Rational partial decipherment of Minoan Linear A tablet HT 117 (Haghia Triada) & the first real glimpse of Minoan grammar actualized: This albeit partial decipherment of Minoan Linear A tablet HT 117 (Haghia Triada) incorporates an approximately equal admixture of Old Minoan, i.e. the original Minoan language, also known as the Minoan substratum (of which I am unable to decipher most of the words) and of New Minoan, i.e. the superstratum of words of probable Mycenaean provenance, most of which I have been able to decipher with relative ease. While some of the New Minoan translations obviously appear to break the grammatical rules of Mycenaean Greek, such as mitu for “mint”, which is after all mita (and feminine) in Mycenaean Greek or daminu for “in 1 village”, which is damo in the nominative in Linear B, these adjustments can be readily accounted for by the fact that Old Minoan grammar is not at all the same beast as Mycenaean grammar. Although we are not yet familiar with much of Old Minoan grammar, which is after all the grammar of Minoan, just the same as modernized Anglo-Saxon grammar is the grammar of English, in spite of the enormous superstratum of French, Latin and Greek words in the latter language, this tablet alone perhaps affords us a first glimpse into the mechanics of Minoan grammar. Thus, it would appear that mitu may be the Minoan accusative of mita, and daminu may be the locative of damo in Minoan. Although there is no scientific way for me to substantiate this claim, I believe I am onto something, and that I may be making the first cracks in the obdurate wall of the grammar of the Minoan language substratum. If this is so, then I may be actually pointing the way to unravelling at least a subset of Old Minoan grammar. To illustrate my point, let us take a look at these phrases in English, as adapted from their Norman French superstrata. In French, the phrases would read as follows: “ avec la menthe”& “ dans le village”, whereas in English they read as “with mint” & “in the village”. Take special note of the fact that, while the Norman French superstrata words in English, “mint” and “village” are (almost) identical to their Norman French counterparts, the grammar of the phrases is entirely at odds, because after the grammar of French, which is a Romance language, and of English, which is a Germanic, cannot possibly coincide. But here again, I must emphatically stress that English grammar is an entirely different matter than English vocabulary, of which the latter is only 26 % Germanic, but 29 % French, 29 % Latin and 4 % Greek, the latter 3 languages, namely, the superstrata, accounting for fully 64 % of all English vocabulary! We must always make this clear distinction between English grammar, which is essentially Anglo-Saxon modernized, and English vocabulary, which is only minimally Germanic. If we carry this hypothesis to its logical outcome, we can readily surmise that the same phenomenon applies to the Linear A syllabary. Where grammar is concerned, the Linear A syllabary is Old Minoan, i.e. the original Minoan language or substrate. Where vocabulary is concerned, Linear A represents an admixture of Old Minoan vocabulary, such as uminase, kuramu, kupa3nu (kupainu), tejare and nadare (all of which I cannot decipher) and of New Minoan Mycenaean derived vocabulary, such as makarite, mitu, sata, kosaiti and daminu on this tablet alone. The orthography of the latter words is not actually consistent with Mycenaean grammar, because constitutionally it cannot be. Once again, the grammar is always Minoan, whereas the vocabulary often falls into the New Minoan (Mycenaean derived) superstratum. In the case of makarite, it would appear that, if the word is dative in Minoan, the Minoan dative is similar to the Mycenaean, ending as it seems to in i. The ultimate te in makarite appears to be the Mycenaean or ancient Greek enclitic te (and). In the case of mitu, which is mita and feminine in Mycenaean Greek, it would appear that the Minoan word is either masculine or that in this case at least, it is instrumental, meaning “with mint”, in which case the Minoan feminine instrumental appears to terminate with u. The word kosaiti appears to follow the same lines. The first two syllables, kosai, apparently are Mycenaean, but the ultimate ti is Minoan, and once again, instrumental (plural). Again, daminu appears to repeat the same pattern. The word damo is masculine (or neuter) in Mycenaean. But the ultimate is inu here, which appears to be the Minoan locative, inu. To summarize, we must make a clear-cut distinction between any New Minoan vocabulary on any Linear A tablet, and its orthography, which must of necessity follow the orthographic conventions of the Minoan language, and not of the Mycenaean, from which any such words are derived. I intend to make this abundantly clear in subsequent posts.
Linear B tablet K 04.03 from the Knossos “Armoury” Tablet: 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.
The Linear B “pakana” or – sword – series of tablets, their translations and the implications: PART A It is common knowledge in the Linear B linguistic research community that there are a great many series of Linear B tablets which share marked formulaic textual characteristics. Among these we find the Linear B “pakana” or – sword – series of tablets and fragments, amounting to some 15, from KN 1540 O k 01 to KN 1556 O k 11. I have assigned my research colleague, Rita Roberts, who is at the mid-term mark of her first year of university studies into Mycenaean Linear B, the challenging task of translating all 14 or 15 of these tablets and fragments (most of them fragments), in an effort to extrapolate from her translations findings which can and do confirm and validate the hypothesis that the tablets and fragments in this series are almost all variations on a “standard”, hence formulaic, text. This is the first of several posts in which we shall be analyzing the results of Rita’s findings. Once we have posted all of our co-operative findings, Rita and I shall be co-authoring an article on the formulaic nature of the tablets and fragments in this series in particular on academia.edu, the results of which can be extrapolated to any number of series of tablets and fragments of Linear B tablets from Knossos (and some from Pylos as well), regardless of the sector of the Minoan-Mycenaean economy on which they focus, the most notable being the sheep husbandry sub-sector of the agricultural sector, for which there are almost 700 (!) extant tablets, or some 10 times more than in any other sector of the Minoan-Mycenaean economy, inclusive of this one, the military. In the meanwhile, we are focusing our attention on this series of tablets in particular. Here are the first three translations in series Rita Roberts has submitted, with her explanatory notes following them, these followed in turn by interpretive notes of my own, where applicable. The first tablet, largely intact, offers us an all but complete snapshot, so to speak, of the actual formulaic text underpinning almost all of the tablets in this series. Click to ENLARGE: Mrs. Robert’s translation of this tablet is, as usual, precise, technically sound and elegant. I do, however, have a few additional comments to make on the translation of this tablet among others strikingly similar to it, here: Click to ENLARGE It all comes to one observation and one only. The texts of all of the tablets I have mentioned above, however fragmentary, are merely minor variations of one another, in other words, they are all formulaic. The text of any one of them is close to a mirror image of any of the others, usually with only one or two attributes and the number of tablets inventoried in each at variance. That is the single factor we need to focus on above all else, though not exclusively to the exclusion of others. The next translation Rita Roberts makes is of Knossos fragment KN 1542 OK 18 (XC), which contains only the tail end of a Mycenaean Linear B word terminating in “woa” and the ideogram for sword. Click to ENLARGE: It is painfully obvious that the left-truncated word ending in “woa” is in fact and can only be, “araruwoa”, meaning “bound” (a sword bound with a hilt) and nothing else. This, the only practicable translation for this little fragment, which is only a snippet or tiny subset of the missing text the fragment represents, leads us directly to the highly plausible inference that the actual text of this fragment, were it intact as a tablet entire, would have almost certainly have read very much like this: A skilled horn worker has bound the hilt with horn and fixed it to the sword’s blade with rivets. Sound familiar? You may very well protest, “Aren’t you jumping to conclusions?” and you might have been right, were it not for the fact that, as we soon shall see in subsequent posts detailing the contents of several other tablets and fragments in the same series, snippets of the very same text, more or less intact, keep popping up. And among these, two tablets — the first of which we have already seen as the first figure in this post — spell out the text entire (less one or two words, if any). So it stands to reason that if, in so far as the missing text of this tiny fragment almost certainly is the same as that of the other tablets, with minor variations in wording and in the number of swords tallied, this little scrap of text is a mathematical subset of the text we have already encountered in the first of the tablets posted in this series (KN 1541 OK 09 (xc)), then other, more complete, snippets of the same text appearing on other tablets we are soon to investigate simply confirm and validate our assumption, corroborated by the cumulative evidence brought to bear by the partial or complete text of those other tablets in this series. Finally, turning our attention to the third translation Rita Roberts has effected (Click to ENLARGE): we discover, scarcely to our surprise at this point, that the text of KN 1543 OK 17, though not as complete as that of the first tablet posted here (KN 1541 OK 09 (xc)), is practically a mirror image of the former. The formulaic nature of the text of almost all of the tablets in this series ( KN 1540 O k 01 to KN 1556 O k 11), with few exceptions, is as we say nowadays, “in your face”. This simple fact based on strict observation of the variations on the recurrent text to be found on almost all of these tablets firmly confirms the hypothesis that in fact formulaic phrasing is a prime characteristic of all of the tablets in this series, and for that matter, in any number of series of tablets in Linear B from Knossos, regardless of economic sector. It is the tablets in the sheep husbandry sector, of which there around 700 (far more than in any other sector), which confirm and concretize this conclusion over and over. Rita has also translated Knossos tablet KN 1540 O k 01 (xc) here: which I have just reblogged below for your convenience. It is highly advisable for you to read this post in toto, as it sheds significant light on the present discussion. It is in fact this very tablet upon which we are to draw our ultimate conclusions with reference to the translations of this entire series of tablets. In our final post in this serial discussion, we shall actually cite the text of this previous post in its entirety, with additional glosses reflecting any further conclusions we may have drawn once all of the tablets in this series have been posted. Richard
Translation of the Gezer Agricultural Almanac into Mycenaean Linear B: Click to ENLARGE This is the first ever attempt to translate the Gezer Agricultural Almanac in Paleo-Hebrew (ca 925 BCE) into Mycenaean Linear B. My reasons for doing so are manifold: 1. While the text in Paleo-Hebrew is written in the proto-Hebrew alphabet, which for all intents and purposes is practically identical to the Phoenician alphabet, the translation is of course in the Linear B syllabary. 2. The Gezer Agricultural Almanac has no vowels, since Paleo-Hebrew, like the Phoenician alphabet, had none. On the other hand, the translation into Linear B, which is a syllabary, automatically guarantees that every single syllable contains a vowel. 3. The alphabetical text of The Gezer Agricultural Almanac takes up considerably more space than the translation into Mycenaean Linear B, since alphabetic scripts use up more space than syllabaries, even though syllabaries contain considerably more syllabograms than alphabets do letters. In the case of the Phoenician and Proto-Hebrew alphabets alike, there are 22 letters, all consonants. The reason why syllabaries take up less space than most alphabets is simple: each single syllabogram consists of a consonant + a vowel, whereas most alphabets must express consonants and vowels as separate entities. However, in the case of the Phoenician and Paleo-Hebrew alphabets, this distinction does not apply, since the number of consonants in the latter approximate the number of syllabograms in Linear B. 4. But the question remains, if this is the case, then why is the Linear B translation still noticeably shorter than the proto-Hebrew original? This is no idle question. There are three primary reasons for Linear B’s uncanny capacity to telescope long text into shorter. These are: 4.1 While alphabetic scripts, regardless of whether or not they contain vowels, and irrespective of their antiquity or modernity, are generally incapable of telescoping text into smaller entities, Linear B does this with ease, first by using ideograms, which appear on every single line of the Linear B translation you see here of the Gezer Almanac. I could have written out the text in full, but had I done so, I would not have reflected the spirit and the commonplace practice of Linear B scribes to replace long text with ideograms, because they were forced to save precious space of what were, without exception, very small tablets (most running to no more than 15 cm. wide, and only a few as wide as 10 cm.) 4.2.1 For the precise same reason, Linear B scribes also frequently resorted to replacing entire Linear B words, such as “rino” = Greek “linon” = English “linen”, the Mycenaean Greek word for both the raw product “flax” and the finished, “rino” with logograms. You can see the single syllabogram = logogram “NI” = “flax” on line 3, immediately preceding the ideogram for “meno” = “month”. 4.2.2 If this practice is a clever ploy, what are we make of the same procedure carried even further, when in line 7, the scribe (me) replaces the word for “fruit” = “kapo” in Mycenaean Linear B, with the very same word with the exact same number of syllabograms = 2, but by placing one (po) on top of the other (ka)! That way, the scribe uses the space for only 1 syllabogram while in reality writing 2. If this isn’t a brilliant ploy, I don’t know what is. But it goes even further. Although we do not see an example of this practice carried to its extreme in this translation, scribes even resorted to piling 3 syllabograms on top of one another! A prefect example of this is the Mycenaean word “arepa” = Greek “aleifa” = English “ointment”, consisting of 3 syllables. In this instance, scribes almost always wrote “arepa” as a logogram, by piling the syllabogram “pa” on top of “re” on top of “a”. Now that takes some gymnastics! In this case, the scribes used the space for 1 syllabogram to replace an entire word of 3 syllabograms. Talk about saving space! All of these clever little tricks are illustrated here: Click to ENLARGE 5. The scribes also replaced entire Mycenaean Greek words with supersyllabograms on about 27 % of all Linear B tablets. SSYLS save even more space than logograms and ideograms, in some cases, far more, since they can replace entire phrases in Mycenaean Greek. Yet, even without resorting to SSYLS in this translation, l managed to telescope the discursive alphabetic Proto-Hebrew text into a much shorter Linear B translation. Now the most amazing thing about Linear B’s amazing capacity to shortcut text by telescoping it into the much smaller discrete elements, logograms, ideograms and supersyllabograms, is that the Linear B syllabary preceded both the Phoenician and Paleo-Hebrew alphabets by at least 4 centuries! So who is to say that alphabets are superior to syllabaries? I for one would not even dare. Richard
A Mind Blower! Monthly Statistics on Wheat & Barley at Knossos, Amnisos & Phaistos in Linear B: Click to ENLARGE Ambiguities pop up as a matter of course in any attempt to translate all too many tablets in Mycenaean Linear B. These ambiguities arise for a number of reasons, such as: (a.1) The scribes routinely omitted any word(s) or phrase(s) which they as a guild implicitly understood, since after all no-one but themselves and the palace administration would ever have to read the tablets in the first place. The regular formulae involved in the production of Linear B accounting, inventory or statistical texts of whatever length were commonly understood by all, and shared (or not, as the case may be) by all the scribes. Formulaic text, including the same Linear B stock phrases, the same logograms & the same ideograms appearing over and over again, are routine. But even that does not give us the whole picture. Some text, which would have otherwise explicitly appeared as per the criteria just mentioned, was deliberately omitted. This bothers us today, in the twenty-first century, because we expect all text to be there, right on the tablet. Sorry. No can do. The scribes merely wrote what were routine annual accounts only, and nothing more (to be summarily erased at the end of the current fiscal year and replaced by the next fiscal year’s inventories). That was their job, or as we would call it today, their job description, as demanded by the palace administration. Nothing more or less. It would never have entered the minds of the scribes or the palace administrations of any Mycenaean city, trade centre, harbour or citadel to preserve inventories beyond one fiscal year, because they never did. Routine is routine. So if we take it upon ourselves to complain that “vital information is missing”, we mislead ourselves grossly. That information was never “missing” to the personnel concerned. It is only absent to us. It is up to use to try and put ourselves into the mindset of the palace administration(s) and of the scribes, and not the other way around. Tough challenge? You bet it is. But we have no other choice. (a.2) In the case of this tablet specifically, the text which is annoyingly “missing” is that in the independent nominative variable upon which the phrase in the dative, “for barley-by-month” (kiritiwetiyai) directly depends. The “whatever” (nominative) ... “for barley-by-month” (dative) has to be something. But what? I translated the missing nominative independent variable as “ration” on the illustration of the tablet above, but this is a very rough translation. (b) What is the semantic value of the implicit independent nominative variable? If we stop even for a second and ask ourselves the really vital question, to what step or element or procedure in barley production do our average monthly statistics refer, then we are on the right track. Note that the word “average” is also absent, since it is obvious to all (us scribes) that monthly statistics for any commodity are average, after all. It is impossible for these monthly statistics for Knossos, Amnisos & Phaistos to refer to the barley crop or harvest, because that happens only once a year. The scribes all knew this, and anyway it is perfectly obvious even to us, if we just stop and consider the thing logically. So to what does the dependent dative variable refer? There are a few cogent alternatives, but here are the most likely candidates, at least to my mind. First, we have (a) ration. Fair enough. But what about (b) consumption of barley -or- (c) monthly metropolitan (market) sales of barley for the city of Knossos alone -or- (d) routine monthly trade in barley, by which I mean, international trade? All of these make sense. In fact, more than one of these alternatives may apply, depending on the site locale. Line 1 refers to the independent variable in the nominative for Knossos. That could easily be the monthly metropolitan market (akora) sales of barley. However, line 2 refers to Amnisos, which is the international harbour of Knossos, and the major hub of all international trade and commerce between Knossos and the rest of the Mycenaean Empire, and between Knossos and the rest of the then-known maritime world, i.e. all empires, nations and city states surrounding at least the mid-Eastern & South Mediterranean, especially Egypt, Knossos’s most wealthy, hence, primary trading partner. So in the case of Amnisos (line 2), the independent variable in the nominative is much more likely to be the average monthly figure for international trade in or for barley-by-month. As for Phaistos, it is probably a toss-up, although I prefer international trade. (c) Hundreds of Units of Barley or is it Wheat? But how many Hundreds? (c.1) Before we go any further, it is best to clear one thing up. While line item 1 on this tablet refers specifically to barley, and not to wheat, I find it really peculiar that, in the first place, the ideogram used in line 1 (Knossos) is the ideogram for wheat and not for barley. This appears to be a contradiction in terms. The only explanations I can come up with are that (a) the scribe used the ideogram for wheat in line item 1, because he used it in both line items 2 & 3 (for Amnisos and Phaistos), where he actually did intend to reference wheat specifically, and not barley, or (b) the other way around, that he meant to reference barley in all 3 line items, but did not bother to repeat the phrase kiritiwetiyai = “for barley-by-month”, because (as he perceived it) he did not have to. Wasn’t it obvious to all concerned, himself and his fellow scribes, and their overseers, the palace administration, that is exactly what he meant? Of course it was. But which alternative was obvious (a) or (b)? We shall never know. (c.2) Since the right hand side of this tablet is sharply truncated immediately after the appearance of the numeric syllabogram for 100, we are left high and dry as to the value of the total number of units for each of lines 1 to 3. The number must be somewhere between 100 & 999. Ostensibly, it cannot possibly be the same for Knossos, Amnisos & Phaistos. The problem compounds itself if we are referring to sales or consumption of barley at Knossos versus international trade for Amnisos and Phaistos or, for that matter, any combination or permutation of any of these formulae for each of these line items in the inventory. This being the case, there is obviously no point wasting our breath trying to figure out which is which (consumption, sales or international trade) because it will get us nowhere. One thing is certain, however. The scribes themselves knew perfectly well what the figures in each of lines 1 to 3 referred to. We are the ones who are the poorer, not the wiser. (d) You will have noticed that, whatever the semantic value of the implicit nominative independent variable is in lines 1 & 2, which reference Knossos and Amnisos respectively, I mentioned on the illustration of the tablet above that the line item figure for Amnisos could either be lower than or higher than that for Knossos. And that is a correct observation. Assuming that the figure for Knossos probably refers to either average monthly consumption or metropolitan market sales of barley in the city itself, with a population estimated at some 55,000 at its height, the average monthly figure for consumption or sales alone would probably have been quite high, ranging well into the multiple hundreds. But how high? I wouldn’t dare hazard a guess. Likewise, the average monthly volume in international trade of barley (let alone wheat and all other major commodities such as wool, olive oil, spices, crafts and fine Minoan/Mycenaean jewelry) would have been very significant, probably at least as great if not greater than the the average monthly figure for consumption or sales of barley, wheat etc. etc. in the city market (akora) of Knossos. Regardless, the monthly figures for Amnisos and Knossos almost certainly do not reference the same economic activity, so we are comparing apples with oranges. As for Amnisos and Phaistos, the average monthly figures are more likely to reference the same economic phenomenon, namely, international trade. If this is the case, the monthly figures would have been far greater for Amnisos, the primary port of the entire Mycenaean Empire, for international commerce and trade, than for Phaistos, which was an important centre for commerce, but certainly not the hub. However, once again, we have no idea of the average ratio for monthly international trade and commerce between Amnisos and Phaistos, although I surmise it was probably in the order of at least 4:1. Richard
Mycenaean Linear B Units of Dry Measure, Knossos Tablet KN 406 L c 02: Click to ENLARGE The translation of this tablet from Knossos into English is relatively straightforward. The problem is that no one really knows what exactly the unit of measure designated by the Linear B symbol that looks like a T means. My best guess is that the 9 shakers of coriander (I say, shakers, because the ideogram looks like a shaker & it is most likely folks used shakers back in the good old days in Knossos, just as we do nowadays). However, the problem remains, how do 9 shakers of coriander add up to only 2 units. My best guess is that the shakers were boxed, 5 units per box. So 9 shakers would have filled one box and most of another... something along those lines. Andras Zeke of the Minoan Language Blog gives a value of approx. 3 kilograms per unit, meaning we would end up with about 5 kg. or so for 9 shakers of coriander. They would have had to be really huge shakers! No one could have held them. So it is quite apparent that the measured value Andras Zeke has assigned to our wee little T is in fact way off the mark, if we are to believe our eyes. On the other hand, that T might very well have been divisible by 10 or even 100, given that the Mycenaean numeric system is based on units of 10, just like our own. So it is conceivable that we are dealing with some kind of metric system here. Given that the Mycenaean numeric is base 10, that would make sense. So we could be dealing with something like 50 grams and not 5 kilograms of coriander... that would make a hell of a lot of sense. But since we were not there to see how the scribes allocated the spice jars into so-called units, we shall never really know. Still, there is no harm in speculating. Now, as for my translation of the ideogram for a spice container (spice shaker), I have translated it specifically as a “a coriander spice shaker”, since on every single every tablet, bar none, from Knossos mentioning spice containers, it is always coriander that is spelled out. The folks at Knossos must have been crazy about coriander! Since there are only 2 or 3 tablets which do not mention coriander outright, that leaves us with around 95 % of all tablets referring to spices which do spell it out. Linear B scribes were very fussy about having to spell out the names of spices, or for that matter, anything on Linear B tablets which could be easily represented, i.e. symbolized by an ideogram. The ideogram appears on this tablet, but the word does not. This is practically beside the point. It appears that the scribe simply did not bother writing it, for some reason or another. The practice of spelling out the name of any item on a Linear B tablet which can easily be illustrated with an ideogram is very unusual. The scribes were sticklers for saving space at all costs on what is admittedly a very small medium, rarely more than 30 cm. wide by 15 cm. deep, and more often than not, even smaller than that! So the fact that the scribes generally did spell out coriander as the spice of choice for Minoan Knossos seems to imply that the king, queen, princes and the palace attendants prized it very highly. Another point: almost all of the tablets mentioning koriyadana = coriander also use the word apudosi = delivery, i.e. they tabulate the actual delivery of so many units of coriander to the palace. So this tablet can be translated any of these ways: Achareus delivers to Phaistos 9 shakers of coriander for a total of 2 units or Achareus delivers for deposit at Phaistos 9 shakers of coriander for a total of 2 units. or even Achareus delivers for deposit at the palace of Phaistos 9 shakers of coriander for a total of 2 units. These are all valid translations, since after all everyone who was anyone, meaning the scribes, the nobility and the wealthy businessmen) knew perfectly well that such precious commodities as coriander could only be consumed by the well-to-do, and that these folks all lived – you guessed it – in the palace! There was absolutely no need in the minds of the scribes, meaning, in practice, for them to write out what was obvious to everyone. This is precisely why nowadays we need to learn to read out of the tablets what the scribes were actually inventorying, rather than trying to read into them. If this sounds like a tough slog, you bet it is. But it is far better to aim at getting the actual gist of the message on the tablet (whether or not spelled out in text, or simply with logograms and ideograms) than to strip down your translation to the point where it becomes unintelligible. This is all the more true in light of the fact that at least 800 of 3,000 tablets I meticulously consulted from the Scripta Minoa from Knossos contain very little if any text at all, and rather a lot of supersyllabograms (single syllabograms), ideograms and logograms. The reason for this is obvious: in order to save as much space as humanly possible, the Linear B accountants (scribes) never wrote out what was obvious to them all as a guild. In other words, Mycenaean Linear B, as an inventory and statistical accounting language – which is what it basically is – combines two notable features: (a) the language is highly formulaic & (b) the greater part of it is shorthand for Mycenaean Greek text inferred but rarely explicitly spelled out. If this sounds peculiar to us nowadays, we need only recall that this is exactly how modern shorthand functions. All too many Linear B translators have completely overlooked this fundamental characteristic of Mycenaean Linear B, which in large part explains its almost total uniformity over a wide geographic area, from Knossos to Phaistos and other Mycenaean sites on the island to Crete itself to Pylos on the opposite coast, all the way to Mycenae and Tiryns on the far side of the Peloponnese and even as far away as Thebes in Boeotia, which was a key Mycenaean centre and which has been continually occupied from then on right through to today. Click on the map to ENLARGE: All of this further implies that, while Linear B, the accounting and inventorying language for Mycenaean Greek, was homogeneous, uniform and formulaic to the teeth, the actual Mycenaean dialect may very well have not been. In fact, I sincerely doubt it was, since it is symptomatic of all ancient Greek dialects, even those which are closely related (such as the Ionic and Attic) to diverge and go their own merry way, regardless of the structure, orthography and grammatical quirks of their closest relatives. Since that was surely the case with every ancient Greek dialect with which we are familiar – and God knows it was! - then it must have also been the case with Mycenaean Greek and with its closest, kissing cousin, Arcado-Cypriot Greek, the latter written in Linear C or in the quirky Arcado-Cypriot alphabet. Even though no other ancient Greek dialects were as closely related as were Mycenaean and its kissing cousin, Arcado-Cypriot, these dialects were somewhat different. What is more, it is almost certain that there were notable variations within each of these dialects, the further afield you went. In other words, the Mycenaean Greek spoken at Knossos and Phaistos, which would have been much more influenced by its forbear, the Minoan language, was a little different from that spoken at Pylos, and doubtless even more from the Mycenaean Greek at Mycenae, Tiryns and especially Thebes. But spoken Mycenaean Greek and the Mycenaean Linear B accounting and inventorying language are not the same beast. The latter is a homogeneous, formulaic and largely shorthand subset of the former. I shall have a great deal more to say about this extremely important distinction between the two in future. Richard
All About Sypersyllabograms: Their Enormous Impact on the Nature of Linear B – Everything you ever wanted to know, but were afraid to ask!
Given that supersyllabograms invariably display the characteristics highlighted in the previous post, they must also be formulaic by nature. The several restrictions placed on their disposition next to or inside ideograms, the invariability of their meanings within each sector, and other such considerations means they are always formulaic. Although the language of Homer is also very often formulaic in the Iliad, especially in The Catalogue of Ships in Book II, there is probably little or no relationship between the formulaic nature of supersyllabograms in Mycenaean Linear B and his archaic formulae. Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that formulaic language is a particular characteristic of both Mycenaean Linear B and of Homer’s own so-called Epic Greek. However, the nature of the formulaic language of Linear B and that of Homeric Greek are of a different order. In the chart which follows, we see for the first time ever on our blog the disposition of each supersyllabogram in each sector of Minoan/Mycenaean society, with repetitions of certain supersyllabograms, which re-appear in different sectors, usually with different meanings from one sector to the next, with the exception of the supersyllabogram “newo/newa”, which always means “new”, regardless of sector. It alone appears in three sectors: agriculture (livestock, mainly sheep, rams & ewes), textiles & vessels, as seen in the chart here: Click to ENLARGE While the meanings of some supersyllabograms are firmly established, due primarily to their high frequency on Linear B tablets from Knossos, others are less firmly demonstrable. For instance, in the sector, agriculture, sub-sector sheep husbandry, the meanings of the supersyllabograms O = lease field, KI = plot of land , NE = new & PE = enclosure or sheep pen, are firmly established with a very high degree of probability, if not total accuracy. In the case of PE, the definition is 100 % confirmed, since on one of the tablets in that series, the scribe conveniently spelled out the word in full, instead of using the simple superyllabogram PE. It is this very tablet which establishes beyond a doubt the authenticity of supersyllabograms as a phenomenon innate to Linear B alone, and not found in Arcado-Cypriot Linear C. As for Minoan Linear A, no-one knows whether SSYLS exist, because the language remains recalcitrant to decipherment. In the military sector, the supersyllabogram ZE almost certainly means “a pair of..” or “a team of...”, with a 90 % or greater probability. However, once we get past the two primary sectors in which supersyllabograms are used extremely frequently, given that there are so many tablets to be found in these two primary sectors of Minoan/Mycenaean society, the situation devolves by degrees into less certainty. Supersyllabograms found adjacent to any ideogram, as for instance those with the ideograms for sheep, ram, ewe (livestock), or horse or chariot (military) are considered to be associative. Associative Supersyllabograms are those which define characteristics of the environment or specific context in which their associative ideograms appear. For instance, it is natural and logical to associate sheep with lease fields, plots of land & sheep enclosures. The same goes for military ideograms. The ideograms for horse and chariot naturally associate with pairs or teams of... (fill in the blanks). There are still quite a large number of tablets in the textiles sector; so the meanings of most of the supersyllabograms in that sector are more than likely still very reliable, not the least because each of them still makes good sense: KU = gold cloth, PA = dyed cloth, PU = purple or Phoenician cloth (amounting to pretty much the same thing, anyway) & RI = linen. I would assign at least a 70 % to 90 % degree of probability to each of the definitions I have deduced for each of these supersyllabograms in textiles. The supersyllabograms in the sector of vessels (amphorae, drinking cups, water jugs etc.) may be a little less firm, but I am still convinced that I deduced most of them accurately, yielding a probability of 70 % - 80 %. Supersyllabograms in the textile and vessels sector are another kettle of fish. Since they appear inside the ideograms they modify, they are attributive in nature. In other words, they describe attributes of the textiles or vessels which they modify, and are, in almost all instances, adjectival in nature. Their placement inside the ideograms makes it quite clear that this is what the scribes actually indented, since a symbol inside another always describes attributes of the ideogram in which it appears. Should anyone doubt this, we have only to appeal to symbols appearing inside others as they are found in today’s world, since they follow the exact same principle. For instance, we have: click to ENLARGE: Need I say more? On the other hand, I have been quite unable to decipher at least one supersyllabogram, SE, which sadly appears only 3 times on extant tablets from Knossos. For this reason alone, I dare not assign it a meaning, since I am quite sure that if I did, I would probably be (way) off the mark. There remain the supersyllabograms for place names, which are in a category of their own, since none of them appear with ideograms, and all of them are found on only 1 tablet, Heidelburg HE Fl 1994, which Prof. Thomas G. Palaima so expertly deciphered in 1994. Click on this banner to read his translation and my explanatory POST in its entirety: There can be no question whatsoever that these are in fact supersyllabograms, the very first ever to have been isolated, for which we owe Prof. Palaima full credit. Of course, he did not define them as supersyllabograms, as he was unaware of the high frequency of the rest of them as adduced above in this post. Nevertheless, they are what they are, supersyllabograms. We have KO for Konoso (Knossos), MU for Mukene (Mycenae), ZA for Zakros etc. And if a few of you are still in doubt as to the viability of supersyllabograms in Mycenaean Linear B, remember: the very same phenomenon applies to internationally standardized signs nowadays. Once again, nowadays, we have a symbol within a symbol, or if you like, a symbol inside an ideogram. It is truly amazing how such a practice has resurfaced after at least 32 centuries, even if it was only the Minoan/Mycenaean scribes in the ancient world who figured out the system in the first place, leaving it interred for 32 centuries before it re-appeared in the twentieth century. So once again, we find ourselves face to face with a very ancient script, namely the Linear B syllabary, which was so systematic, formulaic and logical that it can only be considered as a brilliant breakthrough in the art of writing. After all, supersyllabograms are not the only phenomenon Linear B sported with such bravado. Ideograms in and of themselves abounded (over 100 of them!). They even used ideograms as the equivalent of subject headings as they resurfaced in nineteenth century libaries, in the Dewey Decimal & Library of Congress systems. Witness just one tablet alone, namely, Pylos 641-1952 (Ventris), the very first tablet ever translated with complete success by none other than the great Michael Ventris himself, and you can see these “subject headings” for yourself, plastered all over that amazing tablet! Why did the scribes use so many ideograms for vessel types on this single tablet? The answer was obvious, at least to them... the ideograms for vessels were the signposts or indexing markers of this tablet which instantly allowed the scribes to identify the precise type of vessel described in the full text immediately preceding each one, even before they bothered reading the descriptive text. That this is a very clever indexing system goes without saying. And it re-appears over and over on so many tablets that it is without question one of the hallmarks of the Linear B syllabary. Finally, their numeric accounting system was the most efficient ever devised in the ancient world. Summarizing all of the streamlined characteristics of Linear B we have just enumerated, it becomes obvious that Linear B was, first and foremost, a carefully devised form of shorthand for Mycenaean Greek. Once again, the Mycenaean scribes anticipated a methodology for writing business transactions which would not re-appear as modern shorthand – you guessed it – until the nineteenth century AD. All of this adds up to one inescapable conclusion: Linear B was the world’s fist ever commercial shorthand, and until the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, there was nothing even remotely as efficient, logical and practical ever to be found throughout history until... the modern era. This is precisely why I am so in awe of Linear B, a script which was millennia ahead of its time. It is also why I refuse to characterize Linear B as being prehistoric. It is nothing of the sort. It is in a word, a proto-historic writing and accounting system, leading me to the inexorable conclusion that Minoan/Mycenaean society was in fact not prehistoric at all, but proto-historic. I am not the first linguist specializing in ancient linguistics to have asserted this claim, but I am the first to speak up as emphatically and unequivocally as this. This then has been a brief summary of the functions and the key rôle supersyllabograms play in the decipherment of Mycenaean Linear B. Richard
Ideal Demands for ZERO-TOLERANCE in Accounting & Inventories from Mycenaean Greece, to Classical Athens, Imperial Rome, the House of Medici and beyond – References to Wikipedia Articles & Several Illustrations Inventorial Accounting Demand for ZERO-TOLERANCE Applied to the Translation of the Tricky Linear B Tablet KN 1507 E d 231 by Rita Roberts: Click to ENLARGE Our working hypothesis for Rita carefully considered translation of Knossos tablet KN 1507 E d 231. Before proceeding to the genesis of our hypothesis for a realistic and practical translation of this very tricky Linear B tablet, allow me to inform you all that Rita is now being confronted with mind-bending challenges in the decipherment of really difficult Linear B tablets. Had I known this when I initially assigned Rita this tablet and the next one to be posted, I would have surely left them for her first year of her university level curriculum. However, as it turns out, the fact that she had to force herself to stretch her logical powers of observation to the extreme means that she is more than ready to rise to the even more daunting challenges facing her in the next month or so, when she finally embarks on her first year of university level studies. The fact that she was eventually able to translate this tough tablet, the two of using working together, speaks to her mastery of Linear B, which is already very considerable. Working Hypothesis: Since Linear B is first and foremost an accounting language for Mycenaean Greek, in other words, a subset of this archaic Greek dialect, we should expect that all accounting and inventorial records would have to be completely accurate, both with respect with line items and with total, zero-tolerance in arithmetical calculation in any Linear B tablet in this sphere, and that means something like 90-95 % of all tablets in Linear B, regardless of provenance. While there are quite a few tablets dealing with religious matters, meaning that in that case Linear B cannot be considered as an accounting subset of Mycenaean Greek, but must be construed as a religious affairs subset of the dialect, we leave this aside for future consideration. Meanwhile, there are critical problems with not only this tablet, but plenty of others in the sphere of inventorial accounting, which simply must be addressed, and if possible, resolved. Based on the criteria our hypothesis for accounting and inventories demands in any society in any historical era, we should take into consideration several eras in succession, from the most ancient Babylonian through Egyptian, Mycenaean, the Athenian Treasury at Delphi: 507-470 BCE (Wikipedia) - a reasonably efficient financial system and Roman Imperial Finances, the aerarium or state treasury under Augustus Caesar (62-14 BCE) and beyond (an exceedingly inefficient and corrupt financial system): Roman Finance: Wikipedia (Click on the cameo of Augustus Caesar): to those of the Middle Ages, and above all else, the much more efficient accounting and banking procedures established by the Medici family in Florence in the 14th. And 15th. Centuries AD. ALL THIS IS NOT TO SAY THAT ACCOUNTING SYSTEMS WERE IN UNIVERSAL CONFORMITY IN EVERY HISTORICAL ERA, because they were not. This is especially true of the late Medieval era and the early Renaissance, when the sloppy Medieval accounting procedures in most European nations other than Italy seriously clashed with the extremely efficient banking system of the Medici in Florence. The House of Medici (Wikipedia): Click on their Coat of Arms - ZERO-TOLERANCE Banking System In fact, it was the Medici who invented the modern system of banking. Further developments and refinements ran through to the establishment of the Exchequer in Renaissance England: Click on the image of Thomas Cromwell - corrupt financial system Thomas Cromwell (1485-1540) Chancellor of the Exchequer under Henry VIII (1533-1540) and Ministries of Finance in the Renaissance and the 17th. Superintendent of Finances (France: 1561-1661) - reasonably accurate and 18th. centuries Comptroller General of Finances (France: 1681-1791) - extremely corrupt on to the rigorous banking system of the late nineteenth and early 20th. Centuries to the most modern stock market software systems, it is patently obvious that they all should ideally demand the following basic criteria: (a) line items in accounts and inventories must be completely accurate, and precisely named, down to the most specific details; (b) line and summary calculations cannot and must not contain any errors whatsoever. Zero tolerance; (c) accounting and inventorial procedures must be completely standardized across the board, from one site to another, from one city to another and one nation to another, regardless of historical period. Otherwise, the accounting system in place in that historical era collapses for lack of complete conformity. And all too many did! See above. We know that Mycenaean Linear B was consistent across the board, regardless of the site were the scribes used it, whether Knossos, Phaistos, Pylos, Thebes, Mycenae or elsewhere. (d) Accounting systems, if they are be at all effective and rendered zero-tolerance, must be subject to audit, regardless of the historical era in which they are in use. Rita Roberts and I are convinced that such an auditing system was securely in place in Minoan/Mycenaean society in which Linear B was the standard language of accounting and inventory. This is the administrative palatial accounting and inventorial system which Rita and I believe was operative in the Minoan/Mycenaean era when Linear B was the standard accounting language. Regardless of site, Knossos, Phaistos, Pylos, Thebes, Mycenae or elsewhere, it would appear that the administrative palatial accounting and inventorial offices were configured as follows: The Efficient Audited ZERO-TOLERANCE Minoan + Mycenaean Palatial Office of Inventories and Accounting: There was a large administrative palatial accounting and inventorial office (or room, if you must insist), especially at the metropolis of Knossos (pop. ca. 55,000), in which a relatively large number of scribes (possibly 10-40) ranged themselves for their daily work along a very long table or tables, all of them on the same side of each table, for the simple reason that each of the scribes must have had each of his tablets audited, either by the scribe to his left or right, or by both, to ensure zero-tolerance for line itemization and mathematical accuracy. If scribes had been seated on opposite sides of their table or tables, it would have been much more difficult to audit one another’s inventorial tablets, as they would have had to pass their work across the table(s), thereby adding to the risk of error, when zero-tolerance is demanded. That would have been an unacceptable scenario. Think of it this way: would anyone in their right mind nowadays allow for any deviance from the standardized international online stock market system? Never! Likewise, the Mycenaean system must have been based on the same general principles, and the pretty much the same specific accounting criteria put into practice. Otherwise, the system would have collapsed. Such a system makes perfect sense, especially for Mycenae an Greeks who were, after all, Greek. The ancient Greeks were notorious for their insistence on accuracy and logic, right from the outset, all the way through to the rise of their astonishingly consistent philosophical systems in the age of Plato and Aristotle, and far beyond. Zero-Tolerance on any Linear B Inventorial Accounting tablet based on the template of Knossos Linear B Tablet KN 1507 E d 231: Given the strict criteria for Mycenaean accounting procedures we have proposed above, Knossos Linear B Tablet KN 1507 E d 231 must stand up to scrutiny down to the very last detail. But there are problems with it which immediately leap to the fore. The scribe has scratched out, i.e. erased all the text to the left of the and below the number 2 (if it is the number 2). What does this tell us? If we assume our hypothesis is correct, and we are pretty much convinced it is, it tells us a great deal. First, it tells us that he was aware he had made a gaffe, and a big one at that. But how did he become aware of this? He was audited by another scribe or scribes, and according to the standard office procedure we have outlined above, by the scribe to his left or right, or by both of them. Take your pick. But the principle of zero-tolerance must apply. Perhaps he fell asleep at the switch after a long day slogging through numerous accounts, and writing down inventories on at least 5 tablets. Very demanding and exhausting work. Any accountant, past or present, can tell you that. However, if the standard practice was for fellow scribes to audit every single tablet they inscribed, zero-tolerance would prevail. So the next step in our decipherment of this extremely tricky tablet (one among countless hundreds or thousands in any given fiscal year or “weto” in Mycenaean Greek) is to make a supreme effort to put ourselves in the same place as any Linear B scribe having to make a full inventory of anything anywhere in the Mycenaean Empire, and not only that, to assume one of our fellow accounts has caught us out and put us squarely on spot. Let us imagine the conversation: Scribe A (the fellow who inscribed this tablet, KN 1507 E d 231) to Scribe B: Well, I am done with this tablet. It is the end of a long day, and I am getting very tired. I may have made a mistake. Audit it. Scribe B: Hmmm. Let’s see. (reads the original figures on the tablet). Good gods, you wrote the same number for both the rams and the ewes! 38! That seems a remote possibility. Yes, you do look tired, and I can hardly blame you. What is the number of ewes? We have to get it right. Scribe A: Oh my gods, it is just 2 ewes! How could I have missed that! So he scratches out all the Linear B numeric strokes for tens, i.e. 3 horizontal strokes & 6 for units (vertical strokes), leaving the number 2 (2 vertical strokes). Voilà. The calculation is completely accurate. We have zero-tolerance. Scribe B: Good! It is fine now. Maybe we should go for a beer or two as soon as work is over, which is pretty soon. Scribe A: Great Idea! To all our VISITORS: it took me 6 HOURS to compile this complex post. Please show your appreciation by tagging it with LIKE, assigning the number of STARS it deserves, or even re-blogging it! Richard
Linear B “To all the gods... ” There is much more than meets the eye in Rita Roberts’ Astute Translation: Click to ENLARGE Now that Rita has been translating tablets from Linear B into English for well over a year, she has come to learn quite a few tricks of the trade, and is well aware of the numerous pitfalls that beset translators of Mycenaean Greek, who can and all too often do fail to “read” everything that the scribes meant to convey, leaving unsaid what they all knew perfectly well they actually were saying to one another, regardless of inventorial context. This phenomenon occurs over and over on the majority of Linear B tablets, and always for the same reason: the scribes were forced to save as much valuable space as they possibly could on a very small, cramped medium, the Linear B tablet. They quickly became extremely adept at finding clever little shortcuts around the problem of cramming as much essential – versus inessential - information as they could into the little space afforded them. What Rita has assumed in the specific context of this text, which happens to be uncharacteristically religious for Linear B, is just this: the text does not merely read, “to all the gods oil 1”. That is a patently ridiculous, semantically stripped translation. This would be tantamount to an inventory nowadays stating something silly like, “for the car oil 1”, when we really mean,“1 refill can of type XX oil for our car.” She is fully aware that the Linear B scribe who wrote this text was actually saying much more than that. The scribe was able to telescope or abstract the full content of his message into just 2 Linear B words + 1 ideogram + the numeral 1. So what exactly was he saying? Today, we no longer know, nor can we. But rest assured that all his fellow scribes knew exactly what he was saying, because they all followed the same “script”, consisting of the same formulaic, usually partial, phrases; the same logograms and ideograms; and the same supersyllabograms repeated over and over, from Knossos to Phaistos to Pylos to Mycenae to Thebes, you name it, anywhere where Mycenaean Greek was written down in Linear B. The Mycenaean Greek as composed in Linear B was by far the most uniform ancient Greek script, because it was an inventorial language, and nothing more, in other words, a finely telescoped subset of the Mycenaean dialect. No one has ever seen the Mycenaean dialect per se actually written out in full sentences, paragraphs and documents, because it never was. I repeat, Linear B is a small statistical inventorial subset of Mycenaean Greek. To view it any other way is tantamount to forcing it far beyond its clearly defined, restricted boundaries, and to twist it into something it was never meant to be, i.e. a dialectical script. However, just because we can no longer really be sure nowadays what the formulaic language the Minoan/Mycenaean scribes actually conveyed in each and every specific context (agricultural, textiles, military, religious etc.), this does at all not imply that we cannot hazard various tenable reconstructions of their original intent... because in fact we can. In some cases, the underlying full context lies closely enough to the surface that only a few, possibly as many as four, truly tenable translations are likely to arise. That is the case with this tablet. Rita and I discussed at some length the putative meanings that could possibly be assigned to this text, and we could only come up with four. These are: (a) Rita’s own translation, “To all the (our) gods an offering * of one gift of oil.” (b) “To all the (our) gods one vessel (vial) of oil.” (c) “To all the (our) gods an offering * of one vessel (vial) of olive oil.” (d) “To all the (our) gods a gift of one vessel (vial) of oil.” OMITTED: any of these words: our, offering, gift, vessel, vial, olive oil & anyway, just who are “all the gods”! The scribes all knew. We don’t. Too bad. Tough. The reason for the insertion of the Mycenaean Linear B word, * APUDOSIS * (offering) is transparent enough. It was frequently used on Linear B tablets in contexts just such as this, and so, if omitted, it can still be supplied. Secondly, the oil used by the Greeks was almost always olive oil, which of course had to be contained in some type of vessel. There are well over 20 Linear B ideograms for vessels. But why mention the vessel when (as I am sure any scribe would have told you) it is obvious to any idiot that you put olive oil in a vessel. Omit what it obvious to “everyone” (us scribes) & save lots of space. Great! Ergo... one thing is pretty much certain. At least one of the translations above has to be almost spot on, regardless of word order, which does not amount to much more than a hill of beans in Mycenaean Greek anyway, given that as much is left unsaid as is spelled out. In our next post, we shall discuss in greater detail the profound implications this methodology of interpretation has on the decipherment and translation of practically all Linear B tablets right acrossthe board. Richard