It is the most widely used writing system in the world: but have you ever stopped to wonder where, exactly, does the Latin alphabet come from? Who invented it? Well, our Women's Wednesday this week will be answering this question (at least, according to mythology!).

According to the myth, our protagonist, Nicostrate, was the princess of the legendary kingdom of Arcadia; a skilled prophetess, she later gave birth to Evander (allegedly conceiving him together with Mercury himself). When her son had to leave Arcadia, Nicostrate joined him and guided him towards Italy, where they eventually reached the river mouth of the Tiber; Evander and his people, together with his mother, kept sailing upstream and settled on the future Palatine Hill, thus founding the town of Pallantium.

Noticing that the locals barely had any form of written language and foreseeing a glorious future ahead of them and the region, Nicostrate decided to create a new alphabet - so that their accomplishment wouldn't be narrated in a foreign language and writing like Greek. She thus combined the few local letters with the modified version of a few Greek ones: the result was a brand-new alphabet of 16 letters, to which a few others were only added over time, slowly evolving into the Latin alphabet we still use today.

Thanks to her creation, Nicostrate was elevated as a minor goddess and her name was later changed to Carmenta (from Latin carmen, meaning "spell", "prophecy", "song").

“Nicostrate”, illumination from the manuscript “De Mulieribus Claris”, decorated by Robinet Testard, ms. Français 599, f. 22v, 1488-1496, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Département des Manuscrits, Paris.

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