Tag Archive: jugs



My Cup Runneth Over! Liquid Measurement for Wine & Olive Oil in Mycenaean Linear B: Click to ENLARGE

A KN 160a J j 11 wine PE wine DI

Because it is damaged and fragmentary, a decent translation of this tablet is unattainable. But this is no excuse for not taking a stab at it. The several notes appended to the end of the tablet highlight the multiple problems facing the translator confronted with a fragmentary tablet in Linear B, let alone any other ancient script. Some difficulties are dependent on the nature (i.e. type) of script itself (hieroglyphs, cuneiform, a syllabary or an alphabet), hence, script-dependent. Taking our notes step by step:

[1] The difficulty posed by this ideogram for a “ladle” arises from the fact that we have no idea of the size of ladle (if that is what it is) the Linear B scribes were referencing. This problem is exacerbated by further considerations below.

[2] I am unable to accurately identify the syllabogram on the left side of this line, which is itself apparently the last syllabogram of a word in Mycenaean Linear B. This particular problem is not script-dependent. 
 
[3] The syllabogram following KE is illegible; the two-syllable word cannot be recovered.
   
[4] Same problem as in [3], although in this case the syllabogram, if it is one, is chopped off from the middle down. Such problems are endemic to fragmentary tablets, regardless of script (not script-dependent). 
  
[5] The ideogram for “wine” in Linear B is very easy to spot & identify. It is also commonplace.

[6] The ideogram for “olive oil” in Linear B is very easy to spot & identify. It is also commonplace.

[7] This is just one of the ideograms for “bowl”. Once again, we are confronted with the same old dilemma, which keeps popping up all over Linear B tablets. What kind of bowl is this? Once again, the scribes all knew perfectly well what kind of bowl this ideogram referenced, just as they knew precisely what all other ideograms in Linear B meant (mean). Unfortunately for us in the twenty-first century, the precise meaning of scores of ideograms is beyond our ken.  When I refer to meaning, I do not simply mean, “This is a mixing bowl.” - “That is a soup bowl” - “This is a cereal bowl” etc.

Far from it. Whenever the Linear B scribes referred to any kind of vessel: cauldron, cooking pot, bowl, cup, jar, jug, vase (including amphorae) etc. etc., they identified each and every type not only by its specific type (nomenclature), but by its capacity (liquid or dry measurement), and its primary function. That is a lot of “definition” to cram into one ideogram. And this is precisely why we will probably never be able to accurately identify the type of vessel so many ideograms refer to, because we were not there when the scribal guild assigned standard names married to standard measurements to identify and classify each and every ideogram.

The Key Rôle of Archaeology in Tentatively Identifying Types of Vessels Referenced by Linear B Ideograms: 

However, all this does not mean that we cannot take a good stab at tentatively identifying at least the type of vessel referenced by any given ideogram, in every case where an adequate description evades us. Why so? As my research colleague and friend, Rita Roberts, who lives not far from Heraklion, Crete, and who is an archaeologist, has pointed out on numerous occasions, archaeology is eminently suited to provide us with alternative tools to at least tentatively correlate many Linear B ideograms for vessels with the astonishing plethora of known vessel types which have been unearthed for each and every ancient civilization – including of course the Minoan and Mycenaean. Vessels of the same type (for instance, amphorae) can be readily identified. The archaeologist can then attempt to correlate a particular vessel type or sub-type (amphorae are easily classified into sub-types) with a particular ideogram. But here several problems arise:
(a) Since ideograms are by nature semi-abstract, we can never be really sure that any particular ideogram we assign to any particular vessel type actually does correspond to “the real thing”. It is always a best-guess scenario. But it is better than nothing, and in some cases, at least, the semi-abstract ideogram may look well enough alike the actual vessel to confirm the former with reasonable accuracy.
(b) Since several ideograms for vessels in Linear B look almost exactly the same, this poses yet another dilemma. What are the sizes of similar ideograms? - in other words, what dry or liquid volume are they intended to hold, as the function of measurement alone?
(c) There is also the very real question of the kind of function for any vessel. While the ideogram for some vessel look-alike types may refer to cooking vessels, pots, pans, utensils etc., others in the same run of ideograms may be symbolic of higher class, palatial and even royal vessels, such as silver and gold cups (dipa), bowls, plates etc.

A Plethora of Ideograms for Vessels in Linear B & their Approximate Archaeological Equivalents:

Click to ENLARGE:

LinearB ideograms  for vessels and actual vessels

I am sure our resident archaeologist, Rita Roberts, can think of other distinctions and functions of various Linear B look-alike ideograms and of their corresponding “real ware” than can I. Or perhaps we could assign the modern counterparts, “software” to ideograms and “hardware” to archaeologically identified vessel types.
   
[8] See [7]. Same difficulty. The most glaring problems with this ideogram are the size of the cup, and in particular, its function. Is this just any old cup or is it silver-ware or even gold? Who is to say? No one today. But you can be sure the scribes knew exactly what kind of cup this ideogram refers so.   

[9] Here is where things get really messy. According to Andras Zeke of the Minoan Language Blog, the T style logogram is supposed to reference dry measure only, and is meant to be the equivalent of approx. 3 kilograms (give or take). But on this tablet, the T measurement refers to liquid measurement for wine and olive oil. This appears to be another contradiction in terms. To further complicate the matter, the amount of wine measured appears to be quite voluminous, at some 4 x 5 = 20 litres in the first instance (if it is not right-truncated!) & 6 x 5 = 30 litres in the second. Someone must have thrown a huge party, and lots of folks must have got drunk as skunks! Or else Andras Zeke is wrong. This is all the more likely to be the case if we take into account the amount of liquid a ladle can hold – as in [1] above and in particular, how much a ladle of olive oil is supposed to be – as in [6] above. Those measurement standards [1] & [6] are way out of kilter with those for kilograms (dry measurement) or perhaps litres (liquid measurement) in [9]. How can we possibly square the small measurement standards for olive oil with the voluminous ones for wine on this tablet, without ending up in a morass of contradictions? - unless of course whoever wrote this tablet meant to say that the “the recipe” (if recipe it is) called for adding a small amount of olive oil to a heck of a lot of wine. Such a combination makes no sense to me, but I am no archaeologist. So my archaeologist colleagues and friends... come to the rescue! But then again, Andras Zeke is still right, and we are missing implicit rather than explicit details of the nature (type, volume & function) of any given ideogram for vessel. 

[10] This is clearly the supersyllabogram DI, which almost certainly refers to the Linear B word for “a drinking cup” or dipa in the specific context alone of ideograms for vessels. But it might also designate the function of the cup, which would be representative of any of the Linear B words beginning with diwo or diwe, in other words, to the God Zeus or possibly even Dionysus (also beginning with DI). In that case, the cup is a libation cup. However, the first meaning is the more convincing of the two. When used in a religious context, the supersyllabogram always takes on the latter meaning.

[11] This is the syllabogram PE, apparently left-truncated. If so, it is impossible to recover the rest of the Linear B word of which it is the ultimate. 

[12] This looks like a Linear B word, nopono (whatever that is), but once again, the word is almost certainly left-truncated, because the tablet is fragmented. So again, the word appears to be irretrievable.

As we can all see from this tablet, any attempt at a reasonable or definitive decipherment or translation is next to impossible. However, it is our solemn duty as translators of Mycenaean Linear B to make the best of the not-so-good of all possible worlds, and to attempt a translation that reveals something of the true intent of the text as the scribe wrote it. This is what I always do, and have done here.


Richard


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

AppendixB

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:

SSYLS POST Palaima

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.


Richard   

        
  
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