Scripta Minoa: So-called Easy Fragments # 1: Knossos & Amnisos. Do not be fooled!

Scripta Minoa: So-called Easy Fragments # 1: Knossos & Amnisos (Click to ENLARGE🙂


We now begin our long series of posts of some 2,000 of the approximately 3,500 tablets and fragments from Knossos, which Sir Arthur Evans published in his Scripta Minoa (Oxford University Press, 1952). The first 4 fragments you see here already amply illustrate some of the (sometimes intractable) problems faced by translators, especially when we have to deal with fragments. In general terms, the following conditions pertain to all fragments (not tablets!) regardless:

1. There is no context by which to establish what sense or meaning the word or words (usually no more than 5 or 6 at most) actually are meant to convey. The last of the 4 in this table amply illustrates this problem. First of all, does the word “enereya” mean “operation or better still, industry”... possibly, even probably (by a stretch), but also probably not. And plenty of translators will contest my “translation”.
2. Almost all fragments are truncated on the left or right, making it practically (though not utterly) impossible to interpret whatever the cropped text is supposed to mean. This is fully illustrated by the second fragment in this table.
3. But things are not quite so hopeless as it would at first sight appear. If the occurrences of all extant words beginning with a particular syllabogram (in this case TE) in every Linear B dictionary now available online are relatively few, then we can predict that our translation, here = temenos (boundary) has a 1 in nn chance of actually being the right translation. Allow me to illustrate. In the two largest Mycenaean Linear B – English dictionaries now available online (the larger one in PDF format and over 260 pages long!), there are 6+17 = 23 instances of all extant words beginning the single syllabogram TE as the first syllable.  So let’s assume the ratio is 1/25 or about 4%. But wait. But only a very few of these words make any sense in fragment #2, and as it happens that number adds up to only: te = then, tekotones = carpenters, temeno = boundary or temple,teo(i) = god(s), temidweta = wheel with studs, tereta = official title of a tax collector or master of ceremonies, tetukuoa = well prepared or ready, teukepi = with implements, thereby reducing our chances of being “correct” to 1 in 7 according to this vocabulary. But let’s err on the side of caution, and say, 1 in 10, or 10 %, and that is a heck of a lot better than our initial calculation. Of course, I for one are more than willing to substitute any of the other 6 words above for “temenos”, because they all make sense in this admittedly very limited context, if you can even call it that. But, in fact, the collateral evidence I have just laid out makes it even probable that any of these 7 (or slightly more) interpretations fits the bill.

But in the second example in this table the meaning is clear. It can only be Aminiso or Aminisoyo (genitive) or some such variant. So even where right hand truncation is the order of the day, sometimes there is only one interpretation. But here again, ambiguity of context frustrates once again. What on earth does this fragment tell us about Amnisos... Precisely nothing.

5. Ambiguities in grammatical construction further complicate matters, as in fragment 1. Why is Konosoyo in the genitive and Rukitiyo (apparently) nominative? Why are these two places mentioned together? What is the association or link between them? We shall never know. Richard

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