Whatever Happened To Siculate Lunate Sigmas?

In the thirty years since I first heard of them, I’ve had the vague impression that siculate lunate sigmas, like adscript iotas for the traditional subscripts and use of capital V and small u for both vowels and consonants in Latin texts, were the coming thing, and that more and more editions were using them. When I went to look for some examples a few nights ago to show my students, I was surprised how difficult it was to find any. Of a dozen or two texts from the last half-century, a mixture of Oxford, Teubner, and Budé editions, only Sandbach’s Oxford Classical Text of Menander uses them. Have they gone back out of style? Is this a fad convention that never really caught on? Or was my selection unrepresentative? If so, can someone give some other examples? I don’t doubt that siculate sigmas are abundant in the pages of ZPE and the Oxyrhynchus Papyri and similar collections, but they are far rarer in standard reading texts than I had thought.

Finding one text was easy, even if a second has proved elusive. I began my sigma-hunting with Menander because of something that happened to me in graduate school. A neighbor in my apartment building was a third-world immigrant who had gone to the best prep school in his home country, where he had taken (I think it was) 8 years of Latin and 4 of Greek. Though studying other subjects in the U.S., he had decided to brush up both languages, and sent away for the Oxford texts of Vergil and Menander. When they arrived, he consulted me in a panic, wondering if he should send them both back as defective, since the Menander had a lot of Latin Cs where he expected Greek sigmas, and the Vergil had vowels for consonants and consonants for vowels. Vrbs antiqua fuit on the first page of the Aeneid particularly distressed him: “Verbs ahn-tee-kwa foo-it ? Verbs ? What is this Verbs ?”

Update: (10/2, 8:15am)

I’ve changed ‘siculate’ to ‘lunate’ above, since it seems to be more familiar. In fact, I’m starting to wonder whether I remembered it wrong, since ‘siculate’, “sickle-shaped”, might well describe the traditional end-of-word small sigma. The few dictionaries at hand don’t seem to recognize the usage.

As for examples, the only other texts I’ve found so far that use lunate sigmas are Diggle’s Oxford Classical Text of the Tragicorum Graecorum Fragmenta Selecta (1998) and his Cambridge editions of Euripides’ Phaethon (1970) and Theophrastus’ Characters (2004). There are certainly plenty of texts of authors surviving only (or primarily) in papyri that do not use them, e.g. Cunningham’s Teubner Herondas. Time for a more thorough check? I’ve just about finished unpacking my books, so it wouldn’t be too strenuous.

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6 Responses to Whatever Happened To Siculate Lunate Sigmas?

  1. Nihil says:

    Take a look at Webster’s Philoctetes. (Cambridge) In my experience, lunates are most common in Cambridge books (might be a compositor’s influence).

  2. Gene O'Grady says:

    You may wish to look at Barrett’s Hippolytus, the first place I encountered the lunate sigma (more than thirty years ago!), since not only does he employ them in his text, but offers on pp. vii-viii of his introduction a concise justification for their use (and for the elimination of the iota subscript. Convinced me at the time that they were the coming thing, but maybe not

  3. dennis says:

    I can’t find any references to a siculate sigma and quite at a loss. It seems to me that it ought to be shaped like a little curved dagger (L. sicula, from sica).

    In that case it could be the normal final sigma (ς), or (if we are supposed to forget the handle) a lunate sigma (ϲ).

    Please let us know.

    If it’s the final sigma, are you saying that these would be used exclusively (e.g., ςοφός rather than σοφός)?

    (Apologies if the unicode Greek gets garbled.)

  4. Chris Weimer says:

    The lunate sigma is used in Teach Yourself Ancient Greek by Gavin Betts and Alan Henry, but I don’t recall seeing it elsewhere.

  5. Gary says:

    The lunate sigma is normal in papyri. The conventional sigmas in our printed editions are the last remains of the complicated Greek typefaces that were normal into the 18th century, and probably survivrd only because modern European languages were written with 2 types of “s” until about 1800.

    Editors of texts only known from papyrus like to use lunate sigmas because, by using them, they don’t beg the question of where words end.


  6. Angelo says:

    Wait, you mean “lunate”? Which is used in Lobel/Page, OCT Hesiod (vs. “siculate” in OCT Homer), and Eur. Hippolytos Barrett. All Oxford books. My other OCTs use Σσς, which I personally prefer to Ϲϲ (and Latin VvUu to Vu).

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