How did I manage to decipher 17 Minoan Linear A words in 1 month? The 4 principles
That is the burning question. And here are the reasons why. To begin with, it is impossible to decipher any unknown ancient language by relying on its internal structure alone. It simply cannot be done. We must have recourse to certain fundamental principles before we even being to attempt any decipherment. So far, I have been able to isolate four of them. These are:
1. The attempt to correlate Minoan with known ancient language (negative principle or factor):
All too many past researchers and philologists attempting to decipher Minoan Linear A have made the assumption that they had first to determine what class of language it must or may have belonged to before they even began to attempt decipherment. This is, as we shall see, a false premise, a non starter, a dead end.
The very first of these researchers to make such an assumption was none other than Sir Arthur Evans himself, though he could hardly be blamed for doing so, being as he was at the very frontier of the science of archaeology at the outset of the twentieth century, up until the First World War when he had to suspend archaeological work at Knossos (1900-1914). I made this clear in my article, “An Archaeologist’ s Translation of Pylos tablet Py TA 641-1952 (Ventris)”, in Vol. 10 (2014) in the prestigious international journal, Archaeology and Science (Belgrade) ISSN 1452-7448, in which I emphasized and I quote from Evans:
It would seem, therefore, unlikely that the language of the Cretan scripts was any kind of Greek, and probable that it was related to the early language or languages of Western Anatolia – associated, that is, with the archaeological 'cultures’ of Alaja Hüyük I ('proto-hattic’) and of Hissarlik II and Yortan ('Luvian’)...”, and a little further, “Though many of the sign-groups are compounded from distinct elements, usually of two syllables each, there is little trace of an organized system of grammatical suffixes, as in Greek. At most, a few signs are notably frequent as terminals... (italics mine) and this in spite of its great antiquity, given that it preceded the earliest known written Greek, The Iliad and The Odyssey of Homer by at least 600 years! It was a perfectly reasonable and plausible assumption, in view of the then understandable utter lack of evidence to the contrary.
Returning to my own analysis:
Besides, there were no extant tablets in either Minoan Linear A or Linear B with parallel text in another known ancient language, as had conveniently been the case with the Rosetta Stone, which would have gone a long way to aiming for a convincing decipherment of at least the latter script. Yet Evans was nagged by doubts lurking just
below the surface of his propositions. (pp. 137-138)
So Evans was vacillating between the assumption that the Minoan language may have been related either to Luvian or Hittite (a brilliant assumption for his day and age) and that it was an ancestral form of proto-Greek. Both assumptions were wrong, but if only he had known that Linear B was alternatively the actual version of a very ancient East Greek dialect, namely, Mycenaean Greek, how different would the history of the decipherment of Linear B at least have been.
To complicate matters, Michael Ventris himself, following in the footsteps of Evans, began by making the same assumption, only this time correlating (italics mine) Linear B with Etruscan, stubbornly sticking with this assumption for almost 2 years before Linear B literally threw in his face the ineluctable conclusion that the script was indicative of Mycenaean Greek (June 1952).
My point is and here I must be emphatic. It is a total waste of time trying to pigeon-hole the lost Minoan language in any class of language, whether Indo-European or not. It will get us absolutely nowhere. So I have concluded (much to my own relief and with positive practical consequences) that it does not matter one jot what class of language Minoan belongs to, and that it serves us best simply to jump into the deep waters without further ado, and to attempt to decipher it on its own terms, i.e. internally.
2. Cross-correlation between Minoan and a known ancient language:
Notice that in 1. above I italicized the word correlating. This is no accident at all. It is only by the process of cross-correlation with a known language that we can even begin to decipher an unknown one. And of course, the known language with which the Minoan language must be cross-correlated is none other than Mycenaean in Linear B, if not for any reason other than that Linear B uses basically the same syllabary as its predecessor, with only a modicum of changes required by the latter to represent Mycenaean Greek, more or less accurately. This assumption or principle, if you like, is squarely based on the approach used by the renowned French philologist, Jean-François Champellion, who finally deciphered in 1822, 23 years after it was discovered in Egypt in 1799.
How did he do it? He made the brilliant assumption that the stone, on which was inscribed the identical text in Demotic and ancient Greek, must have the exact same text in Egyptian hieroglyphics on it. And of course, he was right on the money. Here is were the principle of cross-correlation comes charging to the fore. If a given text in an unknown ancient text is on the same tablet as at least one other known language (and in this case two), a truly observant and meticulous philologist cannot but help to draw the ineluctable conclusion that the text of the unknown language must be identical to that of the known. Bingo!
But I hear you protest, there are no media upon which the identical text is inscribed where Minoan Linear A and Mycenaean Linear B are concerned. The medium on which texts in both Minoan Linear A and Mycenaean Linear B are inscribed is the clay tablet. While it is indisputably true that there exist no tablets on which the identical text is inscribed in Minoan Linear A and Mycenaean Linear B, upon close examination, we discover to our amazement that there is at least one tablet in Minoan Linear A which might potentially be very close to another in Mycenaean Linear B, and that tablet is none other than HT 31 from Haghia Triada, on which the text, at least to a highly observant philologist would appear to be very close to a text on a particular Linear B tablet. And that tablet, we discover to our amazement, is none other than Pylos tablet Py TA 631-1952 (Ventris). Armed with this assumption, I forged right ahead and made a direct comparison between the two. And what did I discover? Both tablets mention the (almost) the very same types of vessels in at least 4 instances. Armed with this information, I simply went ahead and found, this time not to my amazement or even surprise, that I was – at least tentatively – correct.
In the case of at least two words on both tablets, as it turned out, I was right on the money. These are (a) puko = tripod on HT 31 and tiripode = tripod on Py TA 631-1952 (Ventris). This was the very first word I ever managed to decipher correctly in Minoan Linear A. My translation, as it turns out, is without a shadow of a doubt, correct. My excitement mounted. (b) The second is supa3ra or supaira on HT 31, which would appear to be almost if not the exact equivalent of dipa mewiyo = a small(er) cup on Py TA 631-1952 (Ventris), but without the handles on the latter. And as it turns out, I was again either close to the mark or right on it. Refer to our previous posts on the decipherment of these two words, and you can see for yourselves exactly how I drew these startling conclusions.
3. Parallel ideograms on Linear A and Linear B tablets:
The presence of apparently (very) similar ideograms for vessels on both of these tablets only serves to confirm, at least tentatively for most of the words on vessels I have attempted to decipher, and conclusively for the two words above, that I was well on my way to a clear start at deciphering Minoan Linear A. For lack of space, I cannot give details this post, which is already long enough, but once again, previous posts reveal in much more detail this principle on which my decipherments are founded, and the methodology behind it which lends further credence my translations.
4. Archaeological evidence lends yet further credence to my decipherments of 4 of the largest vessel types on HT 31, namely, karopa3 or karopai, nere, qapai & tetu. The problem here is, which one of the largest is the largest of them all, being approximately equivalent to the Greek pithos? I cannot tell from the tablet. However, since my initial stab at decipherment, I have tentatively concluded that Minoan Linear A words terminating in the ultimate U are masculine singular for the very largest in their class. Hence, it would appear at least that tetu is the most likely candidate for the equivalent to the ancient Greek pithos. I cannot as yet determine with any degree of certainty that this is so, but it is at least a start.
These four principle form the foundation of the first steps that appear to yield relatively convincing results in the decipherment of the 17 words in Minoan Linear A I have tackled so far. Relying on the application of these four principles, either singly or in combination, we can, I believe, make some real headway in the decipherment of roughly 5% to 10 % of the terms on the Linear A tablets. The greater the number of these principles entering into the equation for the decipherment of any Minoan word in particular, the greater are our chances of “getting it right”, so to speak. That is a very good start.
On the other hand, at least to date, it is virtually impossible to decipher any Linear A words on any tablet to which any or all of the aforementioned principles cannot be safely applied. This leaves hundreds of Minoan terms virtually beyond our reach. In other words, tablets on which Minoan vocabulary appears, but without any reference or link to the 4 principles mentioned above remain a sealed mystery. But that does not bother me in the least.
In the next post, relying on principles 2. (cross-correlation) and 3. ideograms, I shall decipher the eighteenth Minoan word (18), this time one related to spices.