Tag Archive: pots

Linear A tablet ZA 8, another Linear A largely inscribed in proto-Greek and/or Mycenaean Greek, groats, figs and wheat dough:

Linear A tablet ZA 8 Zakros

The context of this tablet makes it quite clear that we are dealing with an inscription largely inscribed in proto-Greek and/or Mycenaean Greek. The free translation reads as follows:

the brim (of a vessel or pot), with groats inside it + 1 1/2 units of figs * (not in the pot!) in a slanting) urn OR 2/3rds of a unit of liquid measurement (of the figs) + 2/5 salty units (something like milligrams) of wheat dough + 1/2 mapa (unknown) ** + 2 1/4 maikase (unknown) ** + 2 1/2 daipita ** + 4 2/5 due measures.

* The supersyllabogram NI, which means figs, is almost certainly nira or nita in Linear A. The word nita occurs in the Linear A lexicon.

** mapa, maikasa and daipita are almost certainly Old Minoan (OM) words in the Minoan substrate. So far, these words appear to be indecipherable. So far … This tablet dates from the Late Minoan Ib period (ca. 1500-1450 BCE), hence it overlaps with Linear B tablets, such as those from Knossos, which date from the same period, making it all the more likely that it is largely inscribed in proto-Greek, possibly with some Mycenaen Greek words on it.



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.


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