Classical Query: Trees Are Alphabets??

Please help Matthew McGowan, who writes in with a query:

I received a note from a poet friend about the Roland Barthes quotation from his “Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes” book (1977, p. 41):

“According to the Greeks, trees are alphabets.”

I assumed it might be from Aristotle or Theophrastus, but have not been able to find anything. Have you come across the idea of “alphabets as trees” in Greek literature before? Is Barthes simply making it up? Can you share it with the RogueClassicism community to see what others have to say?

Replies as comments welcome!

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6 thoughts on “Classical Query: Trees Are Alphabets??

  1. Well this is probably not the answer but is closest I can get to it. Everything is made of atoms; atoms are like letters so everything is made of letters and so trees are made of letters; Therefore trees are alphabets.

    This is from Aristotle. Metaphysics 1.985b with the Perseus text and translation where atoms are compared to letters. He he talking about Democritus’ atomic theory

    http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0051%3Abook%3D1%3Asection%3D985b

    διαφέρειν γάρ φασι τὸ ὂν ῥυσμῷ καὶ διαθιγῇ καὶ τροπῇ μόνον: τούτων δὲ ὁ μὲν ῥυσμὸς σχῆμά ἐστιν ἡ δὲ διαθιγὴ τάξις ἡ δὲ τροπὴ θέσις: διαφέρει γὰρ τὸ μὲν Α τοῦ Ν σχήματι τὸ δὲ ΑΝ τοῦ ΝΑ τάξει τὸ δὲ Ζ τοῦ Η θέσει

    These differences (in atoms), they say, are three: shape, arrangement, and position; because they hold that what is differs only in contour, inter-contact, and inclination .(Of these contour means shape, inter-contact arrangement, and inclination position.) Thus, e.g., A differs from N in shape, AN from NA in arrangement, and Z from N in position

  2. In the simplest terms, an alphabet can be described as:”the basic elements in a system which combine to form complex entities.” Trees are basic (natural) and they combine to form forests. Could it be anything to do with this?.

  3. Priests at Dodona interpreted the sound made by leaves of the oak trees in the precinct of the shrine: Plato, Phaedrus 275b : Σωκράτης –
    οἱ δέ γ᾽, ὦ φίλε, ἐν τῷ τοῦ Διὸς τοῦ Δωδωναίου ἱερῷ δρυὸς λόγους ἔφησαν μαντικοὺς πρώτους γενέσθαι. τοῖς μὲν οὖν τότε, ἅτε οὐκ οὖσι σοφοῖς ὥσπερ ὑμεῖς οἱ νέοι, ἀπέχρη δρυὸς καὶ πέτρας ἀκούειν ὑπ᾽ εὐηθείας, εἰ μόνον ἀληθῆ λέγοιεν: σοὶ δ᾽ ἴσως διαφέρει τίς ὁ λέγων καὶ ποδαπός. οὐ γὰρ ἐκεῖνο μόνον σκοπεῖς, εἴτε οὕτως εἴτε ἄλλως ἔχει;
    Φαῖδρος –
    ὀρθῶς ἐπέπληξας, καί μοι δοκεῖ περὶ γραμμάτων ἔχειν ᾗπερ ὁ Θηβαῖος λέγει.

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