Translation of a Tiny Linear B Fragment Thebes TH Of 37, Spelt Granary & Bales of Wool
Introduction: Discoveries of the Cache of Linear B Tablets at Thebes:
First, some background on the Linear B Thebes tablets. This relatively small cache was unearthed at archaeological excavations in Thebes, Greece, according to the following timeline: the first 21 fragments were excavated in 1963–64; 19 more tablets & fragments were found in 1970 and 1972; but by far the largest find came from 1993 to 1995, when the archaeologist Vassilis L. Aravantinos discovered some 250 tablets, amounting roughly to 300 or 5% of the entire corpus of about 6,000 Linear B tablets and fragments. Of these, the first and by far the most substantial store, amounting to no fewer than 4,000 tablets and fragments, was unearthed by Sir Arthur Evans from 1900 to 1903 and again after the First World War, and followed by major digs from all other Mycenaean sites, Pylos being the next largest after Knossos, with over 1,000 tablets and fragments there alone.
The Theban tablets and fragments date to the Late Helladic IIIB period (ca. 1300-1200 BCE), contemporary with the finds at Pylos. Apparently, the Theban tablets date from roughly 1225 BCE, when the Kadmeion, the Mycenaean palace complex at Thebes, came to ruin.
Prof. John Chadwick, Michael Ventris’ closest colleague and confidant in the initial decipherment of Linear B, who outlived Ventris by scores of decades, himself identified three recognizable Greek divinities, Hera, Hermes and Potnia "the mistress", among the recipients of wool, and made a case for ko-ma-we-te-ja, the name of a goddess, elsewhere attested at Pylos.
The Significance of Linear B Tablet TH Of 37, as well as of the other Linear B finds at Thebes:
Though relatively few in number (about 300), the tablets and fragments from Thebes are significant for a number of reasons, not the least of which are: (a) by ancient standards for travel time, Thebes was located at a great distance from both Knossos and Mycenae. (b) In spite of this vast distance, the syntactical structure, orthographic conventions and the standard use of the entire Linear B syllabary varied very little, if at all, from Linear B from all the other administrative sites scattered all over Greece and Crete, as well as the outlying Cycladic islands and settlements. (c) The real clincher in this scenario is that Mycenaean Greek, unlike later Greek dialects during the historical period (ca. 800–400 BCE), which varied widely, was remarkably consistent and standardized regardless of where it was used. As “proof” positive of the cross-the-board structural linguistic uniformity of Linear B, regardless of where it was in use (Knossos, Mycenae, Pylos, Phaistos, etc. etc.) all we need to do is simply glance at Theban fragment TH Of 37 (let alone read it), to realize that in fact the consistency is overwhelming, right down to the precise disposition of syllabograms, logograms and ideograms on the tablets, which were also by and large of the same shape as well! And here it is (Click to ENLARGE):
May I stress emphatically that I do not lend any more credence to my own half-baked translations (pardon the obvious pun!), even when I come up with more than one alternative translation, and often as many as three, than to anyone else’s equally scholarly – and valiant, if not fanciful – attempts at translation. I am a doubting Thomas down to my core. I sincerely do not believe in any single over-riding theory of the “best of all possible worlds” when it comes to deciphering any Linear B tablet, except perhaps the most voluminous in which ample context tends to lay to rest all sorts of doubts about almost every word in the integral text. I say, “tends to...”, because even with the longest Linear B tablets, nagging doubts remain about not a few phonemes. All we have to do is compare the decipherments of even as few as three Mycenaean Greek linguists specializing in Linear B to witness these variations, however minor or (sometimes) significant.
And where context is minimal, as in this tablet, the decipherment becomes all the more problematic. Allow me to flag some of the more recalcitrant textual ambiguities on this particular tablet alone.
1. In a real, almost scary sense, all translations of Linear B, for all its inherent ambiguities, are tautological by nature, or plagued with circular reason. There is simply no way out of this impasse. But this is precisely the reason why any and all truly competent decipherments of Linear B tablets vie with one another for attention, and why the whole process of translating Linear B is such an exciting undertaking for us all in the first place. So much the better for all ongoing research ventures in the translation of Linear B, since the more versions of the same tablet (any tablet or fragment) we have, the more likely are we to eventually hone in at least a relatively stable translation with minor, if real, variations.
In fact, I think I would probably have to check myself into a lunatic asylum if I were to make the absurd claim that my translation, however competent or even brilliant, of any Linear B tablet or fragment, were better than another highly qualified translator’s, for the obvious reason that there is no way to check which version is “right” — whatever the blazes that is supposed to mean—unless the doctor is right at hand and on call. And here the doctor is the scribe who actually wrote the tablet in question, and only he can tell us what it really means. But he isn’t available for comment, being sadly dead for some 32 centuries. So we just have to put up with our bandage solutions, even when they do “heal” the text we have in front of us well enough. For this very reason, I never contest the translations my co-researcher, Rita Roberts, posts on our blog, because I was not the author of them, and so I do not and cannot know why she, in her sound judgement, opted for the choices she made. All I can do is come up with an alternative translation, if one is called for. More often than not, it is not. But if it is, that way we both stay clear of our respective asylums. What is good for the goose (Rita) is good for the gander (me), or for that matter any goose or gander.
2. When there is no evidence for an existing (attested A) word to be found anywhere on any extant Linear B medium, I am more than willing to search elsewhere, by which I mean in alphabetical Greek texts, the earlier the better, the best being The Catalogue of Ships in Book II of the Iliad, which is written in the most archaic so-called Epic Greek, sharing as it does a number of grammatical features and even some vocabulary in common with Mycenaean Greek. One of the most outstanding is the archaic genitive in “oio” in the Iliad, which is, for all intents and purposes, the exact equivalent of the Linear B genitive in “ojo” or “oyo”, if you like. And I like “oyo” a lot better for the simple reason that I sincerely believe that the harsher j pronunciation such as we have in English was swiftly on its way out, already morphing into something like the much softer French j as in “je” (I). It is not far from from the soft “je” to outright “i”.
A similar phenomenon was manifested in Middle and Renaissance English, when the rough pronunciation of “r”, which still persists in practically every other Occidental Indo-European language, simply vanished in the Great Vowel Shift between 1350 and 1700 in England, when not only the English vowels ended up greatly softened, but also the labials “l” & “r” underwent the very same process, becoming semi-consonants or more accurately semi-vowels.
This is the same process which shifted the Mycenaean pronunciation towards something like French j as in “je”, not the much stronger English “j” at all! And this is precisely why I, like a few other Linear B scholars, much prefer “ya ye yo” over the more commonly accepted “je je jo”, for the simple but obvious reason that scholars speaking in English will almost certainly get the pronunciation wrong. Since English is after all by far the most common language used for research articles, both in print and online, regardless of scientific, linguistic, historical or literary discipline, we are far more likely to fall into this trap, even if we are not English speaking, as that is the way “j” is pronounced in English. You just cannot get around it, try as you might... unless of course you are French, and cannot pronounce “j” as the English do, but pronounce it as the French do... which just so happens to agree much more closely with the latter pronunciation, at least in my opinion. Otherwise, how can we explain the relatively swift transition from “ojo” to “oyo” to “oio” in Homeric Greek? I leave it entirely to you to decide for yourselves.
3. When early alphabetical texts are not available, the next best resource is the Liddell & Scott Greek-English Lexicon (1986), which after all includes many dialectical variants on the same word(s), quite a few of them (quasi)-archaic. And even in those instances where only latter-day Ionic and Attic orthography is to be found, we can still make a brave attempt (as I always do), to retrospectively re-construct much earlier versions of the word in question.
This is exactly what I have done on this tablet, where:
3.1 I had to rummage through Liddell & Scott to come up with a suitable translation for the first word in the first line of this tablet, QARIYA, which did not make any sense whatsoever, at least for the first half-hour of digging about. However, the most likely candidate finally popped up right in front of my nose. I decided that the translation I hit upon was a pretty good match with AREIZEWEI (dative singular), which I happened to translate first (3.2). The match is the Ionic form of the word for “granary”, which fits the bill very nicely.
Caveat: however, once again, I must warn you, this translation of mine is neither any better or any worse than anyone else who really puts the axe to the grindstone. This tablet is open to at least a few interpretations, for the simple reason that, in this case as in so many others, the Linear B text is more or less ambiguous – and here, unfortunately, more. Other experienced and expert Linear B translators will surely take exception to my translation. That is the healthy approach. I invite translators who disagree with my own version of this text to make their views known in the Comments section for this post. In fact, I welcome any criticisms, however tough, of any of my translations of Linear B tablets.
3.2 I merge two Ionic-Attic words into one so-called “Mycenaean” word, areizewei (areirawewei). Whether this word ever existed is open to hefty debate, but it might have, which is good enough for me. I have done this on several Linear B tablets, including the very last one in the post immediately before this one, in which I translated the famous Linear B tablet, Mycenae MY Oe 106. It is no mere accident that the clay figure of a boy appears in tandem with this tablet... because that is precisely what the Linear B scribe intended. We need to pay a lot more attention to everything that appears on any and all Linear B tablets and fragments, including attendant pieces such as this, because they must be there for a very good reason. If you read my previous post, all of this will come into sharp focus. On that tablet, I came up with a derivative [D] word (not attested [A]) for “a young boy”, transliterated here into Latin script = koroton, which in turn just happens to be an exact match with the Linear B KOROTO on this tablet. This phenomenon is identical to the Classical Attic paidion (a youngster). Since the word KOROTO is right in front of our noses on this tablet, then it does exist, and it does mean “a young boy”. What the blazes else can it mean, especially when that huge sketch of a boy is staring us right in the face? In fact, what the scribe who wrote tablet truly seems to be saying is that the boy is the primary subject of the entire tablet, which is precisely what I take it to mean.
PS in case you are wondering (which you probably are not), it took me 12 hours (!) to construct the illustration and to compile the text of this post, the longest time ever I have had to devote to any post. But for most significant explanatory posts I still spend between 4 and 8 hours. So I sincerely hope folks who read my posts really do appreciate all the bloody hard work I pour into them, and even, dare I suggest, flag all such posts with “Like”. And why not comment on them too? It won’t kill you, and certainly won’t kill me. Healthy debate, as I have intimated above, is the very sustenance of true research.
3 thoughts on “Translation of a Tiny Linear B Fragment Thebes TH Of 37, Spelt Granary & Bales of Wool”
P.S. Thanks for this great post Richard.
No hay problema nada.
Yes ! come on you folks out there give Richard and I some support. O.K. ! we love our research but we also like to think others are a little interested in the history which has brought us more up to date with modern times.
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