|The Story of Mankind|
|by Hendrik Willem Van Loon|
|Relates the story of western civilization from earliest times through the beginning of the twentieth century, with special emphasis on the people and events that changed the course of history. Portrays in vivid prose the achievements of mankind in the areas of art and discovery, as well as the political forces leading to the modern nation-states. Richly illustrated with drawings by the author. Winner of the first Newbery Award in 1922, The Story of Mankind has introduced generations of children to the pageant of world history. Ages 10-14 |
THE PHOENICIANS WHO GAVE US OUR ALPHABET
 THE Phoenicians, who were the neighbours of the Jews,
were a Semitic tribe which at a very early age had settled along
the shores of the Mediterranean. They had built themselves
two well-fortified towns, Tyre and Sidon, and within a short
time they had gained a monopoly of the trade of the western
seas. Their ships went regularly to Greece and Italy and
 Spain and they even ventured beyond the straits of Gibraltar
to visit the Scilly islands where they could buy tin. Wherever
they went, they built themselves small trading stations, which
they called colonies. Many of these were the origin of modern
cities, such as Cadiz and Marseilles.
THE PHOENICIAN TRADER
They bought and sold whatever promised to bring them a
good profit. They were not troubled by a conscience. If we
are to believe all their neighbours they did not know what the
words honesty or integrity meant. They regarded a well-filled
treasure chest the highest ideal of all good citizens. Indeed
they were very unpleasant people and did not have a single
friend. Nevertheless they have rendered all coming generations
one service of the greatest possible value. They gave
us our alphabet.
The Phoenicians had been familiar with the art of writing,
invented by the Sumerians. But they regarded these pothooks
as a clumsy waste of time. They were practical business men
and could not spend hours engraving two or three letters.
They set to work and invented a new system of writing which
was greatly superior to the old one. They borrowed a few
pictures from the Egyptians and they simplified a number of
the wedge-shaped figures of the Sumerians. They sacrificed
the pretty looks of the older system for the advantage of speed
and they reduced the thousands of different images to a short
and handy alphabet of twenty-two letters.
In due course of time, this alphabet travelled across the
AEgean Sea and entered Greece. The Greeks added a few
letters of their own and carried the improved system to Italy.
The Romans modified the figures somewhat and in turn taught
them to the wild barbarians of western Europe. Those wild
barbarians were our own ancestors, and that is the reason why
this book is written in characters that are of Phoenician origin
and not in the hieroglyphics of the Egyptians or in the
nail-script of the Sumerians.
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