Tag Archive: interpretations

Partial conjectural decipherment of Linear A tablet HT 6 Haghia Triada (VERSO):

Haghia Triada Linear A tablet HT6 VERSO

If there is any Linear A tablet which has proven a real headache, it has to be this one. The surface of the VERSO of HT 6 (Haghia Triada) is so badly damaged that experts such as Andras Zeke of the Minoan Language Blog and Prof. John G. Younger cannot even agree on a few syllabograms in the text, while I myself disagree with them on some of the same. Additionally, there is no consensus on the values of Linear A fractions. Interpretations by Andras Zeke and Prof. John G. Younger of the smaller fractional values often do not agree. So I am unwilling to add fuel to the fire. I simply choose whichever value (either that of Zeke or of Younger) seems more convincing to me. At any rate, no one today can determine with any degree of accuracy numeric values in Minoan Linear or Mycenaean Linear B, since both syllabaries are so historically remote as to preclude any convincing readings.

As for the syllabograms on this tablet, once again, Andras Zeke and John G. Younger do not agree on the values of at least 3 of them. And I find myself at odds with their own interpretations. This is the result of the shoddy scribal hand and the less than ideal condition of the tablet itself. As for maridi, I find myself obliged to read it as if it were meridi, since the interpretation wool (mari) is utterly out of the question in the context of this tablet, whereas reading it as meridi = “honey” makes much more sense contextually. As for sama, it may be the Minoan equivalent of Mycenaean Linear B samara = mound/hill”, but once again, this interpretation is conjectural. I have previously tentatively deciphered Old Minoan (OM) pa3nina (painina) as “an amphora for the storage of… ”, but here again, I have gone out on a limb. Nevertheless, the interpretation once again suits the context. Once all of fig and pomegranate juice (RECTO) and the drops of wine and honey (VERSO) are accounted for, we can see that this tablet may deal with a recipe for a sweet alcoholic beverage, which with these ingredients would indeed be delicious.

Consequently, any convincing decipherment of the VERSO of HT 6 is beyond our reach. We simply have to muddle through it and come up with the best alternatives we can for each apparently decipherable word. However, by fully taking into account the much more accessible text on the RECTO of HT 6, I believe I have been able to rescue a small portion of the significance of the text on the VERSO by placing it in its proper context with the RECTO. See the previous post for my fuller decipherment of the RECTO.

3 Minoan Linear A words under TA of possible, even probable proto-Greek origin + 1 word in the pre-Greek substratum:


In this table, we find 3 Minoan Linear A words under TA of possible, even probable proto-Greek origin + 1 word in the pre-Greek substratum. The 3 words of possible or probable proto-Greek origin are [1] TAKU = “quickly, soon” + [2a] TAMIA = “someone who cuts” or “a distributor”. Think of it! When someone is distributing items or merchandise, he or she is in fact cutting them into different categories for distribution + [3] TANI, which is an exact match with (proto-) Dorian for “this or that time of day”.

On the other hand, the Minoan Linear A word TAPA, which is identical to its Mycenaean Linear B equivalent, is NOT proto-Greek, but rather sits in the pre-Greek substrate, meaning of course that the Mycenaean Linear B is also in the pre-Greek substratum. This should really come as no surprise, since Mycenaean Greek contained a number of archaic words which never resurfaced in any later East Greek dialects. In other words, they were archaic and anachronistic right from the outset even in Mycenaean Greek. The Mycenaean Greek word tapa is in fact the exact same word as its Minoan Linear A forbear, implying that both are in the pre-Greek substratum. As I have already pointed out in previous posts, there are in fact a few other (Minoan Linear A?) words in the pre-Greek substratum in Mycenaean Linear B.

This brings the cumulative total number of new Minoan Linear A words to 50, increasing the 107 Minoan Linear A words = 21.5 % of the total lexicon of extant 510 Minoan Linear A words in my original Minoan Linear A Glossary to 157 or 30.7 % of the total Linear B Lexicon. This is a significant leap in the number of Minoan Linear B terms I have already deciphered since I set out on the journey to REVISE the original Minoan Linear A Glossary of 107 words.

And I still have yet to extrapolate further decipherments as far as the syllabogram ZU.

Linear B tablet K 04-22 N b 05 from the Knossos “Armoury”

Linear B tablet 04-22 Knossos armoury

This is one of the most significant tablets from Knossos dealing with chariots. At least two really perplexing words plague any reasonable translation of this tablet. The first of these is – peqato – on the first line, which according to Chris Tselentis in his Linear B Lexicon just might mean – a foot-board -.  But this is speculative. L.R. Palmer is unable to offer any plausible translation at all for this word. At the end of the second line we find the truly bizarre concoction – posieesi – which is utterly alien to ancient Greek and quite unlike any combination of vowels I have ever encountered in Mycenaean Greek. It is the juxtaposition of – iee – i.e. three vowels in a row which really throws us off. I have never seen anything like it in Mycenaean Greek. It just might possibly be instrumental plural, but that is a real stretch. So is my translation. I would take it with a hefty grain of salt. But everyone who knows me is perfectly aware that I will dive right in where others shy away. As long as the words just might make sense both in the textual and the actual construction context of Mycenaean chariots, then there is no harm trying on a translation. If the shoe fits, wear it.

Here is the original tablet from the Ashmolean Museum (approximate actual size). 

An1910_213_o a Ashmolean 04-22

The Linear B “pakana” or – sword – series of tablets, their translations and the implications: PART A

It is common knowledge in the Linear B linguistic research community that there are a great many series of Linear B tablets which share marked formulaic textual characteristics. Among these we find the Linear B “pakana” or – sword – series of tablets and fragments, amounting to some 15, from KN 1540 O k 01 to KN 1556 O k 11. I have assigned my research colleague, Rita Roberts, who is at the mid-term mark of her first year of university studies into Mycenaean Linear B, the challenging task of translating all 14 or 15 of these tablets and fragments (most of them fragments), in an effort to extrapolate from her translations findings which can and do confirm and validate the hypothesis that the tablets and fragments in this series are almost all variations on a “standard”, hence formulaic, text. This is the first of several posts in which we shall be analyzing the results of Rita’s findings. Once we have posted all of our co-operative findings, Rita and I shall be co-authoring an article on the formulaic nature of the tablets and fragments in this series in particular on academia.edu, the results of which can be extrapolated to any number of series of tablets and fragments of Linear B tablets from Knossos (and some from Pylos as well), regardless of the sector of the Minoan-Mycenaean economy on which they focus, the most notable being the sheep husbandry sub-sector of the agricultural sector, for which there are almost 700 (!) extant tablets, or some 10 times more than in any other sector of the Minoan-Mycenaean economy, inclusive of this one, the military. 

In the meanwhile, we are focusing our attention on this series of tablets in particular.

Here are the first three translations in series Rita Roberts has submitted, with her explanatory notes following them, these followed in turn by interpretive notes of my own, where applicable. The first tablet, largely intact, offers us an all but complete snapshot, so to speak, of the actual formulaic text underpinning almost all of the tablets in this series. Click to ENLARGE:

Military Affairs 1541 0k 09 (xc) tEXT

Mrs. Robert’s translation of this tablet is, as usual, precise, technically sound and elegant.

I do, however, have a few additional comments to make on the translation of this tablet among others strikingly similar to it, here: Click to ENLARGE

Knossos tablet KN 1541 O k 09 versus KN 1542 to KN 1556
It all comes to one observation and one only. The texts of all of the tablets I have mentioned above, however fragmentary, are merely minor variations of one another, in other words, they are all formulaic. The text of any one of them is close to a mirror image of any of the others, usually with only one or two attributes and the number of tablets inventoried in each at variance. That is the single factor we need to focus on above all else, though not exclusively to the exclusion of others.

The next translation Rita Roberts makes is of Knossos fragment KN 1542 OK 18 (XC), which contains only the tail end of a Mycenaean Linear B word terminating in “woa”  and the ideogram for sword. Click to ENLARGE:

Knossos tablet KN1542 O k 18 (xc) Text

It is painfully obvious that the left-truncated word ending in “woa” is in fact and can only be, “araruwoa”, meaning “bound” (a sword bound with a hilt) and nothing else. This, the only practicable translation for this little fragment, which is only a snippet or tiny subset of the missing text the fragment represents, leads us directly to the highly plausible inference that the actual text of this fragment, were it intact as a tablet entire, would have almost certainly have read very much like this:

A skilled horn worker has bound the hilt with horn and fixed it to the sword’s blade with rivets.

Sound familiar? You may very well protest, “Aren’t you jumping to conclusions?” and you might have been right, were it not for the fact that, as we soon shall see in subsequent posts detailing the contents of several other tablets and fragments in the same series, snippets of the very same text, more or less intact, keep popping up. And among these, two tablets — the first of which we have already seen as the first figure in this post — spell out the text entire (less one or two words, if any). So it stands to reason that if, in so far as the missing text of this tiny fragment almost certainly is the same as that of the other tablets, with minor variations in wording and in the number of swords tallied, this little scrap of text is a mathematical subset of the text we have already encountered in the first of the tablets posted in this series (KN 1541 OK 09 (xc)), then other, more complete, snippets of the same text appearing on other tablets we are soon to investigate simply confirm and validate our assumption, corroborated by the cumulative evidence brought to bear by the partial or complete text of those other tablets in this series.

Finally, turning our attention to the third translation Rita Roberts has effected (Click to ENLARGE):

Military Affairs 1543 0k 17 Trans

we discover, scarcely to our surprise at this point, that the text of KN 1543 OK 17, though not as complete as that of the first tablet posted here (KN 1541 OK 09 (xc)), is practically a mirror image of the former. The formulaic nature of the text of almost all of the tablets in this series ( KN 1540 O k 01 to KN 1556 O k 11), with few exceptions, is as we say nowadays, “in your face”. This simple fact based on strict observation of the variations on the recurrent text to be found on almost all of these tablets firmly confirms the hypothesis that in fact formulaic phrasing is a prime characteristic of all of the tablets in this series, and for that matter, in any number of series of tablets in Linear B from Knossos, regardless of economic sector. It is the tablets in the sheep husbandry sector, of which there around 700 (far more than in any other sector), which confirm and concretize this conclusion over and over.

Rita has also translated Knossos tablet KN 1540 O k 01 (xc) here: 

Rita Roberts translaton of Knosssos tablet KN 1540 OK 01
which I have just reblogged below for your convenience.

It is highly advisable for you to read this post in toto, as it sheds significant light on the present discussion. It is in fact this very tablet upon which we are to draw our ultimate conclusions with reference to the translations of this entire series of tablets. In our final post in this serial discussion, we shall actually  cite the text of this previous post in its entirety, with additional glosses reflecting any further conclusions we may have drawn once all of the tablets in this series have been posted.


The Famous Linear B Tablet, “Rapato Meno”, the Priestess of the Winds & the Goddess Pipituna, Knossos KN Fp 13: Click to ENLARGE 

Translation of Knossos Tablet KN FP 13 RAPATO MENO

This tablet from Knossos, one of the most famous Mycenaean Linear B Linear B tablets, was first translated by Prof. John Chadwick, who did a fine job of it. There have been several good translations since then, but all of them have failed to notice certain finer details in the text. This translation hopefully brings these details to the fore.

For instance, as I have pointed out in the notes at the bottom of my translation, the units of measurement are open to question. I find it both expedient and wise to rely on the estimates of Andras Zeke of the now defunct Minoan Language Blog, since he has always been a most thorough and conscientious researcher. My estimates, like those of every other translator, are just that. So take them with a grain of salt. Secondly, Professors Killen and Chadwick translated qerasiya as “augur”, and I accept their translation without reserve, as it fits the context very well. However, every single translation to date that I have run across fails to mention that the augur is female, which once again very important in the context of Minoan-Mycenaean religious practices, which seem to have been pretty much the exclusive province of women. In my forth note [4], I call attention to the fact that here the ideogram for “olive” may refer to an “olive tree”, and to those who would (loudly) object to this interpretation, we need only recall that the olive tree was sacred to the goddess Athena in classical Athens. The connection between Minoan-Mycenaean religious practices is indirect and elliptical. However, if we stop to consider legend has it that “...every nine years Athens should send seven of their finest young men and young maidens to Crete, as sacrifice to the Minotaur. When the hero Theseus heard about this practice, he volunteered to be one of the victims, killing the Minotaur, and freeing Athens from this grizzly duty”: from

Research Project on King Minos

it makes more sense to interpret this reference as being an olive tree. This raises yet another question. If, as it appears from the context of this tablet, the Priestess of the Winds was the priestess of Pipituna, there is probably a direct or indirect connection between this goddess and the later Greek goddess, Athena. They might even be one and the same, though this strikes me as being unlikely.

On a final note, we notice that the second reference to anemoiyereya is squashed up against the right side of this tablet, which is after all only 15 cm. or about 6 inches wide. No surprise there, given that almost all Linear B tablets are very small or tiny. This offers a perfectly sound explanation why the last reference to the offering by Utano (or whatever this name is, probably Minoan) to the Priestess of the Winds only gives us the units of measurement, but of what it does not say. Yet it is pretty much obvious that this too is an offering of olive oil, since that is the only commodity offered up on the rest of the tablet. On our bog, I have stressed a great many times the extremely common practice the Mycenaean scribes resorted to over and over again to save precious space on their cramped tablets. This is also the reason why they resorted to the formulaic use of single syllabograms as the first syllable of scores of very common Mycenaean Linear B words in the fields of agriculture, the military, textiles and vessels. People who regularly consult our blog already know that these are called supersyllabograms. Of the 61 Linear B syllabograms, 33 are supersyllabograms, while one homophone, rai = saffron is also in the same class.

In conclusion, the preceding observations have allowed me the latitude to bring a little more precision to the translation of Knossos tablet KN FP 13.

As a final aside, I for one find the use of Latin to reference the names of Linear B ideograms strange at best, and downright silly at worst. The words the ideograms replace are Greek; so the ideograms should be labelled in Greek, with an English translation for those who do not read Greek. Given that most people do not read Latin these days, what difference does it make? Little or none. For this reason, I myself always tag Linear B ideograms with their proper (Mycenaean or archaic) Greek names.


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.


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