Sir Arthur Evans' Tentative (& Amazingly Correct) Decipherment of 6 Linear B Syllabograms:

Sir Arthur Evans spent years and years methodically and meticulously recording the contents of some 4,000 Linear A & Linear B tablets he unearthed at the site of Knossos between 1900 and 1903, and then again, years later, after the First World War, when it was possible to return to the site, and continue with the painstaking, indeed mind-boggling, task of not only inventorying all those tablets, but cataloguing them by categories, according to their contents, which he correctly took to be accounting records, and even transcribing, character by character, syllabogram by syllabogram, ideogram by ideogram, the texts of every single one of these thousands of tablets.

Not only was Sir Arthur Evans reasonably convinced that a great many of the Linear B syllabograms were directly derived from their ancestors, the corresponding Linear A syllabograms, had the exact same values both scripts, he was (as it turns out) perfectly right in that assumption.

But what is even more remarkable is this: Sir Arthur Evans (amazingly!) was able to tentatively identify the possible Linear B values of 6 syllabograms, with a remarkable degree of accuracy, even in the face of the total absence of any corroborating evidence that could have possibly lead him to the (seemingly) most preposterous conclusion that there was, in fact, any conceivable link, however tenuous or solid, between the Cypriot Script (Linear C), which had already previously been deciphered in the nineteenth century as being Greek by the brilliant cryptographers G. Smith, thanks to his discovery of a Phoenician-Cypriot bilingualinscription found at Idalium, the Egyptologist Samuel Birch(1872), the numismatist Johannes Brandis (1873), the philologists Moritz Schmidt, Wilhelm Deecke, Justus Siegismund (1874), and the dialectologist H.L. Ahrens (1876).  See Wikipedia for the fascinating history of this extremely important syllabary.

It was later to turn out that there is in fact a very tight correlation between Linear B and its offspring Linear C, as we shall gradually discover in greater detail throughout 2014, even though the actual syllabograms in Linear B and Linear look completely different.  But looks can be (very) deceptive, and in the case of Linear B and Linear C, they most certainly are.  Never judge a book by its cover.  And there is much more to this remarkable correlation between the Linear B and Linear syllabic scripts than you can possibly imagine (unless of course you have).  The striking similarity of Linear B and Linear C is in fact no accident, and as I shall demonstrate later this year, the fact that Linear C is Greek provesbeyond doubt that Linear B likewise is Greek, and can be nothing else. 

These are the 6 Linear B syllabograms which Sir Arthur Evans, even on the tentative basis he was forced to espouse, correctly identified in his Scripta Minoa.

Cypriot		= Linear B
TA			   DA * 	
LA			   RA **	
LO			   RO **
PA			   PA
PO			   PO ***
SE			   SE

as illustrated in this Table (Click to ENLARGE):

Cypriot syllababary as deciphered by Markus_egetmeyer_le_dialecte_grec_ancien_de_chypre Cypriot Linear C values = Linear B

* While Linear B has both a D + vowel and a T + vowel series of syllabograms, Cypriot (Linear C) has no D series; so once again, Cypriot TA, which looks exactly like Linear B DA, is in fact the “same” syllabogram.  But bear in mind that Linear B also has T series, and so it makes a clear distinction between the D & T series.   

** These syllabograms are in fact identical, since Linear B always used RA & RO to represent both LA & LO + RA & RO, while Cypriot has it the other way around, using LA & LO to represent both LA & LO + RA & RO.  I believe I know why.  Just as the Japanese are unable to pronounce what we term a “pure l” or a “pure r”, but pronounce something in between the 2 semi-vowels L & R, which are almost identical anyway, so also – or at least it appears so –  neither the Mycenaeans (1500-1200 BCE) nor the Cypriots after them (1100 BCE) were able to quite make up their minds whether their identical syllabograms were pronounced one way or the other, which is not a problem to the linguist.  For if we look at it the other way around, from the Japanese point of view, it is they who are pronouncing the separated (or more accurately split) semi-vowels we call L & R in the Occident as the one single semi-vowel, which is precisely what it is to them.  So who is right?  Both.  The Occidental view that these are two (split) almost identical semi-vowels holds water; but so does the reverse for the Oriental Japanese, who do not see L & R as split, but as one semi-vowel in and of itself, which only sounds like “rl” to us in the West.  It strikes the Japanese as just as funny to hear two separate semi-vowels R & L, when there is clearly only 1 for them, just as it strikes us as strange to hear one when we expect 2.  But who is “right”?  

*** While the syllabogram for PO is vertical in Linear B, and appears to be slanted about 30% to the right in Cypriot, this apparent difference is merely that and nothing more, only apparent, because the “penmanship” or “scratchmanship” if you like, of Linear B and Linear C scribes, like handwriting in any alphabetic script, varies widely from one individual to the next.  We can sometimes (though not too often) see PO incised slanting to the right  by some renegade Linear B scribes, while the same phenomenon occurs in reverse in Linear C. While most Cypriot scribes slanted PO to the right, you can just count on it, some (though only a few) went their merry way and transcribed it as we usually (but not always) see it on Linear B tablets.  To each his or her own, eh?

Evans also made highly intuitive, soundly-researched, but (as we know now, but only after Michael Ventris finally figured it all out when he did decipher Linear B in 1952) “incorrect” guesses for:

NA
TI
ZA 

which I will explain in detail in the next post. 

CONCLUSION: we are not really entitled, at least to my mind, to retrospectively judge Evans' attempts at decipherment Linear B syllabograms as amateurish or anything other than brilliant, because, as I have already stressed he had absolutely nothing to work with. No bilingual tablets with either Linear A or Linear B and a known ancient language has ever been found (yet). So he had to simply grope around in the dark like a blind man. His accomplishments speak volumes to his genius.  These were (and remain):

1 his history-making archeological find and meticulous reconstruction of the ancient Palace of Knossos;
2 the gargantuan task of cataloguing and transcribing some 4,000 tablets in both Linear A & Linear B, without which the research of Alice Kober (1906-1950) and Michael Ventris (1922-1956) would have been quite simply impossible;
3 his successful decipherment of both the Linear A & Linear B accounting systems, which are not quite identical, the latter being an outgrowth of the former;
4 and his successful guesses, which he had no choice but to make intuitively, at the then tentative (and unverifiable) values of 6 of the 59 or so basic syllabograms, which is after all 10 % of the whole.  Once again, how far could Alice Kober and Michael Ventris have come without Evans' ground-breaking work on decipherment?  I leave it to answer this question for yourself, but as for myself, you all know where I stand.  My 4 conclusions make that perfectly clear.

And there is more, as we shall soon see in our further investigation of Evan's brilliant insights early in February. Keep posted.

Richard