Tag Archive: ritual



Rams for ritual slaughter: KN 386 A 87 & KN 387 X c 57 joins:

KN 386 & KN 387 tablet joins sacrificial rams

Here I am really digging deep into unknown waters in the decipherment of Linear B, deeper than I ever have.

These two fragments were originally one tablet. The central part is missing. This has got to be one of the most fascinating challenges I have ever encountered in the decipherment of Linear B text, since, as with all Linear B joins, it requires the decipherer to attempt to fill in the blanks, so to speak, i.e. the missing part of the original tablet, which as you can see is in an inverted V shape. If at all possible, as much the text that originally was located within that V has to be restored. Since as everyone knows who visits our blog that I am never one to skip a challenge, no matter how tough, I took it upon myself to make a serious attempt at a plausible reconstruction of at least part of the missing text, and to my satisfaction, I believe I succeeded, in the sense that I have recovered what might plausibly have been some of the original text, at least conjecturally. Any other interpretation might suffice, provided that (a) it made sense in the context of the text preserved on the two adjacent sides & (b) that the missing vocabulary was consistent with the ritual of religious sacrifice of sheep, a common practice in many civilizations of the ancient world.

Let us walk through my decipherment of the so-called missing text step by step. First of all, we have the left truncated syllabograms ... NO heading the first line of the right hand side of the original tablet (KN 387 X c 57). It is no easy matter to even make a stab at what the rest of this word could possibly have meant, or for that matter, how many syllabograms, in other words, syllables, it contained. So I had to take the only recourse available to me, and that was to ransack Chris Tselentis’ excellent Linear B Lexicon of at least 2,500 Linear B words for any word ending in NO which might possibly suit the context, keeping firmly in mind that this is the scene of a religious ceremony involving the ritual sacrifice of a ram or rams. I finally found the term which ideally suited the context, and it is temeno, which means a religious shrine or temple. It fits the context like a glove. So the likelihood that this was indeed the missing word ending with left-truncated NO is reasonably assured. On the second line of the same fragment (the right side), we have repa, the last two syllabograms or syllables of another missing word. The term which immediately leaped to mind was arepa = “cream” or “ointment”, and if that is a putative “correct” translation, it can be interpreted as meaning an  “anointing cream”. Fits the bill. The third word on the third line of the right hand side of the fragment, ending in the single syllabogram WE, was much harder to divine. It could be one of a dozen things, but I finally settled on duwowe, meaning  “a two handled vessel or urn”.  This again suits the context, but it is only one of scores of possible interpretations, all of which would have equally suited the context.  I was working on the assumption that the person making the sacrifice, presumably a priest, would have cremated the ashes of the ram(s) after the sacrifice. But this is definitely going out on a limb, since in most ancient societies, sacrificial slaughter of  sheep or rams involved killing them and then roasting them on a spit for subsequent consumption in a religious feast honouring the god” or if Hebrew, God. On the other hand, the Minoans and Mycenaeans may have (also) cremated the ashes of the sacrificed ram. If there is any researcher or archaeologist out there who visits this blog and can refute the notion of post-sacrificial cremation among the Minoans and Mycenaeans, please have at it and I shall revise my decipherment accordingly. 

Moving over to the left hand side of the join (KN 386 A 87), which contains considerably less text, we have on the second line the syllabogram QE, which by itself means “and”, but which in this case might possibly be the last syllabogram, i.e. last syllable of a Linear B word... except that scarcely any Linear B words end in QE,  and any way the syllabogram QE in this context is written huge. So I am left with no other alternative than to interpret it as I have done = “and”.  But “and” what? There you have me. I am stumped. On the next line, the third one down, we have the ideogram for “man” or “person” followed by the number 1, for “one person”, this in turn followed by the supersyllabogram SA, and then by the ideogram for “ram” and the number 1. The SSYL SA I have previously established on another tablet posted on this blog as most likely meaning sapaketeriya = “for ritual slaughter” or “for ritual sacrifice”. This too suits the context very well.  You can see the downwards pointing arrow from the ideogram for “man” to the word Towaune = “Towaunes”, presumably the name of the man, on the fourth line. His name in turn is followed by a Linear B word, which, if complete, is doke, a variation on odoke, the aorist (simple past) of the verb didomi (in Linear B), which means “to give” or “to offer”, and in this context “to offer up” (for ritual sacrifice). So now the sense is complete, except for all those single syllabograms (qe wa & po) on the left side of the join, which I can make no sense of at all. And that is a pitfall. However, within these restraints, I have been able to come up with one possible, even plausible interpretation (among God knows how many others), which you can see in translation at the bottom of the figure above.
     

The supersyllabogram SA in Mycenaean Linear B: sapaketeriya = animals for ritual slaughter: Click to ENLARGE

KN 386 X a 87 & KN 387 X c 57
Recently, I ran across two new fragmentary tablets from Knossos, KN 386 X a 87 & its quasi-join, KN 387 X c 57, both of which sport the supersyllabogram SA to the left of the ideogram for ram(s). The addition of this new supersyllabogram brings the total number of SSYLS in Mycenaean Linear B to 35 or 57.4 % of a syllabary of 61 syllabograms in all. This is a significant chunk, which attests to the supreme rôle of supersyllabograms in Mycenaean Linear B. We have defined the phenomenon of the supersyllabogram over and over in our blog, but for those of you who are not familiar with it, a supersyllabogram is the first syllabogram, i.e. the first syllable only of a particular word or even an entire phrase in Mycenaean Greek. It is advisable for our newcomers to consult the section SUPERSYLLABOGRAMS, which you can click on at the top of our blog (see above).

How did I come to the determination that this SSYL references the Mycenaean Greek word, sapaketeriya? It was actually quite straightforward. In Chris Tselentis' excellent comprehensive Linear B Lexicon (PDF), which you can download from my academia.edu account here:

Linear B Lexicon Tslentis
there are only so many Mycenaean Greek words of which the first syllabogram, i.e. the first syllable, is SA. Of these, one and one only neatly fits the context of sheep raising in the agricultural sector of the Minoan/Mycenaean economy, and that is the word sapaketeriya = animals for ritual slaughter. It is significant that this SSYL appears nowhere else on any extant tablet or fragment from either Knossos or Pylos. The reason for this seems to be that the practice of tallying ritual slaughter in inventories would appear to be the exception by far rather than the norm. The norms in inventories of sheep (rams & ewes) on hundreds of tablets from Knossos are primarily tallies of sheep on kitimena = plots of land, onato = lease fields, periqoro = enclosures or sheep pens, and similar aspects of prime interest to sheep husbandry and sheep raising. We have done scores of translations of tablets focusing on these areas on our blog. But again, this quasi-join of (apparently) one tablet is exceptional in two ways. First, it is a particularly rare exception to the types of tallies with which animal raising and husbandry tablets in Linear B are concerned, regardless of provenance (Knossos, Pylos etc.) and secondly, the quasi-joined tablet is in and of itself exceptional, in other words, quite remarkable. It is, in a word, a stunning find.

The partial translation:

Of all the tablets in Mycenaean Linear B which I have translated to date, this is by far the most difficult text with which I have been faced. The gaps in the quasi-join are so fragmented that it appears to make it next to impossible to glean any sense out of the tablet's intent, in other words, what it is supposed to inventory. However, closer examination of the fragmentary text which does appear to the left and to the right of the quasi-join reveals a few fascinating clues. These are tagged in the translation in the illustration above. A few words of explanation are however in order. I've managed to make some sense of the overall intent of the inventory by extrapolating what I take to be the missing text from the context of the intact text.

For instance, it seems to me that the right-truncated word following the indecipherable left-truncated word toyaone on left line 3 is very likely to be paketere, the Mycenaean Greek word for a peg or pegs, or more to the point, a stake or stakes. In the context of this tablet, the ritual slaughter of rams, this rather makes sense, especially in light of the fact that once again, in Chris Tselentis' Linear B Lexicon, it is the only word beginning with the syllabogram pa which fits the context. So that is why I have translated the snippet as such. After all, it does make sense that a ram intended for ritual slaughter would be tied to a stake, to restrain it. One can easily argue that this isn't necessary at all, but on the other hand, it is entirely plausible. Secondly, on right line 0 we find the termination no, left-truncated. What word can this final syllabogram possibly refer to? Once again, turning to our trusty Linear B Lexicon, we discover the word kono, the Mycenaean for the schinus rush plant. It is quite possible that the schinus rush plant may have played a rôle in the ritual slaughter of rams. No one can claim with any certainty that it did... but then again it might have. There is no way of our knowing, peering back 3,300 years through the mists of history, as we were not there when the scribe who tallied this tablet wrote whatever he wrote. But this guestimate is as good as any.

Next, on right line 1, we have the two syllabograms ito left-truncated. One of the most common words found on scores and scores of tablets from Knossos dealing with sheep and livestock is of course the toponym or place name, Paito = Phaistos. So I have opted for that. But then how are we to account for the presence of the number 1 immediately following Phaistos? The explanation might run as follows. What the scribe is describing here is the ritual slaughter of rams at Phaistos only once on this occasion, hence, the number 1. It is well worth considering. Finally, on right line 2, we find the single ultimate (terminal) syllabogram we. What can that possibly refer to?  And once again, there is a plausible explanation for the missing word of which it is the ultimate, namely, the word akorowe, referencing a field or fields. After all, where do we normally find sheep? ... in fields. That too makes sense in the context.

So while my translation is fragmentary, enough of the original text remains on the tablet to allow at least one plausible reconstruction of the intent of the inventory's tally. The reconstituted text does make eminent sense in its proper context. It is of course only one of several possible reconstructions. But I for one am satisfied with it as it stands.  

On a final note, I feel I ought to address the problem of the juxtaposition of the huge syllabogram QE with the much smaller syllabogram wa subsumed to its right. I bring this point up because I have noticed the same phenomenon recurring on scores of tablets from Knossos, and not just with this particular type of combination of these two syllabograms alone. Several other syllabograms appear in the same configuration, i.e. with one, the much larger, appearing first, and the second, much smaller, subsumed to it on the right. I have no idea what this means, but it is surely significant of something, because, as I have said many times over, the Mycenaean scribes never used any linguistic device unless they meant to, in other words, unless they found some practical advantage in so doing. So any two consecutive syllabograms (whichever ones they are) appearing in this particular configuration do not appear to constitute a Mycenaean Greek word, but rather to be a variation on the phenomenon of the supersyllabogram itself. I have neither the room nor the intellectual means to address this unusual configuration in this post, as I have not even begun to make any determination yet re. what this phenomenon actually is. However, I do intend to investigate it thoroughly in the relatively near future, as it quite possibly constitutes a sub-category of supersyllabograms, presumably being a corollary of the latter phenomenon.

Eventually we shall see.  

Richard
 

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