Linear B tablet K 04.5 from the Knossos Armoury: the redoubtable challenges for translation

04.5 iqiya piriniyo opoqo keryapi opiiyapi

 Linear B tablet K 04.5 from the Knossos Armoury: the redoubtable challenges for translation

While some of the military tablets from the Knossos Armoury dealing with the construction and design of chariots pose a few problems in the translation of certain words which yield at least two or possibly even three different possible meanings, others are much more of a challenge to the translator. Some vocabulary in the more challenging tablets proves to be much more fractious. There are several reasons for this phenomenon when we are dealing with Mycenaean Greek vocabulary, let alone that of any truly archaic ancient language, such as Babylonian and Assyrian cuneiform and Egyptian hieroglyphics. These are:

1 Some words in Mycenaean Greek may closely or somewhat resemble their later counterparts in Homeric Greek or Classical Greek, conveying the same or a similar meaning. Such is the case with – wanax – = “king” in Mycenaean Greek.
2 Some of the words in Mycenaean Greek may closely or somewhat resemble their later counterparts in Homeric Greek, and yet not convey precisely the same meaning or might even mean something more remotely associated, such as – qasireu – , which does not mean the same thing as “basileus” = “king” in Homeric Greek. A – qasireu – in Mycenaean Greek is merely a local leader of a town, citadel, redoubt or similar small centre and nothing more.   A king in Mycenaean Greek is a – wanax – , for which there is an almost exact match in Homer’s Iliad.  
3 Some words in Mycenaean Greek may look like variants of later Homeric or Classic Greek words, although they are spelled in a fashion alien to the latter, never appearing in them. 
4 Some of the words in Mycenaean Greek may closely or somewhat resemble their later counterparts in Classical Ionic or Attic Greek, and yet convey an entirely different meaning.
5 Some vocabulary in Mycenaean Greek may be archaic Greek which later fell entirely out of use even prior to Homeric Greek, in which case it may be next to impossible to confirm that such words are even archaic Greek at all.
6 Some vocabulary in Mycenaean Greek may possibly be proto-Greek or even more ancient proto Indo-European, but we can never be certain of this at all.
7 Some vocabulary in Mycenaean Greek may possibly or even likely be Minoan or of Minoan origin. Such is the case with the word – kidapa – on tablet KN 894 N v 01, the very first tablet I translated in this series of tablets on chariots. L.R. Palmer assumes this word refers to a kind of wood, and I agree. This assumption is based on the fact that two other kinds of wood are referenced on the same tablet, i.e. elm and willow. With this evidence in hand, I have gone even further than L. R. Palmer and have taken the calculated risk to identify this word as meaning “ash (wood)”, a wood which Homer uses for weapons.
8 Just as is the case with Classical Greek, in which a few thousand words are not of Indo-European origin, Mycenaean Greek contains a fair proportion of such vocabulary. Words such as – sasama –  (sesame) & – serino –  (celery) come to mind.

This is the scenario which confronts us in the translation of at least two of the words on this tablet, namely, – piriniyo – and – mano –, both of which are certainly open to more than one possible interpretation. The first word - piriniyo – meets the criteria outlined in 1 & 3 above. It probably means “an ivory worker”, but we cannot be sure of this. Since the latter – mano – may not have any relation to later Homeric or Classical Greek at all, it is a crap shoot to try and translate it. This word meets the criteria in 1,2 and 4 above. But I took the chance (as I always do), on the assumption, however fanciful, that – mano – may be related to the Classical Greek word – manos – , meaning “thin”, as defined in Liddell & Scott.

And what applies to Mycenaean vocabulary on this and all other tablets dealing with chariots, whether or not they originate from Knossos, equally applies to all of the vocabulary on each and every tablet in the military sector of the Mycenaean economy. By extension, this principle must also apply to all of the vocabulary on Linear B tablets, regardless of provenance (Knossos, Pylos, Mycenae, Thebes etc.) and regardless of the sector of the Mycenaean economy with which they are concerned. What is good for the goose is good for the gander. In short, the 8 criteria outlined above must be applied on an equal footing, through the procedure of cross-comparative extrapolation, to all of the vocabulary of Mycenaean Greek.

We shall return to this phenomenon in our article on chariot construction and design, which is to appear on my

 account under the auspices of Koryvantes, the Association of Historical Studies (Athens):

Koryvantes Association of Historical Studies Athens Category Linear B & the Iliad
sometime later this winter.