Sunday, December 5, 2010

The most peculiar Minoan sign ever seen

I would like to present a short post here, on a rather petty, but nevertheless interesting topic. As I was conducting a rather fruitful discussion with Kim Raymoure about the orgins of several Linear A and B signs, I realized that the evolution of Minoan signs is rarely discussed by professional scholars, and it is something that needs to be explored in detail. To make a tiny contribution, I will share some of my not-so-recent discoveries with you, that apparently no one has proposed or published before. So here goes a small discussion about Linear A sign *301, Hiero *46 and their images.

It was several years ago, when - in an attempt to make sense of some Minoan seals - I stumbled upon a Hieroglyphic version of Lin A *301. It is an easy thing to identify (and has been known for at least a decade), because this sign is so peculiar, and characteristic to the Cretan scripts. A strange, heavily gnarled object, with a straight line piercing it on one end. CHIC (Olivier et al.) terms this sign (*46) as 'adze'. Initially, I also believed it to be some kind of a tool (hack, rake), but was unable to explain either its strangely-shaped "handle", or the thickness of its "upper part". Fortunately, the Hieroglyphic signs do give a clue about the object it depicts: In some cases, the sign also has a strange "rayed disc" under the main bulk. Although frequently ommitted, its consistent recurrence in Hieroglyphic texts show this detail clearly belongs to the sign itself, and not a ligature.

The same is true to the Lin A *301, that it sometimes comes as a variant: *606 (*301 with an open circle below). In contrary to the opinion of Godart and his colleagues, this is not a ligature (*301+*311), either - because "sign *311" does never occur alone, and the composition is exactly the same as the "Hie *46 with disc" variant. We are left to conclude that this "disc" or "circle" is in fact a commonly-ommitted detail of the original image. In most cases, it is not connected to the main bulk, but if you drew a line to connect the two, then it may suddenly become clear what the sign depicts!

To make a long story short, this is what you would get: a human figure, bending towards and grabbing a pole. From its pose, it could either be an acrobat (in a somersault) or a captive or a slave, chained to a pole, bending forward in a submissive pose. The "rayed disc" turns out to be his head! Now, this interpretation can nicely explain the thickness of the upper part as well: because this is a human torso. And the "handle" is gnarled, just because it represents legs. I shall also direct the attention of my readers to the fact that the Phaistos Disc also has a sign (Pha *04) that depicts a 'captive' or 'slave'. The only difference is, that in this instance, the man stands upright and his hands are tied behind him, and not in front. One could argue that the disc is always separated from the main bulk, so the man is "decapitated"; Yet I find the probability small, that Minoans would have depicted an image of 'gore', while none of the Old World's writing systems did anything similar (The Mayas, with their dreaded customs are naturally taken out of the equation). Although the shape of Hiero *46 does resemble the Egyptian setep (a ritual tool, used in the opening of mouth ceremony, but not in everyday life), it does not match an adze well - not even the bronze-age variants, as far as I know (please, correct me if I am mistaken).

The phonetic value of this sign is equally problematic as its image. Although it does not have any clear, direct Linear B counterpart, the sign is relatively common in Linear A. Although much of its occurrences likely come from the same words and constructions repeated over-and-over, like A-TA-I-*301-WA-JA. Interestingly, in Hieroglyphics, many of its occurrences come from a single word, either: *46-*44 (*44 being the 'trowel'-sign, with unknown value). This does little to help us decipher its reading. From careful examination of the phonetic values of following signs, one could get to the conclusion that the most probable vowel-value of Lin A *301 is u. Because the only simple Cu-sign that has not been yet identified in Lin A / Lin B is ZU (and readings like A-I-ZU would indeed make sense) this value could be suggested from one point of view. On the other hand, sign Lin A *301 is often mirrored with a vertical axis, and it only takes a mere 90 degrees clockwise rotation from such an image to get a shape identical to the Linear B JO sign (*36) - not yet identified in Linear A. Yet the latter theory would contradict the fact that Lin A *301 is very often followed by signs beginning with w- (WA or U [=*wu]), where O-series signs seem to attract pure vowels (compare A-SU-PU-WA [ARKH2] with A-SI-SU-PO-A [KH9]). This leaves the reading of Lin A *301 unexplained as of now.

Linear A *301 was also used as a stand-alone sign on the Haghia Triada tablets. It is so frequent (over 100 occurrances) that many scolars were tempted to read the sign as a logogram. But because of the given interpretation of its graphic image, I seriously doubt that Lin A *301 would have been used as a true logogram (i.e. the image of the object cited). In cases it was used for a commodity, it was very likely an abbreviation of the commodity's name, and not an actual pictorial description. Somehow, I doubt that they would have stored men in wooden boxes down the temple cellar. Or - if we stick with the original adze-theory - hundreds of the same tool, in one house...

Update: After doing some in-depth research on the cited Egyptian item, I found that it it was also called the Adze of Upuaut. It was not just a ceremonial item, but supposedly a model of a real-life one. Seems like this tool of ancient Egypt was dissimilar to the adzes of other ages and civilizations. Given the close interconnectedness of Minoan and Egyptian civilizations, it could explain the shape of both Hiero *46 and Lin A *301. If the "rayed circle" were to be interpreted as a pile of wood-chips, that could give a solution to our riddle.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Commodities on Linear A tablets - Part II

I am returning to a topic, the continuation of which was long overdue. It is about the item-names featured on Linear A accounting tablets. In a previous post, I analysed a few tablets from Haghia Triada just to show that commodities can be featured both in a logogrammatic and textual form on the same tablet. Yet, in most cases, they do not mix.

It appears that the Cretan scribes had special rules when it came to writing about items of trade. Whenever writing names, they tended to use as few ligatures as they could, writing out names either fully, or abbreviating them with their first syllable. However, when it came to the writing of commodities, they used ligatures as heavily as possible. They drew the picture of the more complicated items, and added syllabary signs to them (most likely abbreviations) detailing their qualities. Although we know very little of the Minoan language, therefore we cannot "read" these qualities, many Linear B parallels suggest that they must have been clear to a bronze-age Cretan scribe. For example (these are just random examples), PA+sheep could have meant 'old sheep' (παλαιός), PE+sheep+masc 'ram from the last year' (περυσινϝό), etc. in Mycenean accounting texts. The Knossos Linear B tablets are especially prone to use such abbreviations, compared to the much more verbose Pylos tablets.

But sometimes the items are not drawn at all: their name is written out fully in ligatures of otherwise phonetic signs: This way, ME+RI stood for 'honey' (μέλι), KA+PO for 'fruit' (καρπός), KA+NA+KO meant 'saffron' (κνάκος), TU+RO2 'cheese' (τυρός) and A+RE+PA 'ointment' (αλειφά). This way of expression was especially useful for goods whose image would have been excessively hard to draw on a clay tablet. Most commonly, the ligatured signs denoting a commodity are to be read in a downwards-up direction, while the qualifiers are added beside the commodity logogram. But this rule is never strict: sometimes the size and appearence of the signs can dictate alternative arrangements. It should not be forgotten, too, that people could also be regarded as "items" on accounting tablets. Therefore the names of different types of men and women, professions, etc. can also be represented in ligatures in those cases.

Tablet HT23 - Side A
 Statement   Item   Quantity 
KA-NA • CYP (barley?) 1/3
*308 (=?) 1/16
OLE+NE (oil type) 1/16
OLE+TU (oil type) 1/16
OLE+RI (oil type) 1/16
*550 (RA+JA+RU?) 1/16
VINa (wine) 10
*508 (QA+TA+RE?) 10
*509 (QA+TA+RE+PU?) 10
E (=?) 17
QI-RI-TU-QA 1/16
SA-SA-ME 1/16
*530 (ME+SI) 10

To represent all three ways of writing commodities on a single tablet, take a look at tablet HT 23 (shown above). The header KA-NA is reminiscent of the term U-NA-KA-NA-SI seen on the libation tables in various forms, and likely means 'gift' or 'offering'. This view is reinforced by the rather small quantities of various goods mentioned on this tablet. The commodities themselves appear to be exclusively agricultural products - yet quite a specialized assortment. Unfortunately, we cannot plausibly decipher most of the rare ligatures, like *550 (RA+JA+RU?) or *508 (QA+TA+RE?). But the term SA-SA-ME is almost certainly sesame seed (σησάμη, SA-SA-MA in Linear B), thus QI-RI-TU-QA must also denote another type of seasoning plant or spice - as suggested by the comparably small quantities of both goods. The term KO-RU also reminds us of coriander, written as KO-RI-JA-DA-NA (κορίαδνα) on Linear B tablets. This assembly of goods somewhat resembles the ingredients traditionally used to prepare κυκεών, an ancient Greek beverage frequently drunk on religious feasts.

The cited tablet is one of the luckier finds, where we at least stand a chance of identifying some of the referenced goods. Many other tablets are hopelessly haunted by the fact that we do not know the names Minoans used for their objects of everyday life. For example, we can at least suspect that the term MA+RU [HT 24] actually stands for wool, as Linear B also used almost exactly the same sign to denote wool (probably a lingature for the Minoan word denoting 'wool' - related to the Classic Greek term μαλλός). But frankly, I have no idea of the meaning of terms like ME+SI(+KI) or KA+JA, appearing on the very same tablet HT 24. For the purpose of nothing more than a teaser, I collected a nice assortment of item-names in pure ligatures. You can see them on the table below:

Last but not least, there is a very important class of items I did not mention until this point. As in Linear B, some Linear A tablets also mention vases, clay or metal vessels as items of trade. While the terms mentioned in Linear B remind us of Classic Greek (e.g. A-PO-RE-WE = αμφορήϝες, TI-RI-PO-DE = τρίποδες), the Linear A terms are more mysterious. They only admit a clear interpretation in a limited number of cases. Such a single case is tablet HT 38, where the phrase DA-RO-PA (*talopa or *talúpa) recalls both Greek τολύπη = 'lump of clay' and Hittite taluppa = 'clay'. The reading is quite plausible, as it is followed by the image of a chalice - supposedly made of clay. On the same tablet, a different item has the name A+KA, that reminds us of Greek ασκός = 'wine-skin', made either of pumpkins, leather or clay. Another tablet [HT39] also presents image of an askos-like vessel with a sign 'A' written on it.

Sadly, this ease of reading does not apply to tablet HT31 - one of the most spectacular Linear A accouting tablets. It not only lists different vessel types, but also adds terms to each image (logogram). For example, a conical cup carries the term QA-PA3, a handled krater goes by the name KA-RO-PA3 and a pithoid amphore is labelled SU-PU. Not a single term is easy to interpret, not even SU-PA3-RA and PA-TA-QE that denote simple, mundane vases. Apart from the faint similarity between PA-TA-QE and the Greco-Roman patera (open dish) or patané (pan), there is no plausible explanation based on Mycenean Greek. This is quite surprising, as many vessel names are "technical wanderworts" that are notoriously easily and commonly borrowed from one language to another. For example, the English words vase, urn, chalice, cup, pan and jar all go back to Latin vasa, urna, calix, cupa, Greek patané and Arabic jarrah. Even in Mycenean Greek, A-PO-RE-WE (amphores) and TI-RI-PO-DE (tripods) and U-DO-RO (hydroi) were authentic Greek in origin, but several other terms were clearly not, such as DI-PA (depas) or KU-RU-SU-PA3 (probably pronounced as *khrusupha).

In the light of this fact, it is strange to see that almost none of the non-Indo-European Greek vessel names are found in the Linear A corpus. On the other hand, the names SU-PU and SU-PA3-RA show some resemblance to the Semitic stem *spl- = 'cup', 'vessel' (c.f. Biblical ספל, sepel). If this observation is not just random coincidence, it is possible that we are dealing with a loanword from the Middle East. Borrowing of agricultural terms, plant names as well as technical terms from the more civilized areas of the ancient world is proven in quite a large number of cases (e.g. in most European languages, the word for the metal 'copper' might have come from the Sumerian term kubar, 'bronze', mediated through the Aegean), so a Semitic loan would not be suprising at all. The only mystery that remains: why did the Greeks not take any of these terms over?

Apart from the pure chance of all names gone lost, there is also a possiblility that we are dealing not exactly with vessel-names, but rather, the description of their properties (e.g. earthen or metal, painted or bare, with or without glaze, etc.). At least some vessel-types clearly have descriptors referring to their material, volume, contents, or other qualities, instead of type. This is also suggested by the similarity of SU-PA3-RA (*suphara? *suppala?) to Hittite stem suppai- = 'pure', 'brilliant', 'sacred' (Hittite suppiahh- = 'to (ritually) purify', also suppistuwara- = 'ornamented' (e.g. cup), even the supposedly Minoan s3-b-w-j-7-3-jj-d3-3 ='may it purge' found in one of the famous Keftiu-incantations). Or the resemblance of KA-RO-PA3 (*kalopha? *kalúppa?) to Greek καλυπτώ 'to cover' (Greek καλυβή = 'cover', 'shelter', Greek κέλυφος = 'sheath', 'case' or Hittite kaluppa- = 'undergarment', 'petticoat') - although these are definitely not the most convincing parallels I have ever seen. Much more research is needed before we can tell with any certainty what these terms might mean.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Major graphic overhaul

I decided to update my little blog's minimalistic appearence. I am still experimenting with the new template and its look: so if anything looks out of bounds or does not display correctly, just grab the 'comments' button, and give some feedback!

In the meantime, I was also preparing my future posts. Some of the titles planned for the near future: "Commodities on Linear A tablets, part II", "Classifying the names on the Haghia Triada Tablets", "What does Linear A tell us about Cretan geography?" and "Anatolian loans in Minoan". Stay tuned!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Tracking the evolution of the 'KA' and 'QE' signs of Minoan Hieroglyphic and Linear scripts

I am returning to the more technical problems surrounding the Minoan scripts. What I intend to do at this occasion is, to show you how the signs of the Minoan writing systems can be traced from its origins until the very end of Linear Minoan scripts. Finding the Hieroglyphic counterpart of a Linear A sign is not the simplest business. Anyone who ever tried to read a Minoan Hieroglyphic inscription can testify this. I will try out a new method today: one employing the symmetry-based classification of signs. We shall see it later, that this reductionalist approach is in fact quite useful. The case of two Linear A and B signs: KA (Lin AB *77) and QE (Lin AB *78) will nicely illustrate the way Linear A signs can be traced back to Hieroglyphics - and also the problems associated with this approach.

The Linear AB sign KA has long been noted for its similarity to a wheel in its shape (for example, see the Anatolian hieroglyph Ana *292 for 'wheel' - with the phonetic value hari). Its Minoan value also seemed similar to the Luwian word 'to rotate' (kalutiya). Yet there was a major problem with this approach: despite the considerably high frequency of KA signs seen in Linear A documents (among the five most common phonetic signs on the Haghia Triada tablets), no one was ever able to discern even a single wheel-like Hieroglyphic figure. So this is where the original theory fails: whatever object the Minoan KA sign depicts, is definitely not a wheel.

How can we solve this problem? If - disregarding the actual object - we only sought for signs that have a similar symmetry (i.e. at least two mirror axes), we may get six signs as a result. These are shown on the table below. Apart from a fair collection of "rectangular" signs (*39, *63, *65, *66), that could never have evolved into the circular QE or KA syllabograms, we get two good hits: One of them is a simple circle (Hie *73) - either open or filled. This one is fairly rare (CHIC230, MA113, MA119, MA120, KN69), but likely a phonetic sign. Since it co-occurs with the 'sieve' sign Hie *47 on MA113, it is clearly not a mere variant of the latter (more about it later). The next one is the very common 'cross pommée' (Hie *70) sign. Although the 'cross' sign is closer to the Linear A KA sign than any other of the above ones, we have to keep in mind, that KA and QE are not the only Linear A signs of this high symmetry. In fact, there are no less than nine phonetic signs in Linear A and B, that can have more than one symmetry axes. Some of them even have rotational symmetries. The syllabogram RO (Lin AB *02) also admits multiple mirror axes, and matches the 'cross' sign in shape almost perfectly. Unlike all the other signs of the o-series, RO is also reasonably common in Linear A (within the top five on the Haghia Triada tablets). So it is certainly not a bad match for the Hiero 'cross pommée' (Hie *70).

Once we made the identification above, the values of the remaining signs are constrained. The problem of assignments is this: there is only one valid solution. If you made an error early on, it is often only realized in the end: namely, you will have signs that you were unable to assign at all. For this very purpose, I do not attempt the full asignment of Linear A signs to Hiero ones. All I try to do is find the best matches first, thereby minimalizing the chance of an early mismatch, and the collapse of the entire attempt.

Since we had nine signs identified in Linear A or B with multiple symmetry axes (RO, PA, *47, NU, PA3, JA, KA, QE, SWI), and we found only six appropriate matches among Hieroglyphics, we clearly need some intuition. We know from the evolution of several writing systems that signs frequently increase their symmetry class (i.e. they become more symmetric) as time passes. This stems from the all-permeating human tendency of regularizing things around us. The reverse can also happen: this is how the round Linear A KA sign "opened up" in Cypro-Minoan and became the arrow-like Cypriot KA sign. Given these tendencies, any sign that had only a single axis of symmetry, could have easily evolved into one with multiple axes. In the context of Hieroglyphics, there is a sign that could actually well match both KA and QE if we allowed a graphic reduction: this is the already-mentioned 'sieve' (Hie *47) sign.

Is the 'sieve' sign (Hie *47) KA or rather QE? Alone from its shape, it is impossible to decide. However, we do have a powerful help on our hand: the pictogram-like syllabary of the Phaistos Disc. Although different from the traditional Hieroglyphics, the disc does present us one clearly discernible 'cake'-like sign (Pha *12). While matching with Lin A QE almost perfectly in shape, it is clearly not a sieve. On the other hand, the disc also has another sign (Pha *17), that looks like a Rugby-ball with handles. That is exactly how a (handled) sieve would look if we viewed it from aside. From this point on, the identifications KA = 'sieve' and QE = 'cake' are rather straightforward. As I mentioned early in this post, there is also a somewhat cake-like 'full circle' sign in Minoan Hieroglyphics (Hie *73). It is much rarer than the 'sieve' sign, but the QE sign is also much rarer in Linear A, than the KA one (30 vs. 117 occurrances on the HT tablets). This last note essentially closes the circle. Or at least so I hope.

For those who still disbelieve these identifications, I suggest to read (or rather, parse through) the Linear A tablet HT6. It is the only case where sign QE is used as a logogram: and from the context of the tablet, it must refer to some foodstuff. Given that it stands alongside the term PI-TA (pita = Aramaic for 'bread'), I strongly feel that the 'cake'-sign actually meant 'bread'. It should not be forgotten that there exists a sign (Ana *181) within Anatolian Hieroglyphics that looks similar to the Linear A QE sign and the same as Phaistos Disc sign *12. It is actually the Luwian logogram for 'bread'!

If we add our newly-gained insight to our previous knowledge, we are now able to read further Hieroglyphic documents. The Hieroglyphic seal (CHIC No. 166) I show above, will be our next objective. The reading of the signs is very likely PU-RE-KA-NA, and this seems to be a Minoan proper name (probably *Pulekna).

Thoughts, notes, additions? If you can offer an alternative assignment of the cited signs, feel free to share it, I would love to see it, to either confirm or contest the one I showed you here!

Update: The theory presented here is slightly outdated, since now several instances show that Hie *77 reads as KA more plausibly than Hie *47.   Hie *73 is prossibly not a syllabogram at all, but a numeral (100). This does not mean that Hie *47 cannot be read meaningfully as QE. PU-RE-QE-NA also appears to be a plausible reading for this name (toponym? ?=Polychna?). Also, Pha *12 might read as KA (yielding the particle I-KA- in word-initial positions).

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Goddess Eileithyia and her snakes

My next post is going to be a shorther one, without that heavy linguistics stuff - if possible. All I intend to put together are a few facts about the names and attributes of some Minoan divinities, and the way their cult survived into the classical era.

Eileithyia - the goddess of childbirth and labour - is perhaps the best known Greek goddess of certainly Minoan origin. Her cult was quite widespread in the classical Hellas, with temples found in all the major cities of Greece: Athens, Megara, Korinthos, Argos, Mycenae, Sparta, Olympia etc. But her most holy sanctuary was a sacred cave near Amnissos. This tradition is quite unusual when compared to other divinities, and undoubtedly a continuation of the Minoan cave-sanctuaries. A high number of similar underground sanctuaries existed on Crete in the classical period: such as the Dictaian (Psychro) cave or the cave of Mount Ida (Psiloritis). Though these likely served other deities as well (e.g. Rhea), some subterranean sites are known to be associated exclusively with Eileithyia: such as the cave of Inatos. It seems that the Minoans firmly associated caves with childbirth, so divinities with the appropriate portfolio were primarily worshipped there. Some of these goddesses might have possessed healing abilities as well, judged by bronze leg and the human figurines found in the Diktaian and the Idaian caves. Both of the latter caves were famed as being the alleged birthplace of Zeus, thus also associated with his mother, Rhea. If we believe the Egyptians, Raziya (=classical Rhea) was also associated with healing, alongside with the mountain-goddess Amaya (=classical Maia).

The 2nd century AD author Pausanias gives us a description of the cult of Eileithyia at Mount Kronios, Olympia. From him, we know that the priestesses of Eilyeithyia had to live in chastity, as virgins - an interesting association with the goddess of childbith. The main gifts offered to the deity were honey-cakes and incense - reminiscent of the gifts customary in the Mycenean era, as recorded by the Knossos Linear B tablets. Pausanias also relates a story about how a woman appeared before the army of Arkadians, holding a child in her hands. But as soon as she placed the child onto the ground, he changed into a terrifying snake, chasing the entire hostile army away. Then it simply burrowed into the ground and disappeared. That was the story explaining the foundation of this sanctuary of Eileithyia and her child (titled Sosipolis, saviour of the of the city).

The latter tale also points to an interesting thing: somehow Eileithyia was also associated with snakes. This is when Minoan figurines depicting a goddess with prominent breasts, holding two snakes into the air come to the mind. It seems to be a genuinely Minoan concept, to associate snakes with childbirth. Although in Classical Greece, snakes were associated with life-force, even with healing (e.g. as the attribute of Asclepios), but not with procreation. To understand this strange Cretan association, we have to know a bit more of the snakes themselves!

For quite some time, snakes were identified as a chtonic symbol in Minoan iconography. For example, the female figurines with the characteristic triad of animals: snakes, cats and doves are thought to sybolize the goddess' omnipotence over three domains (underworld + earth + heavens). But this is not the only explanation, and not the best explanation of the association of a snake with a newborn child. I do not know how many of you are a fan of zoology, to know: many snake-species, like addlers, are fairly unique among reptiles with the ability of being viviparious. That is, they do not lay their eggs, but give birth to new little snakes after a certain gestation period - much like us, mammals. Members of the family Viperidae (the addlers), that show such characteristics, are among the most common snakes in the Mediterranean. Thus anyone who had noticed their viviparity could have made an association between snake reproduction and the human one. The argument is tempting, but there is a slight problem: The most famous snake-symbol of Greece: the staff of Asclepios (and perhaps the Caduceus, the staff of Hermes, too) depicts the non-poisonous Colubrid snake Elaphe longissima, which is actually oviparous. This makes me rethink the theory.

Now let us turn our attention to the origins of the name Eileithyia. It has been long suggested because of the characteristics of her cult, that the worship of the goddess is of Minoan origin. Fortunately enough, the Linear A and B tablets enable us to reconstruct the full evolution of her name. The earliest record of the cult of Eileithyia is the Linear A tablet KH5. The goddess is named there as A-RA-U-DA (*Alauta), and worshipped at WI-NA-DU (*Winatu = Inatos) directly corresponding to the goddess E-RE-U-TI-JA (*Eleutia) mentioned on the Linear B tablets from Knossos. From the Mycenean name, the classic Greek terms Eileithyia, Eleithya, Eiléthyia, Eleuthya (Ionic) , Eleusia (Laconian doric), Eleiuthya (Cretan doric), and Eileitheia (Northwestern Greek) were born - from one of them comes Latin Ilithia. The origin of the name seems to be Indo-European: The name Alauta does match with the PIE stem *h1leudh- = 'free': the same stem that underlies Greek eleutheros = 'free', Latin liber = 'free', German Leute, literally 'free people', even the non-IE Etruscan lautni = 'freedman'. As I expressed it before, the theonym is likely a loan-word from an unspecified Anatolian language (not necessarily Luwian - many of the Anatolian-Minoan borrowings seem to predate the diffusion of Luwian dialects onto the Aegean shore). That explains the first step of evolution: *H1(e)leudh-a to Alauta. While the Myceneans barely changed the name of the goddess they took the cult over of, It is not the easiest to explain the later Greek variants. While the lengthening of -e- poses no problem (remember: -ει- is not necessarily diphtongal!), the methathesis of -υθ- to -θυ- is more problematic. Also, do not forget the addition of aspiration, as a novelty. I think the best explanation is a re-analysis of the stem by later Greeks, and its contamination with the Greek word ἐλεύθερος and its hypothetic ancient verbal form *ἐλευθώ, explaining an evolution AlautaEleutia*Eleuthwia*ElethuiaEileithyia. The funny thing is that the Greek re-analysis was mostly correct: they added aspiration back to a stem that originally possessed it in PIE.

I would also like to use the current post to debunk some incorrect hypotheses regarding the Minoan divinities. From time-to-time I have seen mentions of an alleged Linear A term, KU-PA3-PA3. Some sought to identify this term with the Lycian goddess Cybele. But the sad truth is, the cited word was only found on a single Linear A tablet, HT88. Recently, Kiminoa (who also maintains a neat blog on Linear A) helped me to clarify that KU-PA3-PA3 on HT88 is a misreading, for the correct word is KU-PA3-NU, a place-name (perhaps related to Cyrba = Hierapetra) frequently mentioned on other Haghia Triada tablets as well. So better dismiss the hypothesis that Cybele was a Minoan goddess. It does not fit the (Minoan-inspired) Greek mythology, either. It is much more plausible to believe that the position of 'overmother' was held by a familar figure: Rhea, and not some obscure Anatolian divinity otherwise unknown to the marority of the Greek word.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

An elegant explanation for the lack of R-L distinction in Linear A and B

I am now going back to one of the problems that have long plagued the research on ancient Aegean languages: namely, the baffling lack of r/l distinction in all Minoan writing systems. The only exception, Cypriot, was born outside Crete. Although I initially proposed the possibility that the Minoan language inherently lacked r/l distinction, like Egyptian (as some extant languages, e.g. Japanese also do), the sheer number of Minoan loan-words present in Greek, with good examples for both r (e.g. Rhethymnon, Rhadamanthys, Rhea) and l (Lyktos, lyre, lily, etc.) sounds, have shaken my theory. All other Aegean-born languages, such as Etruscan or Eteocypriot do have both l and r, and so do all Anatolian languages. Also, Eteocretan - a likely descendant of Minoan - apparently did possess both laterals (e.g. isalabre, *isal-awr-e [goat-cheese]) and trills (e.g. the common word irer). This is not consistent with my original theory, so I gradually decided to give it up entirely.

Recently, while I was collecting material and doing research for my future posts, a brilliant new idea came to my mind. In all Anatolian tongues, a word-initial r- never happens (it is forbidden), thus there are no initial Rv-type syllables either. What if Minoan was similar in that regard? All Minoan writing systems are believed to be largely acrophonic, right? Now what if a particular sound is forbidden in initial positions? That is where you need a work-around to the situation. The Cretan solution: without giving up the acrophonic character of the script, use the L-series signs as a substitution for Rv type syllables! Really simple, no?

Before going into details, we should return to the Egyptian script once more. Many experts of Egyptian linguistic history would immediately quarrel with my above view, because of two proven facts: 1) Egyptian also lacked an r/l distinction, and 2) The Middle-Kingdom Egyptian hieroglyphic system was the eventual basis of the Minoan script. But we have to keep in mind a number of facts: First, Minoan Hieroglyphs are not a simple copy of the Egyptian system. Apart from the fact that the objects depicted are different, and that the system is now a pure (open) syllabary, there are also many new phonetic values represented: for example, pure vowels. Minoans did not simply copy-paste the Egyptian system, like Mycenean Greeks did with Linear A. So the percieved similarities between the two are probably a non-issue. Second, we know pretty well from ancient authors, that Eteocretan language was confined to the eastern half of Crete: eastwards from the Knossos-Phaistos line. This is exactly where most relics of Minoan culture were found, also including the overwhelming majority of Linear A tablets. Thus even if the Western Cretan dialects were slightly different (the indigenous people were referred to with a different name. the Kydones). they would have had but a small impact on the development of the Minoan writing system. On a geographic territory as tiny as Eastern Crete, dialectal differences should have been negligible in the Middle Minoan era, as culture was otherwise very similar. And the uniformity of the Linear A records seems to testify this. Thus if Eteocretan was a descendant of Minoan, the latter should have had a good r/l distinction as well.

I have been studying the Anatolian-Aegean connections a lot lately. As you likely know all too well, both the Aegean and the (Indo-European) Anatolian languages were subject to an areal effect, from the early Bronze Age onwards. Not only the phonological characters have become similar, words and even complete grammatical structures were also exchanged. Though it is in my intention to write a complete post about the Anatolian loans in Minoan, I can cite a few examples beforehand. For example, take the Minoan theonym Alauta (A-RA-U-DA = classic Greek Eileithyia). Her name is undoubtedly derived from the Proto-Indo-European stem *h1leudh- ='free'. The meaning of the name makes perfect sense, since Eileithyia was mostly worshipped by pregnant women, in hope of an easy childbirth and less complications and labour. However, the name Alauta already shows developments specifically pointing to an Anatolian language as the donor of this phrase: These include the disappearence of initial h1 laryngeals with the consequential a-colouring of initial vowels (h1e->a), and the de-aspiration of stops with a subsequent conversion to a simple, voiceless stop (dh->d->t).

Phonetics could be borrowed too. The "Aegean" languages had many peculiar characteristics, largely shared with their Anatolian neighbours: For example, there was either no (Etruscan, Lemnian) or very little (Minoan, Hittite, Luwian) distinction between o and u vowels. Neither Minoan, nor Cypriot or Etruscan had any distinction between voiced or voiceless consonants: this is reflected by the lack of voiced consonants in writing. On the other hand, they certainly (Etruscan) or probably (Minoan) possessed a second series of consonants, not distinguished by voicing, but rather stress or aspiration. Linear A also used an additional series of stops - either stressed or (even more likely) aspirated. Thus the difference between -say- PA and PA3 syllables was that of *pa and *pha (or *ppa), while DA and TA likely represented *ta and *tha (or *tta). Of course, simple stops were likely commonly pronounced as voiced, while stressed stops were certainly voiceless (this explains the evolution of *ta and *tha/*tta sign-values to Linear B DA and TA), but voicing was originally not phonemic. Cuneiform Hittite also had this strange feature: it rejected the distinction between the original voiced and voiceless syllables: instead, a contrast system based on single/doubled consonants was used. This keeps hittitologists in uncertainty even up to this day: Did Hittite have a voiced-voiceless distinction at all? Although simple consonants mostly correspond to PIE voiced consonants (and conversely, the double ones are expected to be voiceless), the phonemic character of sounds is disputed. The problem is, there is no trace of voiced-voiceless distinction in Luwian Hieroglyphs either. It is certain,that even if Hittite did retain voiced-voiceless contrasting to some degree, it must have borrowed the Akkadian cuneiform script (and perhaps the Hieroglyphs, too) via a local substrate language that had no such contrasting at all, instead having lenis (simple) and fortis (double) consonants.

Recently I wondered if some phonological features also went in the opposite way. We know all too well, that in Hittite or Luwian, no initial r- sounds were allowed. This was a restriction inherited from Proto-Indo-European, and the ancient Anatolian languages preserved it faithfully. Although the Aegean languages were not Indo-European by any means, but - as many examples show - were subject to heavy IE, particularly Anatolian influence. What if some borrowed this feature too? If so, that would provide a brilliant answer to the question why the Minoan scripts had no separate signs for Rv-type syllables. Because it was an acrophonic system, it simply could not build any signs for syllables forbidden in initial positions!

Conforming the mentioned theory, members of the Linear A and B R-series all appear to be standing for L+vowel syllables. There are at least two, separate lines of evidence for this. The first one employs the Hieroglyphic counterparts of Linear A signs, and the meaning of their images. There are at least two signs in the R-series with a good etymology. The RE-sign, depicting sea lily flowers, possibly stands for an acrophonic abbreviation of *(a)leri ='lily' (disregarding my previous concerns about the conflicting origins of RE and RA3). The RU-sign, on the other hand, originally depicted a lyre, getting its phonetic value from *lura = 'lyre'. Though the stem-words are not attested in (the mainly accounting) Minoan texts, they very likely originate from or were transmitted via Crete, whence they were borrowed into a number of Mediterranian languages, such as Greek and Latin.

The next line of evidence comes from the evolution of Linear Minoan syllabaries: namely the way Cypro-Minoan and Cypriot Linear C were derived from Linear A. Interestingly, the Cypriot scripts do have a distinction between r and l consonants: they present a different series for each. However, if one looks at the way the signs were drawn, will quickly realize that it is the R-series that is novel. Most of the L-series signs are actually taken over from the Linear A R-series without a major design change. This is a further confirmation about the "true" phonetic value of Linear AB R-series signs.

At this point one could ask if Minoan scribes could not have found a simpler solution for this problem. Why did they not relax their rules for sign-generation, allowing a word with v1cv2- initial structure to be the basis of a cv2 sign? It is the most rational solution one could find to their problem. The Luwian Hieroglyphic script - that was less stringently acrophonic than Minoan - also made widespread use of mid-stem open syllables. Indeed, some evidence does suggest that Minoans used such workarounds, too: The Linear A and Hieroglyphic PI sign undoubtedly depicts a bee. However, the pi syllable is rather rare as a word-initial in Linear A (it is a rare sign altogether), and possible cognates (Latin apis = 'bee') suggest that the corresponding word also started with a vowel in Minoan (*api? *ipi?). With this example in mind, it somewhat harder to explain why the scribes did not create any Rv signs. Clearly, the mere lack of initial r- is not a good enough answer on its own.

This is not to say, that an r-sound was not allowed word-initially when in clusters. The solution to the above question probably lies in the way trills behaved in Minoan word-radicals. Unlike Hittite or Luwian, that admit a number (although a restricted number) of words with v1Rv2- initial structure, most Minoan words (reconstructed from Mycenean loan-words) seem to present the trills as part of a consonantal cluster (e.g. v1Rcv2). Minoan loan-words in Greek that begin with r- can mostly be traced back to stems with such initial consonantal clusters. For example, Rhadamanthys might continue *Artamantha, rhodon (= rose) *wrata or *urta. Words like rhétiné (O-RA2-DI-NE = resin) and the divine name Rhea (RA2-T?) actually stand with RA2 = rya in Minoan records, implying a consonantal cluster in the word-radical. Ariadné might have been as well *Aryatna. If true, this would have made it impossible for the scribes to find a suitable word with a word-initial pure v1Rv2- structure, because there were probably too few or maybe none.

A further, elegant proof for the existence of initial v1Rcv2- clusters we find in the Minoan sign RA2 = *rya. It clearly depicts a stream or small river. We know from Hittite, that the word-stem for 'to flow' (and also 'river') was arsa-. The Hittite word is derived from an IE stem *h1ers- = 'to flow', also attested in Sanscrit as arśa-. But we should not stop here. This is not the first time we see perfectly IE stems in purely Aegean context (a good example is PO-TO-KU-RO in Linear A from the IE stem *pot- = 'powerful') If we allowed a hypothetic "Proto-Aegean" language to borrow the same *arsa (to flow), that would nicely admit a Minoan word *arya = 'stream' (by lenition). Our theory can also explain a previously shunned connection: the phonetic value of the corresponding Linear C sign. Although it is clear, even to an untrained eye that the Cypriot ZO sign is almost identical in design to the Linear AB RA2 sign, no one has ever been able to give a consistent derivation of the Linear C value. Now we have one: If the Cypriot word for 'stream' was something like *azzo (by assibilation from *arsa), it would be more than meaningful to suggest a correction of phonetic value of the "river-sign" from rya to zo. And this is not the only case when such Cretan-Cypriot lingustic discordances have triggered a slight sign-value correction: For another good example, see the article of Miguel Valerio discussing the identity of the Linear A DU sign with the Linear C SU one. Unfortunately, we cannot establish such a nice etymology for the Linear AB RO2 = ryo sign, as we cannot determine the object it depicts. All I can say at the moment its that it likely also represents a "true" r-sound, like its RA2 counerpart (given that it alternates with the former in Linear A texts).

Given these problems with the Minoan syllabaries, it is no surprise that the scribes used both the L- and Ry- signs indiscriminately, for both r and l sounds. The L-series was probably used as a shorthand solution in place of open syllables with r-. While in the earliest Hieroglyphic documents, the scribes likely also experimented with the use of Ry- signs (e.g. RA2) at this position, the latter eventually remained constrained to the clusters ry- or ly-. And so was the clumsy Linear B ortography born.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Pre-Greek place-names of the Aegean

In my next post, I shall briefly tackle an interesting and very popular approach to the research of ancient Aegean languages. It is all about the faint traces a language can leave after millenia of its disappearence: the toponyms or place-names. Thanks to the conservative nature of our species, while conquests, migrations or cultural assimilation may swap the ethnic composition of entire regions, names of towns, mountains or rivers often survive without any major change. For example, while the overwhelming majority of Turkey now speaks an altaic language, towns and villages of Anatolia preserve their names from the Byzantine era, some of them even have original Hittite names - only in a slightly changed form.

The fact that a large portion of toponyms in ancient Hellas were actually of non-Greek origin, has already drawn attention in the beginning of the 20 century. Professors Blegen and Hailey have published their milestone article in 1928, analysing a large number of ancient toponyms in and around Greece. They come to the conclusion that there is a surprising homogeneity among toponyms found in Greece and western Turkey, pointing to an unexpected lingustic union in these regions predating the "coming of Greeks". They have also found intriguing patterns in the way these names were formed. The most typical and common ones were place-names ending in either -nthos/-ntha or -(s)sos/-(s)sa. Other scholars later expanded their lists and confirmed their findings. What I shall do now is show a good collection of these toponyms on maps, to give you an approximate picture of their geographical distribution. It took me a good deal of time to comply. My main sources were Blegen & Hailey (JSTOR, 1928), the neat list of Best & de Vries & Brill (Book title: Thracians and Myceneans, 1989), the Barrington Atlas (published in 2000), and many other minor articles. I admit I may not be the best in calculating geographic coordinates: if you encounter any major error or can give me further examples I could put on my map, let me have them. I welcome any comments, as always.

First of all, let us analyse the first class: Names ending in -nos/-na are among the most commonly seen in southern Hellas and western Asia Minor, also on the Cyclades and Crete. These are the most overlooked ones, too: Despite their "ordinary look", most of them do not possess any meaningful Greek (or even Indo-European) ethymology. On the other hand, they perfectly fit the pattern we would expect from adjectives in some ancient languages of Aegean origin. The suffix -na is well-attested in Etruscan, and also found in Eteocretan (Φραισονα = "Praisian", from the town of Praisos). Conforming this pattern, many names falling into this category have no vowels inserted between the stem and the *-na suffix. This is quite an un-Indo-European feature, yet perfectly explicable by a once-widespread "Aegean" presence in the area, from what Eteocretan, Eteocypriot, Lemnian and Etruscan are just meager, relictual remains. It should not be forgotten that there does exist a similar (perhaps very distantly related) Indo-European formative *-en-, but the IE languages tend to preserve that -e- vowel.

Toponyms ending in -nos/-na are widespread all around the Aegean, also found on Cyprus and even in Eastern Anatolia. Yet the latter ones are generally thought to be from Hurrian and Hattic but not Aegean origin. Originally, most of them did not end in -na. This is demonstratable in quite a few cases, e.g. Tyana comes from Tuwanuwa and Adana from Adaniya. On the other hand, there is a surprisingly high concentration of originally *-na-type names on Crete, some of them already mentioned in Linear B sources (e.g. Itanos as U-TA-NO). Thus there can be little doubt about the close relationship between the language of Minoan Crete and those "Aegean" languages once spoken in Mainland Greece and Western Anatolia - only evidenced by their toponyms.

To the second major class of toponyms belong names ending in either -nthos/-ntha (Mainland Greece, Cyclades, Crete) or -ndos/-nda (Ionia, Lydia, Rhodes, Lycia). This type is slighly less common in Greece than the others, yet I managed to glean a sufficient number of examples to show that their geographical distribution is no different from the other "Pre-Greek" place-names. In Western Anatolia (especially in Lycia) on the other hand, they are the most typical toponyms. Apart from these main versions, there is also a variant in -nza/-nzos seen in Eastern Anatolia. Some Greek toponyms end in normal -s in their nominative case, only showing the -nth- stem in oblique cases (e.g. Tiryns [gen: Tirynthos]). Heteroclites were absolutely typical in Ancient Greek, adoption of this feature on non-Greek terms shows how perfectly these names were assimilated into early Greek.

When trying to interpret the meaning of this suffix, we encounter unexpected difficulties. Mycenean Greek had no such formative; and it was not used by Etruscan, either. But from the analysis of loan-words entering early Greek (e.g. Labyrinthos, etc), it is obvious that this suffix must have been existing, and still productive in Minoan. Fortunately it also existed in ancient Anatolian languages, like Hittite and Luwian, whence we can find out the exact meaning. Interestingly enough, Hittite presents us not only one, but two classes of such endings. One of them, the -wand- formative has a general possessive sense of meaning (e.g. esharwands = 'bloody' from eshar = 'blood'). This one is perfectly explainable from an IE *-went- suffix, sporadically also seen in Mycenean Greek (e.g. O-DA-TWE-TA = οδόνταϝέντα (odontawenta) = 'teethed'). The other ending is the fairly common -and- formative, carrying a 'collective' sense of meaning (e.g. udneyands = 'all lands' from udne = 'land'). It was also used as an "agentive", when forming subjects from neuter nouns. The same structure is also seen in the Luwian "collective plural": For example, the word dawi = 'eye' admits a normal plural dawa meaning 'eyes'. But when speaking about eyes of different individuals, the correct plural form is dawanda. Although some linguists seek to derive the latter formative with the Proto-IE *-ent- present participle, the collective meaning is hardly explainable. It is a more reasonable explanation that this is non-IE loan structure.

Conforming this duality, a high number of Greek toponyms actually has an ending in -u-, i.e. -ynthos. The rest most commonly ends with -i-, as -inthos. These would conform to the -wanda and -anda endings of Anatolian toponyms. What is strange, the -ynthos type toponyms are also found on places, where no early IE presence could be expected, such as Crete. And when we remove the -ynthos ending, we get stems practically meaningless in Greek. We are left with the conclusion that some ancient, supposedly non-IE languages used these formatives, and while the *-(i)ntha ending might be orginally Aegean, they might have borrowed the *-wuntha (-ynthos) version from some early Indo-European language, perhaps an Anatolian one.

Last, but not least, there is the group of toponyms ending in either -ssos/-ssa or simply -sos/-sa. This is the most populous class by far. In a geographic sense, it also extends further than any other type. Many examples can be gleaned from outside the Aegean, such as Naissos (present day Niš, Serbia), Orgyssos (in Illyria) or Arabissos (in the Taurus mountains, eastern Turkey). One cannot exclude the possibility of either the Greek colonists spreading "usual" place-names of Hellas, or simple hellenization of local toponyms, no matter how meaningless these were for Greek speakers. Though the Thracian names in -dessa do not seem to belong here (I did not put them on the map either), we can also see variants in -ttos/-tta, conforming the Ionic Greek dialects.

Almost all the languages originating in the region have had a version of this formative: The -(i)śa suffix was used by Etruscans as a patronymic. In Anatolian languages, the related genitival adjectives were highly popular: the -assa type endings even superseded normal genitives in Luwian. We only have fragmentary evidence from Minoan, but it looks promising: Linear A names ending in I-ZA (*-itsa) likely belong to this class. According to some opinions, this suffix was not only used by substratum languages, but also had an effect on the development of Mycenean Greek: its endings were sometimes morphed into faintly similar structures, i.e. μελισσα (*melitia) = 'bee' from μελι = 'honey' or ϝανασσα (*wanaktia) = 'queen' from ϝαναξ = 'king'. Nevertheless, it is hard to track the origins of this suffix, because Proto-Indo-European also had a very similar form of singular genitive (variously reconstructed as *-(o)s, *-oso or *-osyo) and related adjectives. Only one thing is certain: these formatives almost invariantly express a possessive sense of meaning. The same should be expected from the cited toponyms.

Of course, some names can come in more than one version. Apart from spelling variants (i.e. Kérinthos [Boiotia] is almost certainly the same name as Korinthos [Isthmos]), there are some regular changes as well. Most common are pairs with and without a formative. Harald Haarmann gives a nice collection of them in his publication (2007): Alos (Thessaly) vs. Alinda (Caria), Bargos (Illyria) vs. Bargasa (Caria), Kyrba (Crete) vs. Kyrbasa (Caria), Leba (Macedonia) vs. Lebinthos (Caria), Oinoe (Attica) vs. Oenoanda (Lycia), Passa (Thrace) vs. Passanda (Caria), Prinos (Argolid) vs. Prinassos (Caria), Sardos (Illyria) vs. Sardessos (Troad) and Tegea (Arcadia) vs. Tegessos (Cyprus). Stems with more than one ending - though less common - also exist, e.g. Alyssos (Arcadia) vs. Aloanda (Lycia) or Parnes [gen:Parnethos] (Attica) vs. Parnassos (Boiotia).

A single place can also have more than one name: e.g. the Dirphys mountain in Euboia is also referred to as Dirphossos, and the township in Laconia by the name Kardamylessos is also called Kardamylé. In Hittite sources, some even more intriguing variations exist. The land of Caria is not only referred to as Karkiya, but also as Karkissa. One could argue that the different names were used by different languages spoken in the region, i.e. the Indo-European Hittites may have preferred the form Karkiya, while some indigenous Aegean tribes (the Karkas?) may have stuck with the form Karkissa. Such a "partial translation" of names can also explain the puzzling evolution of some toponyms. For example, it was always problematic for linguists to derive the Greek name of Troy, Ilion from the Hittite Wilusa. But the name Wilusa strongly looks Hattic: the -sa ending seems to be the same as that in Hattu-sa. If so, One could easily imagine a variant of the name in a more Indo-European form *Wiliya (that was not recorded in Hittite sources). From the latter, the Greek name Ilion would come simply and rather straightforwardly.

Lastly, it should be mentioned that some of these names (especially the longer ones) also enable us to reconstruct some more complex word-formations of Aegean tongues. For example, there is the group of names ending not just in *-na, but in *-sarna (Phalasarna, Alasarna, Halisarna, etc.). Since the stem *sar- has a meaning 'upwards', 'high', 'great', etc. in all Anatolian languages (also do not forget the Etruscan words śar = numeral '10' and srenc = 'mural' or the Philistine seren = 'prince') it is reasonable to translate these place-names as '-burg' or '-castle'. Just remember that the germanic word burg or borough (or Greek pyrgos) also comes from an IE stem (*bhregh-) meaning 'high'.

Monday, July 26, 2010

'Mother' in Minoan? - Aegean words for motherhood and childbirth

My next post will be an illustration of the difficulties one faces when doing an in-depth research of Aegean languages. It also nicely illustrates how revarding it can be if we not only collect the tiny shards diligently, but also try to re-assemble the vase from them (Let us hope hope what I fitted, belongs to the same vase, and not some artificial hybrid abomination, though).

The Lemnos stele is perhaps the most famous Aegean relic ever found: sole testament to a now-extinct language once spoken on the island and beyond. The most striking feature of Lemnian language is its close relation to Etruscan: like some "missing link" in paleontology, this is the ultimate proof of the latter one's origins in the Aegean region. Despite the clear affinity of the overwhelming majority of Lemnian phrases to Etruscan ones, there are quite a few ones on the stele that fiercely resist translation. One of these phrases is the enigmatic 'Zeronaith ewistho'. It is clearly a stand-alone phrase, as it is repated (in different context) on the other side as 'ewistho Zeronaith'. I have capitalized the term 'Zeronaith' because of one simple reason: its *-ith ending would normally indicate a locative case, so Zerona was likely a township or village of some sort. It is also mentioned in the phrase 'wanalasial Zeronai Morinail' - as pertaining to the city of Myrina, capital of Lemnos. The *-o ending (corresponding to Etruscan *-u ) on the other word is clearly a marker of past participle. But what could a phrase "ewisth-ed at Zerona" mean?

I am not the first one to ponder over the meaning of the cited expression. Others have already suggested that it might refer to some honorary title. Though I am heavily doubting that. The stele already features one word suspicious of detailing a title or magistrate of some sort: maraz. It seems to be unrelated to the Etruscan *mur- = 'to die' term. So "maraz maw sialhweiz awiz" does not refer to how long Holaie lived, but rather his rank at his death. The word maw is not a numeral as repeatedly and wrongly assumed, but an unknown adjective to maraz (if related to Hittite muwa = 'powerful', could it have been "grand judge"?). Thus the last sentence on the stele: "Ziwai awiz sialhwiz, marazm awiz aomai" should mean something like: "died sixty years old, became maraz a year before" or something similar (-m is a verbal conjunction, just like in Etruscan). Interestingly enough, in the Lycian language, the word maraza meant 'judge' or 'arbitrator' (thanks to prof Melchert's Lycian dictionary). Looks like a clear borrowing or shared vocabulary there.

This way we clearly diminished the possibility that ewistho Zeronaith refers to a title. Then what could it mean? It was so important that it was repeated twice, just like the age of Holaie. This gives a fairly logical guess at its meaning: "born in Zerona"! That would remain nothing more than an elegant theory if we had gotten no help from other Aegean sources. This is what I attempt to do in the current post: gleaning bits of evidence from other Aegean languages, namely Eteocypriot and Minoan. Unfortunately, no help avails from Etruscan.

In the other corner of the Aegean region (though geographically outside it), similarly mysterious inscriptions have yielded evidence of the Eteocretan language, once spoken in and around the city of Amathous on classical Cyprus. One of the Eteocpriot inscriptions yield an interesting phrase, worth to examine. The gravestone inscription I am speating of, is the following:


This text presents a rich inventory of pronouns and other terms, but it is the word O-I-TE that interests us at this moment. In terms of occurrances, this is the only Eteocretan text that contains this word. Its surprisingly high frequency spurred some scholars to believe that this was a conjunction of some sort. Nevertheless, I tried substituting that meaning into the text and all I got was a fairly meaningless and overstrained structure. A conjunction should divide words and sentences of equal and symmetric structure, not completely different ones. And be featured in a fixed order within a sentence. Therefore I believe O-I-TE is actually a noun or adjective added on (as an explanation) to a number of phrases within the text: e.g. A-LI-RA-NI. In the row before the last, it is added on to a number of words that seem to be either nouns or adjectives (because of the *-na ending, a well-known Aegean formative). The sequence TU-MI-RA   I-MI-KA-NI   PU   E-NE-MI-NA   PA-NA-MO is also featured in a different inscription. [PU seems to be a pronoun, a counterpart to TU, perhaps in a sense that/what or something like that. Interestingly, it was written as an enclitic, fused to the following word.] It seems like, therefore that we have an expanded phrase here, with a high emphasis on the phrase O-I-TE.

What could this have been? It was already suggested by some that - because it is added on to the phrase A-LI-RA-NI that seems to be a name, that it expresses some sort title or familial relationship. It has been proposed that its meaning might have been 'mother', nevertheless, it is a word quite dissimilar to the Etruscan ati. Even if it is unrelated to the Etruscan word for 'mother', it displays a certain degree of similarity to the term ewistho. There are at least three important things to observe with oite:

First, the Cypriot Syllabary system has a separate sign for WI (and used by Eteocretan in word-initial position as well), so O-I- is not an approximation for *wi-. Instead, this unusual diphtong (for an Aegean language) might have evolved from something like *aui-. Second, there is no distinction between 't' and 'th' in the Cypriot script (even if it might have existed in Linear A), so we must assume Eteocyprot has lost the Proto-Aegean aspirated consonants. This way, we can suppose a general development *th -> *t in Eteocypriot, that had already happened in the Bronze age (As far as I can judge, the Cypro-Minoan script had no signs for aspirated consonants at all, those inherited from Linear A were lost quite early, already in the middle of the 2nd millenium BC). Lastly, the Cypriot syllabary differs slightly from Linear A and B in terms of orthography. Not only word-terminal consonants are written out in Cypriot syllabary (with a helper vowel -e), but consonantal clusters with sybillants are also resolved (those with nasals are simplified still). For example, the word άριστος = 'noble' is written as A-RI-TO in Linear B, but A-RI-SI-TO-SE in Cypriot Linear C. This way we can be pretty sure that there was no -s- within the phrase O-I-TE (otherwise it would have been O-I-SE-TE). The cited observations enable us to reconstruct a putative original form of oite as *awithe. As for the explanation for the lack of -s- or an "s mobile", see later.

Some Minoan finds may also reinforce our theory about the meaning of the above-mentioned words. If we look at the Phaistos Disc, our eyes can meet a pretty interesting sign: Pha *06, a sign obviously depicting a woman of some sort. The interesting thing is, that - unlike most depictions of women in Minoan art - this one looks rather stocky. This fact was for long used by those disbelieving the Cretan origins of the disc, as an argument. While I can confirm the fact that the shape of this woman is a bit unusual for the depiction of "ordinary" women in Crete, it is neither of foreign origin, nor accidentally crudely designed. What if it was intentionally drawn this way? Well, pregnant women, they do have an oversized belly. And could we imagine a more elegant way of expressing the term 'mother' in hieroglyphs, than drawing an image of a pregnant woman?

The other interesting thing in the mentioned sign is its phonetic value. Since its shape is pretty special, but the sign is otherwise common on the disc, it very likely corresponds to a well-known Linear A sign. From the very few signs that can plausibely derived from a "woman-shape", only E and WI match reasonanably well. Together with (the much less probable matches) DE and KE, these are about the only signs, that could possibly be derived from such a special shape. Now, the value 'E' can be quickly excluded, based on the junctions with other signs: QE-E or I-E are practically impossible in Linear A (should have been -e- and -i-je-). This leaves us with the value WI as the most probable one. Indeed, it is not impossible to derive the (slightly asymmetric, pyramid-shaped) WI sign of Linear A and B from an image depicting a woman. The sign is otherwise pretty rare in Linear A (practically missing from the Hieroglyphic corpus), but does occur word-initially in some phrases, e.g. WI-TE-RO [HT25], WI-NA-DU [KH5] or WI-TE-JA-MU [PL Zf1].

At this point, we could settle with the fact that the word for woman (or a particular type of women, say 'mother') probably began with wi- in the Minoan language. But the story does not end here. By sheer luck, it seems that we have even more on the Phaistos Disc. It is interesting to observe that the words that begin with Pha *06 also, almost invariably continue with signs certainly (Pha *35 = 'TE') or putatively (Pha *18 [TI? TU?]) belonging to the T-series (th+vowel?) of Minoan syllabaries. Thus it is possible that the entire word WI-T(E) (supposedly 'child-bearer', thus 'mother') is written out on the disc, in various compound phrases. As many scholars suggest that what the disc features is a hymn or prayer, it would make much of a sense when referring to female deities. While there are a gret number of different "wedged" terms on that document, none of them were identified with a theonym so far. But one cannot resist the lure of the thought, that the most common one, *45-*07 stands for the original Minoan name of great goddess Razija (sign *45 undoubtedly corresponds to Lin AB RA2). And indeed - what epithet could fit better for titaness Rhea, who gave birth to almost the entire pantheon of Olympic gods, than 'mother'?

At this point, it is obligatory to look at the inventory of other language families, that might have existed in that region. Interestingly, one of the Proto-Indo-European phrases reconstructed, h1euhdhr (= 'udder') does show a high similarity to ewistho and the rest. An 'h' could have easily evolved to 's' in some languages and disappeared in the rest. Although it invariably refers to privy parts of female animals, and never human ones in IE languages, in a lingustic group only marginally related to Proto-IE, one can easily imagine a shift of meaning. And that could have led straight to the words we see here. It can perhaps be compared to what we see in some modern languages, e.g. in Spanish mamá means mother, formed in an analogue to mama = breast. It is also interesting to see that a semi-related stem of proto-IE: udero-, normally meaning 'belly' or 'gut', evolved to words like ὑστέρα (Greek) and uterus (Latin), specifically meaning 'womb' in languages of the Mediterranean. Although it is hard to track the origins of medical terms (because the ancients were no masters of human anatomy), cross-contamination of word stems seems like an attractive explanation. Since these words do have a similar form to our reconstructed Aegean phrases, relating to motherhood and childbirth, it is tempting to see an Aegean (Minoan and perhaps Etruscan) influence over the meaning of this stem, shifting it from 'intestines' to 'uterus'.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

More Minoan signet rings - Tales of Goddesses, Heroes and Myths

As I promised before, I will present a new series of Minoan signet-rings, just to leave you enough riddles to ponder on. This time, I will not refrain myself from posting images of signs even I have no idea about how to read properly. Just recline and enjoy the pictures.

In the first place, I would like to introduce the image I left out of my previous post. This beautiful, though somewhat crude ring from Mochlos supports us with a further image from the "divine romance" series we have seen before. This time the female figure (goddess) is sitting on a boat, carrying a stem of Ferula plant with her. Above the figure, a series of tiny objects is carved into the metal surface. They exactly repeat the word seen on one of the previous rings, this time in a more proper order: PI-PI-DO-NA.

On the next seal, we can observe yet another scene of the "divine romance" story we have seen in our previous post. Our favourite character, the "god with the bush" is attempting to entice a different woman - with perhaps less success. The object the female figure is grasping for, is the famous "sacral knot". A recurring theme in minoan iconography, this "sacral knot"(named by Evans) is not much of a rope, but a shoulderpad worn exclusively by females of high importance. This symmetric/double object must be distingusihed from the simple (asymmetric, single) neck-ties shown as worn by both male and female commoners. Adorned with two large appendices resembling feathery wings, if such piece of clothing existed in real life, it must have been impressive. Like some "angel feather wings", it is depicted as worn by goddesses or high priestesses only. In one case, we see a trinity of female figures, but only the central (and tallest) woman wears these shoulderpads. If the object is a divine attribute only (Like the staff and shoes of Hermes, for example), could this have been something similar to the "sheddable" wings of varkyries in Nordic mythology? I have no idea, but it seems like an interesting parallel (see the legend of Wayland).

If we look at the series of objects above the head of the goddess, we can immediately recognize a few signs. The first one of the series looks like a peculiarly modified double-axe (or 'A' sign). After that, the two following signs show a certain relationship to one of the inscriptions we have seen before. On an earlier seal, we have seen a name ?-NI (above the cyring/sleeping goddess), now we have a variant ?-NE. The character I marked with ? is the same on the two inscriptions, resembling either a cypress-tree (Pha *13, reading quite uncertain) or a twig (Pha *35, Hie *25, Lin AB *04 reading: 'TE'). The last sign is undoubtedly a one-handled vessel (Pha *20, Hie *52-53), corresponding to the 'NE' sign (*24) in Linear A and B.
As I told before, the 'A' sign (Pha *21, Hie *42, Lin AB *08) may occupy a special position. It does not necessarily form part of the name: it could denote something different. If we look at it closely enough, we can realize a strange modification of the sign: the two diagonal lines (with ends). It could have been an artistic modification (like the "rays" on the Phaistos disc version of sign 'A'), or something unexpected: a ligature!

In Linear B, no names were ever written with ligatures, and conversely, all ligatures observed in Linear A denote different types of goods and wares, but never names. Yet Minoan Hieroglyphic sealstones sometimes do feature ligatures - probably due to the artistic design - in words that cannot stand for anything other, but names. If this sign is indeed a ligature, then what could be the other sign added on to the double-axe? One sign immediately gives itself: the 'SA' or 'linen' sign (Pha *22, Hie *19, Lin AB *31). With branches always drawn upwards in Linear scripts, but frequently downwards in Hieroglyphics (and on the Phaistos Disc), it is a credible one: not only because of its shape, but because Hieroglyphic seals also feature the term (word, name?) 'A-SA'. This element is also found in a number of Aegean word-stems, dealing with ritualistic contexts: for example, A-SO-NA or A-SA-SA-RA-ME. If so, the term can only mean one thing: 'god(dess)', apparently a cognate to the Etruscan ais = 'divinity' (if the latter is not of IE origin). Its use would be quite plausible on a seal depicting mythical characters, especially when standing alongside their names. Another theoretic possibility is a ligature A+RE (which is even better based on the shape of the Hiero 'lily' or 'RE' sign (Pha *39, Hie *31, Lin AB *27), if turned upside down), but it would make perhaps less sense to read (A+RE-TE?-NE). That would enable to read and indentify the mentioned names as *Theni [Themis] and *Arthne [Artemis], but I feel this is overly contrived at this stage. Better not walk this path until we find objects with texts easier to read.

There are plenty of other seals - offering us at least a slight glimpse into the rich world of now-lost Minoan myths. I am not boasting: The next two images feature scenes of stories similar to that of the classic Greek heroes. On the upper seal, we can see a proud man raising to the domain of divines. On one side, a goddess is throning between two mighty birds (undoubtedly a divine attribute of some sort), on the other side, a god is tending to a mythical bush. Unfortunately for all of us, the inscription on this newly-found seal (from Poros Irakliou, published after 2000) is rather badly preserved. Running above the head of the protagonist, it more than likely records his name - but rendered almost unreadable by the wear of ages. A loss to religious history on a high scale, I am afraid.

The seal below the previous one features a very different story: in that case, the male protagonist is seen as surrounded by three females. Playful as they look, they resemble the nymphs of classic Greek myths. The one on the left displays an unmistakable attempt of seduction towards the protagonist, without him even noticing it. The rightmost one also leans towards him in a flirting pose. The female at the centre is however, aiming at the male figure with her arrows, in a hostile manner. The moment the seal is capturing is when the hero disarms the hunting goddess or nymph, by grasping the bow held in her hand. The inscription (or inscriptions) above the head of figures is crudely cut, and in a bad shape,and do not enable a solid transliteration. I wish we could learn the name of characters involved in the story, but that wish might remain unfulfilled forever.

For an appropriate ending, I present a few more enigmatic seal impressions found on Crete. One of these is the famous "Master Seal" found at Khania. Contrary to the popular belief, it most likely depicts the protector-deity of the city, and not a king. On the right and left side of the figure towering over the Minoan town, at least two, heavily damaged characters can be recognized. The rightmost one was almost obliterated (that is why it is missing from the "retouched" image), but was probably a cow-head characher (missing from Phaistos Disc, Hie *12, Lin AB *23 = MU). The leftmost character is slightly better preserved, but its value is unrecognizable due to the damage suffered. The semicircular string of points above the figure does not belong to the inscription: it is the depiction of the sun, so typical of Minoan iconography (and found on many other seals, too). It is concieveable that more signs were present on the original sealing, but this is all what was left. Needless to say, I cannot make out anything meaningful of the two surviving signs.

The sealing I show as last presents yet another grave problem - of quite different nature. This time, the signs can be seen as crystal-clear carvings above the head of a female figure (perhaps a goddess).It is also clear that they are not simple artistic decorations, but form part of an inscription - a single name. The problem is, that at least two of the four signs on the Haghia Triada sealing do not admit a good reading, they are so dissimilar to anything seen on other Hieroglyphic or Linear A documents. While the insects could have been bees (contrary to the opinion of Evans, the Minoan writing systems did not have any sign depicting butterflies), there is no good explanation for the cape-like third and the snake-like fourth sign. They could have been rare alternative signs in the Hiero system (in which case the chance of decipherment is exceedingly low), or otherwise well-known signs in the Linear system, whose Hieroglyphic counterparts were not yet identified. In the latter case, we still stand a chence to decipher this name - one day perhaps, but not now.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Exploring the patterns on the (in)famous Phaistos Disc

Here I am again, back to blogging after a brief pause - the FIFA football (soccer) world championship can really make one attach to the TV screens - even if your own country's team is not playing...
For everyone's favour, I am returning to the Phaistos Disc. This is an all-time hot topic of fame-hungry amateur would-be decipherers and pseudo-linguists, so I promise to be as cautious and methodical as possible. We have to maintain a strictly scientific appproach even when half of the world love to think otherwise. Just to make clear: my objective here is not to "read" the disc word-by-word, but to understand a bit more of its structure, and thereby - so I hope - reveal something of its true meaning.

After a brief look at the disc, it becomes clear that the text recorded here is strikingly repetitive. Not only words are repeated, but entire phrases, even complete sentences. As problematic these repetitions in interpretation might be, they enable us to reconstruct the sentence-boundaries on the disc. The rules are quite simple: Whenever a complete phrase starts to repeat, it is at the start of a new sentence. Pertial repetitions may hint at parts of a compound sentence. With this method, we can get a structured version of the disc's contents (see the next figure below):

The disc actually contains two almost equally long texts. The texts occupy the shape of two snakes, and seem to be continuous from one side to the other. Though side A was historically considered to be the initial one by Evans, just looking at the repetitions of words (the first invocation on side B overflows to side A) suggests that the first side where the text starts is actually side B. The structure of the text is quite unique: After one or two long sentences (that I labelled introduction) a strongly repetitive part starts, perhaps 3 or 4 sentences long. The rich use of many special terms, conjunctions and pronouns in these repetitive parts inspired me to call them invocations (more on that later). This overall pattern is repeated two times - once on side B and once on side A. If we use a technique similar to what bioinformatics call "sequence alignment", the structure of the disc is even more easier to oversee:

This structural grouping reveals plenty of interesting features. First of all, there are the words marked with a 'wedge'. Markings of this sort were common in contemporary writing systems, for example, in Cuneiform Hittite, wedges ("Glossenkeil") were used for foreign words, like modern-day single or double quotes. In Egyptian, the ring-like cartouche marks were used to emphasize personal names, just like a capitalization. The only question: what was the objective of the scribe when putting these markups on the disc to stress certain words? It is obvious that the markings are associated to certain words and stems, but not specific positions in a sentence, so they are not phonetic or 'rhythmic' marks. Some words can apparently loose their marking if their grammatical case changes. This makes the phenomenon similar to certain modern languages, that capitalize proper names in writing, but not their adjectival or other derivatives. (English is a bad example, but the ortography of my native language, Hungarian, behaves exacly that way.)

The hint that these markings could signify proper names comes from the other corner of the Aegean. The Enkomi Cylinder, the longest Cypro-Minoan document discovered so far, shows a slightly similar feature. Though word-divisors (•) are commonly used on Linear A documents to divide words, they quite often divide phrases only, with individual words written continuously together. A similar dot can be encountered on the Enkomi Cylinder, but strictly and exclusively after certain phrases. The dots do not divide words in this case: rather, they are markups for some important terms, very likely names (for example, TA-LA-KA and SA-RA-NI, the latter being suspiciously similar to the Philistine term for 'prince', seren). This leaves us to ponder if the wedges on the disc are actually appropriately modified word-divisor dots, featured only after names. So the markups are likely equivalents of the Egyptian cartouche - used to stress proper names or any other important term, object or title that can be interpreted as a name.

Our second most important revelation is that the words on the disc show both prefix and suffix elements. As I expressed it in many posts before, the 'prefixes' are typically of a pronominal nature in Linear A, in fact attached particles and not grammatic prefixes. On the other hand, the disc also yields a number of suffixes, some of which we are already familiar with: like the -TE suffix (*-(a)the), used in the context of place-names in Linear A (as a type of locative or elative case). Its counterpair, the -QE suffix is fully novel. Judged by their consistent contrasting, I would suggest a locative-like sense of meaning to the -QE suffix as well. It is pure speculation, but the difference of meaning between -TE and -QE could have been based on something simple, like distance contrasting (-TE pointing afar and -QE pointing near). This would explain why the -QE suffix is never encountered on administrative tablets. But no matter how enticing, we clearly need to understand the text better before drawing such conclusions. Alternatively, this suffix could also mark an adjectival derivative or a different case.

The prefix-like pronominal elements are certainly the most interesting features of the text, not only because of their frequency, but also their uniqueness. No Linear A text has ever yielded particles I-QE-, MA- or SA-. Their use here can perfectly be explained by a change in context: While the tablets are strictly accounting texts, the Phaistos Disc is of a very different nature. This is hinted at by the similarity of the MA- and SA- particles (possessive pronouns?) to the well-attested Linear A verbal endings in -MI (1st person sing.) and -SI (3rd person sing.). The I-QE- prefix I already analysed in a previous post: it seems to be a simple conjunction (...and...), too redundant to be featured in the tablets' compressed context. Although likely derived from a deictic *i-, it carries the meaning 'and' instead. Such shifts in meaning are not uncommon in languages: for example, there is the Hittite conjunction nu-, literally meaning 'now', but typically used in the sense of 'and'. Another strange parallel between Minoan and Hittite we find here is the (stylistically perhaps bad) habit to frequently start new sentences with a conjunction ('and') in otherwise fully coherent texts.

The cited prefix elements can easily be read because of the fairly unique 'cat head' (MA) and 'linen' (SA) signs of Linear A. Others are trickier: for example, there is the bell-shaped sign Pha *07. It is undoubtedly a prefix-like element too, but not that easy to read. We can approach it from several direction. If we took a pure statistical (position and frequency) approach, we would get the best parallel in Linear AB *57 = JA. This is what Thorsten Timm already suggested, but there is a problem: the shape of Lin AB JA sign is so different from Pha *07, that a direct derivation is impossible. On the other hand, if we sought for similarly shaped signs in Linear A, we could get the sign Lin AB *37 = TI as the best match: and that is also a reasonably good match based on the terminal-heavy distribution of Pha *07. Linear A sign *41 = SI has a similar distribution too, but a somewhat dissimilar shape. But there is still a minor problem with this approach: Hieroglyphics have no bell-shaped signs at all. To overcome this problem, we can apply a third approach: searching for signs (in Hieroglyphics) that depict the same object as Pha *07. As the most probable object it could be is a female breast, the Hiero sign *34 (depicting a pair of breasts), clearly corresponding to Lin AB *59 = TA offers itself as a viable parallel. Now there is a different problem: the disc does have a sign (Pha *14) similar to Lin AB TA in shape, but obviously not depicting a pair of breasts!

To sum up, it seems that the disc contains first person references as well as numerous instances of proper names and phrases never seen on the tablets. I have a growing feeling that it is fitting to see the Phaistos Disc as an early example of poetry, a hymn very likely serving a religious purpose (as hinted at by the snake-shape, an attribute of a certain Minoan goddess). Religious hymns and prayers very often combine a rigidly repetitive structure with a high frequency of first and second person pronouns. As a simple example, let me cite the Lord's Prayer (Anglican/Catholic traditional version, the pronouns are highlighted in bold):

Our father who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name,
thy kingdom come,
thy will be done
as on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead not us into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, and the power
and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.