Updated: Jul 28
Scriptio Continua may have been a tremendous advancement, but our brains would still be working hard to find and remember important items. Scripts did remove the responsibility of our memories to permanently store said items, but as previously stated, finding the items you wanted in these scripts was arduous. Once again, it would be the Greeks who provided a solution.
It was Aristophantes of Byzantium, a playwright, who came up with the first system of punctuation. This early system had three markers – the comma, semicolon, and period . The primary intent of these three markers was to emphasize rhetorical divisions, certainly useful items if you’re a playwright.
The Greeks were also the first group of people to use the paragraph as a means to organize different concepts. The paragraph started with the gamma symbol (Γ) and ended with the Coronis, which was a line symbol below the last sentence of a paragraph. All these inventions were intended to make texts easier to recite. For instance, in the context of a play, the Coronis instructed the actors to stop reading.
The adoptions of these symbols was not universal, however. Ancient languages such as Hebrew, Chinese, and Arabic, which already leveraged complex symbols, were slower to adopt the use of punctuation. The symbology would provide the necessary context, at least in theory. It would take the Renaissance and further connection of East and West before these ancient symbolic languages would begin adopting “Western” punctuation .
Just as punctuation was starting to gain momentum, a global pandemic, something which those of us alive know about all too well, put a pause on all innovation in the western world. The Black Plague ushered in the Dark Ages, the first true “black hole” in modern human history. Innovation of any kind ground to a screeching halt as approximately 25% of the world’s population was extinguished. Needless to say during this time, the correct usage of a comma versus a colon was low on the priority list. This time period did, however, bring religion to the forefront, particularly Christianity, and with that came the prominence of the Bible.
The Bible, as I’ll talk about more in the next blog, was the first mass produced text. However, contrary to popular belief, it was not the first book to have an index, or at a higher level a distinct organization method to find specific passages. That title would belong to De arte Praedicandi, or The Art of Preaching, written in 1476 .
With the growing number of languages and varieties in punctuation, the job of a scribe became increasingly important. Being a scribe was no easy task – it required being multi-lingual, first of all, but it also required a high degree of intellect to know how to best translate either the physical or rhetorical text such that the author's intent was captured. As a result of these two skills and the manual labor required to publish these texts, the resulting manuscripts were very limited in production and often reserved for the wealthy and educated.
The printing press would solve this problem of accessibility and many others. So many, in fact, it deserves its own blog. We will dive deeper into it next time...
 Brown, T. Julian. "punctuation". Encyclopedia Britannica, 19 Apr. 2023, https://www.britannica.com/topic/punctuation. Accessed 9 May 2023.
 LC, Authors. “Punctuation in Other Languages.” Language Connections, 10 Feb. 2020, www.languageconnections.com/blog/the-origin-of-punctuation-and-its-use-across-different languages/#:~:text=The%20Greeks%20first%20used%20punctuation,forms%20of%20punctuation%20as%20well. Accessed 9 May 2023.
 Boardley, John. “Who Invented the Index?” I Love Typography, 12 Jan. 2022, ilovetypography.com/2018/08/24/a-brief-history-of-the-index/#:~:text=The%20very%20first%20printed%20book,typical%20product%20of%20their%20press. Accessed 9 May 2023.