The classical Greek alphabet, its order of letters, and their form, were borrowed from the Hebrew-Phoenician alphabet; alpha, beta, gamma, delta, are but Grecized aleph, beth, gimel, daleth of the Hebrew language.1
In early times Greek was also written from right to left, as Hebrew is still written today.
Cadmus, the legendary hero who came to Greece from Phoenicia and founded Thebes in Boeotia, is credited with the introduction of the Hebrew or Phoenician alphabet to the Greek language; in its Hellenized early form the alphabet is called Cadmeian. As Herodotus tells the story,
The Phoenicians who came with Cadmus . . . introduced into Greece, after their settlement in the country, a number of accomplishments, of which the most important was writing, an art till then, I think, unknown to the Greeks. At first they used the same characters as all the other Phoenicians, but as time went on, and they changed their language, they also changed the shape of their letters. At that period most of the Greeks in the neighborhood were Ionians; they were taught these letters by the Phoenicians and adopted them, with a few alterations, for their own use, continuing to refer to them as the Phoenician charactersas was only right, as the Phoenicians had introduced them.2
However, Cadmus, the founder of Thebes, preceded by several generations the Trojan War; on this the Greek tradition is unanimous. Tradition also has it that the Cadmeian alphabet originally consisted of sixteen letters and that four additional characters were introduced later, about the time of the Trojan War.3
The Theban cycle of legends deals with the time preceding the Trojan War. Thebes in Boeotia was outside of the Mycenaean dominion. No contingent from Thebes participated with the other Greek cities in the Trojan War for, according to tradition, Thebes as a city had been reduced shortly before the new war started. With the conventional date of the Trojan War in the beginning of the twelfth century, Cadmus needed to be placed in the fourteenth: his dynasty comprised several generations of rulers before the Epigoni conquered and ruined the Boeotian Thebes; some of the Epigoni later participated in the siege of Troy.
This order of events in the semi-historical, semi-legendary Greek past conflicts with the fact that the Cadmeian alphabet has not been found in Greece before about the middle of the eighth century. Furthermore, because of certain characteristics in their form, the earliest Cadmeian letters bear the best resemblance to the Hebrew-Phoenician letters of the ninth centuryas exemplified by the Mesha stele.4
But in Greece no inscription in Cadmeian letters was found that could be attributed to even so early a time as the ninth century. Therefore among the classical epigraphists a protracted debate was waged between those who claimed a date in the ninth century as the time the Cadmeian alphabet was introduced into Greece and those who claimed the seventh century.5 Yet independently of the question whether the Cadmeian letters originated in the ninth or in the seventh century,
it is generally agreed that the fourteenth century is out of the question;6 but even should we follow the proponents of the earlier datethat of the mid-ninth century, we still would be at pains to harmonize dates so far apart as the ninth and fourteenth centuries, the date assigned to Cadmus. If the tradition about Cadmus, the originator of the Greek alphabet, has any historical value,7 and if Cadmus lived in the ninth century, his descendants, participants in the Trojan War, could not have flourished about -1200.