Rita Roberts’ Translation of Knossos Tablet K 1092, Rams at Eksonos & Sygrita: Click to ENLARGE
Rita Roberts, my Linear B student who is now at the advanced stage of learning Mycenaean Greek, and I had quite a field day discussing the implications of various interpretations which might be lent to this tablet in translation. What especially intrigued me was the possibility that one could interpret the toponym Eksonos as meaning “outside the belt”, where “belt” refers to a belt of arable agricultural land. Rita, who lives near Heraklion and Knossos in Crete, put me onto this scent, as she explained to me that even to this day sheep are raised on non-arable land in Crete and Greece, which makes perfect sense when you come to think of it... except that, being Canadian and living in the “Great White North”, the idea never crossed my mind. It takes a native to know the lay of the land. As soon as she said that, I instantly recognized the possibility of parsing Eksonos into the Greek preposition “eks” + the genitive adjectival “zonos” (of a belt), which may or may not have been current in Mycenaean Greek. The point is that Prof. John Chadwick and other Mycenaean Greek researchers since have often enough noted that Mycenaean toponyms and eponyms can sometimes be parsed into Greek words which, taken together, make semiological sense. Interpretations such as this are of course susceptible to plenty of criticism, because there is no real evidence that the Mycenaeans and Minoan scribes who worked for them were necessarily conscious of such connotations. But the idea is intriguing nevertheless.
Once you accept the notion that Eksonos has this notion built-in, then you can extrapolate this meaning to other Minoan/Mycenaean sites for sheep husbandry on pasture land, which is why we did this for Sygrita on this tablet. Anyway, whether or not the toponym Eksonos carries this connotation with it, sheep were raised in antiquity and are still raised today in Greece (let alone pretty much anywhere else in the world) on non-arable land, which is to say, outside the fertile agricultural belt for crops.
On the other hand, we should probably not read too much into (or more like it, out of) the tablets, since that sort of practice can and often does lead to mis-interpretations. Still, since Linear B is by and large a shorthand script for Mycenaean Greek, the tiny size of the tablets necessitating such drastic shortcuts, it is by no means inconceivable that the scribes, who knew perfectly well what the tablets meant to themselves, and who could care less what they might mean to future generations, given that the tablets were devised for annual accounts only, and nothing more than that, did not see any need to bother with explaining away the contents of their ephemeral annual accounts, destroyed at the end of every “wetos” or fiscal year. Prof. John Chadwick himself, in his ground-breaking book, The Decipherment of Linear B (Cambridge University Press, © 1958), makes this perfectly clear, when he notes:
By contrast there are several mentions in the tablets of ‘this year’ (toto wetos), ‘next year’ (hateron wetos) and ‘last year’s’ (perusinwos). These phrases would be meaningless, unless the tablets were current only for a year. This seems to imply that at the beginning of every year the clay tablets were scrapped and a new series started. (pg. 128, italics Chadwick’s)
and again, that Linear B “is rather like shorthand; the man who wrote it would have little difficulty reading it back...” to other scribes, “But a total stranger might well be puzzled, unless he knew what the contents were likely to be.” (pg. 131, italics mine).
I can easily carry Prof. Chadwick’s conclusions one step further. I can now assert with confidence that a great deal of Linear B is precisely that, shorthand, and in fact far more of it is shorthand than has been assumed until now. Logograms and ideograms play a significant rôle in the frequent application of shorthand to Linear B. But supersyllabograms, which are an entirely new phenomenon which I myself discovered only last year, come into play and in a much bigger way than logograms and ideograms, as we shall soon enough see this year. There are in fact so many supersyllabograms (31) that it astonishes me that no-one actually isolated them in the past 64 years since the successful decipherment of some 90 % of the Linear B syllabary by our dear friend, the genius, Michael Ventris, in June 1952.
PS I invite anyone who is adept at translating Linear B tablets to contest our rather unusual translation of this one, since after all, we may have strayed too far from the proverbial aurea mediocritas, “the golden mean”, just as the splendid Roman poet, Horace (65-27 BCE) characterized it so long ago:
Auream quisquis mediocritatem diligit, tutus caret obsoleti sordibus tecti, caret invidenda sobrius aula. “Whoever cherishes the golden mean is sober, safe and secure from the filthiness of a mansion fallen into disrepair, and free of palace intrigues.” (Translation mine)