Select Page

I’ve seen that displaying ancient Greek in PowerPoint is proving to be a problem for some people at recent conferences. Text that worked find on their computer becomes a mangles mess of boxes. Most of this time this is discovered about a minutes before the talk is due to start. It doesn’t have to be like this. One way to ensure the correct display of text is to convert it into an image and insert it into the slide, but this is fiddly and difficult to edit. There is, however, an easy way which treats the text as text but is also rather reliable. PowerPoint can display Unicode.

Unicode is effectively a cipher with entries that each stand for a letter. For instance 0041 is a capital A. Unicode also specifies entries for ancient Greek letters. Omicron is 03bf. This might not appear to be useful. Omicron is rarely a problem letter. But rendering a word like oikos into Greek is because of the accent and breathing over the iota and the need for a terminal sigma. Unicode also specifies entries for these. By adding £#x before the sequence and ; after it I can write authentic ancient Greek text. Using 03bf, 1f34, 03ba, 03bf, 03c2 I get οἴκος. You can copy and paste from this page into your Word on PowerPoint on your computer and see it work for yourself. Do it now, and then I’ll explain why it didn’t work.

It’s not enough to know the code for the letter. Different fonts specify different glyphs for different letters. Some fonts for instance have no lower case letters and so can’t display them. It’s a safe bet the default font on your computer has no glyph for iota with an accent and breathing. Fortunately two standard fonts do. Palatino Linotype on Windows machines and Lucinda Grande on Macs do have the relevant characters and one or the other should be found on any machine you find at a conference. So long as you use one of these fonts for your Greek text then all should be well.

The final problem is working out what you need to type to be able to get these letters. 03c2 does not look like a sigma to me. Fortunately there’s a wonderful tool at which will do this for you. Type in the word you want in betacode and the machine spits the answer back. You can make a note of the hex codes or else just cut ‘n’ paste into your Palatino Linotype or Lucinda Grande font. Which is fantastic so long as you know what betacode is.