Pylos Tablet PY cc 665: The Shepherd, Fresh Penis, Offers to Goddess Potnia... Click to ENLARGE (the Tablet, I mean, not the Shepherd’s Tool)
When my esteemed colleague, Rita Roberts, sent me her latest translation of an extant Linear B tablet from Pylos, PY cc 665, little did she suspect, indeed, even less did I suspect what we were in for. Rita’s translation is the most commonsensical one a translator could come up with. The word NEWOPEO is almost certainly the name of the suppliant making an offering of 100 sheep and 190 pigs to the goddess, Potnia, one of the major Mycenaean deities, almost all of whom were feminine anyway. Potnia, otherwise called, “Potnia Theron” or Mistress of the Wild Beasts, has often been associated with Artemis, the ancient Greek goddess of the hunt, but she may also be linked with Demeter Ceres, goddess of the grain harvest, as appears to be the case with the Mycenaean fresco in this collage: click to ENLARGE
Certainly the Minoans and Mycenaeans both relied heavily on their grain harvest, as did all Greek societies and city states, Crete, Cyprus, Athens, all the Athenian colonial cities, Corinth, Macedonian Pella, Syracuse etc., right on down through the Classical and Hellenic Eras, as indeed did Egypt and all other major ancient civilizations, including Rome, of course.
Apparently, the Minoan hierarchy of goddess and gods was matriarchal rather than patriarchal, although whether this was the case for the Mycenaean pantheon of gods we cannot say for sure. However, that being said, we can see right away that Rita Robert’s translation does great justice to the apparent significance of this important tablet as a religious votary, by translating NEWOPEO as the suppliant’s name. So far, so good.
But when I happened to take a closer look at the fellow’s name, I noticed at once that the first two syllables were the Linear B word for “new”, a very common word in Mycenaean Greek. So then, of course, the question is, what do the last two syllables mean? I was already suspicious of what the result would be even before I looked up a Greek word that would fill the bill, and sure enough my suspicions were confirmed, to a T. It meant what I thought it meant. Not only that, it cannot mean anything else in Classical Greek, if spelled the way it is in this fellow’s name in Linear B. The Mycenaean Greek word and its Classical Greek equivalent are one and the same. No doubt about it. “Penis”.
But is this so very surprising, given the Greeks’ obsession with the beauty of the male anatomy in all its parts, apparently, it seems, right on down from the Mycenaeans to the Hellenic Age and beyond? There is one splendid Minoan fresco of a fisherboy from Akrotiri (Late Cycladic 1, Late Minoan 1A) which does show a fellow nude. Sadly, however, his lovely penis has been effaced by the ravages of time. Here is this exquisite fresco: Click to ENLARGE
As for the ancient Greeks themselves (by whom I mean those from ca. 700 BCE to 100 BCE and beyond), they were utterly obsessed with the all-too prominent aspects of the male physique, given that to them, i.e. the Greeks, the male physiognomy of the gods and of their heroes held a supremely religious value, even beyond the equally enticing virtues of the female physique, divine (athanatos) or mortal (thanatos).
Onomastics & Personal Names:
Yet what about nomenclature? Would the ancient Greeks have been so daring as to give their men names like this? Certainly. Why not? Their pagan religion was saturated with imagery and images alike of fertility and sensuality, with a marked emphasis on the former, as were the religions of practically every ancient civilization right up to the Roman. No big surprise there to anyone.
Still, I will have to buttress this claim of mine with actual examples of racy Greek names, if I expect our readers to actually believe me. We needn’t look very far. Among the Greek deities, some of the most prominent bear names with distinctly sensual overtones: Pan, Greek name derived from the word pa-on, meaning "herdsman". In mythology, this is the name of a god of shepherds and flocks, who had the horns, hindquarters and legs of a goat; Herpes, god of prostitutes & cunning; Himeros, god of sexual desire (Himeros can be translated as “love or lust attack”); Eros, god of love and sexual desire; Pothos, god of sexual desire and longing; Ganymede, Priapus etc. And among mortals, Arsenios (Virile), Beelzeboul (Lord of Dung), Dioskouroi (Zeus’ boys!), Pythias (rotting!), Seilinos (moving back and forth in a wine trough), Zoroastres (he whose camels are angry) etc.
As for the plays of Aristophanes, they are riddled with obscene names, most of which of course are meant as parodies, but nevertheless...
Compare Rita Robert’s translation of this tablet (Pylos PY cc 665) to my own: Click to ENLARGE:
My version, which requires considerable knowledge of ancient Greek grammar in numerous dialects, relies on translating NEWOPEO in an entirely different manner, and in two different versions, (a) the first rendering this word as the present participle active of the Greek verb “to bring” & (b) the second referencing bringing tribute to Potnia by ship. The problem with my interpretations is that they overlooked the obvious, which Rita did not. Which of these three versions carries the most weight I leave entirely in your hands. Or perhaps all three of them have something going for them. One thing is certain: it is extremely unwise to fall into the trap of believing that there can only be one “right” translation for so many Linear B tablets, given that adequate context to clinch the matter is sorely lacking in the vast majority of them. I have mentioned this often on our blog, and shall continue to raise the point for the simple reason that a great many Linear B tablets admit of more than one interpretation, and often of more than two. In such instances, each translation has its own merits and weaknesses, which are subject to rigorous critical analysis by Linear B scholars worldwide... as indeed they should be, without exception.