This sketchbook addresses what I perceive to be a gap between the general English-speaking public’s frequent use of the names of Greek letters in all sorts of contexts, and the explicit knowledge that the words we all say – alpha, beta, gamma – refer to an alphabet that is thousands of years old. Even apart from fraternities and sororities, Greek letters surround us in the names of stars (Alpha Centauri, Upsilon Andromeda), villages and towns (Alpha in Minnesota, New Jersey, California, and Ohio among many others), app releases (as in, “that game is in beta,” meaning not quite all the way done), and so on. Much of this occurs without people ever stopping to think what “alpha” or “beta” really mean beyond sounding like it’s something futuristic or that is science-related. It occurred to me that perhaps there was a need for work that explicitly connected the glyphs of Greek with their current-day usage in English.
In doing the background reading for this sketchbook, I was fascinated by the history of how Greek as a written language evolved. The immediate parent for Greek was Phoenician. The Phoenicians were a nation of sea-faring traders who originated on the Mediterranean coast of what is now Syria, Lebanon and northern Israel. The Phoenicians sailed far and wide, and spread their form of writing to many cultures throughout the Middle East and Europe. But their written language – like those of the Egyptians that came before them – was based on the need to be able to write down commonly-used words. Their letters were named after the words they were trying to capture, such as ox, house and fish hook. Their equivalent of the letter B, for example, was named for their word for house (bayt) and was shaped like a house, too. This was a very utilitarian approach in contrast to our now more abstract naming of letters – what, for example, is a G, other than a symbol to be interchangeably used with other symbols? Not a whole lot but therein is the power of our current written language.
This sketchbook is an outgrowth of a portion of my work which directly or indirectly combines the sciences and visual art as points of mutual inspiration. I often find inspiration in the natural world and the Universe as a whole as complex and yet elegant, with meaning in form, process and content. In my previous professional pursuits, I was a physician-scientist. I am currently an aspiring artist and stay-at-home mom.
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