How to reliably display ancient Greek text in PowerPoint

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 http://​www​.supakoo​.com/​r​i​c​k​/​C​o​n​v​e​r​t​G​r​e​e​k​.​asp 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.


When he's not tired, fixing his car or caught in train delays, Alun Salt works part-time for the Annals of Botany weblog. His PhD was in ancient science at the University of Leicester, but he doesn't know Richard III.

5 Responses

  1. diana milne says:

    mmm. Don’t think I’ve got the hang of it yet!


  2. Alun says:

    I get:
    ̔́ς πάντας ἀνθρόπους θέλει σωθῆναι καὶ ἐπίγνωσιν ἀληθείας ἐλθεῖν
    What I did was take your beta­code, put it into the Beta code box on http://​www​.supakoo​.com/​r​i​c​k​/​C​o​n​v​e​r​t​G​r​e​e​k​.​asp and then copied and pas­ted the res­ult into the com­ment box here.
    I’m sur­prised it worked as I thought I’d set the font to Georgia here, which shouldn’t work.

  3. diana says:

    Four and a half months later I’m still trying!!

  4. diana says:

    νε!!! Surprisingly I read it though again and it just clicked! καλα!!

  5. alun says:

    This deserves an award for sheer per­sist­ence. Is there any­thing I can improve in the description?