A Fun Find: Early Greek Didot (1790)

I’ve known about this for one or two years now, and intend to include it in my design of Didot from this period, but I thought it would be neat to share this small nook in type history with you all now.
I’m sure many of you are familiar with the later Greek typeface by Didot. An example in Hymne d'Aristote à la vertu: essai d'un caractère grec (1832):

I have relied mainly upon three Didot manuscripts (a set of three volumes, 1789–1790) for my design, and early on while looking through some of the footnotes I came across this in the third volume (1790):

Three instances of Greek, distinct from the later design shown previously. As I have been parsing through many other Didot manuscripts, this is still the only instance I have seen it used. Before talking about it more I’ll share with you an instance of Greek from the footnote of an introductory letter in the first volume (1789) and another instance from the same letter from when it was first published in 1784, in that order:

I’m not entirely sure if the Greek shown in 1784 and 1789 are a| a very early experiment by Didot b| a design from someone working with the Didots, or c| a general design available to printers of the time. But what held my attention was the 1790 design. I know there is talk about latinizing other scripts, but one thing I have grown to respect in Didot’s typefaces is how he was able to harmonize his designs across languages.
Is it rough in places, yes, but I do like it. Let’s get into some of the interesting features. Look at that /omicron and how he differentiated it from the Latin /o with the little terminal cutting into it, giving it a bit of a top-of-a-fruit look. The /ζ doesn’t have a hook at the bottom, appearing to end in a teardrop terminal. The /α reminds me of how he handled his italic /x. The x-height also seems to be equal with the Latin type, where it is slightly smaller later on. On a different branch, refined on its own, separate from the very beautiful Greek we see later, I think it could be made even more a group of beautiful letters in its own right.
But what are your thoughts on it? Is it heresy against Greek type design or a lovely bit of Greek type, or anything in between?
«1

Comments

  • John HudsonJohn Hudson Posts: 1,665
    edited May 1
    c| The 1784 and 1789 examples are in the style of Granjon's Greek types. These were the dominant forms of Greek type in western Europe prior to the introduction of the new styles by Bodoni, Baskerville, and Didot in the 18th Century.

    The 1790 example looks very much like Bodoni's Greco 21, one of his few non-slanted Greeks:


    Personally, I find Bodoni's Greeks too idiosyncratic, and of the 18th Century experiments in new styles of Greek types Didot's — as in your 1832 example — was by far the most successful.
  • Jacob CasalJacob Casal Posts: 95
    Ah, I didn’t even think to look at some of Bodoni’s work with Greek for comparison, I definitely should have! I am curious as to when Bodoni designed Greco 21. Seeing as how the two drew some inspiration from each other, I wonder which was designed first.
    I agree about the idiosyncratic appearance and flow, the letters can feel a little jumpy (as I said: rough). If the rest of Didot’s Greek at this time was that close to Bodoni’s, then it is that much more so rough.
    However, that is where refinement comes in. Didot took it in a different direction, a superior direction, but with refinement I think something like this could still maintain its Greek character while harmonizing well across itself and the rest of a typeface.
    (I suppose another possibility is that it is Bodoni’s design. Perhaps Didot got some specimens from him to both use in print and research for his designs, stepping away from using the Granjon Greek types.)
  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 1,449
    edited May 1
    Greek (lower case) type design really suffered from being in the hands of foreign designers whose main criteria was to make it the third style, after Latin Roman, with its vertical stress, and Latin Italic, with its angled stress. No surprise then that many designers have boxed themselves into a corner where crazy stress seemed a logical solution for differentiation, or, when it came to Bodoni’s upright Greek, adding lots of twiddly bits.

    Didot’s 1832 design had another idea, better than crazy stress—“left-handed” stress. That makes it related to another famous transgressive-stress type of the same era, Caslon’s Italian of 1821.

    Porson’s Greek was more authentic, I think, because he was a scholar who wrote a lot of Greek, and it seems to derive more closely from writing script, than be a predominantly typographically-informed concept.
  • John HudsonJohn Hudson Posts: 1,665
    edited May 1
    The Aldine style of Greek type that led on to Garamond's and Granjon's, and that came to dominate Greek typography until well into the 18th Century, is based on the handwriting of Greek scholar printers living in Italy.* It's representative of the Byzantine cursive hand at that time. The 'crazy stress' is a reflection of the fact that this was a secretarial hand, written quickly, with a lot of flexibility in the wrist, rather than a formal book hand written more slowly and consistently.

    I interpret the mature Didot style as regularising the dominant stress pattern of the cursive Greek. That's why it is more successful that Bodoni's, which tries to resolve the Greek letters within a Latin stress pattern.

    Here's another part of the history: this is the Byzantine cursive style as written with a split nib pen by Louis Barbedor in the mid 17th Century (and copied directly by Bickham in the Universal Penman a hundred years later), i.e. an early attempt to interpret Greek letters with an expansion stroke model and with more consistency of stress angle. If you ignore the heavily ligated connections and just look at the pattern of the individual letters, you can see how this contributes to Didot's eventual breakthrough.



    Re. Porson, it's representative of how Greek was written by an English scholar, which I wouldn't necessarily characterise as 'authentic' in terms of how Greeks write the script. Notably, it is a style of type that has had almost no use at all within Greece, and is mostly associated with the study of Classics in Britain and North America, through its use in the Loeb Library.
    _____

    * Lots has been written on the subject of the contribution of native scholars to early Greek type. See e.g. Nicholas Barker's Aldus Manutius and the development of Greek script and type, and Constantine Staïkos' Charta of Greek printing.
  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 1,449
    edited May 1
    The 'crazy stress' is a reflection of the fact that this was a secretarial hand, written quickly, with a lot of flexibility in the wrist, rather than a formal book hand written more slowly and consistently.

    That’s backwards.

    If one is writing quickly, it is much easier to keep the pen at a consistent angle, rather than continually wrist-twisting and elbow-shifting (those are simultaneous movements involved in changing the angle of stress of a broad-nibbed pen).
    At least, that’s my experience.
    However, perhaps with a quill changing stress angle may be done by rolling its thin barrel between one’s fingers. (I’ve never used a quill.)
    But even that seems like a superfluous level of activity to add to a scribe or secretary’s work, and with any significant amount of pressure on a pointed nib (to generate contrast), it slows the writer down a lot, because the angle has to be exactly aligned with the pen’s direction.

    If one is writing slowly, there is time to finesse the letters, such as by varying stress angle and lifting the (broad) nib onto a corner and dragging.

    Re. Porson, it's representative of how Greek was written by an English scholar, which I wouldn't necessarily characterise as 'authentic' in terms of how Greeks write the script.

    I meant authentic in the sense that Porson’s type was a representation of the writing of someone who wrote (“authored”) a lot of Greek, not that of a type designer who probably did not.

    **

    In general, the workaday, less formal scribal work (in whatever writing system) did not have a lot of contrast. I conjecture that while it provided a good model for letter forms, contrast and angled and baroque stress were added by type designers, and those features increased during the high-contrast neoclassical and early 19th century era.

    In that manner, they “upgraded” quick scribal style with the finish of slower, more formal work.
  • Jacob CasalJacob Casal Posts: 95
    Hmm, the discussion between you two has given me an idea for a little type experiment with these Greek typefaces. You also opened more paths for me in researching proper Greek type design and its evolution, thanks! The experiment may either look really wonky or offer a competent blend; it sounds good on paper anyway, but we’ll see.
  • John HudsonJohn Hudson Posts: 1,665
    If one is writing quickly, it is much easier to keep the pen at a consistent angle
    Hmm. You've never seen my handwriting.

    The Byzantine cursive involves a lot of complex joining behaviour, including offset vertical letters, which perhaps contributes to the variation in rotation. It's not like a Latin running hand in which the joins between letters are mostly consistent with the stroke pattern of the letters themselves.

    In any case, the fact remains that Aldus' and other Venetian cursive Greek types were based on the handwriting of scholars such as Marcus Musurus, and reflects the qualities of that writing. My assumption is that some of those qualities arise from it being a secretarial cursive hand, as distinct from the formal Byzantine book hand, and hence that speed played some role in those qualities. I may be wrong in that, but I would be cautious about comparing speed and resultant qualities in one writing system with that in another.
  • John HudsonJohn Hudson Posts: 1,665
    edited May 2
    Jacob, I think the Greek type in the 1784 example is what Enschedé records as Long Primer Greek No.590 — or something very similar (the mu seems slightly different). Enschedé got the type from the Egenolff-Berner foundry in Frankfurt, which was the principal German distributor of French types of Garamond and Granjon.

  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 1,449
    edited May 2
    I would be cautious about comparing speed and resultant qualities in one writing system with that in another.
    I don’t think it’s a problem, the constraints of hand movement and tool are common.


    In this example by Marcus Musurus (Burney MS 96, f 144r), there is not much stroke width contrast, but from what there is, it is apparent that the pen has been held at a consistent angle, with heavier horizontals. And this is emphasized throughout by the extravagant tonos accents, which stitch the text to the layout. To increase weight in vertical stems he created solid loops (especially in mu), and at the bottom of descenders by letting the pen linger and/or overwrite slightly, producing a “blob” terminal—it wasn’t done by changing nib angle. This feature was imitated by Griffo for Aldus, and much later became a thematic device in the Didot shown above.

    While the Didot follows much of the putative pen movement and alignment in the Musurus sample, one can see where Didot has “cheated” and applied different (crazy) angles of stress, notably in the evenness of the thick horizontals of sigma and tau, compared with the thick diagonals of alpha, kappa, lambda and chi, and the thick vertical right stem of mu—three quite different and deliberative angles. These thick, even strokes in a variety of angles may be reproduced by nib rotation, but not at speed, where even thickness is pretty much limited to one direction. I theorize that they are typographic enhancements which addressed Didot’s desire for pronounced contrast in text type: contrast in stroke thickness, and contrast with the consistent angling of stress in Latin types.
    My assumption is that some of those qualities arise from it being a secretarial cursive hand, as distinct from the formal Byzantine book hand, and hence that speed played some role in those qualities.
    We are in agreement, then, John, speed is of the essence.
  • Jacob CasalJacob Casal Posts: 95
    It may very well be, John, I was definitely surprised when first researching at how much the same letters can vary in a manuscript (ink, human error, time worn, etc.).
    Also noteworthy, Nick, in complement to your mention of Didot’s “left-handed” stress the example you posted has a subtle “right-handed” stress particularly noticeable in the omicrons.
  • John HudsonJohn Hudson Posts: 1,665
    The Egenolff-Berner Long Primer Greek was one of the inspirations for my Clio Greek type design, a modified, regularised version of which became SBL Greek.





  • Jacob CasalJacob Casal Posts: 95
    edited May 4
    Ah that’s a lovely design, nice job toning down some of the blobs while maintaining its character. I also really like how you handled /pi and /ϖ. Always nice to have more good examples to try and understand the forms.
  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 1,449
    Why do you suppose that the Greek lower case was never reformed along the lines of the capitals—to harmonize by being less cursive and “scripty”—which is what happened with Latin type? 

    Would there perhaps have been a cultish taste for Byzantine esoterica in the the Aldine Nea Akademia
  • Jacob CasalJacob Casal Posts: 95
    Good question. It’s a vice versa situation but I kind of felt the same way about how the capitals haven’t been changed to harmonize more with the lowercase! I’ve been doing more research, and rereading some as well, and it covers a lot of what has been said here. However, I believe Gerry Leonidas mentioned in his atypi article that Greek type design had a pretty rough history up to the first punches being made (national issues and population displacement). Much of it was “stuck” (for lack of a better word) as scribal writing, so what we see is scribal-like punches. Maybe there were some less “scripty,” more refined forms by Greeks hiding out there somewhere at this early time as well.
    With that said, let’s dive into both of our thoughts, the vice and the versa. In terms of the lowercase, maybe the neoclassical type designs weren’t the best choice to start revolutionizing the refinement of Greek type. Beautiful as Didot’s latter design is, he and his son ended up sticking with the “scripty” look; Ambroise Firmin Didot worked in close proximity with all things Greece as well. If any non-Greek at the time had the opportunity to change it up and run it by Greek users to see how they felt about it it was him! I digress. We noted the 1790 Bodoni/Didot to be idiosyncratic and experimental, looking for that right direction to design a Greek typeface in harmony with the Latin styles. Apparently, as we discussed, they didn’t set very well culturally speaking, especially being so experimental in trying to become familiar with Greek form, “scripty” was preferred. Again referring to Gerry Leonidas, I believe he mentioned Greeks possibly being a bit tired of the outside influence and this may have extended to their type design preferences. But hey, with the greater access to designing fonts that exist now maybe its only a matter of time before someone makes an acceptably “non-scripty” Greek lowercase that catches the national taste of Greece.
    As for caps, I see some manuscripts like the Marcus Musurus example you posted, notice the script caps, and wonder why not make a few adjustments to the capitals. Nothing extreme, sort of like how some designers will make the Cyrillic /К slightly different from a Latin /K. Regardless, it seems to come down to that the Byzantine empire had a sizable impact on this aspect.
  • Craig EliasonCraig Eliason Posts: 925
    I suspect the Greek caps haven't changed to harmonize with the lowercase just because Latin-based typefounders have 14/24ths of the caps already at hand before they even start carving that way. 
  • John SavardJohn Savard Posts: 466
    edited May 5
    Why do you suppose that the Greek lower case was never reformed along the lines of the capitals—to harmonize by being less cursive and “scripty”—which is what happened with Latin type?
    Ah, but they did get reformed that way - for sans-serif types, like New Hellenic.

    In that, I think, is the answer to your question. There was no available tradition of a Greek uncial that would have harmonized with capital letters based on Roman monumental inscriptions. (I think there is such a thing as Greek uncial, but it's terribly obscure and not particularly suitable for this purpose.)

    So while the lower-case of New Hellenic or something similar could perhaps - maybe even likely and easily - have had stroke contrast and serifs added, the result wouldn't resemble anything pre-existing; instead of looking "Greek", it would seem artificial, like the "New Hebrew Typography" proposed by Schonfeld. As a minor modification of an existing typeform, though, it wouldn't be hard to read, it would just look unattractive.

    On the other hand, a thoroughly Latinized Greek (with harmony and internal logic tested by time even!) is certainly possible. Just use Cyrillic as the model. But the Greeks aren't interested in learning to read over again. Particularly not just to satisfy some foreigners' idea of what the upper- and lower- case of a script ought to look like.
  • André G. IsaakAndré G. Isaak Posts: 436
    (I think there is such a thing as Greek uncial, but it's terribly obscure and not particularly suitable for this purpose.)
    I'd hardly call Greek uncial “obscure”
  • Jacob CasalJacob Casal Posts: 95
    On the topic of unicals—along with some of the other topics we’ve been going through on Greek design choices such as cursive, capitals, lowercase, latinizing etc.—I quickly came across the interesting, albeit old, A Handbook of Greek and Latin Palaeography by Edward Maunde Thompson, 1893. I’ve only skimmed through it so far (381 pages). However, I found some information perhaps useful to us in understanding the background designers may have been coming from in their time, if not for our time as well. Page 115 of the book (page 137 of archive.org’s digital pages when viewing the full spread) starts a section called The Antiquity of Greek Writing, which goes into Greek book-hand and cursive immediately, and then unicals, capitals, and lowercase two pages later. From then on it goes into more depth extensively on each spanning centuries, with visual aid too! Here are some quick snippets, but first, the link to the book:
    https://archive.org/details/handbookgreekan00thomgoog/page/n136
    Unical Book Hand Papyri Example:
    Some Lowercase:

  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 1,449
    It wouldn't have seemed 'esoterica' to them… The Byzantine styles of script would have been familiar and quotidian.

    For scholars no doubt, but in relation to the expanding market for books which printing had produced, Aldus’ italic pocket books were highly accessible to the general reader, who wrote their native language, and Latin, in a similar-looking hand, one presumes—but would the average Greek reader/writer have been familiar with the convoluted Byzantine style?
      
  • John HudsonJohn Hudson Posts: 1,665
    edited May 5
    What seems to you 'convoluted' is simply how the people who wrote Greek at that time wrote it. Some writer's hands are more or less complex in terms of the number and kind of ligature forms involve, but the general style is pretty consistent from the late 1200s through to the early 1600s. There's a huge amount of manuscript in this style, both literary and administrative.
  • John SavardJohn Savard Posts: 466
    Looking at the book in question, I see that the late Greek uncial of around 990 A.D. is clearly where Cyrillic got its start. But it's not like the Latin uncial with lots of rounded characters, so it isn't as distinct from the upper case.
  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 1,449
    Right, “complex” is a better description than “convoluted”. 

    After looking a bit more at the Aldine Greek, it seems that it’s much less complex than the Musurus verse above. But I am puzzled as to why there are so many ligatures for letters ending in a horizontal stroke at x-height (tau, theta, pi, sigma etc.) as well as gamma, when followed by a vowel. Although it was impractical, I can only conclude that the purpose was to support the idea that the style is cursive and connected. 

    I would imagine that it was a great relief to Aldus (not to mention Griffo) when he subsequently produced an italic type based on Sanvito’s hand with its quite discrete letters.


  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 1,449
    To return to your original post, Jacob, have you seen my Scotch Modern Greek?



    The roman is too stiff, according to Gerry Leonidas, but Yannis Haralambous quite liked it, because of the high contrast, which he considered appropriate for Greek, no doubt because it’s well established in Monotype’s Apla and Times fonts.

    The reason I made the roman stiff was not just because I consider such severity to be suitably neoclassical, but because I designated the classic Greek style for the italic. I reasoned that a Latin-Cyrillic-Greek type system should have a consistent “roman” and “italic” throughout. Using the classic scripty style for the upright Greek didn’t seem to fit into the overall multi-script scheme, in which the italic is otherwise the scripty partner.

    I don’t consider that to be Latinization of the default Greek per se, but a necessary consequence of the roman/italic duality—and thus modernization and internationalization.  

    I did provide some quaint alternates in a stylistic set, though (bottom line).

    There is also a matching sans serif, Figgins, which follows the same scheme.


  • John HudsonJohn Hudson Posts: 1,665
    But I am puzzled as to why there are so many ligatures for letters ending in a horizontal stroke at x-height (tau, theta, pi, sigma etc.) as well as gamma, when followed by a vowel. Although it was impractical, I can only conclude that the purpose was to support the idea that the style is cursive and connected. 

    Something I've observed in repertoires of Greek fonts is that very often smaller sizes of types have more ligatures than larger sizes. I think the reason for this is that these smaller types are frequently used in marginal notes and other places where space is at a premium, and a lot of ligatures horizontally compress text content.

    Sequences of consonant + vowel(s) are extremely common, of course, and a lot of Greek ligatures represent either full syllables or syllable-initial sequences.
  • John SavardJohn Savard Posts: 466
    Incidentally, the Internet Archive also has the revised and expanded second edition of the book, with a slightly modified title: https://archive.org/details/greeklatin00thomuoft/

  • Jacob CasalJacob Casal Posts: 95
    John Savard, good catch! Not only extended, but with photographs of the source materials and no blurry scans on the archivist’s end. It really is definitely worth looking through to examine Greek type design. Yes, I too see that /Д emerging from /Δ among other things in the vellum unical manuscripts.
    John Hudson, as per your concern on the roman/italic distinction, I believe I saw it mentioned somewhere that when emphasizing something in Greek in earlier times they would increase the spacing. With the Aldine and other attempts at designing type for Greek they, as we have mentioned, focused on the minuscule book hand already present in the accessible tradition of the language. While in close proximity with other languages and their writing traditions Greek may borrow attributes from them (and give to them); Greek doesn’t necessarily become one with those surrounding languages either. Already having a means of emphasis, perhaps they didn’t feel a Latin pressure to make such a stylistic distinction, instead such a distinction being borrowed from the chiefly Latin designers later on to drop the use of spacing as emphasis. That’s not a bad thing necessarily, just a point of evolution in a long line of evolution for the script. I think your question fits well with Nick’s later post on his Scotch Modern Greek.
    I had not seen it before, but I understand your rationale, Nick, as John noted in thinking about the Latin italic in relation to Greek minuscule book hand (as the book mentioned earlier would distinguish it), it is the closest analogue stylistically whether upright or slanted. Certainly it is difficult to imagine a “super-italic” to go along with the traditional Greek writing. There is no rule saying that one cannot dominantly use an “italic” if that just so happens to be the dominant form of your language’s writing. I see no issue with designing both forms for such multilingual/-national purposes. It serves the Greek user in proper form and the academic user in consistency. When advertising such a thing I would emphasize such an aspect though, so as not to turn away a user who is looking for traditional form. Even in academic situations I could see Greek used much like how an author might write a character’s inner thoughts in a book in English: mainly italics and the roman for emphasis.
  • Jacob CasalJacob Casal Posts: 95
    Just adding this for reference. Tables portatives de logarithmes, 1795.

    Found in the Avertissement, Didot has moved away from the Bodoni/Bodoni-like Greek. It looks different from the Granjon of even earlier and closer to Didot’s later Greek. It’s a little hard to tell as it is in a smaller point size, though unclear what size. I found this while looking for his designs for mathematical characters.
  • John SavardJohn Savard Posts: 466
    edited May 21
    Just adding this for reference. Tables portatives de logarithmes, 1795.

    Found in the Avertissement, Didot has moved away from the Bodoni/Bodoni-like Greek. It looks different from the Granjon of even earlier and closer to Didot’s later Greek. It’s a little hard to tell as it is in a smaller point size, though unclear what size. I found this while looking for his designs for mathematical characters.

    Aside from displaying an interesting early form of Greek type, is this the origin of the term Stereotype as used in typography?

    ...looking at Wikipedia, the term Stereotype is said to have been coined in its modern sense in 1798, so this does precede the known origin. Having gone to your link, what I glanced at seemed to be saying merely that the reason author called the logarithm tables stereotypes was because they were free from error, and would not be in need of revision.
  • Jacob CasalJacob Casal Posts: 95
    edited May 21
    Oh interesting, even if it didn’t amount to what it seemed. I saw the word stereotype but didn’t think much of it. Just out of curiosity I ran the paragraph through the ever infallible Google translate to get a gist of what it was saying (I’m not sure why /pi won’t appear):
    I name these tables, stereotypes, words τύπος, type, στερεός, solid, motionless; I did not call them polytypes, my method not being the same as that of the polytypage which I know little, but whose idea, very old, is ingenious; however, I do not believe that any important work has been achieved by this process, at least I do not know of any, and what I have seen has seemed to me very unsatisfactory, as the characters have not kept between them the level, and especially not being very well formed; besides, I doubt that we can succeed in correcting the faults, as I succeed by my method: perhaps susceptible, it will always be much inferior to mine, since I use the character at the moment when it comes out of the hands of the founder, and that the polytypage can only have the counter-proof.
    I wasn’t sure what was meant by "polytypage” so I searched “translate ‘polytypage’ French.” The two (1) (2) immediately noticeable links denote it as “polytyping” in number 2 with two sources of its own, or (using our pal Google translate again):
    Reproduction du bois gravé par cliché sur une plaque en métal
    Reproduction of wood engraved by cliché on a metal plate
    I guess it’s a case of two professions having some shared jargon, but different definitions in terms of application.
Sign In or Register to comment.