Sunday, January 31, 2010

Cracking the libation formula - Part II

Reading back my previous posts, I realised that continuation was mentioned many times. So this time I fulfill one of my earlier promises, and continue the discussion of the famous Linear A libation formulae. (This post took long enough to complete as I had too little time to devote to the task last week.)

In the preceding post, we discussed a small but important part of the Linear A religious texts: Yet - literally - we did not get past the first word. In this chapter, we will attempt to analyse the deep structure of the whole Libation Formula, hoping to get insight into the meaning of its words. We shall make good use of the works of John Younger, who transliterated, classified and compared these inscriptions, and also made them available to the public on his website.

Our method is going to be a purely comparative one: using as little as possible input from other languages (not even Etruscan-Lemnian structures), our attempt will be a 'universal' one (informatics would call this 'platform-independent'). We only make one simple assumption: that the different texts found on libation vessels represent essentially the same grammatical structure, the same key words with slight variations, determined by the context (such as the subjects' number, the objects' number, and so on). Then, by comparing different sentences, looking at the word-formation carefully, we can attempt to build up a dependence-tree from the different words. And from these relations, with some luck one can assign the words their roles as subject, object, predicate or epithet.

So let us take our 'sample sentence' once again:
(α)A-TA-I-*301-WA-JA • (β)JA-DI-KI-TE-TE-DU-PU2-RE • (γ)JA-SA-SA-RA-ME • (δ)U-NA-KA-NA-SI • (ε)I-PI-NA-MA • (ζ)SI-RU-TE

As I mentioned it before, this is in fact a hybrid between two more-or-less complete inscriptions (PK Za 8 and IO Za 2). I made it up partly because the fragmentary nature of some finds would make it difficult to see the entire structure in one piece; and I also wanted this base form to feature the word JA-DI-KI-KI-TE-TE-DU-PU2-RE. (You will see what my motives were very soon.) Since this inscription above (with the constant variation of words in place β, but keeping all the other words α-ζ constant) represent the most common form, we will term this case as type #0 (or the base type).

As for the variations, inscriptions PK Za 11 and PK Za 12 shall represent type #1 and type #2, respectively. PK Za 12 (variant type #1) is depicted below:
(α)A-TA-I-*301-WA-JA • (β)A-DI-TE-TE-? (•) SI-? • (γ)?-RA-ME (•) A-?-NE • (δ)U-NA-RU-KA-?-JA-SI • (η)A-PA-DU-PA-?-JA (•) A-? (•) (θ)?-JA-PA-QA

As we see, word ε of the base formula was substituted with a chain of words I labelled η-θ. These do not occur anywhere outside these two Palaikastro libation vessels, so we cannot analyse them meaningfully with our comparisons. Still, we see many remarkable things: the words noticeably changed in position δ, and less profoundly but recognisably in position β. The inscription PK Za 11 (variant type #2) shows even more profound changes:
(α)A-TA-I-*301-WA-E • (β)A-DI-KI-TE-TE-?-DA • PI-TE-RI • A-KO-A-NE • (γ)A-SA-SA-RA-ME • (δ)U-NA-RU-KA-NA-TI • (ε)I-PI-NA-MI-NA • (ζ)SI-RU-? (•) (θ)I-NA-JA-PA-QA

Here barely a few words kept its original form. In addition to changes seen previously in positions β and δ, further important changes occurred at position α, γ, δ and ε. Pure common sense suggests that these secondary changes are independent from those already seen on PK Za 12. Since we now have a chain of words in position β instead of a single one, it is tempting to assume that we have some kind of singular-to-plural change in the structure. But let us not stop here, and take a look at the next more-or-less clearly identifiable class:

Variation classes #3 and #4 consist of inscriptions KN Za 10 and PR Za 1. These texts display a different type of deviation from our case #0. Most obviously, these begin with TA-N-, and - consequently - are much shorter, lacking parts δ-ζ:
(α)TA-NU-MU-TI • (γ)JA-SA-SA-RA-MA-NA • (β)DA-WA-? (•) DU-WA-TO (•) (η)I-JA-?

(α)TA-NA-SU-TE-?-KE • (β)SE-TO-I-JA • (γ)A-SA-SA-RA-ME

Here the mark η stands for unique parts not repeated on any other document. The truly interesting feature of these inscriptions (that otherwise have little in common) are the semi-regular changes in words α and γ. In the first example, we see a genuine case of declensional change on word γ (the addition of an intusive suffix -A-NA), concomittant with a different case-ending of the word at position α . Case #4 shows a different type of change on the same words: this time something reminiscent of the changes seen on PK Za 11 (case #2). The occurrance of an -E ending on word α is followed by the removal of the initial J- from word γ. Yet these two cases are too different to establish something systematic out of them. The only conclusion we can make is that "whenever word α changes its ending, corresponding changes in word γ will follow".

Finally, for comparison, we will inspect yet another class of the libation formula. These are not true grammatical variants, but instead represent the case when some words of the formula are substituted with logograms. Some pithoi contain such inscriptions, like SY Za 2 and ZA Zb 3:
(α)A-TA-I-*301-WA-JA • (β)JA-SU-MA-TU • (γ?)olives • A-JA • (δ)U-NA-KA-NA-SI • (ε?)olive-oil

(α)A-TA-I-*301-DE-KA • (β)A-RE-PI-RE-NA • TI-TI-KU • (γ?)wine • 32 • (η)DI-DI-KA-SE • A-SA-MU-NE • A-SE

It is quite interesting to see that positions γ and ε are used by names for commodities in these cases. It reminds us that whatever JA-SA-SA-RA-ME and I-PI-NA-MA stood for, had likely more to do with the fluids used for the libation than any other thing. But again, we have no direct proof, and the fact that JA-SA-SA-RA-ME in fact occurs on other objects such as statues as well, undermines any attempt to translate it as "olives", ''olive-oil' or 'wine'.

What could we have learnt from all the above examples ? If we gather all our observations on words showing corresponding changes, we can get the table below:

case # α β γ δ ε others
case 0 A-T-α-JA J-β J-γ δ-SI ε (misc)
case 1 A-T-α-JA β J-γ(?) δ(RU)-SI ε (misc)
case 2 A-T-α-E β γ δ(RU)-TI ε-I-NA (misc)
case 3 TA-N-α-TI β J-γ-A-NA missing missing (misc)
case 4 TA-N-α-E β γ missing missing (misc)

We can also use the (intuitive) assumption that additional changes in class #2 with respect to class #1 can be separated. With this, we can get a greatly simplified set of relations. The following rules can be obtained:

Rule I:
word β lacking J- ↔ multiple words at β
↔ word δ containing -RU- infix
Rule II: word α ending -E ↔ word ε ending -I-NA ↔
↔ word δ ending -A-TI
Rule III: word α ending -TI ↔ word γ ending -A-NA
Rule IV: word α ending -E ↔ word γ lacking J-

It is interesting to look at the initial J- elements. This particle has been variously interpreted from 'grammatical prefix' to 'dialectal or spelling variant'. But neither of these interpretations appears to be fully correct. Since we have specimens of the libation formula from Palaikastro with J- and without J-, the difference is anything but dialectal. However, we also know that the initial J- is a minor element of the language at best - prefixes are unlikely to be part of the Minoan language. This leaves us only one option: like the initial TA-N- (*tan), the demonstrative pronoun's accusative case, the initial I- or J- should be a pronoun or article (*i), simply written together with the word it refers to - as usual in Linear B.

No matter what this I- or J- exactly means, its role is secondary, and does not really modify the grammatical case of the word. But it still turned out to be pretty useful to detect declensional dependence relations. We can also depict these relations in the form of a 'dependence-tree' graph, as shown below:

Looking at this graph, there are two words that occupy a central position: α and δ. So either of them must be the predicate, hiding a verb or verbal derivative. We cannot decide this without getting some help from the previously-deciphered phrases. For example it is clear that word β is most commonly a place-name, and thus it has something to do with the subject of the sentence. On the other hand, word α appears to contain some sort of demonstrative pronominal particle (see part I of this post). Therefore its chances of being the predicate are low.

From here, a fairly trivial conclusion would be to regard word δ as the predicate - as an active verb - and word α as its subject. Despite referring to places and persons, word β cannot be the subject, due to formation issues in word δ (a verb - in a suffixing language - should not carry the plural marker buried inside the stem). But word δ still modifies the predicate, so we must assume the predicate refers to the object offered (word α) modified with its origin (word β) Words like γ, ε modify the subject, while word ζ does not seem to modify anything.

As for word δ, it not only occupies an important position in the structure, but also has a high number of forms possible. It is important to observe that not only the changes of the subject (word α, that also determines the form of both γ and ε) are reflected in the predicate δ, but also the changes of part β - so δ might be a compound word, like 'to give libation' (or even 'pouring of libation', if its not a verb). For example if U-NA-KA-NA-SI is "gives libation", then U-NA-RU-KA-NI-JA-SI (variant of U-NA-RU-KA-NA-SI) could mean "gives libations" and U-NA-RU-KA-NA-TI "give libations". The lack of J- on part β coincides with the presence of additional words in this position, therefore a singular-to-plural change is not a bad assumption at β, and that would naturally change the first part of verb δ (as multiple donors are expected to perform multiple libations).

The endings of JA-SA-SA-RA-ME and I-PI-NA-MA change in a distinct, though fairly similar way. In addition, they are both determined by the putative subject α. These two facts suggest that these two words fulfill a similar grammatical role in the sentence, further specifying the object of the action of libation. Finally, word ζ (SI-RU-TE) seems to incur no changes at all throughout the formulae, and thus might be something like an adverb. A suggested (though heavily tentative) translation of the entire formula is depicted below (I used Miguel Valerio's concept of translating JA-DI-KI-TE-TE-DU-PU2-RE as the 'Diktaian Master'. Other words were haphazardly given a meaning, except I-PI-NA-MA - I will devote an entire post to that later):

There is one more little bit of trouble with the above-mentioned interpretation: namely, the fact that texts beginning with TA-NA- are always shorter than the A-TA- types and these ones never contain the phrase 'U-NA-KA-NA-SI'. Since this class is numerous, one cannot help, but imagine that in these cases, the word α takes the role of the predicate. These cases feature a different composition of word α, and that suggests that its original noun was supplanted by or supplemented with a participle or an active verb. For example: "this vessel (nom)" contrasted to "this vessel (acc) gave" (Special thanks go to Glen Gordon for pointing out that TA-NA- is accusative case). The reconstruction featured on the figure above was based on the latter structure.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The so-called Minoan 'palaces': Royal mansions or holy sanctuaries?

After all those heavy linguistics stuff, I would like to invite readers to a lighter theme. As a fan of Minoan Crete and all aspects of its ancient culture, I am now bringing up a new topic on architecture, rituals, societal organisation, and religion. The question for today will be: what purpose did the so-called Minoan palatial centres, such as the famous Knossos Palace serve? Were they indeed a place for a royal court, and governors? Or did they serve as a focal point of Minoan religion, where high priests prayed and religious ceremonies were held?

This question may not be straightforward to anyone not examining the remnants of this once magnificent civilisation closely. Fortunately, I had the luck to personally visit many of the most important sites of the Minoan and Mycenean civilisation. Even as a simple tourist, one can get a realistic and personal impression of how these structures once looked like. And I can tell you: it is nowhere near the fancy pictures sold to tourists, posted on the net, or inserted into books. This greatly overhauled reconstruction of the Knossos excavation site looks way more like the Versailles of France, or a Victorian-era palace, than a bronze-age building complex. Maybe we can forgive that to Sir Arthur Evans. But do not let us be derailed by the legend of King Minos.

What are the main problems with the traditional reconstruction of the Knossos (and Phaistos) sites? For one of the most obvious ones, the 'palace' did not stand as an isolated building, in the middle of some royal garden. In fact it was situated directly inside the city centre. It looked much like the Athenian Acropolis, since both the Knossos and Phaistos sites were built atop local hills (yet some smaller centres like Malia were not). There were not even walls to keep commoners out, unlike the Forbidden Palace in Beijing or the Kremlin in Moscow.

But the most important evidence of activities other than that of a royal residence lie directly around and inside the palaces. If one pokes around the Phaistos site (the Knossos site is equally good, but there are too many tourists so I preferred the former), one can discover a number of disturbing features not fit with an image of a palace. For example, the West Court of Phaistos is bordered by staircases - that do not lead anywhere. These steps were therefore more similar to the classic Greek theatres' semicircular seats, than some real stepwells. But the most intriguing feature is not this 'theatre', but the strange lines paved onto the ground. On the ground, above the original stone cover, some narrow stone-covered lines criscross the court. The lines start at an entrance, then divide - one of them leads to the 'seats', then (after a sharp break) to the exit - the other line goes streight from entrance to exit. If we follow these lines through the site, we can see that they indeed go through much of the 'palace'.

What were these lines? It takes some imagination, but I believe they marked some sort of 'ritual procession'. In this regard they were comparable to the lines painted on some squares where military parades are regularly held. Yet I am pretty much convinced, that these processions had a profoundly religious character in the case of the Minoan 'palaces'. They lead from one side through courts to the central 'plaza'. But their route is not accidental: they typically pass beside the three strange well-like holes variously interpreted as granaries, cisterns or some other objects. The most acceptable explanation is that these were some kind of "sacred repositories".

Another really interesting fact is the presence of the "tripartite" buildings and altars. This means a typical arrangement of structures: three wings, with a slight elevation of the middle one. I cannot resist the theory that the "tripartite" altars served some divine trinity, so characteristic of the Mycenean religion. The Pylos tablets supply us with a number of such divine trinities: such as Diwia, Iphimedeia and Perswa or that of Poseidon, Qowia and Komawenteia.

Once we have accepted the fact that these 'palaces' could have been in fact sanctuaries (perhaps also housing some theocratic governing body, explaining the large storage buildings and the tablets' reference to taxation), we may explain another strange fact. After the decline of the Minoan age, most part of the palaces were destroyed, yet the cities continued to flourish in the classical era and beyond. The place of palaces lied somewhere not far from their agoras (marketplaces). While most of the buildings were indeed left to collapse, some parts continued to see use in the Classical Greece as well. Strangely enough, both at Knossos and Phaistos, temples of Rhea were constructed above the once-mighty complex.

Could this be a coincidence? I highly doubt it. People are much more conservative in religion than in earthly things: thus if a temple is destroyed, they often construct the new one directly above the ruins (given that the cult survives). This is exactly how the mighty temple-mounts of Mesopotamia (the ziggurats) gained their form: during millenia, the ruins of previous temples have raised the ground below the temples of Uruk or Eridu, and this 'holy design' was avidly copied and simulated by later architects. So the mere fact that the temples were (re)built above the ruins, indicate that they were previously important sites of the cult of Rhea.

Rhea was undoubtedly an important goddess of the Minoan civilisation. The London Medical Papyrus even mentions a god Raziya as 'great god' of Keftiu (cited from the works of Peter W Haider), implying its high status, an perhaps even its role as the head of the pantheon. Apart from the identification issues (more about this papyrus in a later post), it is tempting to believe that Raziya was indeed Rhea, and that she was the head of the Minoan pantheon, a true 'Great Goddess', whose cult and importance was partially preserved in the classic era. Do not forget though, that having a female figure as the head of the pantheon has nothing to do with societal structure: The ancient Irish pantheon being led by a goddess does not imply that Celts were either matriarchal or matrilinear. It is still pretty much likely that the Minoan society recorded relations on a patrilinear basis and had male rulers, just as all neighbouring civilisations of that age.

For those who wish to read more on Minoan and Mycenean religious practices, and the nature of 'palace-sanctuaries', I recommend the book of Rodney Castleden titled 'Myceneans' (2005).

Sunday, January 24, 2010

"Intrusive" suffixes of the Minoan language

Looking at the Linear A tablets, we can encounter zounds of words. Most of them are names: a good percentage of them personal names - unique ones that never recur on other tablets. Still, there are some rare words that do occur more than once. And with some luck (and this indeed takes some luck, given the lost, fragmented, illegible or otherwise damaged tablets) we can see how they change their endings.

In this chapter I will attempt to use these rare examples of declension to get a bit more systematic insight into the grammatical system of Minoan language. This is a mammoth task, given the scant evidence, and will likely not be completed until all Minoan texts (including the (in)famous Phaistos Disc) are fully deciphered. So I warn all readers in advance: all the theories to be discussed here have an extremely high uncertainty factor.

To begin with, let us consider a few examples drawn from the Linear A tablets. The following groups contain words with (supposedly) related stems. I am also going to give a (highly tentative) reading of the words, to help imagine how these suffixes looked like in the real language.

Our first example will be the stem *PI-TA-K-? (perhaps *pinthake?). We can see two different derivatives of the same stem on the Haghia Triada tablets:

HT21:   PI-TA-KA-SE  (*pinthak-ase?)
HT87:   PI-TA-KE-SI   (*pinthake-si?)

What is really interesting, are not the endings themselves, but rather, the way they fit onto the stem. Throughout all the tablets, we can find many words ending with either -SI or -SE. Their stem-vowels follow a very similar distribution, with -A- being the most common, followed by -I-, but -E- is really that rare. But how do we explain the discordance of stem-vowels found in our example? It cannot be just some 'scribal preference' or 'dialectal variation' (both examples come from the same place). One cannot shake the feeling that this is a regular grammatical change.

There are a handful of good examples on the tablets to reinforce the feeling that the ending seen on PI-TA-KA-SE is not just -SE. It is -A-SE. Throughout the corpus of inscriptions, there are many other similarly-suffixed words (mostly names), i.e. A-SE, DI-DI-KA-SE, DU-RE-ZA-SE, etc. And one should not forget about the fairly similar Eteo-Cypriot declensional ending -O-SE (i.e. A-RI-SI-TO-NO-SE = *Ariston-ose = "from/of/to Ariston" on the Amathus stele).

In some of these words (our example was such one), the -A- vowel (-O- in Eteo-Cypriot) seems to 'intrude' into the stem, replacing its original ending, in case if it ended with a different vowel. In this sense, we may call many Minoan suffixes as 'intrusive', as they do not simply add on to the stem-words (our example was very likely that of a noun), but instead replace its base ending with their own vowel. What we see on the above example-pair is an intrusive suffix beside a non-intrusive one. -A-SE is probably intrusive because this declensional ending starts with a vowel. On the other hand, -SI does not seem to change the stems (at least in our case), so it does not necessaritly use an initial vowel, such as -A-.

What do these suffixes mean? Since we have no useful etymological counterpart of PI-TA-KE, it is hard to tell what it meant. Chances are good that it was a name. The Eteo-Cypriot endings related to -A-SE occur on names, and probably mean either ablative (less probable), dative or genitive cases. If -A-SE, let us say, is a genitive case, then -SI could be a related ablative case ending. But at this point this is a mere game with thoughts. We will need more solid evidence before we can identify the cases with more-or-less certainty.

But let us continue our search for other examples of declension. This time we will tackle the very common -A-RE ending, to see if we can see at least one example of a word loosing this ending. It may not be the best linguistic example ever, but the stem A-R?-N-? (*arne?) will do for this time. We have the following three examples:

HT1:     A-RA-NA-RE  (*arn-ale?)
KNZf13: A-RE-NE-SI-  (*arne-si?)
HT25:    A-RI-NI-TA   (*arn-intha?)

If the division of signs on the golden ring of KNZf13 is correct, we have a word with the previously-seen -SI ending. On the counter-example it stands with the (supposedly intrusive) -A-RE ending. This ending is incredibly common. A good percentage of all words use this very case-ending. Since it dominates on tablets listing personal names, it is credible that this is either a typical genitive or ablative case ending of Minoan words (dative makes less sense, given the context: taxation).

The last parallel to this stem shows another typical case-ending: *-intha. From the context, it is probably an adjective-forming suffix. We can reconstruct it with more-or less certainty since it is the same ending so characteristic of "Pre-Greek" place-names found around the Aegean sea. Korinthos is just one of the many cities that bear such a Minoan-era name. We can see from our example that this ending is - again - intrusive: The -i- vowel almost always precedes the -nth- cluster in these Pre-Greek toponyms as well, still corresponding to ancient Minoan grammatical rules after the Cretan civilization disappeared into oblivion some 3000 years ago.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Commodities on Linear A tablets - part I

Time has come to discuss an interesting topic. As our knowledge on Linear A tablets and the underlying "Minoan" language is mounting up slowly, we may start to interpret some of the tablets directly. And this is exactly what we will do at this time.

For the first moment after a brief look at the tablets, it will become obvious that they are poor in content. The scribes did their best to abbreviate everything they could, using logograms for wares, numerical characters for numbers and single-sign abbreviations for transactions. They were so devoted to this tendency, so that most of the words written are almost exclusively personal names. The only common exception is the header of tablets, where the scribes often added one or two words to record the event or significance of making the balance ledger.

Fortunately, there are a few tablets (and really low in number) that contain more than just logograms. They contain written-out names or qualifiers of some goods - almost certainly because logograms were not enough or not good enough to record the goods precisely.

There are three tablets: HT6, HT23 and HT31 of special interest, regarding this matter. For the current post, I will only write about the tablet HT6 (the rest comes later).

This is how side A of the HT6 tablet looks like (interpreted as referring to multiple commodities):
KA-PA • DA-TA-RA • TE •NI (figs)15
DA-QE-RA •QE   PI-TA22.75
NI (figs)15.5
(Side B is referring to other subjects paying only FIC as tax - therefore it is a mere list of names and numbers, without any commodities mentioned)

The main proof of this tablet being a multiple-commodity one is the occurrance of a ligature: RU+JA or JA+RU. Both the Linear A and Linear B scripts are very orthodox in one thing: personal names or transaction terms are never abbreviated like this, therefore ligatures can only signify a logogram used for a commodity. But that means, this tablet has at least two different commodities (NI = FIC = figs and RU+JA/JA+RU). This hits that the words caught in-between of the two signs (PI-TA-JA) and likely all the other following ones (until another transaction term comes in) are all names for commodities, and not personal names.

The occurrances of the sign QE in second half of side A were always a bit of mystery to me. This sign would not normally stand as a prefix or postfix to words. Also keep in mind that the Minoan language does not seem to use (grammatical) prefixes too frequently (you can find more on this matter in Glen Gordon's Paleoglot). Therefore its interpretation as a logogram (perhaps the same type of ware the words PI-TA and PI-TA-JA are referring to) helps to yield a better understanding of the structure of this tablet.

'TE' is obviously a transaction term. It is commonly occurring on tablets that refer to the collection of goods (probably as a tax, e.g. HT13), therefore a meaning like "gives" seems more than appropriate. Its usage here merely reinforces the multiple-commodity theory. The goods are collected, not paid: but the ubiquitious summing-up term KU-RO (total) is missing from the tablet's end. The best reasoning is that one cannot sum up different types of goods to get a single number, explaining the lack of totalling the goods.

KA-PA looks more like a transaction term ("taxation", "payment", "additional" or such) than a name. Its repetition on side A together with QE does not necessarily mean a new subject: it is possible that DA-TA-RA gave a further 5 JE quantity of QE or PI-TA. Remember, in the next line, QE and PI-TA stand together: it is thus most probable that these refer to exactly the same commodity.

DA-QE-RA is perhaps a name: it occurs on other tablets' headers as well (HT57, HT120). The other possibility is that this one, too is a transaction term: on HT120 it stands with DA-ME, a putative place-name. DA-TA-RA, on the other hand, is unique to this tablet. It does not seem to be related to DA-QE-RA (unless 'TA' is a scribal mistake), so its meaning remains unknown.

Now that we have a bunch of terms that refer to goods, the question arises: what kind of wares do they mean? The meaning of the sign 'NI' as figs is already well-known. RU+JA on the other hand, resembles the Greek word for pomegrenates, 'Rhoia'. This would mean that the tablet refer to special agricultural goods: edible fruits and other comsumables.

PI-TA(-JA) is a harder nut to crack. If it really stood as an explanation for the logogram QE, it might have meant something other than a fruit: the shape of sign 'QE' closely resembles some sort of "cake" or "flat bread". Then it is perhaps not impossible to see a similarity between PI-TA and the Aramaic flat bread, also called 'Pita' since ancient times (funny thing, but flat pastas under the name pita are still a popular food today...). A potential problem with this interpretation lies in the quantities: fractons can only be understood if the numbers stood for some (unknown) weight-units, and not the actual number of breads or fruits.

For the last remain words like MA-*321 and O-RA2-DI-NE. While I have no idea about the former one's meaning, the latter does show some faint similarity to the Greek Rhétiné = resin. I have no clue whether this identification is linguistically correct or not, yet it is clear that resins are used in Greece since olden times (maybe since the Minoan era) for the conservation of wine. For this aspect, they can be regarded as "consumables".

Saturday, January 16, 2010

More on the libation formula - the statuette of Poros Herakliou

I believe it is time to continue our discussion on the Minoan libation formula. This time I will attempt to analyse a rare specimen of this famous formula: the one inscribed on the statuette fragment of Poros Herakleiou.

The homapage of John Younger gives the following reading for the text:

RI-QE-TI-A-SA-SA-RA-*325 • (retrograde, right-to-left)

Later, we shall see, that we may also read the text in the following way:


Which is way more sensible, since the ending -ME is always following (J)A-SA-SA-RA- in any other examples encountered. Also, the word U-QE-TI is already known from the silver pin of Platanos (containing the text:...U-QE-TI • JA-SA-SA-RA-ME...).

Let us now take a glance at the statuette-fragment itself!

What we can see at first sight that the script is hard to read, the characters being very "artistic" in their design. Nevertheless, the RA sign and the TI sign are readily recognizable, and the rest of the characters in-between bear undeniable resemblance to the ordinary SA and A signs of the Linear A script. Some further examination yields the value QE for the rounded sign (the only sign with a perfectly round shape, KA is written in a very different way). So it is ?-QE-TI-A-SA-SA-RA-? beyond doubt (the text is written right to left - this is the only way of reading that is sensible given the similarity of the word(s) to (J)A-SA-SA-RA-ME - and do not forget that the (asymmetric) RA sign is also mirrored)

The remaining two characters to the left and the right (see the lower row on the picture) are much harder to crack. The one to the right could basically stand for two characters of the Linear A syllabary: it is either U or RI. The latter reading looks more probable at first sight given the shape of the text. The RI sign typically contains an S-like shape on most documents - yet one should not forget the fact that the artist added the same curves to the base of A and SA signs as well, that normally never have a curved trunk like this. So we cannot exclude the reading 'U' as well. If we observe the sign more closely, we can see a tiny dot after the sign in question. This is highly unlikely to be a word-divider since a much larger dot on the other side would make this sign stand-alone, something quite unusual in libation formulae. So I propose it is actually a part of the sign we are examining. Indeed, it could stand for the small 'cross' belonging to the U-signs. So after a second thought, the reading 'U' is the one that fits the better.

Now, if we go to the right end of the script, we may examine the last (and most hard-to-read) sign. At first glance, it is unlike any other. The only (faintly) similar sign is the (very rare) Linear A sign *325, whose value is unknown (it only occurs in U-*325-ZA and A-*325-ZA). Finding such a rare sign in a position where we normally encounter 'ME' in all other cases is certainly surprising. But again, I will show that this first-sight interpretation is more than likely a misreading, and the sign is indeed 'ME'. First, sign *325 is normally symmetric with a vertical axis, which is not the case here. But the most intriguing thing is the single big dot put immediately after the sign. Why would one put a word-divider dot here, if he already missed the one between U-QE-TI and the rest? We are left to ponder if this dot actually belongs to the mysterious sign, like the dot of 'U'. In fact, if we suppose it is used in the same way as in 'U' (namely, an artistic substitute for a vertical and a horizontal line crossing in the middle), we now have a vastly different sign-form. This one now closely resembling the shape of 'ME' (that contains either two loops or one cross and one loop). And would not it be neat if this was indeed the old and familiar 'ME' sign instead of some unidentified hapax? It really boggles the mind.

Comparison of this new reading with other examples of the libation formula yields further confirmation. The text on the silver pin of Platanos carries almost exactly the same two words: U-QE-TI • JA-SA-SA-RA-ME. This cannot be mere coincidence!

Our check of this specimen yields immediate important implications on the word (J)A-SA-SA-RA-ME. Many earlier interpretations suggested that this was a compound word, and that -ME was a declensional ending or an attached particle. But we now see that such interpretations cannot be fully correct, since the word never looses its final -ME part. Thus a separation of the word like ASA - SAR(A)ME is possible (and maybe probable), but on the other hand ASA - SARA - ME is unlikely.

Furthermore, there is another implication: This rare find gives an example where the word (J)A-SA-SA-RA-ME is found outside of its usual context (namely, the libation vessels). That fact might make the statuette a vital clue to decipher its meaning : words like "olive-oil", "olives" or "wine" or any other noun related to the (libation) offerings do not seem to be appropriate, given that this is a statue and not a jar. On the other hand, it is the deep analysis of the libation formula that makes its translation as a theonym (i.e. "Mother Goddess") unlikely. What it truely means, no one can tell at the moment: We do not even have a good guess at it.

For the word U-QE-TI, we face similar problems. It occurs only twice in the Minoan corpus, in both case on dedicatory/religious texts. This alone gives no useful hint at its meaning, but another observation might help: Words beginning with U- are relatively rare in Linear A texts, and such words sometimes occur in longer texts as explanation (i.e. U-MI-NA-SI) - this suggest that they might be verbs. Similar to the word-pairs PUIA (etruscan-tyrrhenian for "wife") and OPUEIN (Ancient Greek gloss "to marry"), the 'U'-prosthetics might have been verbal formatives in the Minoan language. Despite all of the uncertainties in the sketched theory, an interpretation of this text as a (declined) verb and a futher word that somehow connects to religious devotion, is an attractive one.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Solution for a problem: evolution of Linear A & B signs

The Minoan and Mycenean "Linear" writing system was a relatively conservative one. I mean, the same signs (with a similar form and identical value) were used with little change over over several centuries. Yet one cannot deny the changes that happened to the script during its adaptation by mainland Greek cities and their few literate individuals.

The Mycenean Linear B script is essentially the same as the (somewhat earlier) Linear A one. The only important differences are (apart from rounding or simplification of some signs) the emergence of a handful of "new" syllabary signs, that cannot be found in any Linear A document (almost all Linear A signs continued to see some use in Linear B, but the reverse is not true).

First, what are these signs? If one examines thoroughly, the following ones can be added to the list: 'JO', 'QO', 'PTE', 'DWO', 'DWE', 'TWO', 'TWE', etc.
I intentionally did not add 'NO', 'DO' and 'WE' because these are not necessarily new - and some instances of these signs may well hide under not-well categorized Linear A signs. For example, Lin A *28 may be an ill-concieved grouping of three different signs: 'I', 'AI' or 'NO' and Lin A *53 may contain examples of both 'RI' and 'WE'.

From the remaining "surely new" ones, one can find examples of newly invented signs. The best example is Lin B *32 = 'QO'. If one examines the structure of this sign, there can be no doubts, that it stood for "cow" or "bull", that appears to derive from archaic Greek *QOUS, as Miguel Valerio has already pointed out in his article.

So new signs were readily invented, there can be no doubt about that. But some signs seem to evolved on a more complex path. One example is the sign Lin B *36 = 'JO' , that has no clear origin in Greek and might be a "transformed" descendant (i.e. in both form and/or phonetic value) of Linear A *301, whose value is unknown, but seems to terminate with -U rather than -O. But a far more brilliant example is the case of "librum" signs, as I will explain below.

It was already discovered by some, that the symmetric form of the Linear B *90 (='DWO') sign does have something to do with its phonetic value. Since *DWO would have meant "two" in Mycenean Greek, Miguel Valerio has theorized that this special sign would have arisen from the unification of two Lin B *42 (='WO') signs. While this theory is attractive, there are serious problems. First: why would a scribe replicate a 'WO' sign? The only plausible reason would be if this sign would have meant 'one', but this is highly unlikely. We know that the numeral "one" did not begin with 'WO' in the Mycenean language. And there is not a single convincing instance of using the 'WO' sign as a numeral.

To bridge these inconsistences and to amend the theory, I would propose a slightly different version that builds on the previous hypothesis (namely, that 'DWO' indeed intended to stand for 'two') and explain where the form of Lin B *90 came from. You can see the basic elements of this theory on the figure below.

Basically, if we align the Lin A signs with their Lin B counterparts, we will have 2 Lin B symbols (*90 and *83) with only one possible ancestral Lin A sign (*118). Since we know that the sign Lin B *90 contains an invention, regarding its phonetic value, it is possible that this novel phonetic value simply represents a Greek translation of its original Minoan meaning. But how did we get "two" from an image depicting a "two-armed librum" ?
This is not impossible, since a (compound) word for a "two-armed librum" may carry the particle 'two' at its very beginning, and can thus be abbreviated (during the formation of the acrophonic script) with the word "two" (remember, numerals for small quantities tend to be short in almost every language around the world).

The other sign that likely descends from the Lin A *118 ('librum') sign is Lin B *83, whose reading is - unfortunately - unknown. What we can make out of the context of Lin B *83, is that it probably has -I as a vowel part (it tends to be followed by J- series signs). For the consonantal part, no one can be sure, but if this theory is correct - and Lin A *118 & Lin B *83 share the same phonetic value, then the relatively high frequency fo Lin A *118 in texts suggests it carries a 'simple' consonant instead of a derived one (i.e. not DW-, TW-, SW-, RY- or like). Since there is only one case of a yet-unassigned I-series simple syllabary sign, I tentatively assigned Lin A *118 / Lin B *83 the value ZI, but of course if any of you could bring up a better solution, I would grateful to hear it.

Does this kind of development sound familiar to either one of you?
The mentioned case is fairly similar to that of the Japanese Kanji characters, with their On'yomi reading (phonetic) contrasted to the Kun'yomi reading (ideogrammatic). The only real difference is that we now have two slightly different signs for each type of reading. And - of course - both signs have eventually been fixed as purely phonetic ones.