Updating old Greek fonts with GreekTranscoder

If you have a document using a pre-Unicode Greek font, you probably will not be able to read it. Just switching to a modern Unicode font (in the way the one routinely changes roman letter fonts) will not work. The Greek needs to be transcoded.


In the days before Unicode, you could only read Greek entered on another computer if your computer had the same Greek font (or at least one by the same developer), because each font (or set of related fonts) was encoded in a different way. The goal of Unicode is to have a single encoding scheme for every character in every language.


The solution is to transcode the Greek from whatever old proprietary encoding it uses to Unicode. The best tool to use for this is GreekTranscoder. The downside is that GreekTranscoder works within Microsoft Word, so you must have Word.

You will need to know what the old font is. Word should be able to tell you that, even if the font does not display correctly.

For now, I am going to assume that you will not need to transcode many files. If you will, read the GreekTranscoder documentation for how to add a dedicated toolbar to Word.

  1. Download the version for Microsoft Word 2011 and 2016 from the GreekTranscoder website. Be sure to get the correct version. Unzip if necessary.
  2. In the folder, find the file called “GreekTranscoder (Word 2011).dot” and open it. You will be asked whether you want to “Enable Macros”; enable them.
  3. Into the new document that you now have, paste your old Greek text. Save the file somewhere like your Desktop, but keep it open.
  4. Select the text to be transcoded (Select All should work in most cases). Not selecting will cause weird things to happen and the transcoding will fail.
  5. In the menubar, go to Tools > Macro > Macros …
  6. In the small window that appears, select GreekTranscoder from the “Macros in” dropdown, if it is not already shown in the “Macro name” field. Click the “Run” button.

    Screenshot of Run macros in Word
    Run the Transcoder macro in Word

  7. A new small window will appear. Select the “Source Font” (i.e. old font) from the dropdown on the left. From the dropdown on the right, select a Unicode font (New Athena is a safe bet, but any should work because that is the point of Unicode). Note that the dropdowns are very awkward to use; you have to click and drag on the small sliders in the scrollbars and when your desired font is in view, click it (don’t worry if you miss; just keep trying).

    Specifying the source and target encodings in GreekTranscoder
    Specifying the source and target encodings in GreekTranscoder

  8. Click the “Transcode” button (you should not have to change any of the other settings).
  9. You will get an alert saying that your document will be copied and that the copy will have the same name, but with the word “xcoded” appended. Click OK.
  10. You may be asked to grant Word permission to access a folder (most likely your home folder); allow it.
  11. Now wait for the Transcoder to do its thing. If the passage is very large, it may take a little while, but you will get an alert when it is done and you should see your transcoded Greek file.
  12. For some reason, the new transcoded file may not be saved in the same location as the original. If you close the file and cannot find it again, just search your computer for the term “xcoded” or use the Open Recent command and then save to the location of your choice.

If things are not working for you and you want to check yourself, try downloading the Protagoras sample text from the GreekTranscoder website. It has excerpts in various old fonts, so that you can try a bit whose source font is not in question.

Finally, if you have a pile of old Greek documents that you care about, I urge you to transcode them now. Word’s support for macros has come and gone over the years. Right now GreekTranscoder works pretty well again, but there are no guarantees going forward and I know of no other good transcoding solutions. If you do, please leave a comment.

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