Supersyllabograms for olive oil in the agricultural sector of the Minoan/Mycenaean economy:

Recently, I ran several posts on Linear B, Knossos & Mycenae, in which as it turns out I erroneously claimed that the supersyllabograms which these posts represented were centred on saffron. I could not have gone more wrong! So I have had to delete all these posts. And if anyone of you who are into Linear B or who are specializing in the syllabary have relied on these posts or have used them as references for your own research, you should at once discard these references, as they are all completely invalid!

As it turns out, while I was busy researching PDF documents for my references and notes and for the bibliography for my next major article, The Decipherment of Supersyllabograms in Linear B, which is to be published in Archaeology and Science, Vol. 11 (2015), to be released in the spring of 2017, I discovered to my horror, and then to my huge relief, that the prestigious Linear B scholar, José L. Melena,  had already deciphered both of the supersyllabograms, A & TI 42 years ago in 1974, I had grossly miscalculated to be related to saffron as actually being related specifically to olive oil. I was suspicious of my own decipherments all along, and I should have listened to my intuition, my “gut feelings”. The problem is that the ideogram for olive oil and that for saffron look so much alike that they can easily mislead the unwary, meaning in this particular case, me.  So I have had to go back to the drawing board, and start from scratch.   

To add insult to injury (though I scarcely let that bother me, as I try my damnedest not to be too egotistical), I found out that not only had Melena deciphered the SSYLS A & TI for olive oil, but he had deciphered 4 more as well! These are KU, PA, SI & WE. Boy, had I ever been sloppy, or more to the point, woefully unobservant.  Such is life. But all's well that ends well, as Shakespeare says.

My own decipherments of all 6 supersyllabograms for olive oil in the agricultural sector of the Minoan/Mycenaean economy follow:

Table 7 fb Supersyllaograms for olive oil in Myenaean Linear B

As it turns out, Melena himself,  in spite of his remarkable insight into the workings of the more esoteric points of Linear B (including notwithstanding supersyllabograms), made a  few rather gauche errors in his attempts at deciphering some of these supersyllabograms. This is because, to my mind at least, he overstretched himself by seeking out putative meanings which, to be blunt, were much to complex and far-fetched to suit the recipe. For instance, he assigned the meanings TI = tithasos =  “domestic” and A = agrios =  “wild” to the supersyllabograms A & TI, which he typified as referring “probably to distinct kinds or qualities of olives.”  But this notion stretches ones belief. Why anyone would bother cultivating wild olives, which would be difficult to grow under the best of circumstances I cannot imagine. So my alternate decipherments are, for A = aporowewe =  “an amphora (of olive oil)”, which makes eminently more sense, as the Minoans at Knossos and the Mycenaeans at Pylos always stored their olive oil in enormous amphorae or pithoi. For TI I combine TI =  timito = “the terebinth tree” with the ideogram for olive oil. But why would I do that, I hear you ask? It is really quite simple. Since the terebinth tree produces pistachio, I reasoned that the Minoans and Mycenaeans had a sweet tooth for olive oil and pistachio paste. Et voilà! Makes sense.

Moving on to PA, I agree wholeheartedly with Melena’s interpretation, but I take it one step further than he does. He deciphers PA as parayo in Linear B = palaios in ancient Greek, meaning “old”. Old olive oil? Yuk! Methinks not. What the scribes are clearly referring to is vintage olive oil, like vintage wine. Now that makes a lot more sense. As for his decipherment of SI with olive oil, he is way off the mark, once again because he unnecessarily complicates matters by looking for love in all the wrong places. Taking his cue from the Linear B word for a pig (!) = siaro, he bizarrely concludes that SI adjoined with the ideogram for olive oil references a gooey unguent comprised of pig fat and olive oil. OMG! No no no! SI clearly refers to Linear B siton, which means “wheat”, which when milled with olive oil yields none other than olive bread. Olive oil bread was in the distant past and is today a staple of the Greek diet. His interpretation of the SSYL WE as weto = “this year’s crop or harvest or harvest” is of course correct, referring to the harvesting of olive oil. The other interprration wetoiwetoi is also feasible, but less so. But we are all far from perfect, Melena and myself being right there in the pack, as this post so abundantly makes clear. We make the best with what we have by way of intellectual resources, and consequently hope for the best. Just because I have deciphered all 36 supersyllabograms in Mycenaean Linear B does not mean that I necessarily have all of them, let alone 80% to 85 % of them “right”. Besides, there is no way of our ever knowing as philologists, no matter who we are, what the Linear B scribes at Knossos, Pylos etc. actually intended ALL of these supersyllabograms to mean. We can be certain of a only a few. We can establish with probability that a number of them are quite likely to be what we ascertain them to be. But we can and must be less certain of others, and even very doubtful of a few which, for all intents and purposes, practically defy any really convincing decipherment. And there lies the perennial conundrum.