CRITICAL POST! Basic Guide to the Arcado-Cypriot Linear C syllabary compared with Mycenaean Linear B & the Intimate Relationship Between these Two Dialects (Click to ENLARGE):

Arcado-Cypriot Syllabary basic to intermediate

The Linear C Syllabary used to write in the Arcado-Cypriot is entirely different from Linear B (except for a very few syllabograms, Linear C LO = Linear B RO, C NA = B NA, C PA = B PA, C SE = B SE  & C TA = B DA, which look similar to or the same as their Linear B counterparts, but almost certainly by accident). It is very important not to be confused by the fact that Linear B has only a R+ vowel syllabogram series, while Linear C has only a L+vowel series, because in fact they are the very same series. Recall that the Japanese cannot pronounce a pure L or pure R. The same phenomenon occurs with the Mycenaean & Arcado-Cypriot dialects, but only half way. The Mycenaeans could not pronounce the consonant L, which clearly explains why they only had the R syllabary series, which had to make do for both L & R + the vowels a e i o u, while Linear C had the exact opposite problem, where the L syllabary series had to make do for both L & R + the vowels a e i o u. Again, a slight variation of the same phenomenon occurs with the Arcado-Cypriot T syllabary series, which which had to make do for both D & T + the vowels a e i o u, because the Arcado-Cypriots apparently could not pronounce the consonant D. Compare with Mycenaean Greek Linear B, which has both the D & T syllabogram series, for the simple reason that the Mycenaeans could pronounce both of these consonants, while apparently the Arcado-Cypriots could not.

All of this boils down to two things: (a) that the Linear B & Linear C syllabaries are entirely unrelated in appearance alone & (b) that, in spite of this, the syllabograms in both Linear B & Linear C all represent precisely the same consonants & vowels, in spite of minor differences in pronunciation (cf. above). This means that once you have learned the syllabograms for both Linear B & Linear C, the underlying morphemes or words must be (almost) the same in both dialects, again with minor differences in pronunciation. For instance, the word IYATE (or IJATE) has the exact same meaning in both dialects = “physician”, in spite of the fact that the syllabograms in Linear B bear no physical resemblance to those in Linear C. Note that there are no logograms or ideograms in Linear C. The scribes simply did away with them as spurious.

But this has no effect whatsoever on the phonemic values of the syllabograms in both dialects & in both syllabaries, which are almost always identical, except in those cases where pronunciation in one dialect prohibits the exact same pronunciation in the other, as explained above. Yet even where the pronunciation differs in each of these dialects, this difference is of no real consequence.

Take for instance, this. Any possible ambiguity in the meaning of the word, IYATE, in Mycenaean Greek, has now been resolved once and for all, and simply vanishes. I happen to know this for a fact, because I took the trouble to learn and read the Linear C version of this word in Arcado-Cypriot, which just so happens to be identical to its Linear B counterpart. And in case anyone chooses to protest, “But how can you be sure that the Linear C word does mean ‘physician’?” The answer to that is as plain as the nose on my face. The Idalion tablet was translated, word-for-word, from Linear C into alphabetic Greek in the fifth century BCE. Problem solved. No hay más problema nada. The ambiguity is resolved once and for all. It simply vanishes. You can see where I am going with the ball.     

The Historical Evolution of the Scripts used for Arcado-Cypriot and their Impact on Semantic Meaning in Mycenaean Greek:

It is absolutely essential to understand four things about the Arcado-Cypriot dialect before we proceed any further. These are:
[1] The Arcado-Cypriot dialect is the younger cousin of the Mycenaean Greek. They are both East Greek Proto-Ionic dialects as closely allied to one another as the much later Ionic and Attic dialects were. The implications of this extreme similarity are bound to be nothing short of definitive where the clarification of (much) more accurate definitions of Mycenaean words is concerned. More on this below.
[2]  In spite of everything that almost all historians in ancient history and linguists specializing in ancient linguistics have been asserting since the successful decipherment of Linear B in 1952, that writing in ancient Greek fell by the wayside for something like four centuries after the demise of Linear B ca. 1200 BCE, nothing could be further from the truth. The gap is not four centuries, as is commonly supposed, but only about one. This is readily demonstrated by this chart:

Revised Timeline for Written Greek (Linear B - Linear C - Greek Alphabet)

Written Greek, Linear B, Cyprriot Syllabary, Linear C, Homeric Greek, Classical Greek

As can be instantly seen, Linear C came to the forefront ca. 1100 BCE, a mere 100 years, give or take, after the disappearance of Linear B from the scene. If we must insist on categorizing Mycenaean Greek as prehistoric, we are bound to fall into a trap from which we cannot extricate ourselves. Allow me to explain. Let us assume for the moment that Mycenaean Greek and its syllabary are prehistoric. But what about the Linear C syllabary?  Can it be considered as prehistoric?  The answer to this question is a flat no. The Linear C syllabary was in continuous use from ca. 1100 BCE to ca. 400 BCE, when the Arcado-Cypriots finally caved into the preeminence Attic Greek was then assuming all over the Greek-speaking world, and finally abandoned Linear C.

However, and this is the key to the entire mess, if Linear C was a historic script (as it mostly certainly was), then at the very least Linear B should more properly designated proto-historic, and along with it, Mycenaean Greek itself. Several historians nowadays have already adopted the position that indeed the entire Minoan/Mycenaean civilization, when Linear B was their sole script, was proto-historic, and not prehistoric. The label prehistoric can only be applied to civilizations for which we have no deciphered written record. This applies to pre-Mycenaean Crete and Knossos, since Linear A, the script the Minoans used for their as yet undeciphered language was in use. Until Linear A is deciphered (if it ever is), we really have no choice but to regard the Minoan civilization prior to the advent of Linear B as prehistoric.

However, to put a fine point on it, it is questionable at best to regard the Minoan/Mycenaean civilization as actually historic, while it is probably sound to call it proto-historic. Here is why. While Linear B was almost exclusively used for statistical inventory keeping, which might best be categorized as proto-literate, Linear C, on the other hand, was a literate script, since the Arcado-Cypriots used it, not for statistical inventories (far from it) but for legal documents and decrees. In other words, with the advent of Linear C, we enter into the age of  Greek literacy, in which words begin to acquire significant connotative, abstract value, as opposed to merely denotative or concrete. If we accept this hypothesis, and I for one no longer question it, then the historical gap between proto-literate Linear B used for Mycenaean Greek and literate Greek, of which the earliest exemplar was Linear C for Arcado-Cypriot, is indeed only one century and not four.   

Linear C was a huge step forward from Linear B. One of the principal underlying characteristics of these two scripts is that one (Linear B) is almost totally denotative and concrete, whereas the other (Linear C) is both denotative and concrete, and connotative and abstract. In a nutshell, this means that Linear C is without a doubt a historic script, whereas Linear B is not (quite). This is why some historians and linguists specializing in ancient history choose to call Mycenaean Greek and its script, Linear B, proto-historic. You can definitely count me among them.

[3] Now comes the clincher, the one factor that decisively favours Linear C as a historic script for writing ancient Greek. I have already addressed it. When Linear C was finally abandoned by the Arcado-Cypriots ca. 400 BCE, they did not simply cast aside all their documents in Linear C from the previous 8 centuries (!), which would have been completely insane, but did something quite remarkable instead.  Since to them the famous Idalion tablet, which was actually composed in the fifth century BCE at Cyprus (yes, the script spread that far!), they knew they simply had to preserve the original in Linear C. The Idalion tablet is not a product of early Linear C, centuries earlier, when it first came to the fore.

Since this tablet was an extremely important legal decree, they not only left it intact in Linear C, but they also translated the entire thing into alphabetic Greek. Given that the text on the Idalion tablet is completely intact and much, much longer than any text on any extant Linear B tablet, the implications of its translation into Greek on the Arcado-Cypriot vocabulary are enormous, in fact, potentially revolutionary, as we shall momentarily see. Here is the Idalion tablet:

Idalion_tablet 640

Now we arrive at the very last step in our analysis of Linear C as a historic Greek script, and of the Idalion tablet itself as the primary source emblematic of the script itself. The very fact that the Cypriots who wrote the thing in Linear C in the first place considered it absolutely essential to translate it in its entirety into alphabetical Greek speaks to their over-riding concern that the extremely significant content of this precious tablet be preserved both in Linear C and in the Greek alphabet.  In other words, the Linear C (original) version of the Idalion tablet was as essential to defining the literary heritage of their advanced culture as was its Greek translation. It was a treasured document to them in every sense of the word. But why translate it into alphabetical Greek when they could easily read it in Linear C? — the answer sticks out like a sore thumb — for their descendents, who within a couple of generations would no longer be able to read Linear C at all. But that fact does not in the least detract from the fundamentally extreme historical significance of the actual tablet.

I am not finished. Since Michael Ventris successfully deciphered Linear B in July 1952, no translator of ancient scripts, in this case, syllabaries, has ever bothered cross-correlate the vocabulary of Mycenaean Greek composed in Linear B with the vocabulary of Arcado-Cypriot in Linear C and — I hasten to underscore — as well as in alphabetical Greek in the 4th. century BCE, a mere century after its composition. It simply flabbergasts me that no-one has.

Since the Proto-Ionic East Greek dialects, Mycenaean Greek and Arcado-Cypriot are as closely related as Ionic is to Attic Greek, the necessity of cross-correlating the vocabulary of the slightly younger dialect with that of its forebear, Mycenaean Greek, becomes imperative. Another highly significant point: while Linear C started out as a proto-Ionic dialect, most probably largely denotative and concrete like its immediate predecessor, Linear B, not only did it change but little over the span of eight centuries, but it actually ended up being a quasi-Ionic historical dialect by the time the Idalion tablet was composed in Linear C in the sixth century BCE (and probably well before that). So then, if the same script is both proto-historic and historic, this begs the question, which is it? I leave it up to you to decide, but as for myself, it is both at the same time, even though it was proto-historic for the first few centuries (how many I cannot determine) and subsequently historic from the sixth century onwards.  But where do you draw the line? Well, that is up to you, I suppose, but I don’t see any point in the exercise, because it ended up as historic. Simple as that.

This is precisely the reason why I intend to master Linear C, and to read the entire Idalion tablet — I stress gain — in both Linear C and in Greek. In fact, I have already read it in alphabetic Greek, so I am very familiar with its legal contents. Now here comes the cruncher. Since we know exactly what every single word means in the alphabetical translation of the Idalion tablet, we also know precisely what every single word, word-by-word, means in the original Linear C. The implications of the bilingual text are nothing less than immense, and I would dare say, revolutionary where Mycenaean Greek and especially its syllabary, Linear B, are concerned.

The reason is obvious. For the time being, we are unable to zoom in on the precise meaning of a great many Mycenaean words, let alone decide between one interpretation of their meaning and another or still yet others, because of the (so-called inherent) ambiguity of the phonetic values of so many of the Linear B syllabograms. I cannot delve into this quagmire in this post. There is simply no way to do so without doubling or tripling the length of our discussion. 

However, in our blog, I have several times addressed the issue of the ambiguity of every syllabogram in Linear B which can be interpreted in more than one way. You can refer to those posts for a thorough analysis of the ambiguous nature of the Linear B syllabary. I have even published complete charts of every possible variation of all the vowels and every syllabogram affected in each and every one of the aforementioned posts.

But that is not our primary concern here. It is rather this: given that the alternate pronunciations for each vowel and for all of the apparently ambiguous syllabograms in Linear C have been largely resolved thanks to that timely translation of the Idalion tablet into alphabetical Greek, cross-correlation of alternate values, where applicable, between Arcado-Cypriot and Mycenaean Greek, which are after all cousins, is bound to resolve, once and for all, the actual alternative values of all the vowels and a great many, if not the majority of syllabograms in the latter, at least for shared vocabulary. That this constitutes a huge step forward in the generic clarification of a large chunk of Mycenaean vocabulary almost goes without saying.

For the past 62 years, too many — I would even venture to say —  far too many Mycenaean words have been open to multiple interpretations, some of which are very likely to be plain wrong. But cross-correlation of every single word on the Idalion tablet, the meaning of which we definitely know beyond a shadow of a doubt, with any and all Mycenaean words that are found to be (almost) the same as their counterparts on the Idalion tablet is bound to resolve a great many ambiguities in Mycenaean Greek once and for all. This is why I have unequivocally decided to do what no translator-researcher in Linear B has ever bothered to do to this day, and that is to master Linear C to the same extent as I have Linear B, and to set out on the road to resolving as many of the ambiguities of the Linear B script as I possibly can. And I know I eventually shall.

I have not the faintest idea why practically all researchers and translators specialized in ancient history have never bothered to learn Linear C, but if anyone who visits our blog has done so, I beg you get in touch with me and let me know, because I shall need all the help I possibly can muster even to lay the basic groundwork for such an enormous undertaking.  My aim is nothing less than to take the astonishingly comprehensive accomplishment of Michael Ventris and his mentor, Dr. John Chadwick, one major step further, and to resolve as many of the ambiguous remnants of Linear B as I possibly can — or should I say, we possibly can, if there is anyone out there in outer space who is willing to come to my rescue. What I fear more than anything else is that there are unquestionably so very few individuals who can read Linear C. If that is so, then may God help us, as I have the implicit faith He or She will.

This post took me 8 hours to compose. Please tag it LIKE if you like it.


Richard