9780500016084 / 0500016089

The Alphabetic Labyrinth: The Letters in History and Imagination


Publisher:Thames & Hudson



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About the book:

The letters of the alphabet have been the object of speculation since their invention almost 4000 years ago. The symbols represent sounds, yet they exist in their own right, often invested with quasi-magical power. This book examines the many imaginative, often idiosyncratic ways in which the letters of the alphabet have been assigned value in political, spiritual, or religious belief systems over two millennia. The birth of writing was linked to religion and cosmology and was endowed with semi-divine status. Plato saw letter-forms as reflecting ideas, while the Pythagoreans assimilated them to number-theory. The Greeks employed letters for occult and divinatory purposes, while the Romans used them in more practical ways, such as the invention of shorthand. The Middle Ages saw the rise of further theories about letters in Christian philosophy, alchemy and Kabbalah. Theories of their divine origin and mystical significance continued into the 18th and 19th centuries, becoming involved with nationalism and revolutionary political theory. In our own day letters of the alphabet are the subject of scholarly research, and inspiration to graphic artists and a fertile field for mystical speculation. This book explores this realm, and should be of interest to cultural historians, art historians, and anyone interested in the history of typography.

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