“Where are all the sheep today, my shepherd?” And a sheep joke!

Where are all the sheep today, my shepherd?” And a sheep joke!

just sheep

The time has come for us to start illustrating all of the supersyllabograms on consecutive charts by category. We shall start today with all 7 of the supersyllabograms associated with sheep, rams & ewes. Here is our first chart (Click to ENLARGE):

Linear B Supersyllabograms Chart for sheep rams and ewes

For those of you who are new to our blog, a supersyllabogram is simply the first syllabogram, hence the first syllable of any particular Linear B word. So supersyllabograms act as a sort of shorthand, which the Linear B scribes frequently resorted to, along with ideograms, to save precious space on the small clay tablets they had to use. While their meanings change from one category to the next, supersyllabograms always have specific, invariable meanings for each area of interest or category into which they fall. And there can be only one meaning for each SSY in each category.

When it comes to sheep, rams & ewes, I have assigned meanings to 6 of the 7 supersyllabograms in the chart above. The meanings of some of the supersyllabograms relating to sheep, rams & ewes seem to be quite sound, for instance, the SSY O almost certainly stands for ONATO or “lease field”, while the SSY KI in all probability means “a plot of land”, simply because these two words are the only ones beginning with O & KI, which fit the context (sheep) almost like a glove in the very small Linear B lexicon of no more than 3,500 words. These 2 SSYs appear 88 (O) and 41 (KI) times on the 700 odd Linear B tablets I examined relating to sheep, rams and ewes. The SSYs NE (twice) & ZA (3 times) also appear to be pretty much on target, again for the same reason.

The case for PE (35) is even stronger, because the scribe unwittingly obliged us by writing the word out in full in the genitive case, PERIQOROYO, on one of his tablets, KN 1232 E d 462, previously translated on this blog. This is the one and only Linear B tablet from Knossos on which a supersyllabogram is spelled out in its entirety. It was in fact this very SSY which handed me the key to break the code for SSYs. Once our scribe had spilled the beans, he just went his merry way and used only the supersyllabogram PE on all the rest of the tablets he inscribed. But that makes no difference. A PE is a PE is a PE. 

As for the other SSYs used in the context of sheep, rams and ewes, NE did not pose much of a problem either, as it appears to mean simply NEWO (masc.) or NEWA (fem.) “new”. But this translation is, to my mind, probably less sound, if only for the reason that it sounds a little too simplistic. Why would anyone want to replace a two syllabogram word with just its first syllabogram, unless he were really lazy? Beats me.

On the other hand, when I consulted the only two really useful Linear B lexicons on the internet, the Mycenaean (Linear B) – English Glossary and Chris Tselentis’ far more comprehensive and far better Linear B Lexicon, I came up utterly dry for the SSY PA in the context of sheep. There is nothing to be found. Zilch. So the only alternative I had was to search through 38 (!) pages of Liddell & Scott’s Greek-English Lexicon (the ultimate standard for ancient Greek) to try and find at least a few alternative translations for Greek words beginning with PA or PHA (found 32 times on 700 tablets), and I did find some. But there is simply no way to verify whether or not any of these words were ever Linear B words, since not a single one of them can be found on any extant Linear B tablets. So we are fishing in muddy waters. Yet, as I always say, better make a stab at it than do nothing. That is always my “philosophy” when it comes to attempting a decipherment of recalcitrant syllabograms or ideograms on Linear B tablets. I am probably wrong, but frankly I don’t really care, because if someone someday actually does figure out what the SSY PA means, all the more power to that person. Still better if a Linear B tablet is ever unearthed in future that actually spells out what this SSY means. Fat chance of that. So the “definition” of the SSY PA is probably going to remain in limbo. Check out my translation in the post where I “define it”. Take it or leave it, as you see fit. Whatever it does mean, it is still an important sypersyllabogram in the context of sheep, as it is used quite frequently.

Finally, the SSY SE, which appears once only on the 3,000 or so Linear B tablets from Knossos in Scripta Minoa, utterly eludes me. I haven’t the faintest clue what it means. Anyway, the scribe who used it must have been high on something, because it was never used again. So I very much doubt anyone will ever be able to decipher it. If you can, all the more power to you.

OK, so now let’s have some fun. Even if you don’t know Linear B, you should be able to translate the supersyllabograms on the (excerpts of) 3 tablets I provide below. And if you do know at least some Linear B, it should be a breeze. So give it a shot, and leave a comment, and I will let you know how close you came to the mark. Remember that some of the SSYs on these 3 tablets are used in combination, so you have to translate all of them to form a phrase that makes sense with the ideogram for ram (see chart above). Enjoy!  

Here is your quiz. Click to ENLARGE:

KN 927 F 938 G & 1240 F



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Historical linguist, Linear B, Mycenaean Greek, Minoan Linear A, Arcado-Cypriot Linear C, ancient Greek, Homer, Iliad, only Blog ENTIRELY devoted to Linear B on Internet; bilingual English- French, read Latin fluently, read Italian & ancient Greek including Linear B well, Antikythera Mechanism

5 thoughts on ““Where are all the sheep today, my shepherd?” And a sheep joke!”

    1. Of the 3,000 or so tablets I examined from Knossos, fully 700!!! or 20% are about sheep, rams and ewes, by FAR the greatest number of tablets being in this category alone. Everything else, even wool, cloth etc. and even military tablets fall way back a distant second. Those Minoans were OBSESSED with sheep! They must have had lots of sheep jokes in their day too! Greeks and sheep, they go together, ha ha! Have you been working on your sheep tablets… I am eager to see your translations.

      More really funny sheep cartoons on the way in the next 3 posts. We need a SERIOUS BREAK from the serious!

      bye for now



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