The composite supersyllabograms E & KO with the ideogram for horse in Linear B


The composite supersyllabograms E & KO with the ideogram for horse in Linear B:

KN 226 N j 21 composite SSYLS E KO

This is one of only two tablets in the entire corpus of Mycenaean Linear B tablets, on which two (2) supersyllabograms modify their ideogram, in this case, the one for horse. It is particularly intriguing that these two supersyllabograms are framed on each side with the numeral 1. If this looks peculiar at first sight, I can hardly blame you. Yet there is an explanation which is more than likely sound. We note that there is only 1 chariot. This would mean that there has to be a team of 2 horses. Yet it appears that this factor is not taken into account. In fact, far from it. The scribe has in fact written the number 2, one 1 one on each side of the two supersyllabograms. This would seem to imply that the scribe is referring to 2 sets of a part of the harness, probably the bridle and of the cross-bar. This in turn implies that there is a team of horses to whom these parts are assigned. Even though the supersyllabogram ZE = a team of horses does not appear on this tablet, it looks very much like that is what the scribe intends us to understand, given that there are two sets of the parts assigned, this appears to confirm that there is a team of horses.

Note that the ideogram for armour follows that for one (1) chariot and precedes the two supersyllabograms E & KO. This is the standard formulaic position for the ideogram for armour. This ideograms does not imply that the chariot is armoured, but rather that the driver of the chariot is armoured, hence my translation.

Prior to my discovery of this phenomenon of composite supersyllabograms, no researcher past or present has ever before identified it.

The composite supersyllabograms ZE & RO with the ideogram for horse in Linear B


The composite supersyllabograms ZE & RO with the ideogram for horse in Linear B:

KN 259 N l 21 SSYLS ZE RO

This is one of only two tablets in the entire corpus of Linear B tablets which has two supersyllabograms modifying their ideogram, making them a unique phenomenon. The other one appears in the next post.

While the supersyllabogram ZE, meaning “a team of horses”, is straightforward, RO appears only once on this fragment, and nowhere else on any Linear B tablet or fragment, regardless of provenance. L.R. Palmer, in “The Interpretation of Mycenaean Greek Texts” (1963) defines it as meaning “a part of the horse trappings, made of leather”. I have no reason to discount this interpretation. It is unusual for the ideogram for armour to follow that for horse, and especially for the scribe to indicate that there are two (2) sets of armour for the (chariot) drivers, one for each... unusual because the ideogram for armour almost always follows that for chariot and precedes that for a team of horses. Be it as it may, that is the way the scribe inscribed it; so we'll take it at its face value.

Linear B tablet K 04.03 from the Knossos “Armoury”


Linear B tablet K 04.03 from the Knossos “Armoury”

Tablet:

Linear B tablet Knossos K 04.03 translation

The text of this tablet is longer than on most tablets on chariot construction. This makes for more chances for error(s) in the original text, depending on the scribe’s hand (which in this case is sloppy) in the final literal and free translations. The notes on the tablet above make it quite clear where the scribe’s writing leaves something to be desired. So the translator is left to his or her own devices to come up with the best possible interpretation under the circumstances. For instance, the word – opa – apparently is archaic Mycenaean. It had fallen out of use by the time of Homer. It is a bit difficult to determine exactly what it means, but Chris Tselentis has it as – workshop –, which makes sense in the context. Once again, by context, I mean not only textual context but the most likely translation for the real world context of the Mycenaean vocabulary describing chariot construction. I am convinced that in this case Tselentis has ventured the best possible translation, which by exception I accept without question. My normal practice is to call into doubt any word on any tablet which has no equivalent in later ancient Greek, Homeric or Classical. But sometimes we have to throw in the towel when faced with no other reasonable alternative for the translation of archaic Mycenaean Greek or possibly even Minoan words. There is nothing unusual at all in the phenomenon of cross-linguistic transfer of certain words from a former, more archaic, language (in this case Minoan Linear A). Lord knows, English is full of such words, the vast majority inherited from Latin, Greek and medieval and early Renaissance French. What is good for the goose is good for the gander.

The scribe, whose hand is admittedly quite sloppy, appears to have inscribed – araromo-pa-mena – for – araromo-te-mena –, by omitting one of the horizontal bars on the syllabogram. Translators of Linear B must always be on the ball and on the lookout for scribal errors in orthography on any tablet whatsoever, regardless of provenance – Knossos, Pylos, Mycenae etc.  After all, people make spelling mistakes often enough today, just as they always have throughout history. No surprise there.

Finally, there is the sticky question, why would a scribe inventory a fully assembled chariot without wheels on axle, when – fully assembled – implies that the damn thing has to have its wheels on axle. Compare this with the manufacture of cars nowadays. No one in their right mind would call a car fully assembled, unless it had its wheels on axle. However, it is conceivable that Linear B scribes inventorying fully assembled chariots might sometimes be obliged to list the chariot(s) in question  – here there are 3 of them – as still not having their wheels on axle, because they are inventorying them at the very end of the current fiscal year. On the other hand, chariots might sometimes have been delivered without the wheels on axle, if the new owner wished to design and construct his own wheels, only attaching them after delivery has been received. There is no reason why this might not have been the case in some instances. But we shall never know, because we were not there when the scribes tallied chariots without wheels on axle. There must have been some method in their madness after all.