The famous “Bull’s Head” sacrificial libation Rhyton, Ashmolean Museum, translated

The famous “Bulls Head” sacrificial Rhyton, Ashmolean Museum, translated:

KN 872 M o 01 libation cup and Nestor

This is one of the most well-known of all Linear B tablets. It was unearthed by Sir Arthur Evans from the debris at Knossos in the early 1900s. Unfortunately, so much of the text is missing or badly mutilated (left truncated) that it is difficult to translate it. In addition, the words “neqasapi” and “qasapi”, which are variants of one another, are to be found nowhere in Tselentis or any other Mycenaean Greek lexicon, including the most comprehensive of them all, that of L.R. Palmer in The Interpretation of Mycenaean Greek Texts (1963). However, I was able to make sense of the right side of the tablet, which fortunately is largely intact. The Bulls Head is not just a bulls head, it is a sacrificial Bulls Head rhyton, as you can see from my archaic Greek text, here transliterated into Latin characters, “rrhuton kefaleiia tauroio” = “a rhyton of the head of a bull”. There are also 3 kylixes or cups with handles, presumably made of gold. So I was able to extricate enough text to make reasonable sense of this fine tablet.

The Linear B “Attendants” Tablet – a Tough Nut to Crack!

The Linear B “Attendants” Tablet – a Tough Nut to Crack! (Click to ENLARGE):

This has got to be one of the most difficult Linear B tablets to decipher, not because most of it isn't all that hard to translate, but for that last syllabogram TA, which I am sure must have stumped practically everyone who has ever tried to tackle it.  However, upon consulting the most comprehensive Linear B Glossary on the Internet, A Companion to Linear B, Mycenaean Greek Texts and their World [Bibliothèque de lInstitut linguistique de Louvain ― 127 (2011)]  I discovered, to my utter astonishment, the two entries you see flagged just under the tablet itself in this post, TAPA EOTE, which is in early ancient Greek, tapa\ e1ontej. What we need to understand in this context is that the Linear B scribes frequently used abbreviations to save valuable space on what were, after all, (very) small tablets. For instance, on the Heidelberg Tablet HE FL 1994, the scribe has used the single syllabobgrams KO PA & MU to stand in for KONOSO, PAITO & MUKENE respectively, thereby saving a great deal of space. I shall be translating this fascinating tablet as well sometime in April or May. Another reason why I believe we can lend credence to my translation is this: attendants actually do appear on Minoan frescoes, such as this one from Knossos (Click to ENLARGE):

My explanatory commentary below goes a long way to clarifying and lending further credence to my decipherment. So unless you actually read the commentary, you will not get a full grasp on the decipherment.     

We notice that in the fresco above, the one woman, almost certainly a priestess has 7 attendants, all male, which might go some way to explaining why there are 41 attendants for only 32 people. If for instance the priestess in a procession of 32 people has, as in the fresco we see here, 7 attendants, and everyone else coming up the rear has 1 attendant, for a total of 38 attendants, the total is very close to the 41 given on this tablet.  But it is also possible that the priestess would have an acolyte following right behind her, and if her acolyte were to have 3 attendants, we would then have our 41. Of course all this is pure conjecture on my part, but the possibility still remains, and at any rate we cannot conjecture how many attendants would follow in a particular procession, as processions were probably held very often at Knossos, Chania, Mycenae, Pylos and other Mycenaean centres for different festivals. All ancient cities without exception held frequent festivals, which were almost all religious in nature, festivals for the city's patron goddess, for spring sowing and autumn reaping of crops, feasting festivals for the "wanaka" or King and his Queen, and in the case of Knossos and the Mycenaean fortress towns, for the Snake Goddess of fertility, without whom the population would not have been well replenished... at least for the Minoans and Mycenaeans.

Another equally feasible interpretation for some festivals at least, is that many of the attendants would have been musicians, just as in the fresco above, where we see a lyre player on the left and/or libation bearers, such as the 1 on the right in this fresco holding a rhyton, probably filled with mead or wine. So if that were to be the case, and 31 people had 1 attendant each, that would leave, for instance, possibly 4 musicians and 6 libation or "cup bearers"(again giving a total of 41 as in this case). Processions proliferate on Minoan/Mycenaean frescoes... and the number of attendants would have surely varied widely, depending on the type of festival. Of course, we shall never really know, as the extensive research into Minoan/ Mycenaean festivals to date has never been able to shed sufficient light on the arcane "mysteries" of Minoan/Mycenaean religious rites, processions and festivals, nor is it likely that future research will get much further, barring the unearthing of a considerable number of new tablets dealing specifically with religious matters.

Still, I feel quite confident that I have come up with a sound decipherment of the final syllabogram TA on the Linear B “Attendants” Tablet, but I would love to receive feedback from any and all researchers into Linear B tablets concerning other equally feasible interpretations of that pesky little syllabogram.


On the other hand, this translation crams an awful lot of significance into one pesky syllabogram, TA. The solution could be a lot simpler. So if I can come up with any alternative simpler decipherment(s), I will let you all know. One should never take anything for granted.