Linear B

Cosmic Background Radiation Map
I just finished a short, interesting book: The Man Who Deciphered Linear B: The Story of Michael Ventris, by Andrew Robinson. (Incidentally, why do publishers feel compelled to put a colon in every non-fiction book title these days?)

The book of course focuses mostly on his work deciphering Linear B, but also discusses his work as an architect. Ventris was more interested in the decipherment as a puzzle than he was interested in Mycenaean culture in general.

He had the misfortune of working during the absolute nadir of architecture: the height of the modernist movement. He even grew up in the Highpiont project. Robinson mentions that the blowhard architectural Anti-Christ, Le Corbusier, said that it “embodied his own theory of ‘the vertical garden city.’” Take a look at the place and decide for yourself. I’ll just stop before I become engulfed in rage…

At any rate, Linear B was the written script of the language spoken on Crete around 1500 B.C., but examples were also discovered on the Greek mainland. For various reasons, most investigators felt that the language was not related to Greek or any other Indo-European language, even though some early insights pointed in just that direction. Ventris himself felt that it was an early form of Etruscan. Through genius and some good luck, he finally determined that is was actually an archaic form of Greek, and so was in fact Indo-European.

The Linear B symbols are actually syllabic, that is, they stand for a consonant-vowel syllabic pair. In the chart below for example, the character at the “p-a” position is the symbol for the syllable “pa”.

Since Linear B is, like English, an Indo-European language, they share many of the same cognates; so if you want to feel some connection with a people of 3500 years ago, note that the word written as: , or “pate”, is the same word as the Greek “πατηρ,” or the Latin “pater”; which becomes in English, “father”.

Ball’s Pyramid

Fig. 1. Linear B Syllography

» Posted: Tuesday, January 13, 2004 | Permanent Link