Tag Archive: Ionic Greek

Linear B - KN Dd1171, article by Peter J. Keyse on academia.edu 

Click on this graphic to view Keyse’s article:

Linear B - KN Dd1171

Peter J. Keyse provides a thorough analysis of Linear B tablet  KN Dd 1171 in this fascinating article, which is well worth reading for anyone who is familiar with the Linear B syllabary, and certainly for anyone who is studying Linear B in depth. His article is not without errors. For instance, he deciphers PoRo as the name of someone in what he calls the PoMe “worker class” = a shepherd,

Linear B - KN Dd1171 PORO

but his interpretation of of PORO is clearly incorrect, as this word  has 3 distinct meanings, one of which is the Linear B word for “a foal”, as demonstrated by Chris Tselentis in his Linear B Lexicon, here:

Tselentis PORO

(The other 2 meanings of POME offered by Tselentis do not fit the context)

while POME is quite obviously Mycenaean Greek for “shepherd”:

Tselentis POME

Keyse also notes that Michael Ventris identified 3 major styles for incisions - those at Knossos, Pylos and Mycenae. In his own words: The vertical lines are quite faint scratches and not easily seen. The cuts in the clay are ‘under-cut’ i.e. pushed in at an angle . This preoccupation with Linear B scribal hands recurs in a great many articles on Linear B. Keyse also covers the what he ascertains to be the phonetic sounds of the numerics on this tablet. He also emphasizes the nature and particulars characteristics of the scribal hand on this tablet.

But it his conclusion which is most fascinating. He says,

In conclusion: 

What would Dd1171 sound like if read aloud? Po-Ro. 20 OVISm, 72 OVISf. Pa-I-To. Pa 8 OVISm. While it reasonable to say that Linear B was no more the spoken language of its day than ‘double-entry bookkeeping’ speak is for accounting clerks today it is also true to say that accountants do on occasions talk in journals and double-entry (and not only when at dinner parties and down the pub) and they certainly call over inventories to each other. It is clear that Linear B had a sound but perhaps it is unlikely that we can fairly reproduce it today. Considering the importance of numbers within the Linear B archive I find it surprising that no phonic system has been devised to represent them or if devised is not clearly documented in the literature. 

COMMENT by Richard Vallance Janke on the sound, i.e. the general pronunciation of Linear B. In actuality, we probably do have some idea of how Mycenaean Greek was pronounced. Its closest cousin was Arcado-Cypriot, represented both by its own syllabary, Linear C, and by its own archaic alphabet. The Mycenaean and Arcado-Cypriot dialects were much closer phonetically than even Ionic and Attic Greek. Phonological details of the archaic Arcado-Cypriot dialect appear in C.D. Buck, The Greek Dialects, © 1955, 1998. ISBN 1-85399-566-8, on pg. 144. He provides even more information on Arcado-Cypriot on pp. 7-8, and classifies it as an East Greek dialect, pg. 9. This is highly significant, because if Arcado-Cypriot is East Greek, ergo Mycenaean Greek also is. This places both of the archaic East-Greek dialects, Mycenaean and Arcado-Cypriot, firmly in the camp of all East Greek dialects, including Arcadian, Aeolic, Lesbian, Cyprian, Pamphylian, Thessalian, Boeotian, and the much later Ionic and Attic dialects. So it is probably fair to say that we may have at least an idea, even if somewhat inaccurate, of how Mycenaean Greek was pronounced. And this has huge implications for the further study of Mycenaean Greek phonology.

CRITICAL POST: The active middle voice template, akeomai = I repair or I make amends for...  in the five major tenses in Mycenaean Linear B & ancient Greek:

In all of the ancient East Greek dialects, right on down from Mycenaean Linear B to Arcado-Cypriot, its closest cousin (ca. 1100-400 BCE), through to Homeric Greek (ca. 800 BCE, a hodgepodge amalgam of various early ancient Greek dialects), to Ionic and Attic Greek (ca. 500-400 BCE), right on through to Hellenistic Greek (ca. 300-100 BCE) to New Testament Koine Greek (ca. 100 AD) and even to modern Greek, the active middle voice was extremely common, playing an indispensable role in the expression of verbal actions. In fact, it was probably even more common than the standard active voice, which we have already covered under the verb kauo = to burn.

In Mycenaean Linear B and in all subsequent ancient Greek dialects, the template for active middle voice is here represented by the verb, akeomai = I repair -or- I make amends (for myself). The 5 major indicative active tenses represented are, once again:

the present active middle voice
the future active middle voice
the imperfect active middle voice
the aorist (or simple past) active middle voice
the perfect active middle voice

all conjugated in full in this table:


What is the function of the active middle voice in Mycenaean Linear B & ancient (as well as modern) Greek?

It is a very good thing to ask — in fact, it is crucial to the proper understanding of the critical difference between the standard active voice and the middle voice of verbs in Greek. The two voices are simply not the same. The standard active voice, as in the verb, kauo (present), kauso (future), ekauon (imperfect), ekausa (aorist or simple past) & kekausa (perfect) simply indicates something that someone does, will do, was doing, did or has done, with no further qualifications.

The active middle voice is quite another kettle of fish. It is much more active (quite literally!) and much more dynamic. The active middle voice denotes any of the following activities:

1. Any action undertaken by the subject, in which the subject takes a powerful personal interest in whatever action he or she is undertaking;
2. Any action undertaken by the subject, in which the subject acts strictly on his or her own behalf, without any direct influence of or consideration of whatever anyone else may think or adjudge about said action;
3. Any action undertaken by the subject, in which the subject acts independently, of his or her own volition, regardless;
4. Any action undertaken by the subject, which is of a reflexive nature, ie. by means of which the subject does something for or to oneself.

It goes without saying that an active present voice as so utterly complex as the active middle voice exists in no modern language, except for the fourth (4th.) application. The middle voice was of primal importance to the ancient Greeks because they were highly individualistic and egocentric (as opposed to being egoistic, which has nothing whatsoever to do with the active middle voice, except in rare instances). Reflexive verbs (4) are common in practically all modern languages. Thus, we have:

in English: I wash myself, you wash yourself, we wash ourselves etc.
et en français : je me lave, tu te laves, nous nous lavons – et ainsi de suite,
to cite just two examples.

On the other hand, the strict emphasis on personal responsibility for one’ s actions which is the preeminent characteristic of the active middle voice in Mycenaean Linear B and in ancient and modern Greek is nowhere to be found in modern Centum (Occidental) Indo-European languages such as English, French, Italian, Spanish, German etc. etc. In order to express the emphasis on direct personal responsibility innate to the active middle voice in ancient and modern Greek, modern languages have to resort to (sometimes cumbrous) circumlocutions. For instance, to express the first (1.) function of the active middle voice in ancient Greek, English has to resort to this circumlocution:

I am taking a powerful personal interest in repairing... etc.

And for the second (2.) function, this is what English has to resort to:

I am acting strictly on my own behalf in repairing (regardless of what anyone else thinks of it)

And for the third (3.) function:

I am acting entirely on my own (or independently) to repair etc.

Quite the circumlocutions in comparison with the active middle voice in ancient Greek, which is always so compactly and eloquently expressed by a single word, regardless of tense!

Consequently, it is virtually impossible to grasp the several meanings (at least 4) inherent to the active middle voice in ancient Greek, unless one has a firm grasp on the 4 principal functions I have outlined here. I repeat, the distinction between the simple active voice and the active middle voice in both ancient and modern Greek is fundamental to a proper understanding of the divergent functioning of these two active tenses, the simple active and the active middle.

The virtual invariability of the most archaic athematic MI verbs in ancient Greek from 1200 BCE (Linear B) – New Testament Koine Greek (ca. 100 AD):

The following table clearly illustrates that the most archaic of ancient Greek verbs, namely, athematic verbs in MI, underwent only barely perceptible changes over a span of 1,700 years.


This is because these verb forms were already fully developed even as early as in the Mycenaean Greek dialect, written in Linear B (ca. 1600-1200 BCE). This phenomenon falls under the purview of diachronic historical linguistics, whereby the term diachronic means “linguistic change or lack of it over an extended period of time”. The importance of the minimal changeability of archaic athematic MI verbs cannot be over stressed. Regardless of the period and of any particular dialect of ancient East Greek (early: Mycenaean and Arcado-Cypriot, middle: Homeric Epic, an amalgam of various dialects, Classical: Ionic & Attic) & late (Hellenistic & Koine Greek), very little change occurred.  In fact, only the second & third person singular underwent any change at all. In Mycenaean Greek alone, the second person singular was didosi & the third person singular was didoti. In all subsequent dialects, the form of the 2nd. person singular became that for the third, while the second person singular itself morphed into didos in all ancient East Greek dialects pursuant to Mycenaean. This was the one and only change the conjugation of the present tense of archaic athematic verbs such as didomi underwent diachronically from 1,600 BCE to 100 AD. The verb didomi effectively serves as the template for the conjugation of the present active of all athematic verbs in MI throughout this historical period.  This is just one notable aspect of progressive (D) derived Linear B grammar. There are many others, which of course we shall address in the gradual reconstruction of ancient Mycenaean Greek grammar over the next few months. 

Mycenaean Linear B Progressive Grammar: Derived (D) Verbs/Infinitives in O = 254 + 36/Total = 290

In this post we find derived (D) infinitives in O. Here is the table of derived (D) thematic and athematic infinitives starting with the Greek letter O in Mycenaean Greek:


Be absolutely sure to read the extensive NOTES I have composed for the vowel O, as  there a a number of issues surrounding this vowel (O).

We are also introducing the middle voice, which never appears on any extant Linear B tablet. This voice exists only in Greek (ancient and modern), a centum (Occidental) and Sanskrit, a satim (Oriental) language. Greek and Sanskrit are essentially the Western and Eastern versions of the same proto-Indo-European language from which they both derive. Hence, the middle voice exists in both these languages, but in scarcely any other language in the world, ancient or modern.

But what is the middle voice? The middle voice is essentially self-referential, meaning that the person(s) any middle voice verb represents is or are acting of his or their own accord or in her or their own interest or that they are actively involved in the action the verb signifies. The middle voice is also used in reflexive verbs, such as dunamai, oduromai, onomai etc. etc., whereas the present indicative is found in Greek verbs such as oarizein, odaien, hodeuein = Mycenaean oarize, odaie, odeue. It is not the same thing as the present indicative, which is much simpler. Ancient and modern Greek both contain thousands of middle voice verbs, probably as many as thematic verbs, of which the infinitive always ends in ein in Greek and e in Mycenaean. READ ALL of the NOTES in the chart of Mycenaean verbs in O. Otherwise, what I am explaining here will not make much sense.  The complete conjugation of middle voice verbs in Mycenaean Linear B appears in the chart above.     

The 4 sentences following Greek verbs in O make it perfectly clear that we are dealing with natural Mycenaean Greek as it was actually spoken. Note that the natural plural in OI is to found in spoken Mycenaean, rather than the singular in O we find almost (but not always) exclusively on the extant Linear B tablets.

It was highly likely anyway that official documents, poetry (if any) and religious texts were written in natural Mycenaean Greek on papyrus. However, the moist climate of Crete and the Greek mainland meant that papyrus, unlike in the arid climate of Egypt, was doomed to rot away. So we shall never really know whether or not there were documents in natural Mycenaean Greek. But my educated hunch is that there were.

The total number of natural Mycenaean Greek derived (D) infinitives we have posted so far = 290.

The third supersyllabogram PE = periqoro = a sheep pen, the “magic bullet”!

the magic bullet Linear B periqoroyo

The third supersyllabogram PE = periqoro = “a sheep pen” is truly the “magic bullet”! Linear B tablet KN 1232 E d 462 gives it all away!

Linear B tablet KN 1232 E d 462 the code breaker for PE = periqoro = sheep pen

It contains no supersyllabogram at all, but that is just the point. What it does is spell out the word periqoroyo, which is the genitive singular of periqoro, corresponding to the Athenian Greek word, peribolos (here Latinized), which means “an enclosure”. But how does that work out to mean “a sheep pen” in Mycenaean Linear B, you ask? As we recede further and further into the past in any (ancient) language, the words which are generally abstract or at the very least generically concrete, as is peribolos “an enclosure” in Attic Greek become ever more concrete as the timeline regresses. Since Mycenaean Greek is the very earliest of the East Greek dialects (of which the much later Attic Greek is also a member ) it stands to reason that the meaning of the word periqoroyo (genitive on this tablet) or periqoro (nominative) is almost certain to mean “a livestock pen” and in the even more specific context of sheep husbandry “a sheep pen”. Which is precisely what it does mean.

I repeat. The scribe has not used a supersyllabogram (namely, PE) on Linear B tablet KN 1232 E d 462 at all. He has chosen to write out the word in full. This is just the stroke of luck I was fervently dreaming of when I was in the early stages of deciphering supersyllabograms in the agricultural sector of the Minoan/Mycenaean economy, since I desperately needed at least some circumstantial evidence that what I chose to call supersyllabograms were in fact the first syllabogram, i.e. the first syllable of a Linear B word or phrase. And this tablet gave it all away. An obliging Linear B scribe had, on this tablet alone of the 3,000+ tablets and fragments from Knossos, actually written out in full the word the supersyllabogram PE symbolized. The word periqoroyo is in the genitive singular on this tablet, which literally means  “from a sheep pen”. In other words, all of the 23 rams and 27 ewes on this tablet come from a sheep pen, or if you like, were originally in a sheep pen. Must have been great fun!

But, you must be asking, how does this tablet prove that the supersyllabogram PE actually means “from a sheep pen” or “in a sheep pen”? It does so because every other tablet, including the very next one in this series, KN 1233 E n 224

Linear B tablet KN 1233 E n 234 the real Mccoy

do not spell out the word periqoro(yo), but instead deliberately substitute the supersyllabogram PE for it. And there are some 20 tablets in the series!

There is no other instance anywhere on any other Linear B tablets, regardless of provenance (Knossos, Pylos etc.) where the supersyllabogram is spelled out in full on one tablet in a given series and then replaced by its supersyllabogram,  except in this sole case where one tablet does spell the word out in full, only to be followed by its paradigmatic SSYL PE in the next and the next and the next tablet... and so on, and indeed on the tablets preceding it. 

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