The moment we've all been waiting for. This is it! Ideogram for “horse” IQO + Our First Supersyllabogram = ZE, “a team”: our First Concrete Example = “a team of horses” 

I honestly believe that this is the first time ever since Michael Ventris' successful decipherment of Linear B in July 1952 that a major step may have been taken in the further decipherment of those elements of Linear B which, at least until now, have been entirely recalcitrant to any meaningful decipherment. I have spent the past half year ploughing through 3,000+ tablets & fragments of the Scripta Minoa Catalogue of some 4,000+ fragments and tablets unearthed by Sir Arthur Evans between 1900 & 1903, with further excavations to follow in later years, prior and subsequent to World War I. This irreplaceable precious treasure trove of the largest collection of Linear B fragments ever discovered is available online in its entirety at Heidelberg University, Germany, here:

Heidelberg University

I fully expect that I will eventually be able to extract hundreds of examples all told of the potentially widespread use of an Ideogram immediately preceded or followed by a Syllabogram, and always in one of these two specific, invariable orders. In other words, we are speaking of a “formulaic phrase”, though of course, since the Linear B word in question is not spelled out in syllabograms as it “normally” would be, we are not strictly speaking of “phrases” here, but of a formulaic expression of an Ideogram immediately preceded or followed by a Syllabogram in every single instance, without exception, or as we choose to define it, a Supersyllabogram.

Almost from the outset I was astounded to discover the recurrence of the exact same sequence of an Ideogram + Syllabogram no less than seven (7!) times on only two pages of the Scripta Minoa, i.e. pages 144 & 146. This formulaic expression of the Supersyllabogram ZE (plus a single instance of the SSY MO), I must underline, was only the first of scores and scores of Supersyllabograms I have since unearthed in several categories of tablets and fragments from the Scripta Minoa. My discovery of our very first Supersyllabogram in May of this year (2014) was, to say the very least, a real eye opener. For certain Linear B expressions compounded of a single ideogram invariably followed or preceded by the same syllabogram, which have utterly defied decipherment to date, suddenly became accessible for decipherment. The astonishing thing is that the very first two of these expressions involves the Linear B ideogram for IQO = horse + the syllabogram ZE, and always in the exact same order in every single instance, as you can judge for here yourself:

7 Linear B Tablets & Fragments from Knossos Illustrating the Use of the Supersyllabogram ZE = a team (of horses) Click to ENLARGE:

Linear B the Supersyllabogram SSY wheel ZE


All this was almost too good to be true. But when I fell upon even more of these expressions for the second instance of the ideogram for “horse”, I could scarcely believe my eyes. But there it was, plain as the nose on my face. 

Now, as you can see at once for yourselves from the first example of these seven fragments of Linear B, the ideogram(s) – 1 or 2, as the case may be – are always in the precise same order and always, without exception, immediately followed by the syllabogram ZE. But what, you are obviously asking, is that single syllabogram ZE supposed to mean? All by itself, it would mean precisely nothing. But in this specific, particular and often recurring formula, I originally deduced that ZE always meant “a halter” or “a yoke”, but I was dead wrong.

An esteemed colleague of mine, Ms. Gretchen Leonhardt, who is also a highly competent decipherer and translator of Linear B tablets and fragments, soon enough set the record straight for me, convincing me beyond a shadow of a doubt that, in fact, the Supersyllabogram in the specific context of military matters could mean one thing and one thing only, “a pair of” (wheels etc.) or “a team of” (horses), and absolutely nothing else.

Moreover, further research on my part has confirmed Ms. Leonhardt’s hypothesis beyond question. Chris Tselentis, near the end of his excellent Linear B Lexicon, has provided us with numerous examples of very well known Linear B tablets to illustrate the various problems which so often arise in our attempts to decipher or translate Linear B tablets and fragments. Among these tablets there is one which cracks the case wide open. Here it is:

Zeugesi & KN So 4429 wheel ZE

And Tselentis got it right bang on. He correctly translates the ideogram for wheel + the syllabogram ZE + the number 3 as “three pairs of wheels”, and this in spite of the fact that he did not quite get it right with the rest of the text. But no-one is perfect, so we can simply let that go. Anyway, I have corrected his own translation as illustrated above.  

All that follows is my original text from May 2014, revised wherever necessary to reflect several new revelations on supersyllabograms since then:

In the previous post illustrating Thomas G. Palaima's expert translation of Heidelberg Tablet FL 1994, we saw that he interpreted – and as it turns out, correctly — the syllabograms KO ZA PA PO & MU as being just the initial syllable of – and again, I must lay particular emphasis on this observation – the names of major Minoan/Mycenaean centres. Is this just a fluke? Far from it. The precise point is this, why would expert Linear B scribes bother with spelling out over and over the names of these cities and sites with all their syllabograms when “Everyone (meaning among all of us scribes) knows perfectly well that the first syllabogram, in other words, the first syllable alone, and nothing else, tells us in no uncertain terms that this is is the name of one of our important Minoan/Mycenaean centres, and if you cannot see that, you must be blind.” (So they say, the scribes).

We do well to keep this firmly in mind: the Linear B scribes never inscribed their tablets for us, they did so for themselves and for the specific, sole function of annual accounting in the context of their own society. Nothing could be more obvious. That is the whole point to this marvellous adventure of deciphering ancient scripts! This was not only the lifetime mission the great Michael Ventris laid out for himself — it was nothing short of the love of his life. And since I love his work so dearly, can you be even remotely surprised that I will do absolutely anything to be able at last to decipher scores of of previously undecipherable Linear B tablets to honour his name?      

Recasting this phenomenon as a general “rule”, Linear B scribes appear to have frequently resorted to using the first syllabogram, in other words, the first syllable alone of (sometimes long) place names, instead of wasting their time writing them out in full. Makes perfect sense to me. But this is only the tip of the iceberg. Not only are the full Linear B spellings of place names treated in this manner, but also several other key components of the Minoan/Mycenaean socio-economic infrastructure, including agriculture, crafts, household matters, trade, and of course, religious affairs. I shall amply illustrate this frequently recurring phenomenon in the coming months. In a nutshell, my premise is this: single syllabograms on fragments and tablets, which have defied decipherment to date, can in fact be contextually deciphered in a manner which makes perfect sense, no matter how you look at it, just as Thomas G. Palaima has so clearly illustrating in his masterful translation of Linear B Tablet Heidelberg FL 1994. 

The fact that so many Linear B fragments and tablets, and I mean everywhere they have been found, and not just in Knossos, are liberally peppered with single syllabograms either immediately before or after the ideograms they modify must signify something of real import to us in the further decipherment of Linear B. Why?... well, because the Linear B palace scribes knew perfectly well what they were doing, which is to say, what they were writing, why they wrote it the way they did, and especially how they wrote it, when they consciously and deliberately so often had recourse to single syllabograms. This practically begs the question – what on earth were they up to?  Precisely this: they used the first syllabogram only, in other words the first syllable of vitally important Linear B words, which would otherwise have had to be spelled out, thereby wasting valuable space on what are for the most part, very small tablets measuring no more than 15-20 cm. at most. In other words, they were making liberal use of shorthand (at least as we would call it), and liberally using it thousands of years before we in the modern world finally cottoned onto it again in the late nineteenth century. Clever bunch of lads, weren't they?

But, oh no, the Linear B scribes weren't even satisfied at stopping there. After all, “If we are going to use shorthand with initial syllabograms alone, why not go whole hog and use formulaic expressions of an ideogram (or even more than one ideogram!) + a syllabogram (or even more than one syllabogram!), and always in the same precise order, in other words, as a formula. Sound familiar? That is precisely what Homer did over and over and over in the Iliad? Co-incidence. I am now beginning to sincerely doubt that.

So I have to ask, what is a big chunk of the corpus of Linear B if not, in essence, shorthand, pure and simple. And if this is the case, we have some serious rethinking to do about the very nature of Linear B. It may even mean going back to the drawing board in the re-decipherment of a considerable number of Linear B tablets and fragments. What a mind-boggling prospect! But, hey, sounds like fun to me. To put a fine point on it, this is going to be a truly daunting challenge, if we are to really get at the nitty-gritty of accurate contextual decipherment. This is something we can no longer afford to ignore.

Why Supersyllabograms are What They are: 
 
Allow me to explain why I call such syllabograms “Supersyllabograms”. It is really quite straightforward. Since such syllabograms always and invariably consist of the first syllable alone of an entire Linear B word, they must perforce be shorthand. Take this premise just one little step further, as I have in fact done and fully demonstrated in the table of 7 (almost) identical formulaic expressions of the syllabograms (chariot) + IQO (horse) + ZE in every single instance, and what do you get? - none other than the entire phrase, “a pair of chariot wheels” (since after all, chariots need two wheels, as if...) or, alternatively, whenever horses are involved, “a team of horses”. That is one big mouthful for 1 little ideogram + one little syllabogram in a standardized, invariable formula. The whole point is that these formulae recur so often on the Linear B fragments and tablets in the Scripta Minoa as to make it virtually impossible to ignore them, except at our own peril born of a frustratingly annoying inability to make any sense whatsoever of such expressions. Yet, as I shall illustrate many times over in the next year or so, such expressions not only exist, but recur very frequently on Linear B fragments and tablets, regardless of provenance, whether from Knossos, Pylos, Mycenae or anywhere else... (some original text erased, no longer being relevant). 

Add all of these components together, and what do you get? ... the Supersyllabogram, a new term I have had to coin, simply because it fits the bill to a tee. And there you have it. At least for now.

More to come. Much much more. I welcome and strongly encourage feedback and especially criticism of my basic premise here, and of its theoretical soundness or lack thereof, for otherwise, none of us can or will make any further headway in the eventual decipherment of a huge chunk of the Linear B corpus. But somehow, intuitively and through the process of inductive logic, I truly believe I am onto something, possibly even something big where the decipherment of large portions of Linear B “texts” - an inaccurate term if ever there was one, should my theory prove substantially sound.

And to test my hypothesis against reality, which I am ethically and honour bound to do, I shall convey all of this information to Prof. Thomas G. Palaima, Prof. John G. Younger and to every other major Linear B scholar or researcher whose name comes to mind. If any of you who are reading this post, or know of anyone who is just such an expert, please identify the same to me immediately. And, if you yourself are a truly enthusiastic student of Linear B in any way, shape or form, please do not hesitate to contact me, or even better, to comment, in favour, against or neutrally, on this (potentially) ground-breaking post on our blog.

Cheers

Richard