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Alpha (uppercase Α, lowercase α) is the first letter of the Greek alphabet. In the system of Greek numerals it has a value of 1. Letters that arose from Alpha include the Latin A and the Cyrillic letter A.

Plutarch in Moralia presents a discussion on the question of why the letter alpha stands first in the alphabet. Plutarch's speaker suggests that Cadmus, the Phoenician who reputedly have settled in Thebes and introduced the alphabet to Greece, "placed alpha first because it is the Phoenician name for ox, which they, like Hesiod, considered not the second or third, but the first of necessities." This refers to a passage in Works and Days by Hesiod, who advised the early Greek farmers, "First get an ox, then a woman."

According to Plutarch's natural order of attribution of the vowels to the planets, alpha was connected with the Moon. Oxen were also associated with the Moon in both early Sumerian and Egyptian religious symbolism due to the crescent shape of their horns.

The uppercase letter alpha is not generally used as a symbol because it tends to be rendered identically to the uppercase latin A.

The lower-case letter α is used as the symbol for:

  • Angular acceleration in physics.
  • The alpha particle and alpha decay in physics.

Alpha, both as a symbol and term, is used to refer to or describe a variety of things, including the first or most significant occurrence of something; see Alpha.

Boeotian Alphabet on a Boeotian cup (c. 420 BC)

Greek alphabet
Α α Alpha Β β Beta Γ γ Gamma
Δ δ Delta Ε ε Epsilon Ζ ζ Zeta
Η η Eta Θ θ Theta Ι ι Iota
Κ κ Kappa Λ λ Lambda Μ μ Mu
Ν ν Nu Ξ ξ Xi Ο ο Omicron
Π π Pi Ρ ρ Rho Σ σ Sigma
Τ τ Tau Υ υ Upsilon Φ φ Phi
Χ χ Chi Ψ ψ Psi Ω ω Omega

Kylix with Alphabet, Ca. 420 B.C.

National Archaeological Museum, Athens, Greece

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