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In all the countries brought under the sway of Alexander, the language of the Greeks

became the language of the governing class and of the philosophers. In every such country

was a gradual and perhaps inevitable corruption of the speech thus imposed upon native

tongues. From the third century of our era, the departure from the old standard of purity

and elegance became so great that the Greek authors were no longer understood by many of

the peoples pretending to speak their language. Meanwhile, the transfer of the capital of

the Roman world to Constantinople introduced a large element of Latin into the heart of

Hellenism, and then the pilgrims and crusaders from the West brought in their importation

of Gallicisms, until the degeneration of Greek was well-nigh complete. Still, in the hands

of purists and scholars, it continued to be the vehicle of literature until, surviving the

barbarism of the Middle Age, it became a potent factor in the revival of learning.

Turning to the structural forms of the language of the Hellenes, as distinguished from its

historical development, we find much of interest. The original Greek alphabet consisted of

sixteen characters, which were reputed to have been brought into Hellas by the Phoenician

CADMUS. He was a mythical king of Thebes and brother of the monarch of Phoenicia. The

whole matter is legendary, but perhaps contains some grains of truth. It is probably true

that the Greek letters had a Phoenician origin, but it is more likely that they came in a

regular way from the contact of the Ionians with the scholars of Sidon than that they were

the beneficent contribution of a traveling philosopher. As to the date of the

introduction, modern antiquarians are divided in opinion, some holding it to have been as

early as the fourteenth, others as late as the eighth, century before our era. The

addition of several letters to the sixteen given by Cadmus is ascribed to PAL- AMEDES; but

others think that twenty-two of the characters were derived directly from Phoenicia, and

that only the letter hypsilon was of a truly Hellenic origin. At any rate, the number of

characters in the Greek alphabet proper is twenty-four.

It happened, however, in making up the list, that two of the letters, the vav and the

kappa, were discarded, but their places were filled with two others, the phi and the chi.

The other modifications were the addition of psi and omega by the Ionians, and finally the

introduction of the aspirated e, called eta, to serve the purpose of e long. The alphabet

thus completed was officially adopted in Athens, B. C. 403.

Of the seven vowels employed in Greek, two (n, w) were long, two (^, o) short, and three

(a, i, u) common. Every initial vowel was written with a breathing (') (*) above it to

indicate whether it was to be pronounced with a smooth utterance, as in the case of an

initial vowel in English, or be given with an aspiration, that is, with the sound of h

preceding. Marks were also employed to show the accentuation of words. The circumflex

accent (*) might be placed on either of the last two syllables of a word;. the acute (')

on either of the last three, without respect to the length of the vowel in the syllable so

accented; the grave (^), on every syllable not other- wise marked, but was not written

except on the last.

In the earlier ages of Greek literature the characters employed in writing were what is

called uncial, that is, a kind of square, capital-like letters, much larger than the body

of ordinary type. There was no cursive or modified style of writing differing from the

established forms of the letters. Such a device as a running-hand of Greek was unknown

until the second century before our era, when the scholars of Alexandria introduced the

cursive sys- tem. The ordinary small letters, such as make up the body of a Greek page,

were not adopted until about the middle, of the eighth century, A. D.; at any rate, no

manuscripts or inscriptions containing that style of letter are known to antedate the:

year 750 of our era.

In its grammatical structure the Greek language is one of the most complete, and, at the

same time, one of the most flexible in the world. The next preserves five cases out of the

original eight belonging to the primitive Aryan. It also has three numbers; singular,

dual, and plural. By