Aristarchian symbols

Marks to annotate ancient Greek texts

Aristarchian symbols are editorial marks developed during the Hellenistic period and the early Roman empire for annotating then-ancient Greek texts:– mainly the works of Homer. They were used to highlight missing text, text which was discrepant between sources, and text which appeared in the wrong place.

Two main types of ancient Greek philological annotations can be distinguished: signs and explicit notes. Aristarchian symbols are signs.


Early development

The first philological sign (σημεῖον) invented by Zenodotos of Ephesos, the first head of the Alexandrinian Library, in his edition of Homer has been the obelos (ὀβελός, a short horizontal dash -), which Zenodotos used to mark spurious lines. For this reason, the practice of using signs for textual criticism has been called 'obelism'.

Aristophanes of Byzantium invented later the 'asterisk' (ἀστερίσκος) ⁎ to mark lines that are duplicated from another place, as well as the 'lunate sigma' (σίγμα) Ϲ and the 'antisigma' (ἀντίσιγμα) Ͻ for two consecutive and interchangeable lines of the same content.

A system of dots also credited to Aristophanes of Byzantium was developed in the 3rd:century:BCE. A hypostigme ('low dot') . marked an occasion for a short breath after a short phrase, a stigme mese ('middot') (στιγμή) · marked an occasion for a longer breath after a longer passage, and a stigme teleia ('high dot') ˙ marked a full stop at the end of a completed thought. Other writers employed two dot punctuation ⁚ to mark the ends of sentences or changing speakers. Less often, arrangements of three ⁝, four ⁞ ⁘, and five ⁙ dots appeared.

System of Aristarchus

The number of the philological signs and in some cases their meanings were modified by Aristarchos of Samothrake (220–143:BCE), sixth head of the Alexandrinian Library. He used critical and exegetical signs in his editions of the Homeric poems.

A 'dotted lunate sigma' (σίγμα περιεστιγμένον) Ͼ was used by him as an editorial sign indicating that the line so-marked is at an incorrect position in the surrounding text; an antisigma, or 'reversed lunate sigma' Ͻ, may also mark an out of place line. A 'dotted antisigma' or 'dotted reversed sigma' (ἀντίσιγμα περιεστιγμένον) Ͽ indicates the line after which rearran... more

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