WHY CAN’T THE ICON PAINTERS SPELL?

Oh, my.  Prepare yourself.  If you have not paid close attention to the previous postings about reading Greek icon inscriptions, along with those on Greek ligatures, and if you have not learned the letters of the Greek alphabet, you may find yourself at sea without a paddle in this posting.  Well, it is your own fault.  Where are your priorities?  No doubt if you are a sensible person, they are probably on things other than icons and the rather useless ability to read Greek icon inscriptions.  But given that none of us here are sensible, let’s just move on.

Today we will look at an icon primarily for its Greek inscription.  There are peculiarities in Greek inscriptions that any serious student of icons should know about.  They involve not only the forms of letters but also the spelling of words. 

First, let’s take a look at the whole icon.  It depicts Jesus as Pantokrator — “Ruler of All,” or as the Russians put it “The Lord Almighty.” With him are the symbols of the Four Evangelists.

PantokratorbJacksonsAuction

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

The icon, depicting Jesus with closely-set eyes, drooping moustache and long nose, reminds me of the Catalonian Romanesque “Christ in Majesty” from the central apse of Saint Clement de Tahüll. 

ChristinMajestySt.ClementCatalunya

In previous postings, I discussed ligatures in Greek icon inscriptions.  A ligature is the joining of one letter to another, instead of having all letters clearly separate.

I also mentioned in passing that often the spelling of words in Greek inscriptions is not the standard spelling found in textbooks.

We must also remember that there are differences in how a letter is written from icon to icon.

Then there is the matter of wording variations in standard inscriptions.

Also one must keep in mind that it is common to find no separation — no space — between individual words, as well as finding part of a word on one line and the rest on another.

In today’s icon we find all of those, so it makes a good example for learning more about Greek inscriptions.

As preparation you must know a basic fact about the pronunciation of Greek.  It has changed.  The pronunciation in classical times had already altered by the time the New Testament was written in what is called Koine (“common”) Greek.  What is important for us to know is that some vowels and diphthongs that originally had their own separate pronunciations later became pronounced the same.  We find that in modern Greek as well.  This may seem like a trivial fact, but it is very important in reading Greek inscriptions because the words on icons, as I said, are not always found in standard spelling.  The reason for this is that many were written phonetically — by their sound.  And because different letters and diphthongs could sound exactly the same, we often find them interchanged in inscriptions.

Here is the text on the Gospel book held by Jesus:

deuteinsc

Let’s look at the text as it appears on each page, but with the letters put in easy-to-read form, ligatures separated, and spaces added between the words:

ΔΕIΤΕ Υ
ΕΥΛΟΓΥΜ
ΕΝΗ
ΤΟΥ Π
ΑΤΡΟC
Μ
ΟΥΚΛIΡΟΝ
ΟΜΥCΑΤΕ

ΤΗΝ ΗΤΟΙΜ
ΑCΜΕΝΗΝ

ΥΜΗΝ ΒΑ
CΥΛΕΙΑΝ
ΤΟΥ
ΟΥΡΑΝΟΥΑΠΟ
ΚΑΤΑΒΟΛΗ
C
ΚΟCΜΟΥ

And here it is in standard spelling:

ΔΕΥΤΕ ΟΙ
ΕΥΛΟΓΗΜ
ΕΝΟΙ
ΤΟΥ Π
ΑΤΡΟC
Μ
ΟΥΚΛΗΡΟΝ
ΟΜΗCΑΤΕ


ΤΗΝ
ΗΤΟΙΜ
ΑCΜΕΝΗΝ

ΥΜΙΝ ΒΑ
CΙΛΕΙΑΝ
ΤΟΥ
ΟΥΡΑΝΟΥΑΠΟ
ΚΑΤΑΒΟΛΗ
C
ΚΟCΜΟΥ

Now why the spelling differences?  Again, often inscriptions were written phonetically.  And because of the changes in Greek pronunciation over the centuries, all of the following letters and diphthongs became pronounced the same — as ee in “see”:  η , ῐ , ῑ , ῠ , ῡ  ει , οι , ῃ , υι.  In capital letters (majuscules) without diacritical marks they are Η Ι Υ ΕΙ ΟΙ ΥΙ

So that is why in the first line, we see ΔΕIΤΕ Υ instead of the standard ΔΕΥΤΕ ΟΙ 
And it is why in the second and third lines, we find ΕΥΛΟΓΥΜΕΝΗ instead of ΕΥΛΟΓΗΜΕΝΟΙ 

And why in the last two lines we see ΚΛIΡΟΝΟΜΥCΑΤΕ instead of  ΚΛΗΡΟΝΟΜΗCΑΤΕ.

Such phonetic substitutions continue on the second page.

Now let’s look at it with the words separated and without the line to line division of words:

ΔΕΥΤΕ ΟΙ ΕΥΛΟΓΗΜΕΝΟΙ ΤΟΥ ΠΑΤΡΟC ΜΟΥ ΚΛΗΡΟΝΟΜΗCΑΤΕ ΤΗΝ ΗΤΟΙΜΑCΜΕΝΗΝ ΥΜΙΝ ΒΑCΙΛΕΙΑΝ ΤΟΥ ΟΥΡΑΝΟΥ ΑΠΟ ΚΑΤΑΒΟΛΗC ΚΟCΜΟΥ

In a modern version of the New Testament in Koine Greek, the text will look like this with added diacritical marks (those little marks above letters).

Δεῦτε, οἱ εὐλογημένοι τοῦ πατρός μου, κληρονομήσατε τὴν ἡτοιμασμένην ὑμῖν βασιλείαν ἀπὸ καταβολῆς κόσμου.

DEUTE, HOI EULOGEMENOI TOU PATROS MOU, KLERONOMESATE TEN HETOIMASMENEN HUMIN BASILEIAN APO KATABOLES KOSMOU

That means:

“Come, you blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”

However, if we look at the text on the book in today’s icon, we find it adds two words to the biblical text:  TOU OURANOU (τοῦ οὐρανοῦ) / “of Heaven,” so that it reads:

DEUTE, HOI EULOGEMENOI TOU PATROS MOU, KLERONOMESATE TEN HETOIMASMENEN HUMIN BASILEIAN TOU OURANOU APO KATABOLES KOSMOU

“Come, you blessed of my Father, inherit the Kingdom of Heaven prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”

The ligatures in the inscription are generally easy to separate, but keep in mind how O and U are combined like this:

OUligature

And the word TOU (“of”) looks like this, combining T, O, and U:

There are additional words beneath the standard IC XC title for Iesous Khristos — “Jesus Christ”:

At left:

ICKaiBasileus

And at right:

All together, they read in standard Greek:

Iesous Khristos
Kai Basileus tes Doxes

“Jesus Christ and King of Glory.”

However, you probably noticed that the writer has used phonetic substitution here as well.

Now if you do not mind the total waste of time in learning to read basic Greek icon inscriptions, you might have have endured all the way to the end of this posting.  That, as they say, is a “you” problem.  You could go to therapy for your icon addiction, but with the money you spend on that, you could be saving up to buy a real icon.  And so the addiction continues.