Tag Archive: associative

First WORD draft of  “Pylos tablet Py TA 641-1952 (Ventris), the ‘Rosetta Stone’ for Linear A tablet HT 31 (Haghia Triada)” completed for publication in...

I have just completed the first full WORD draft of  “Pylos tablet Py TA 641-1952 (Ventris), the ‘Rosetta Stone’ for Linear A tablet HT 31 (Haghia Triada) for publication in Vol. 12 (2016) of the prestigious international annual, Archaeology and Science (Belgrade) ISSN 1452-7448. Here is the cover of the current issue of Archaeology and Science:


And here you see 4 consecutive non-contiguous brief excerpts from this article, which is to run to at least 35 pages,





as has the article about to be published in Vol. 11 (2015),  “The Decipherment of Supersyllabograms in Linear B”, which runs from page 73-108, for a total of 35 pages. See previous post for details on that article.

MASTER Article, “The Decipherment of Supersyllabograms in Linear B”, Archaeology and Science, Vol. 11 (2015) received: excerpts follow

I have just received the DRAFT of the entire issue of Vol. 11 (2015) Archaeology and Science (Belgrade) ISSN 1452-7448, in which my ground-breaking article, “The Decipherment of Supersyllabograms in Linear B” appears on pp. 73-108 (35 pages long). I have proof-read it and I found errors only in the transcription of the SPIonic.ttf Greek font, which causes all the Greek text to be printed in Latin characters, such that they appear garbled. But this error will be eliminated in the actual article when it appears this coming winter (2017).

Here you see the title page plus three consecutive but non-contiguous excerpts from my article:





NOTE that the decipherment of the 36 supersyllabograms is the first and last major breakthrough in the final decipherment of Mycenaean Linear B, which was first deciphered by Michael Ventris in June-July 1952 (with the exception of supersyllabograms, which account for at least 20 % of the text on Linear B tablets).



Mycenaean Linear B tablet KN 791 G c 101 & the co-dependent supersyllabograms O & KI:

KN 791 G c 101 & supersyllabograms O & KI

On Mycenaean Linear B tablet KN 791 G c 101, we find the co-dependent supersyllabograms O & KI. In Mycenaean Greek, the SSYL (supersyllabogram) O = onato = a lease field & the SSYL KI = kitimena = a plot of land. When these two SSYLS are combined, they become co-dependent, each one delimiting the other. Hence, on the second line of this tablet, O KI + the ideogram for “rams” or “ewes” (we are unsure which, since the ideogram is right-truncated)  means “an unknown number (right-truncated) of sheep -or- rams -or- ewes on a settled plot of land in a lease field.” When two or more co-dependent supersyllabograms are used with the ideograms for “sheep”, “rams” or “ewes”, both must be nouns. Adjectives are never used for associative co-dependent supersyllabograms, which is precisely what O + KI are on the second line. Associative SSYLS never define the ideogram(s) with which they are linked, since the ideograms themselves already mean exactly what they mean, in this case, “sheep”, “rams” or “ewes”. What associative SSYLS do is modify the ideograms with which they are associated.

NOTE that all supersyllabograms in Mycenaean Linear B were handed down from Minoan Linear A, which invented them. 

Introduction to the Complete Bibliography of 138 Citations for “The Rôle of Supersyllabograms in Mycenaean Linear B”, Presentation by Richard Vallance Janke at the 2015 Conference in the Pultusk Academy of the Humanities, Pultusk, Poland, June 30-July 2, 2015.

In the next 2 posts, I shall present my exhaustive bibliography of 138 items (79 citations in each of the two parts) for the talk I shall be giving on “The Rôle of Supersyllabograms in Mycenaean Linear B” at the 2015 Conference, “Thinking in Symbols” in the Pultusk Academy of the Humanities, Pultusk, Poland, June 30-July 2, 2015. It is so exhaustive that I doubt I have missed any sources of any significance to the topic at hand. Of course, the paper of the talk itself cannot be released at this time, as it is still under wraps.

Certain researchers past and present, above all Marie-Louise Nosch, have made significant contributions towards the realization of the General Theory of Supersyllabograms which I have just finalized this year, after a year of intensive research (spring 2014 – spring 2015). Previous researchers have sometimes come right up to the edge of a general theory correlating the single or multiple syllabograms they usually designate as “adjuncts” or “endograms” to the Linear B ideograms to which they are “surcharged” (i.e. attached), and which they invariably qualify. But all of these definitions are lacking in one sense or another, for the following reasons:

1. Although designated as (mere) “adjuncts” to the ideograms they invariably qualify, these associative single or multiple syllabograms (up to a maximum of 5!) are far more than that. Standing in as first-syllable abbreviations for words and even entire phrases in Mycenaean Greek, they play an absolutely critical rôle in significantly qualifying the ideograms to which they are attached, all the more so when the tablet on which they are found contains no text whatsoever, but only ideograms with these so-called “adjuncts”. But since these “adjuncts” invariably replace either Mycenaean words or (very often) entire phrases, they cannot be relegated to the status of simple adjuncts. In far too many instances, these single syllabograms encompass so much text that their inherent meaning as such turns out to be much more comprehensive and significant than that of the ideograms to which they are presumably attached. In other words, the single syllabogram(s) embodies/embody so much more than what would have otherwise been nothing but wasteful discursive text. So it appears that we should expediently and practically refer to as the ideogram as the adjunct, rather than the other way around.

On tablets with no text whatsoever and with 3 or more syllabograms performing this function, it is more than apparent that all of the single syllabograms functioning as the first syllable of a Mycenaean Greek word or an entire phrase replace so much discursive text that they literally cut down the amount of space used on the tablet in question by as much as two-thirds! Since the Linear B scribes at Knossos and Pylos in particular were real sticklers for saving as much space as they possibly could on what were (and are) extremely small extant tablets (rarely more than 15 cm. or 6 inches wide), they resorted to this stratagem so often (on at least 23% of the Linear B tablets at Knossos) that the practice is, if anything, of far greater importance to an accurate decipherment of those tablets on which they appear than was previously thought. It is for this reason that I have come to designate syllabograms playing this rôle as supersyllabograms, and certainly not as mere “adjuncts” or “endograms”, since that is patently what they are – supersyllabograms.

2. The designation of supersyllabograms as “endograms” is extremely misleading and quite inaccurate, since as many of these supersyllabograms precede as follow the ideograms to which they are attached. So “endograms” account for only half of supersyllabograms at best. Besides, what are we to call the supersyllabograms which precede the ideograms to which they are attached? Has anyone thought of that or even mentioned it in previous research? Not that I have ever seen, and I have read every single document (monographs, journal articles and articles in every past conference) I could lay my hands on. The reason for this lacuna is clear enough. Past researchers have focused solely on “adjuncts” or “endograms” related solely to the field of research in Mycenaean Linear B which is of primary and frequently exclusive interest to themselves. Even Marie-Louise Nosch, who has done an astonishing amount of truly remarkable research in this area, has restricted herself to the textiles sector of the Minoan-Mycenaean economy, as that is her primary field of interest. Fair enough. 

Given this scenario, it appears to me that researchers past and present have been focusing exclusively on the trees or even sometimes, as with Marie-Louise Nosch, on whole clearings in forest. But none have ever concentrated on the entire forest, at least until last year, when I myself decided to ransack every single syllabogram on some 3,000 tablets (not fragments) from Knossos, in order to hypothesize, if at all possible, a general pattern to the use of supersyllabograms with ideograms. I succeeded beyond my wildest dreams. So far, I have discovered that at least 33 of the 61 syllabograms plus one of the homophones (“rai” for saffron) frequently function as supersyllabograms. Under the circumstances, and given that so many scribes so often resorted to this strategy, I soon enough concluded that it was not only a standard convention in the compilation of some 700 tablets at Knossos, but that the supersyllabograms found on these tablets were almost invariably formulaic codes. And in ancient Greek – witness Homer alone - any practice which was both conventional and formulaic was always deliberate. No-one ever resorts to such strategies in any language, unless they have abundant reason to do so.

This is all the more true for the practices the Linear B scribes routinely ascribed to, given that they would do absolutely anything, if they possibly could, to save precious space on their tiny clay tablets. This too is another crucial factor past researchers have overlooked. Linear B scribes only recorded information which was absolutely essential to the precise compilation of what were (and are) after all statistical accounts and inventories. We can take the far-reaching consequences and implications of this conclusion even further. Have you ever seen a modern-day inventory which resorts to similar tactics to conserve precious space and to make the inventory as clear, precise and accurate as possible? Of course you have. As illustrated in the following two examples, the most efficient of modern inventories resort to the same tactics, the formulaic use of code abbreviations as substitutes for wasteful discursive text with predictable frequency – which is almost always: Click to ENLARGE each one with its relevant notes

aircraft inventory 

liquor inventory

In other words, just as abbreviations serve as default codes in modern inventories, supersyllabograms function pretty much the same way on the Linear B tablets. Supersyllabograms are in fact inventory codes for the Mycenaean Linear B words or entire phrases they replace. This revelation surely substantiates the claim I am now going to make: the Linear B scribes were far ahead of their time in the compilation of inventories and statistics. No other ancient language, including classical Greek and even Latin, came remotely close to this extremely advanced practice the Linear scribes so brilliantly and consciously contrived for their astonishing ability to create practical templates they consistently applied to inventorial management. And no-one until the Italian bankers in Renaissance was to revive the practice with equal skill. As for the standard practices of the Linear B scribal inventories, they are so remarkably alike modern 20th. & 20st. Century practices that it is uncanny.         

3. But there is more. Why previous researchers have not drawn attention to the fact that many supersyllabograms, especially in the field of textiles, neither precede nor follow the ideograms they qualify, but are almost invariably inside them, is beyond me. Once again, no one in any language resorts to any stratagem without solid practical and even logical reason(s). Such is the case with the textile “intragrams”, as opposed to “exograms” in Linear B, the latter of which invariably qualify pretty much all ideograms in the field of agriculture. Again, this raises the critical, hardly hypothetical, question, why. And again, there are substantive and strictly functional reasons why the Linear B scribes made this critical distinction – because they knew they had to. Supersyllabograms functioning as “exograms” are always associative, while those operating as “intragrams” are invariably attributive. The Linear B scribes made this fundamental distinction between the two sub-classes of supersyllabograms for the simple reason that they, as a guild, knew perfectly well what the operative distinction was which each of these types of supersyllabograms played on the tablets on which they were inscribed. The talk I am giving at the Conference in Pultusk between June 30 and July 2 2015 will make this perfectly clear.

4. I have no objection to the designation “surcharged” for “exograms” as supersyllabograms, because they are not only literally surcharged onto the ideograms with which they are always associated, they also figuratively surcharge the meaning(s) of these ideograms, in a sense somewhat akin to super-charged gasoline or petrol which beefs up engine performance in cars - or by symbolic association, something along those lines. But I am forced to object to the designation of “intragrams” as surcharged in the textiles sector of the Minoan-Mycenaean economies, for the obvious reason that they are both literally and figuratively not surcharged at all. Again, the scribes never resorted to “intragrams”, unless they were absolutely critical to an actual attribute, whenever required in a particular case, such as the frequent designation of colour for textiles. Ask yourselves, why would any scribe in his right mind write out the full name of the default colour white for linen, when he did not have to? He simply would not. On the other hand, the Linear B scribes did make use of an attributive supersyllabogram when they knew perfectly well that it was critical to the economic class status of the cloth so designated. For instance, purple cloth, designated by the supersyllabogram PU for Mycenaean Linear B pupureyo – a royal colour par excellence – was much more refined and far more expensive than the heavier and coarser plain white linen cloth (rino) spun for the hoi polloi (the lower classes). So they had to mention that for the sake of the “wanaka” or King (of Knossos or Mycenae) to whom this distinction was all too important, given that neither he nor his Queen no any of the princes royal would ever be caught dead wearing cheap cloth.

There is much more to this than meets the eye, as I shall clearly illustrate in the book, The Decipherment of Supersyllabograms in Linear B, which is to appear sometime in 2016, if all goes well.

I would be truly remiss were I not to acknowledge the major contributions the French researcher, Marie-Louise Nosch, whom I have cited 15 times (!) in my bibliography, has made to fundamentally accurate definitions of supersyllabograms in the textile sector of the Minoan-Mycenaean economy. Although I happened upon all of her astonishingly insightful research articles only after I had deciphered 32 of the 34 supersyllabograms (the other two being beyond me, as well as her), the truly accurate and intrinsically logical conclusions she came to on her own back up my conclusions on the meanings of practically all the intragrams for textiles almost to the letter. This amazing co-incidence, if that is merely what it is, serves as solid circumstantial collateral evidence to substantiate my Theory of Supersyllabograms. Co-incidence? I rather doubt that. It is a given that researchers in any scientific field tend to strike their bearings in the same general direction in any age, including our own. Like Odysseus, we are all heading for the same shore. The most convincing conclusions which will eventually be drawn from the research we are all sharing in now are yet in the offing. But in my eyes one thing is certain. Everything we researchers in Mycenaean Linear B, as a community, are aiming for now is bound to make a ground-breaking, perhaps even profound, contribution in the near future to make the further decipherment of Linear B considerably much more accurate than any we have seen to date.

The Bibliography to follow in two parts (1-69 & 70-138) in the next two posts.

ADDENDUM: I shall be publishing this post & the next two in academia.edu very soon, prior to my presentation at the Conference in Pultusk, Poland, June 30 - July 2, 2015.


Associative versus Attributed Supersyllabograms Illustrated in Mycenaean Linear B: Click to ENLARGE

Illustration of Associative versus Attributive Supersyllabograms in Mycenaean Linear B

This is Slide H of my lecture, “The Rôle of Supersyllabograms in Mycenaean Linear B ” I shall be giving at the Conference, “Thinking Symbols” at the Pultusk Academy of the Humanities, associated with the University of Warsaw, Poland, between June 30 & July 2, 2015. It clearly illustrates the marked difference between an associative (as) and an attributive supersyllabogram (at).

Associative Supersyllabograms:

Associative SSYLs relate to physical objects or items, places, specific locations & geographic identifiers which are independent of the ideograms they are associated with, and which do not define them in any way, except as additional information relative to the latter. A sheep is still a sheep, a horse is still a horse & an ox is still an ox, even when it has no associative supersyllabogram modifying it. However, associative SSYLS are extremely informative, since they always circumscribe the circumstances in which the ideograms, almost always animate and animal, find themselves placed. As such, associative SSYLS (as) replace whole words and even entire phrases, which offer us a great deal more insight into the ideogram involved than would have been supplied by the ideogram alone. There is a huge difference between the ideogram for “sheep” or “ram” all on its own, and the same ideograms accompanied by an associative supersyllabogram. For instance, in this illustration, the SSYL (as) KI informs us that “the ram is on a plot of land”.  That is an entire sentence in English symbolized by the SSYL (as) KI + the ideogram for “ram” (only two characters!). The SSYL (as) O + “sheep” is even more informative, telling us that “the sheep is on a lease field.” and even “the sheep is on a usufruct lease field.” Not only that, the scribes frequently combined two or more SSYLs (as), such as KI & O with an ideogram, usually for “ram”, “ewe” or “sheep”, replacing a very long sentence in both Mycenaean Linear B and in English (or any other target language into which the source – Mycenaean Greek – is translated). Thus, the SSYLs (as) KI + O + the ideogram for “ewe + the number 114 mean no less than,114 ewes on a plot of land which is a usufruct lease field”.

Associative supersyllabograms proliferate in the agricultural sector of the Mycenaean economy, and are also characteristic of the military sector. Associative SSYLS are not symbiotic.

Talk about a shortcut! Of course, many of us already know by now that the Mycenaean scribes frequently resorted to this clever stratagem to save plenty of space on what are, after all, very small tablets, rarely more than 30 cm. wide by 15 cm. deep, and usually much smaller.

Attributive Supersyllabograms:  

On the other hand, attributive SSYLs (at) always modify the the sense of ideograms on which they simultaneously depend as the ideograms themselves depend on them through the attributive qualities they assign to the latter. In other words, the relationship between the attributive supersyllabogram and the ideogram which it modifies is both symbiotic and auto-determinative. The plain ideogram for “cloth” has nothing inside it. But when the ideogram for “cloth” is assigned an attribute (usually defined as an adjectival modifier) that ideogram contains inside itself the supersyllabogram which unequivocally modifies its meaning. Thus, the ideogram for “cloth” with the SSYL NE inside it can mean one thing and one thing only, “new cloth”. Likewise, the SYL PU inside the ideogram for “cloth” can only mean “purple cloth”, and nothing else. Similarly, the SSYL TE inside the same ideogram has the specific meaning, “well-prepared cloth” or “finished cloth prepared for market or sale”. Thus, all attributive supersyllabograms modify the unqualified meaning of the simple syllabogram for “cloth” in the textile sector, while similar SSYLS in other sectors, especially the vessels, pottery & vases sector of the Minoan/Mycenaean economy operate in the exact same fashion. Associative supersyllabograms proliferate in these two sectors. 



Associative Versus Attributive Supersyllabograms in Mycenaean Linear B: Appendix H

Appendix H neatly summarizes the rôle of supersyllabograms in Mycenaean Linear B. Click to ENLARGE:

H Appendix
I wish to stress one thing in particular. There is a marked difference in associative supersyllabograms, which account for the greatest number of SSYLS in Mycenaean Linear B, and attributive supersyllabograms, which appear primarily in the textiles and vessels (pottery, amphorae, cups etc.) sectors of the Late Minoan III & Mycenaean economies.

Associative supersyllabograms inform of us of some element, usually a land tenure factor, which relates to the ideogram itself, or which circumscribes its environment, especially in the livestock raising sub-sector of the agricultural sector. For instance, the supersyllabogram O, which you see in this Appendix, plus the ideogram for sheep + the number of sheep accounted for in the inventory of any particular tablet, informs us that the sheep are being raised on a lease(d) field, more specifically a usufruct lease field (i.e. a lease field which a farmer tenant cultivates for the use of his own family and village neighbours, with a taxation imposed by the overseer). In other words, the supersyllabogram is associated with the raising of x no. of sheep. The scribe could have simply informed us that x no. of sheep were raised, and left it at that. But he did not. By adding just one syllabogram, in this case a simple vowel = O, he has given us a great deal more information on the raising of the sheep (rams & ewes) on this particular tablet. And he has done all of this without having to resort to writing it all out as text. Since it was critical for the scribes to use as little space as possible on what were (and are) extremely small tablets, the use of supersyllabograms as a substitute for wasteful text is illustrative of just how far the scribes were willing to go to save such invaluable space. They did not do this only occasionally. They did it a great deal of the time, and they always followed the exact same formula in so doing. Not only are syllabograms such as O (on a lease field), KI (on a plot of land) & NE (in their sheep pens) in the field of sheep husbandry associative, they are all what I designate as dependent supersyllabograms, since they are meaningless unless they are immediately adjacent to the ideograms they qualify. No ideogram, no supersyllabogram. Period.

To illustrate the radical difference between a Linear B tablet on which a supersyllabogram + an ideogram is used, and another on which the text is spelled out, take a good hard look at this comparison: Click to ENLARGE

Knossos Tablet KN 933 G d 01 supersyllabograms and text

This comparison between the real tablet from Knossos using only supersyllabograms and ideograms (left) and a putative one using text in full (right) is precisely the reason why so many scribes much preferred the former formulaic approach to inscribing tablets to the latter discursive and space wasting technique. A textual version of this tablet would have been twice as long as the actual tablet. Even if no one nowadays has ever managed to decipher dependent supersyllabograms until now, that cannot conceivably mean that the Linear B scribes did not know what they were, since otherwise, they would never have used them so liberally in the first place. In other words, using SSYLS for no reason at all is tantamount to a reductio ad absurdum. There are thousands of supersyllabograms found on 700 tablets from Knossos. They are there because all of the scribes, as a team or, if you like, as a guild, all understood each and every supersyllabogram to mean one thing and one thing only in its proper context. In other words, supersyllabograms are standardized and always formulaic. This should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with Homer, who also heavily relied on formulaic expressions, though for entirely different reasons. My point is that formulaic language is a key characteristic of ancient Greek texts, right on down from Mycenaean times through to Attic and beyond. We should never overlook this extremely important characteristic of ancient Greek, regardless of period (1450 – 400 BCE).   

Attributive dependent supersyllabograms always appear inside the ideogram which they qualify, never adjacent to it. They always describe an actual attribute (usually known as an adjectival function) of the ideogram. For instance, the syllabogram PO inside the ideogram for “cloth” is the first syllabogram, i.e. the first syllable of the Mycenaean word ponikiya = “purple”, hence the phrase = “purple cloth”.  Likewise the syllabogram TE, when it appears inside the ideogram for “cloth” is the supersyllabogram for the Mycenaean word tetukuwoa, which means “well prepared” or if you like, “well spun”. Hence, the syllabogram TE inside the ideogram for cloth must mean one thing and one thing only, “well-prepared cloth”. I have discovered, identified & classified well over a dozen examples of associative supersyllabograms. 

Neither type of dependent supersyllabogram, associative or attributive, was ever isolated and tabulated in Mycenaean Linear B until I systematically studied, deciphered and classified scores of them on some 700 tablets from Knossos.


What is a Top-Notch Translation? Is there any such thing? Pylos Tablet 641-1952 (Ventris)

Those of you who are regular readers of our blog, and who take the trouble to really delve into the fine points of our posts on the decipherment of scores of Linear B tablets which we have already translated, will have surely noticed by now that I never take any translation for granted, yes, even down to the very last word, phrase, logogram or ideogram, while strictly taking into account whether or not the tablet itself is completely intact, or – as is far more often the case - left- or right-truncated. In every instance of the latter, any decipherment, however carefully devised, is likely to be considerably more inaccurate than any translation of an intact tablet.  

Not to follow these strict procedures would be tantamount a one-sided, highly subjective and excessively biased exercise in imposing a single, strictly personal, interpretation on any extant Linear B tablet, a practice which is fraught with so many pitfalls as to invite certain error and misinterpretation. I would much rather offer all alternative translations of every single last word, phrase, logogram, ideogram etc. in any and all Linear B tablets, than to rashly commit myself to any single translation. It is only in this way that you, our readers, can decide for yourselves which of my translations appears to be the most feasible or appropriate to you in the precise (or more likely than not, not so precise) context of the tablet in question.

No decipherer or translator of Mycenaean Linear B extant tablets or text in his or her right mind has a monopoly on the so-called “right” or “correct” translation of any Mycenaean source, because if that individual imagines he or she does, that person is dreaming in technicolour or – dare I say - even high on psychedelics. The only people who had the very real monopoly, in other words, the actual precise meaning of each and every tablet or source firmly in hand in Mycenaean Linear B were – you guessed it – the Mycenaean scribes themselves. We absolutely must bear this critical consideration in mind at all times whenever we dare approach the translation of any Linear B source, if we are to maintain any sense of the rational golden mean, of our own glaring linguistic inadequacies at a remote of some 3,500 years, and our own decidedly limited cognitive, associative powers of translation, which are in fact extremely circumscribed at the level of the individual translator.

It is only through the greatest sustained, systematic international co-operative effort on the part of all translators of Linear B, let alone of Linear C or of any other ancient language, regardless of script, that we as a community of professional linguists, can ever hope to eventually approximate a reasonably accurate translation. The greater the number of times a (Linear B) tablet is translated, the greater the likelihood that our sustained, combined co-operative efforts at translation is bound to bear positive fruit. Those who insist on being loners in the decipherment or translation of any texts in any in any ancient language run the severe risk of exposing themselves to sharp critical responses and, in the worst case scenario, to public ridicule in the research community specializing in ancient linguistics. Caveat interpres ille. That sort of translator should watch his Ps & Qs.
An excellent case in point, the translation of the very first tablet ever deciphered by our genius code-breaker, Michael Ventris, in 1952 & 1953, Pylos Tablet PY 641-1952 (Ventris): Click to ENLARGE:

Pylos Tablet PY 641-1952 Ventis as transslated by Ventris in 1952

We previously discussed the letters between Emmett L. Bennett and Micheal Ventris in June 1952 which effectively broke the code for Mycenaean Linear B, when Bennett first brought to Ventris’  attention his correct translation of the very first word on this famous tablet, tiripode, which unequivocally meant “tripod”. With this master key to Linear B, Ventris was able to decipher the entire tablet in no time flat, making it the first tablet ever to have been translated end-to-end into English. For our commentary on the letters, please click on this banner:

famous letters Ventris re Pylos tablet PY 641-1952
Since that time, the tablet has been translated scores and scores of times. Several translators have gone so far as to claim that theirs “is the best translation”. If you will forgive me for saying this, people making such an injudicious claim are all, without exception, wrong. It is only by combining, cross-checking and cross-correlating every last one of the translations attempted to date on this fascinating tablet, Pylos Tablet PY 641-1952, that we can ever hope to come up with at least one or two translations which are bound to meet the criteria for a really top-notch translation. Those criteria are several. I shall address them one by one, finally summarizing all such criteria, throughout the coming year.

In the meantime, stay posted for the latest carefully considered, extremely well-researched and eminently consistent translation of this famous tablet, with fresh new insights, by Rita Roberts, soon to be posted right here on this blog. It is not my own translation, but trust me, it is a highly professional one, fully taking into account a number of historical translations, one of the best of which is that by Michael Ventris himself. I freely admit I could not have matched Rita’s translation myself, for reasons which will be made perfectly clear when we come to post her excellent decipherment early in March 2015. To my mind, it is one of the finest translations of Pylos PY 631-1952 ever penned.

Subsequently, we shall rigorously examine Gretchen Leonhardt’ s translation of the same tablet, to which she assigns the alternative identifier, Pylos PY Ta 641, rather than its usual attribution. It strikes me as rather strange that she would have resorted to the alternate identifier, almost as if she intended - consciously or not - to distance herself from the original translation by Ventris himself. For her translation, please click on this banner:

Pylos Tablet Py 641-1952 Ventris Leonhardt

Ms. Leonhardt’ s decipherment is, if anything, unique and - shall we say - intriguing. We shall see how it stacks up against Michael Ventris’ and Rita Roberts’ translations, meticulously cross-correlating her own translation of every word or ideogram which is at variance with that of the same word or ideogram in either of the other two decipherments. Each translation will then be subjected to a range of rigorous criteria to determine in which respects it is as sound as, or inferior or superior to its other 2 counterparts.  Of course, the table of merits and demerits of each of the three translations is strictly my own interpretation, and as such is as subject to sound linguistic, logical, contextual and practical counter-criticism as any other. Anyone who (strongly) disagrees with my assessments of each of these 3 translations should feel free to address his or her critiques of them. I shall be more than happy to post such criticisms word-for-word on our blog, with the proviso that both Rita Roberts and I myself are free to counter them as we see fit under the strict terms enumerated above.


All About Sypersyllabograms: Their Enormous Impact on the Nature of Linear B – Everything you ever wanted to know, but were afraid to ask!

Given that supersyllabograms invariably display the characteristics highlighted in the previous post, they must also be formulaic by nature. The several restrictions placed on their disposition next to or inside ideograms, the invariability of their meanings within each sector, and other such considerations means they are always formulaic. Although the language of Homer is also very often formulaic in the Iliad, especially in The Catalogue of Ships in Book II, there is probably little or no relationship between the formulaic nature of supersyllabograms in Mycenaean Linear B and his archaic formulae. Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that formulaic language is a particular characteristic of both Mycenaean Linear B and of Homer’s own so-called Epic Greek. However, the nature of the formulaic language of Linear B and that of Homeric Greek are of a different order.

In the chart which follows, we see for the first time ever on our blog the disposition of each supersyllabogram in each sector of Minoan/Mycenaean society, with repetitions of certain supersyllabograms, which re-appear in different sectors, usually with different meanings from one sector to the next, with the exception of the supersyllabogram “newo/newa”, which always means “new”, regardless of sector. It alone appears in three sectors: agriculture (livestock, mainly sheep, rams & ewes), textiles & vessels, as seen in the chart here: Click to ENLARGE


While the meanings of some supersyllabograms are firmly established, due primarily to their high frequency on Linear B tablets from Knossos, others are less firmly demonstrable. For instance, in the sector, agriculture, sub-sector sheep husbandry, the meanings of the supersyllabograms O = lease field, KI = plot of land , NE = new & PE = enclosure or sheep pen, are firmly established with a very high degree of probability, if not total accuracy. In the case of PE, the definition is 100 % confirmed, since on one of the tablets in that series, the scribe conveniently spelled out the word in full, instead of using the simple superyllabogram PE. It is this very tablet which establishes beyond a doubt the authenticity of supersyllabograms as a phenomenon innate to Linear B alone, and not found in Arcado-Cypriot Linear C. As for Minoan Linear A, no-one knows whether SSYLS exist, because the language remains recalcitrant to decipherment.

In the military sector, the supersyllabogram ZE almost certainly means “a pair of..” or “a team of...”, with a 90 % or greater probability. However, once we get past the two primary sectors in which supersyllabograms are used extremely frequently, given that there are so many tablets to be found in these two primary sectors of Minoan/Mycenaean society, the situation devolves by degrees into less certainty.

Supersyllabograms found adjacent to any ideogram, as for instance those with the ideograms for sheep, ram, ewe (livestock), or horse or chariot (military) are considered to be associative. Associative Supersyllabograms are those which define characteristics of the environment or specific context in which their associative ideograms appear. For instance, it is natural and logical to associate sheep with lease fields, plots of land & sheep enclosures. The same goes for military ideograms. The ideograms for horse and chariot naturally associate with pairs or teams of... (fill in the blanks).    

There are still quite a large number of tablets in the textiles sector; so the meanings of most of the supersyllabograms in that sector are more than likely still very reliable, not the least because each of them still makes good sense: KU = gold cloth, PA = dyed cloth, PU = purple or Phoenician cloth (amounting to pretty much the same thing, anyway) & RI = linen. I would assign at least a 70 % to 90 % degree of probability to each of the definitions I have deduced for each of these supersyllabograms in textiles. The supersyllabograms in the sector of vessels (amphorae, drinking cups, water jugs etc.) may be a little less firm, but I am still convinced that I deduced most of them accurately, yielding a probability of 70 % - 80 %.

Supersyllabograms in the textile and vessels sector are another kettle of fish. Since they appear inside the ideograms they modify, they are attributive in nature. In other words, they describe attributes of the textiles or vessels which they modify, and are, in almost all instances, adjectival in nature. Their placement inside the ideograms makes it quite clear that this is what the scribes actually indented, since a symbol inside another always describes attributes of the ideogram in which it appears. Should anyone doubt this, we have only to appeal to symbols appearing inside others as they are found in today’s world, since they follow the exact same principle. For instance, we have: click to ENLARGE:

Modern Superalphabetical Symbols

Need I say more?     

On the other hand, I have been quite unable to decipher at least one supersyllabogram, SE, which sadly appears only 3 times on extant tablets from Knossos. For this reason alone, I dare not assign it a meaning, since I am quite sure that if I did, I would probably be (way) off the mark.

There remain the supersyllabograms for place names, which are in a category of their own, since none of them appear with ideograms, and all of them are found on only 1 tablet, Heidelburg HE Fl 1994, which Prof. Thomas G. Palaima so expertly deciphered in 1994. Click on this banner to read his translation and my explanatory POST in its entirety:


There can be no question whatsoever that these are in fact supersyllabograms, the very first ever to have been isolated, for which we owe Prof. Palaima full credit. Of course, he did not define them as supersyllabograms, as he was unaware of the high frequency of the rest of them as adduced above in this post. Nevertheless, they are what they are, supersyllabograms. We have KO for Konoso (Knossos), MU for Mukene (Mycenae), ZA for Zakros etc.

And if a few of you are still in doubt as to the viability of supersyllabograms in Mycenaean Linear B, remember: the very same phenomenon applies to internationally standardized signs nowadays.

Once again, nowadays, we have a symbol within a symbol, or if you like, a symbol inside an ideogram. It is truly amazing how such a practice has resurfaced after at least 32 centuries, even if it was only the Minoan/Mycenaean scribes in the ancient world who figured out the system in the first place, leaving it interred for 32 centuries before it re-appeared in the twentieth century. So once again, we find ourselves face to face with a very ancient script, namely the Linear B syllabary, which was so systematic, formulaic and logical that it can only be considered as a brilliant breakthrough in the art of writing. After all, supersyllabograms are not the only phenomenon Linear B sported with such bravado. Ideograms in and of themselves abounded (over 100 of them!). They even used ideograms as the equivalent of subject headings as they resurfaced in nineteenth century libaries, in the Dewey Decimal & Library of Congress systems.

Witness just one tablet alone, namely, Pylos 641-1952 (Ventris), the very first tablet ever translated with complete success by none other than the great Michael Ventris himself, and you can see these “subject headings” for yourself, plastered all over that amazing tablet! Why did the scribes use so many ideograms for vessel types on this single tablet? The answer was obvious, at least to them... the ideograms for vessels were the signposts or indexing markers of this tablet which instantly allowed the scribes to identify the precise type of vessel described in the full text immediately preceding each one, even before they bothered reading the descriptive text. That this is a very clever indexing system goes without saying. And it re-appears over and over on so many tablets that it is without question one of the hallmarks of the Linear B syllabary. Finally, their numeric accounting system was the most efficient ever devised in the ancient world. Summarizing all of the streamlined characteristics of Linear B we have just enumerated, it becomes obvious that Linear B was, first and foremost, a carefully devised form of shorthand for Mycenaean Greek. Once again, the Mycenaean scribes anticipated a methodology for writing business transactions which would not re-appear as modern shorthand – you guessed it – until the nineteenth century AD.

All of this adds up to one inescapable conclusion: Linear B was the world’s fist ever commercial shorthand, and until the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, there was nothing even remotely as efficient, logical and practical ever to be found throughout history until... the modern era. This is precisely why I am so in awe of Linear B, a script which was millennia ahead of its time. It is also why I refuse to characterize Linear B as being prehistoric. It is nothing of the sort. It is in a word, a proto-historic writing and accounting system, leading me to the inexorable conclusion that Minoan/Mycenaean society was in fact not prehistoric at all, but proto-historic. I am not the first linguist specializing in ancient linguistics to have asserted this claim, but I am the first to speak up as emphatically and unequivocally as this.        

This then has been a brief summary of the functions and the key rôle supersyllabograms play in the decipherment of Mycenaean Linear B.


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