A Female Slave Brings Honey to be Poured into an Amphora (Knossos Tablet KN 713 M a 01) Click to ENLARGE:

KN 713 M a 01 meri DERA amphora A

This is an intriguing little Linear B fragment. Although the actual Linear B text is sparse, with the logogram MERI for “honey” and the ideogram for “amphora” clearly taking precedence over the Linear B word DOERA for “slave”, we must not and we dare not underestimate her essential rôle in the “script” for the play, so to speak, of this fragment. What fascinates me to no end is the fact that the logogram MERI is no closer to the ideogram for “amphora” than to the Linear B word for “slave”. This surely must imply something of the intent of the scribe who wrote this tablet (or fragment). And I think it does. It implies the notion of action, which can only be realistically rendered into Greek (if the Linear B text were used instead of the logogram MERI alone) as an active verb, and in this case, that verb would almost certainly have to be “to bring”, followed by the infinitive of the verb “to pour” or “to be poured”, in other words two verbs in succession!

This is precisely one of the paramount features or characteristics of Mycenaean Greek as it actually appears (or not!) on so many Linear B tablets. I have stressed this over and over again on our blog, and I shall never tire of doing so. Since supersyllabograms, ideograms and logograms, taken together as a phenomenon, should be interpreted as being abbreviations or better yet, shorthand, for actual Mycenaean words in Linear B, and since they occur so very frequently on Linear B tablets, regardless of provenance (Knossos, Pylos, Phaistos etc.), it would be unwise to ignore them, and downright obtuse to dismiss them as minor factors in the decipherment and translation of Mycenaean Greek. In fact, the precise opposite scenario obtains.

As Gretchen Leonhardt, another highly adept translator of Linear B, has frequently pointed out to me, what is the point of deciphering Linear B tablets, if we do not use our imaginations in endeavouring to unveil, as it were, the actual intent of the scribes who wrote them in the first place? Failure to do so simply suggests we are wasting our time even bothering to translate the tablets in the first place.

However much I disagree with Ms. Leonhardt’s fundamental assumptions and hypotheses over how to go about using one’s imagination bent to this exacting task (my own views being almost diametrically opposed to hers), I completely agree with her notion that the Linear B tablets, at least those in which shorthand techniques take marked precedence over Linear B text, must be deciphered with a generous dose of imagination. Otherwise, they simply defy decipherment at all.

This is precisely why I have invented the concept of “supersyllabograms”, in an informed and logically driven attempt to account as fully as possible for the huge textual gaps which riddle so many Linear B tablets, again regardless of provenance. Taking this approach to the decipherment of Linear B tablets consisting mainly of logograms, ideograms and supersyllabograms clearly justifies the kind of translation I came up with for this particular tablet alone. And trust me, I myself, Rita Roberts and Gretchen Leonhardt all take the same approach to translating such tablets, even though Rita and I share approximately the same perspective on what a viable translation should look like, as opposed to Ms. Leonhardt, who views decipherment based on this technique through an altogether different prism. So be it. Ainsi soit-il.

Again, as my colleague, Rita Roberts, stresses in her translation of another Linear B tablet (which we shall be posting very shortly),

... clay tablets were so small that it was impossible to write every detail on them. However his fellow scribes would have known and understood what he meant, they certainly would not have thought about future readers, as they were concerned only with the current fiscal year,...

I could not have put it better. The Linear B scribes compiled their annual fiscal inventories for the sole use of the palace administration, period. It ends right there. Any thought of preserving the tablets for future generations would never have even entered their minds. So before we even dream of translating any Linear B tablet whatsoever, whether or not it sports plenty of text, we had better make sure we are putting ourselves in the head space of the scribes themselves, in so far as this is possible. It is scarcely easy to do so, in fact, it is downright mind-boggling, given that we are separated from their own civilization by over 35 centuries (!), so that any attempt to try and get into their frame of mind is bound to be fraught with hazards galore. But this does not mean we should not try. 

So here we have it. As far as I am concerned, this tablet does in fact mean:

The female slave is bringing honey to be poured into an amphora.

And why not? Plenty of professional Linear B translators are bound to object to our somewhat more imaginative approach to translating Linear B tablets with little text, but plenty of ambiguous logograms, ideograms and supersyllabograms, or any combination of these, but when they do, I expect them to come up with translations of their own which are likely to hold as much water as ours, when they are held up to the scrutiny, not only of the Linear B research community at large, but of folks who neither know Greek, ancient or modern, nor Linear B, but who are more than intelligent enough to decide for themselves what they decide any particular tablet means, thank you very much.

Richard