type design (especially for text faces).


John Hudson's picture

I'm drawing archaic Greek letters myself at the moment, and finding it quite challenging. Actually, the real archaic Greek letters are fine: the problem is the anachronistic casing forms. I'm working in the Byzantine cursive style for the lowercase, and the san is particular tricky. Brent, I quite like your lowercase san, but it gives the appearance of having one too many strokes in it. I'll try to remember to post examples of my designs when I finish them.

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