Lebanon in History from the Earliest Times to the Present

By Philip K. Hitti | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VIII LITERATURE, RELIGION AND OTHER CULTURAL ASPECTS

As the Phoenician was the middleman commercially, so was he the middleman intellectually and spiritually. His ships and caravans carried -- besides cargoes -- intangibles which were even more important to the progress of man. Such intangibles were the varied civilizing influences which Phoenician merchants and colonists exerted. The Greeks became their pupils in navigation and colonization. They also borrowed from them in the fields of literature, religion and decorative art. Phoenician activity turned the Mediterranean into a base for multiform cultural impulses emanating not only from the Lebanese littoral but also from the valleys of the Nile and the Euphrates.

Uppermost in significance among the boons conferred upon humanity was the alphabet. First to use an exclusively alphabetic and adequately developed system of writing and to disseminate it throughout the world, the Phoenicians may have received the basis for their system from Egyptian hieroglyphic sources through Sinai. The hieroglyphics had their origins in picture writing but had developed phonologically forty signs which were consonants. Being conservative, the Egyptians never proceeded thence to the using of these signs by themselves. At the end of the seventeenth or the beginning of the sixteenth century supposedly Canaanite captives or mine workmen in Sinai, unable to master the complexities of hieroglyphic characters, ignored those characters entirely and used exclusively the consonantal signs. To these signs were given Semitic names and values. The sign for ox-head, for instance, regardless of what "ox-head" was in Egyptian, was called by its Semitic name āleph. Then, according to the principle of acrophony -- by which a letter is given the initial sound of the name of the object it represents -- this sign was used for the glottal stop (', a). Acrophony is widely used in nursery-rhyme: "A is for Archer". The same treatment was accorded the sign for

The alphabet

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