Tag Archive: Crete



Proto-Greek or Mycenaean kiritai = barley on Minoan Linear A tablet HT 114 (Haghia Triada):

Like many other Linear A tablets, HT 114 (Haghia Triada) does not appear to be inscribed only in the Minoan language. The proto-Greek or, more accurately, the Mycenaean word, kirita2 (kiritai), which means barley and which is almost exactly equivalent to Linear B, kirita, meaning the very same thing, appears on the very first line of this tablet. The only difference is that the Linear A word, kiritai, is plural, whereas the Linear B, kirita, is singular, as we can see here:

Minoan Linear A tablet HT 114 Haghia Triade

While the rest of HT 114 is inscribed in Minoan, the appearance of this one Mycenaean word gives pause. Was Linear A the syllabary of proto-Greek or of Mycenaean Greek just before the advent of the new official syllabary, Linear B? The fact is that it was not. However, this does not mean that there was not proto-Greek or Mycenaean vocabulary on Linear A tablets. How can this be, when the language itself is not proto-Greek?

The phenomenon of the superimposition of a superstratum of vocabulary from a source language (Mycenaean in the case of Linear A) onto a target language (Minoan), is historically not unique to the Minoan language. A strikingly similar event occurred in English with the conquest of England by William the Conqueror in 1066 AD. Before that date, the only English was Anglo-Saxon. This is what is called Old English. But after conquest of England in 1066 AD, over 10,000 Norman French words streamed into the language between 1100 and 1450 AD, altering the landscape of English vocabulary almost beyond recognition. In fact, believe it or not, only 26 % of English vocabulary is Germanic versus 29 % is French, 29 % Latin and 6 % Greek. So the latter 3 languages, amounting to 64 % of the entire English lexicon, have completely overshadowed the Old English (Anglo-Saxon) Germanic vocabulary, as illustrated in this Figure:

origins of English vocabulary

This phenomenon is unique to English alone among all of the Germanic languages. While the grammar and syntax of English is Germanic, the great majority of its vocabulary is not. A strikingly similar event appears to have occurred when the Mycenaeans conquered Knossos, is dependencies and Crete ca. 1500 – 1450 BCE. Just as the Norman French superstratum has imposed itself on Old English, giving rise to Middle and Modern English, Mycenaean Greek operated in much the same fashion when it superimposed itself on Old Minoan, leading to New Minoan vocabulary, which is proto-Greek or Mycenaean. I have already isolated no fewer than 150 proto-Greek or Mycenaean words out of 510 intact words (by my own arbitrary count) in the Linear A lexicon. Again, while the Minoan language itself is not proto-Greek in its grammar and syntax, but is of another, to date still unknown, origin, a large portion of its vocabulary is not Old Minoan, but instead proto-Greek or Mycenaean, as I shall demonstrate in no uncertain terms in my decipherments of numerous Linear A tablets to follow this one. One striking feature of New Minoan is this: the percentage of proto-Greek or Mycenaean vocabulary in Linear B comes to 29 %, precisely the same level as Norman French in English. Although this is sheer co-incidence, it is quite intriguing.


Archaeology and Science annual: the Decipherment of Supersyllabograms in Linear B, the last & most formidable frontier in the decipherment of Mycenaean Linear B:

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For the past 65 years since Michael Ventris first deciphered Linear B, one phenomenon has eluded historical linguists and philologists. This is the supersyllabogram, which is always a single syllabogram, being the first syllabogram, i.e. the first syllable of a particular Mycenaean word in any one or more of the major economic sectors of the Mycenaean economy: agriculture, military, textiles and the vessels and pottery sector, along with a few religious supersyllabograms. Supersyllabograms are always independent; they always stand alone on extant Linear. My discovery, isolation and classification of supersyllabograms represents the final frontier in the decipherment of Mycenaean Linear B. Some 800 tablets from Knossos alone contain primarily supersyllabograms, with a subset of these incised with supersyllabograms and nothing else. It is difficult to decipher the former, and impossible to decipher the latter without fully accounting for the presence of supersyllabograms. The decipherment of supersyllabograms accounts for the last and most difficult remaining 10 % of Mycenaean Linear B to be deciphered.

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You may also download The Decipherment of Supersyllabograms in Linear B here:

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This article is 35 pages long (pp. 73-108) in a 29 cm. x 22 cm. format, which is far oversized compared with the standard north American format for research journals (ca. 20 cm. vertical), meaning that if it had been published in the standard north American format, it would have run to some 50 pp., which is the size of a small book.

The Editorial Board consists of 21 peer reviewers, all of them matriculated professors and researchers at the Ph.D. level or higher, from Ancona, Belgrade, Belgium, Bologna, Madison, Wisconsin, U.S.A., Moscow, Münich, Philadelphia, U.S.A., Rome, Warsaw & Trieste. Every author must pass muster with the majority of these peer reviewers if his or her article is to be published in Archaeology and Science. That is one tall hurdle to overcome.

Note also that I am ranked in the top 0.5 % of all researchers and publishers on academia.edu

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Is the Minoan Linear A labrys inscribed with I-DA-MA-TE in Minoan or in proto-Greek? PART B: OR is it in proto-Greek?What?” I hear you asking, “... is that even even remotely possible?” The keyword here is remotely. Remotely, yes, but only remotely. Recall that in the last post, in which I postulated that the four consecutive supersyllabograms ID + DA + MA + TE might conceivably stand for the first syllabogram, i.e. the first syllable of 4 consecutive Minoan Linear A words, though which ones among God knows how many possibilities it is exceedingly difficult to determine.

On the other hand, the four consecutive supersyllabograms ID + DA + MA + TE might conceivably stand for the first syllabogram, i.e. the first syllable of 4 consecutive proto-greek Greek words, most likely proto-Mycenaean. If that is the case — and, mark  my words, it is far more likely than not that it is not the case — we are once again confronted with a myriad of combinations and permutations of proto-Greek words which have the potential, however thin, of standing in for the 4 consecutive supersyllabograms I + DA + MA +TE. So be forewarned. The putative decipherment of these 4 supersyllabograms into the one possible decipherment I have arbitrarily posited among hundreds is just  that, putative and tentative, and nothing more.

The tentative decipherment I have come up with runs as follows when the Mycenaean Greek of which it is the apparent forerunner is Latinized:

The supersyllabograms in turn might conceivably mean (but only as a long shot):

I = iyereya (feminine nominative singular), meaning “priestess”
DA =  Damateroyo (feminine genitive singular), meaning “of Damater”
MA =  Matereteiyai (feminine dative singular, meaning “to Mater Thea (the Divine Mother” 
TE = temenoi (masculine dative or locative singular), meaning “(in) the temple”

yielding this Latinized decipherment (which is but one possibility out of 100s): 

iyereya Damateroyo ... matereteiyai (eni) temenoi

... which roughly translates as:

The priestess of Damater... (is making offerings -or- sacrificing to) Mater  Thea (i.e. the Divine Mother) (in) the temple.

In this partial sentence, the phrase  (is making offerings -or- sacrificing to) and the preposition eni = “in” do not appear in the original supposed proto-Greek text, which I have extrapolated forward to Mycenaean Greek to make it fully accessible. Although these words are in fact absent from the original putative proto-Greek, they be supplied  with relative ease to fill in the gaps.

This proto-Greek translation is neatly encapsulated in this chart:

idamate-part-b

On closer examination, it turns out that, although this decipherment is only one among 100s of possible candidates, it is nevertheless one of the most plausible decipherments, for the following reasons:

1. If as I have pointed out in the previous post, Idamate is an actual Minoan word, as well as being in addition a series of 4 supersyllabograms. Thus, in the Minoan language it may very well mean something along the lines of Damate in Mycenaean Linear B: in other words, Idamate in the Minoan language may be the approximate equivalent of Damate in Mycenaean Linear B and of Demeter in ancient Greek. And if that is the case, the second supersyllabogram (DA) in my parallel proto-Greek translation, which I have deciphered as Damate, almost perfectly matches the Minoan word. This co-incidence, if co-incidence it is, is far too great to be ignored, and it lends a great deal of credence to my proto-Greek translation extrapolated forward to Mycenaean Greek of the second supersyllabogram DA in idamate.
2. But there is more, much more. As it so turns out, there is a sacred cave dedicated to Zeus on Mount Ida, which is very close to the Minoan site of Phaistos. Another co-incidence? The name of the cave dedicated to Zeus on Mount Ida is the “Dictaean Cave”, as illustrated here:

dictaean-cave-zeus-mount-ida

3. It is nothing short of a remarkable co-incidence that Idamate, as inscribed on the labrys, may very well signify “Mount Ida”, as I have clearly indicated  in the previous post. But what does that imply?  I have to wonder whether or not there was a Minoan peak sanctuary on the summit of Mount Ida. This is what a Minoan peak sanctuary probably looked liked:

minoan-peak-sanctuary

And if there was, it was of course a temple. Referencing our proto-Greek translation of Idamate, we find that the last supersyllabogram, TE, may readily and realistically rendered as temeno, which in Mycenaean Greek means “a temple”. How fascinating!

Does this imply that the priestess to Damater might have been sacrificing to Mater Thea in a temple or peak sanctuary which may possibly have existed on the summit of Mount Ida? The correlation is truly tempting. However, I must sound a strong note of caution. Such an interpretation of  the last supersyllabogram of Idamate = TE, as the putative Mycenaean word, temeno = “a temple” as being a peak sanctuary is nothing less than a real stretch of the imagination. So it must be taken with a huge grain of salt. Nevertheless, it is possible, however remotely, that the temple in which the priestess of Damater is worshipping just might have been a peak sanctuary. But  I wouldn’t bet my bottom dollars on it.  It is thus remotely possible that Idamate signifies both “Mount Ida” in Minoan and “Mater Thea” in proto-Greek extrapolates forward to later Mycenaean Greek. Further credence is possibly lent to this decipherment by the fact that Mount Ida is clearly visible in the near distance behind the ancient site of Phaistos, as illustrated here and on map below:

mount-ida-psiloritis

 mount-ida-psiloritis-map

But we must be extremely skeptical of such an interpretation. Why so? Just as Pavel Serafimov and Anton Perdith erroneously read proto-Slavic into Minoan Linear A tablet HT 31 (Haghia Triada), thereby grossly misinterpreting it, my own attempt to superimpose proto-Greek on the 4 supersyllabograms I + DA + MA +TE may amount to the same genre of fundamental (and gross) inaccuracy in the putative decipherment into proto-Greek of a Minoan Linear A text, in this case, of the word idamate inscribed on the labrys. So we must exercise extreme caution in hypothesizing that the 4 supersyllabograms  I + DA + MA +TE are the first syllabograms, i.e. the first syllables of the 4 consecutive proto-Greek words I have arbitrarily assigned to them. So the fact remains that these 4 supersyllabograms are far more likely to be the first syllabogram, i.e. the first syllable of 4 consecutive Minoan words than of proto-Greek words. I cannot stress this enough. 


Greece is suffering through the coldest winter in years & as testimony to this, take a look at this photo & the haiku in Mycenaean Greek, archaic ancient Greek, English & French:

snow-on-mountain-2017-kalo-horio

The photo was taken by Rita Roberts of Haghia Triada. That much snow almost never accumulates on mountains in Crete. A lovely photo of Kalo Horio Mountain, and a neat little haiku based on it.


2 Maps (1 in colour) of the Mycenaean Empire with major cities and other settlements:

mycenaean-empire-locales

This composite of two maps of the Mycenaean Empire with major cities and other settlements names the major cities in the upper coloured map. I originally posted the lower map in 2014, but I felt it was high time to post it again. Being as thorough as I am, I have identified more city and settlement names on the lower map than on any other map of the Mycenaean Empire on the Internet. Note also the greatest extent of the Mycenaean Empire (ca. 1600 – 1200 BCE) in pink.


Cretan hieroglyphic seals (Middle Minoan I & II, ca. 2100-1700 BCE):

Cretan hieroglyphic seals

On the first of these seals there appear 4 ideograms (?) which appear to be precursors of Minoan Linear A syllabograms, but there is no way of knowing whether or not this is the case.



A Minoan Linear A tablet from Archanes, Crete with the toponym Akanu:

Minoan Linear A AKANU = archanes crete

Here we have a Minoan Linear A tablet from Archanes, Crete with the toponym Akanu = modern day Archanes. This is Linear A term 101 in our Glossary of Minoan Linear A.


Cretulae with Linear (A?) script from Archanes, Minoan Crete, ca. 1500 BCE:

cretulae-with-linear-script-from-archanes-crete-greece-minoan-civilization-15th-century-bc

I just discovered this highly unusual Linear (A?) tablet from Archanes, Crete, dated from ca. 1500 BCE. What makes it so unusual is the fact that there are 8 syllabograms and ideograms on it which I have never run across on any Minoan Linear A tablet. This raises the question,  is this tablet in Linear A? And if the script is a bizarre variant of Linear A or is not Linear A at all, is it still in the Minoan language? At the present juncture in the partial decipherment of Minoan Linear A, this tablet falls way beyond the pale. I see no hope for its decipherment in the near to not so near future.

But fascinating it surely is!


Olive oil and olive trees in Mycenaean Linear B — Part B: Cretan olive trees:

Linear B tablet KN 4 J b  KERESIYA ERAWA

Linear B tablet KN 6 KERESIYA

Linear B tablet KN 354 KERASIYA

Here we have 3 more tablets from Knossos which specifically mention Cretan olive trees in Mycenaean Linear B.  It would be nice if the word for “Cretan” in Minoan Linear A were similar to Keresiya (feminine here because it must agree with the feminine word erawa = “olive tree”. But Googling the Internet I have come up with nothing so far. This will make it very difficult to extrapolate the “correct” word for “Cretan” from the Linear A tablets on olive oil production, even though Kerasiya occurs as often as apudosi = “delivery” on the Linear B tablets.


The Famous “Dolphin Fresco” at Knossos on Papyrus! Minoan Literature? Did any Exist?

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Replica of the Dolphin Fresco Knossos on papyrus

Here you see a magnificent reproduction of the famous “Dolphin Fresco” at Knossos reprinted on Papyrus, which I purchased for the astonishing price of 10 euros while I was visiting the site on May 2, 2012. The colours on this papyrus version are so vibrant no photograph can fully do justice to them. Nevertheless, the photo turned out wonderfully, and if you would like to use it yourself, please feel free to do so. I even framed it to enhance it.

Papyrus in Minoan/Mycenaean Crete?

The very idea of reprinting one of the amazing Knossos frescoes onto papyrus may seem blasphemous to some, but certainly not to me. It raises the very astute question: did the Minoans, writing in Linear A or in Linear B, ever produce any literature as such? Consent is almost unanimous on the Internet and in print – No! They did not write any literature. But not so fast! It strikes me as peculiar - indeed very peculiar – that a civilization as advanced and sophisticated as that of Knossos, in both the Minoan Linear A eras (Middle Minoan – early Late Minoan) and in the Mycenaean Linear B era (Late Minoan), may very well have had a literature of its own, for these reasons, if none other:

(a) Creation Myths:

Ancient Egypt, Babylon, Assyria, the Hittites and other proto-literate civilizations, at least had a religious literature, whether or not it was composed on papyrus (as with Egypt), here at Wikipedia:

The sun rises over the circular mound of creation as goddesses pour out the primeval waters around it

Egyptian Creation Myth Sunrise_at_Creation 

or on baked clay tablets, as with the Babylonians, here:

The Enûma_Eliš Epic (Creation Myth) ca. 1,000 lines long on 7 tablets: 

Enûma_Eliš Creation Myth

Proemium:

When on high the heaven had not been named,
Firm ground below had not been called by name,
When primordial Apsu, their begetter,
And Mummu-Tiamat, she who bore them all,
Their waters mingled as a single body,
No reed hut had sprung forth, no marshland had appeared,
None of the gods had been brought into being,
And none bore a name, and no destinies determined--
Then it was that the gods were formed in the midst of heaven.
Lahmu and Lahamu were brought forth, by name they were called.


the famous Sumerian Myth of Gilgamesh on 7 Tablets here:

Epic of Gilgamesh

and the Sumerian & Akkadian Myths, including that of Gilgamesh, here:

Akkadian Gilgamesh:

Akkadian cuneiform-gilgamesh

(b) The implications of the astounding achievements of the highly advanced Minoan Civilization for a putative literature of their own:

Just because the Minoans, writing in Linear A or in Linear B, left behind no literature as such on their administrative inventory tablets, does not necessarily mean that they never wrote any literature at all. That strikes me as bordering on nonsensical, since Knossos always had the closest economic and cultural ties with Egypt and with all of the other great civilizations contemporaneous with her. Egypt, above all, set great store on the inestimable value of Knossian, Minoan and Mycenaean artifacts such as gold, in which the Mycenaean artisans were especially gifted, lapis lazuli, of which the finest quality in the entire known world issued from Knossos; Minoan & Mycenaean pottery and wares, which again were of the most splendid designs; Minoan textiles and dyes, again the finest to be found, and on and on. In fact, the Minoans were rightly renowned as the among the very best dyers in the entire known world.

But why stop there? Why should such an obviously advanced civilization as the Minoan, with its understanding of the basic principles of hydraulics, quite beyond the ken of any other contemporary civilization, and with its utterly unique airy architecture, based on the the most elegant geometric principles, again quite unlike anything else to found in the then-known world, not have a literature of its own? To me, the idea seems almost preposterous.

(c) If the Minoans & Mycenaeans did write any literature, what medium would they most likely have used for it?

The question remains, if they did have a literature of their own, it too was most likely religious in nature. But on what medium would they have written it down? - certainly not on their minuscule tablets, as these were so tiny as to virtually exclude the composition of any religious literature such as that of the origin of mankind (very much in currency at that era in the other civilizations mentioned above). Again, the Minoan scribes writing in Linear B used their tiny tablets solely for ephemeral annual accounting and inventories. Still, I can hear some of you objecting, “But the Babylonians and other civilizations wrote down their creation myths on tablets!” Fair enough. Yet those tablets were larger, and they were deliberately baked to last as long as possible (and they have!), quite unlike the Minoan & Mycenaean ephemeral administrative tablets, which were never baked.  And, as if it isn’t obvious, one civilization is not necessary like another, not even in the same historical era. This is especially so when it comes to the Minoan civilization – and to a very large extent to its cousin, the Mycenaean, versus all others at the time, since clearly the socio-cultural, architectural and artistic defining characteristics of the former (Minoan/Mycenaean) were largely very much at odds with those of the latter, (Egypt, Babylon, Assyria etc.), much more ostentatious than the Minoans... except for one thing...

We are still left with the question of medium. If the Minoans, writing in Linear A and later in Linear B, did have a literature, and let us assume for the sake of argument that they did, which medium would they have used? Before I get right down to that, allow me to point out the Knossos was, as it were, the New York City of the Bronze Age, the metropolis at the very hub of all international trade and commerce on the Mediterranean Sea. All you need to do is look at any map of the Mediterranean, and you can see at a glance that Knossos was located smack dab in the centre of all trade routes to all other great civilizations of her day and age, as we quite clearly see on this composite map: Click to ENLARGE

Minoan Trade Routes 1600-1400 BCE

Is it any wonder that no-one was particularly bent on attacking her, or any other city on the island of Crete, such as Phaistos, since after all everyone everywhere strictly depended on Knossos as the very nexus of international trade? No wonder the city was never fortified. This pretty much how Knossos looked at her height: Click to ENLARGE

role-of-knossos-in-the-trojan-war-according-to-homer

No walls or fortifications of any kind in evidence! That alone is a very powerful indicator of the critical commercial value of Knossos as the very hub of international commerce in her era. But more than anywhere else, the archaeological evidence powerfully evinces a very close trade relationship between Knossos and Egypt, since Minoan jewelry, textiles, pottery and wares have shown up in considerable amounts – sometimes even hordes - in Egyptian archaeological sites. The Egyptians clearly placed extreme value on Minoan goods, as exquisitely crafted as they were. So what? - I hear you exclaim.

So what indeed. These major trading partners each must have had something to trade with the other that the other was in desperate need of. And in the case of Knossos and the Minoans, the Egyptian commodity they would probably have needed most of all would be, you have it, papyrus. The Cretan climate was not dry enough for them to produce it themselves. So they would have had to rely exclusively on Egypt for what was, after all, one of the most precious commodities of the entire Bronze Age.

If we accept this hypothesis – and I see no reason why we should not at least seriously entertain it – then the Minoans may very well have used papyrus and ink to record their religious literature. There is some evidence, however second-hand and circumstantial, that they may have composed religious texts, and possibly even a religious epic, on papyrus.

This evidence, although only secondary, if we are inclined to accept it as such – is the high incidence of the names of Minoan and Mycenaean deities and priestesses, and even of religious rites, on the Linear B accounting and inventory tablets from Pylos, over all other Minoan/Mycenaean sites. Why on earth even bother mentioning the names of so many gods so frequently on minuscule tablets otherwise dealing almost exclusively with anything as boring – yet naturally economically vital - as statistics and inventories of livestock, crops, military equipment, vases and pottery, and the like? There was nothing economically useful about religious rites or babbling on about deities. So why bother, unless it was a matter of real significance to the Minoans and Mycenaeans? But ostensibly, it was. Chuck economics, at least where religion is concerned, they apparently believed. This cannot come as any surprise in the ancient world, and of course, in the Bronze Age itself, where religions and superstitious beliefs were rampant, playing an enormous and absolutely essential rôle in virtually every civilization, every society, great or small. This composite of Minoan/Mycenaean deities, which were were found in droves on every single Minoan/Mycenaean site, makes this blatantly obvious: Click to ENLARGE 

Minoan goddesses TOP Mycenaean goddesses B

(d) The implications of a putative Minoan & Mycenaean military literature in The Catalogue of Ships in Book II of the Iliad: 
  
Given this scenario, I am seriously inclined to believe that not only did the Minoan and Mycenaean scribes writing in Linear B (leaving Minoan Linear A aside for the time being) keep track of religious rites, and possibly even compose a creation myth of their own on papyrus, but that they may very well have also written down a stripped down written version of their oral military epic, their own story of the Trojan War, and if so, the most accurate version of the events of that war. Their original history of the Trojan war would have almost certainly been much more factual than the version of The Catalogue of Ships in Book II of The Iliad, which must have been derived from it, had it existed. This would go a long way to explaining why the Greek of The Catalogue of Ships in Book II of The Iliad is written in the most archaic, and the most-Mycenaean like Greek in the entire Iliad – not to say that Mycenaean Greek does not appear elsewhere in both the Iliad and the Odyssey, because, surprise, surprise, it most certainly does.  

There is one passage in The Catalogue of Ships which really brings this sort of scenario to the fore. I refer specifically to lines 645-652, which read as follows in the original Greek and in my translation: Click to ENLARGE

Iliad II Catalogue of Ships Role of Knossos and Crete in the Trojan Wariliad-2-615-652 (1)

It is passingly strange that Homer bluntly states, in no uncertain terms, that Knossos and Crete were major contributors to the Achaean fleet in the Trojan War, since everyone these days, archaeologists and literati alike, assume without question that Knossos fell long before the Trojan War (ca. 1450-1425 BCE). So who is right?  Homer? - us? -anyone? How on earth can we resolve the blatant discrepancy? We cannot, nor shall we ever. But the fact remains that this extremely important passage in The Catalogue of Ships in Book II of The Iliad leaves me quite unsettled. Since Homer is obviously convinced that Knossos and some 100(!) Cretan cities did figure prominently in the Trojan War, where on earth did he get his information from? I for one believe it is quite conceivable that rewrites on papyrus of some Minoan documents from Knossos and possibly even Phaistos may still have been in existence when Homer wrote the Iliad, or that at least stories of their prior existence were still in circulation. If you think correlatively as I always do, this hypothesis cannot simply be dismissed out of hand.

For my in-depth discussion of this very important question, please refer to this post:

RipleyBelieveitorNot Knossos in the Trojan War

(e) If the Minoans and Mycenaeans wrote some sort of religious and/military literature of their own on papyrus, there is absolutely no evidence that they did! 

This leaves us with only one final consideration. If the Minoans and Mycenaeans actually did compose documents on papyrus, where are they all? The answer to that stares us in the face. While the scribes would have taken great pains to assiduously preserve documents on papyrus in dry storage while the city of Knossos was still flourishing, these same documents would all have rotted away entirely and in no time flat, once Knossos and the Minoan civilization had collapsed. Crete was not Egypt. Egypt’s climate was bone dry; the climate of Crete was, and still is, Mediterranean. Ergo, the whole argument against the Minoans and Mycenaeans ever having had a literature of their own, composed on papyrus scrolls is de natura sua tautological, as is the argument they did. 50/50. Take your choice. But since I am never one to leave no stone unturned, I much prefer the latter scenario.

NOTE: This post took me over 8 (!) hours to compile. So I would appreciate if at least some of you would tag it LIKE, comment on it, or better still, reblog it!
For all the intense work Rita and I put into this great blog of ours, it often shocks me that so few people seem to take much interest in some of our most compelling posts. I am merely letting you know how I feel. Thanks so much. 


Richard

  


Surprise, surprise! What rôle does Formulaic Language play in Linear B Tablets, and does it have anything to do with Homer’s archaic  Greek?  

Does that surprise you, if you are a Linear B translator? It surprised my translator colleague, Rita  Roberts, and myself, for quite some time – well over a year. But not any more. There are two inescapable reasons why we have been able to come to the conclusions we have reached. These are:
(a) that the Linear B scribes very frequently used what Rita and I call supersyllabograms, a term which describes a peculiar phenomenon common to only a subset of syllabograms which have defied decipherment for the past 63 years since 1952. We shall be deciphering almost all of the 31 supersyllabograms, a substantial subset of the full set of 61 syllabograms (over 50 %). Only a very few supersyllabograms still defy decipherment, at least for us, but someone in the near future may find the keys to even those ones. Enough of that for now. We will be publishing our complete peer-reviewed research paper later on this year. So folks will just have to wait.
(b) that the Linear B scribes very often left unsaid (i.e. omitted) from their tablets what was perfectly obvious to them (see my Comments on Knossos tablet M 10 E x 233 below for the full text), since they all assiduously followed the same strict guidelines for transcribing accounts and inventories, and all used the same formulaic language for their transcriptions. To visualize how all this directly influences Rita Roberts’ methodical and accurate translation of Knossos Tablet M 10 E x 233, click on this image of the tablet to ENLARGE it:

KN M 10 E x 233 fragmenrt  one Ram

From the red outline to the right, you can see that I have filled in the rest of the missing section of this Linear B tablet. I am confident that the tablet in its entirely did in fact look almost exactly as you see here, because there is only 1 ideogram (for ram) only partially missing, while the word, SURI on the second line is clearly the Mycenaean place name, SURIMO, or in Greek, Syrimos. Since this tablet is clearly all about an offering TO the god Dikataro (dative!) or Zeus, and no one in their right mind would sacrifice more than one ram or animal to any of the gods, livestock being indispensable to their livelihood, it follows that one ram and one ram only was sacrificed to the god. Ergo, there cannot possibly be much more on the truncated right side of this fragment than the outline in red I have tacked on to its end.      

Does Formulaic Language in Mycenaean Linear B Tablets Have Anything to do with Formulaic Archaic Greek in Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey?

Surprise, surprise. It does. And so does Arcado-Cypriot in its alphabet or in Linear C.

My Hypothesis runs as follows.

If this premise does not hold water for some translators of Linear B, recall that Homer also heavily relied on formulaic phrases. He appears to have picked up that habit, not only from the Mycenaean Greek scribes who preceded him by 400-600 years, but also from the Arcado-Cypriot scribes, who wrote in the Linear C syllabary and in the Arcado-Cypriot Greek alphabet at the very same time as he was composing the Iliad – a fact that all too many historians and linguists completely overlook. 

Recall that Linear C had already evolved from the almost exclusively accounting and inventorial syllabary (Linear B ) to a literary one, with many of their tablets simultaneously composed in both Linear C and in alphabetic Arcado-Cypriot Greek. The lengthy legal document, the famous Idalion tablet, ca. 400 BCE, was one such tablet, written in both Linear C and alphabetic Greek. But Linear C had been in constant use from ca. 1100 BCE (long before Homer!) non-stop all the way through to ca. 400 BCE, when the Arcado-Cypriots finally abandoned it in favour of the Greek alphabet alone. 

My point is simply this: I for one cannot believe that Homer was not even remotely familiar with documents in the Arcado-Cypriot alphabet or possibly even in Linear C, because there were plenty of them around at the time he wrote the Iliad and the Odyssey (if he did). So even if he was not at all familiar with Mycenaean Linear B, he certainly must have known about, and may very well have read documents in Arcado-Cypriot. But that is not all. In spite of the fact that he almost certainly did not know Linear B, being familiar as he most likely was with the vocabulary and grammar of Arcado-Cypriot meant that he automatically had some inkling of Mycenaean Greek. Why so? - simply because of all the ancient Greek dialects (archaic or not), no two were more closely related than Mycenaean and Arcado-Cypriot, not even Ionic and Attic Greek – not by a long shot. This alone implies that even if Homer consciously knew nothing about Mycenaean Greek, its vocabulary and grammar, unconsciously he did, because every time he borrowed formulaic language from Arcado-Cypriot, he was in effect borrowing almost exactly the same vocabulary and phrases from Mycenaean Greek.

But there is more – much more – to this than superficially meets the eye. Homer was in fact very familiar with Mycenaean society, and with Mycenaean warfare, because he mentions both so often in the Iliad, especially in The Catalogue of Ships in Book II, and even occasionally in the Odyssey, that is obvious to all but the most recalcitrant translators of ancient Greek that he frequently resorts to Mycenaean vocabulary, phrases and even grammar (especially for the genitive and dative cases), even if he is not conscious of it. It stares us in the face. To illustrate my point, allow me to draw your attention to the numerous instance Mycenaean & Arcado-Cypriot vocabulary and grammar in just one of the serial passages of Book II of the Iliad I have already meticulously translated into twenty-first century English. Click to ENLARGE:

Iliad II Catalogue of Ships 565-610 Linear B Linear C

Now if you compare my scholia on the word, thalassa, on line 614 with the Linear B tablet below from Knossos, you can instantly see they are one and the same word! Since Linear B had no L+vowel series of syllabograms, the scribes had to substitute the R+vowel syllabograms for Mycenaean words which would have otherwise begun with L. Also, Linear B never repeats consonants, as that is impossible in a syllabary. Similarly, Linear B was unable to distinguish between variants of consonants, such as we find T & TH in the Greek alphabet. So the Mycenaean tarasa is in fact equivalent to the Homeric thalassa, given that on Linear B fragment KN 201 X a 26:

Knossos fragment KN 201 X TARASA the SEA

t = th, r = l & s = ss, hence tarasa = thalassa, down to the last letter.  

Anyway, for the time being, I rest my case. But with respect to the relationship between formulaic language in Mycenaean Linear B and Arcado-Cypriot, whether in Linear C or alphabetic on the one hand, and Homer’s use of formulaic language on the other, there is more to come on our blog this year – much more. It is highly advisable for all of you who are experienced translators of either or both Mycenaean Linear B and Homeric Greek to read all of my translations in series of the entire Catalogue of Ships in Book II of the Iliad, wherein he uses the most archaic Greek in all of the Iliad. Otherwise, you may experience some difficulty following my thesis on formulaic language and the hypotheses upon which it is based.

As for the rest of you folks, who are not translators, but who frequently read the posts on our blog, just enjoy and assimilate the essentials, and forget the rest, because all of the technical stuff I delve so deeply into doesn’t matter anyway unless you are a translator. Still, you may be asking, why delve into so much detail in the first place? Great question. It is all for the benefit of our fellow translators and decipherers, to whom we absolutely must address so many of the posts on our pointedly technical blog. Nevertheless, our blog is open to all to enjoy and read, as far as each of you wishes to take yourself. As I said just now, keep what you like and leave the rest. You will always learn at least something truly valuable to yourself. Otherwise, why would you be a regular visitor to our blog in the first place?           

Keep posted.

Richard


Ripley’s Believe it or not! The telling contribution of the Minoans & of the great metropolis of Knossos to the Trojan War according to Homer. Iliad II, “The Catalogue of Ships” - lines 615-652: Click to ENLARGE

Iliad 2 615-652
With reference to the great Minoan civilization, to Knossos, a metropolis of some 55,000 citizens (the size of Classical Athens), Phaestos & some 100 (!) Minoan cities in prominence in these few lines of the Iliad (according to Homer), this is far and away the most significant passage in the entire “The Catalogue of Ships” as far as we as researchers into Mycenaean Greek and its civilization, should truly be concerned with. Click to ENLARGE:

Role of Knossos in the Trojan War according to Homer
There are several points of note we feel we must raise here:

(a) It is hugely surprising that Homer should take so much trouble to refer to so many Minoan cities and settlements under the Mycenaean aegis, at least as far as the Trojan War is concerned. This is because Knossos at the acme of its power was supposed to have fallen no later than 1400 BCE, but the Trojan War took place at least 200 years later! (ca. 1200 BCE). So what is going on with Homer? Is he off his rocker? I sincerely doubt that, when it comes to perhaps the greatest Epic poet of all time. Either Homer is truly confused with his “historical facts” or Knossos did not fall around 1400 BCE, but hung on as a major Minoan/Mycenaean centre of economic and maritime naval power for at least another 200 years, or... or what? What on earth can we make of this bizarre scenario? – bizarre to us, that is. I find it positively intriguing that Homer should be so insistent on mentioning by name several Minoan cities and outposts, and that he should then go on to inform us that there were at least 100 of them overall. This is simply astonishing!

(b) The memory of the great Minoan civilization on the island of Crete appears not to have faded one jot by Homer’s era, another point of contention in our modern historical understanding of the time lines for the height of the magnificent Minoan maritime empire and for the Mycenaean Empire. Homer’s emphatic references to the major contribution of the Minoan Cretans to the expedition against Troy flies straight in the face of all modern archaeological evidence to the contrary. So who has got their “historical facts” right or wrong, Homer or we ourselves today? Or perhaps no-one has got it “right”, neither Homer nor we ourselves. This is just one exasperating instance of the innumerable glaring discrepancies between Homer’s interpretation of the so-called “historical facts” and our own, where the toponyms, the disposition of the geographical and cartographic features of the expedition and a great many other finicky details of the Trojan War are concerned, and refuse to go away.

(c) The question is – as it always has been – can we reconcile these perplexing paradoxes? The answer is bluntly, NO. I for one suspect that Homer (or whoever “wrote” the Iliad, whether or not this was one author or multiple authors) must have known a good deal more about the recent Trojan War, from his perspective a mere 400 years or so after it, than we credit him for. It would be risky at best, and pure folly at worst to dismiss his observations out of hand. The primary reason for my asserting this is simply that he gives us so much detail, not only about the Minoan participants in the Trojan War, but about the participation of all of the other Argives or Achaeans in it.

Just because he mentions so many place names that no longer exist does not mean they never existed. And even if he has got his geography all wrong, can we blame him for that? I hardly think so. After all, were there any competent cartographers anywhere in the ancient world at the time Homer lived, whenever that was – somewhere between 800 & 700 BCE? When I say, were there any good map makers at the time, I mean precisely that. How do we know? How can we know, in the patent absence of evidence to the contrary? I am quite serious when I say this, since only about 10 % of all ancient Greek literature alone – never mind that of other great ancient civilizations – survives to this day. That is a pitiable resource-base of primary documentation we have to reply on. When I speak of primary documentation, I mean in any form whatsoever, whether or not this be engravings on signets, tablets such as those in Mycenaean Linear B or Arcado-Cypriot Linear C, monuments or burial stones and the like, on buildings or edifices, on shards or pottery, in actual writings by the ancient Greek authors, etc. etc. Frankly, we really do not have much to go on.

(d) Archaeological data, while accurate where it has been decisively confirmed, is never the same as written records, and cannot be relied upon to convey the same core of what we nowadays call “information”, however reliable that information may or may not be. This includes historical information, and, if anything, primary historical information is itself subject to all sorts of contradictions, anomalies and paradoxes which cannot ultimately be resolved, no matter how much of it we have at our disposal. Quantity can never replace reliability or the presumed lack of it of primary sources.

Yet Homer is, let’s face it, a primary, if not the primary, literary source for the Mycenaean War against the Trojans. What then? I leave it to you to draw your own conclusions. Yet I for one dare not draw any, for fear of trapping myself in a quandary of conflicting “evidence” between confirmed reliable archaeological findings and the much more unstable and inconsistent historical written records we are nevertheless fortunate enough to still have on hand. Still, the astonishing detail Homer provides us in this single brief passage alone from “The Catalogue of Ships” in Book II of the Iliad begs the question. How did he come to be consciously aware of all these historical details, however “right” or “wrong” the majority of researchers take them to be. Perhaps it might be better for us all if we just dropped the notion of “right” or “wrong” where the ancient authors in general are concerned, and above all else, in the case of Homer, who really does seem to know what he is talking about. In other words, I believe that we should take what he has to say with much more than a grain of salt. Rather, we should be taking much of what he says quite seriously. But in what regards and in what applications to modern interpretations of the Trojan War and the deep, dark recesses of Mycenaean history I cannot, I dare not say. For all of this, somehow, somehow deep down inside, I instinctively, intuitively suspect he knew a lot more than we possibly can ourselves, if for the sole reason that he lived only a mere 4 centuries from the actual events in the Mycenaean War, while we live at the historical remote in the time line of events exceeding 3,200 years!
  
(e) Finally, and especially in light of that huge gap between ourselves and the Mycenaean era, we are in no position to understand with anywhere near the insight Homer must have had what the Mycenaean Trojan War was all about anyway. After all, Homer was Greek in the so-called “dark ages” of archaic Greece (another misnomer, if ever there was one); so he, being Greek, and living at that time, must have been immersed, not only in the mythology of the Trojan War – if indeed it ever was mythology to him, which I sincerely doubt – but in the historical facts as probably most of the Greeks of his era then understood them. Sadly, we shall never know how much they still knew about the Mycenaean War against the Trojans, nor how accurate their knowledge of it was. But the fact remains, they did indeed know about it, and if the Iliad is any indicator of their knowledge of it, they were consciously aware of a hell of a lot more about that great event in human history than we can ever hope to understand today. How the ancient Greeks understood and related to the world they lived in is beyond our ken. But we still must endeavour to understand their world on their own terms, in so far as this is humanly possible. This is a basic tenet of modern historical research. Do not judge ancient civilizations – or for that matter, much more recent ones – on our terms, but try to understand them on theirs. A huge bill to fill? You bet. But we must do the best we can; otherwise, we learn nothing of any real value even to ourselves in our modern society, with all its technological and scientific marvels. Science and technology cannot unearth the past, any more than we can in good conscience dig up the graves of the dead without desecrating them. 

Am I giving up the search for understanding the far-flung past? Far from it. I am merely saying that we have to watch ourselves at every turn, no matter how sophisticated the scientific and technological tools, marvels as they are, at our command. To summarize, it takes real human empathy to actually try to relate to civilizations long-since dead and gone. I myself always try to imagine what a life I would have been living, were I Minoan or Mycenaean. To my mind, that sounds like a good place to start.... indeed the right place.

Richard     

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