Tuesday, 14 February 2017

A Linear B Tablet from the Wellington Botanic Garden: WN V(alentine) 1

While walking up to my office at the university, I took advantage of a rare sunny day in Wellington and detoured through the Botanic Garden.  As I passed the duck pond, a small, heart-shaped object on the ground chanced to catch my eye; closer inspection revealed it was made of clay, and bore an inscription that looked for all the world to be Mycenaean Linear B.  However, as I reached down to grab it, a duck splashed up out of the pond, dousing the object in water which rapidly dissolved the delicate clay.  Fortunately, the object had been so striking that a record of it remained firmly in my brain, and upon arrival at the university I was able to produce a drawn fascimile from memory:

A quick consultation of my handy chart of Linear B sound values confirmed my suspicion: this heart token had indeed been inscribed in that unwieldy archaic script.  I rapidly turned my efforts to producing an editio princeps of this remarkable find.

.a      pi-re-o
.b          se

As aspiration is not marked in Linear B, nor the liquids "l" and "r" distinguished, .a must represent φιλέω, remarkable for being the first attestation of a first person verb in Linear B.  It is, as would be expected, uncontracted.  .b must be σε, the second person singular personal pronoun in the accusative, only the third personal pronoun attested.  Both words, therefore, represent hapax graphomena, though for that the translation is remarkably simple: "I love you."

In light of this, the heart-shaped tablet makes perfect sense.  This is a love token, likely (given the date) a Valentine.  Whether it was discarded deliberately or not must remain a mystery, though an accident cannot be ruled out: it must be assessed that remarkably few Wellingtonians are able to read prehistoric Greek, and the recipient likely did not understand its significance.

As it bears no ideograms, it must be placed in the V class; no abbreviation, obviously, yet exists for Wellington, so WN is proposed.  This tablet can therefore be classified WN V 1.  Given the nature of the find, it should not surprise me that this be commonly rendered WN V(alentine) 1.

It is truly a shame that the tablet was lost, as it poses far more questions than answers.  The form is novel, as is the presentation, with sharply drawn symbols in a stoichedon arrangement, suggesting a concern for aesthetic display missing from other tablets.  Moreover, why is there a Mycenaean scribe in Wellington?  Who is the object of his (spurned?) love?  It is hoped that this publication will provide impetus for further research, a fuller understanding of this remarkable find, and answers to the remarkable questions of human interest so often overlooked in scholarship.

Saturday, 21 January 2017

The Frogs Seek A New King; Or, The Foresight of Aesop

Athens had liberty and justice for all
But for all this still the people complained.

Absolute freedom: too much of a good thing.

Enter Pisistratus, aspiring tyrant:
With his followers he took the Acropolis.

This the Athenians could not stand –
Not that he was cruel –
But he was in charge, not they.

Aesop, though, heard them complaining,
And told, as he did, a fable:

The frogs, free in their swamp
Petitioned from Jove a king

The father of the gods laughed, and hurled
A small log
Which splashed down with sound and fury
And terrified the timid race.

At length it sank into the mud
And one of the frogs
In subtle silent curiosity
Pushed his head above the water
And saw but a muddy log;
So he summoned his tribe to their so-called king.

Abandoning their fear, indignant,
They swam to that heaven-sent timber
And petulantly lept aboard.

Then they befouled it, as only frogs know how
And demanded from Zeus
Another king!
For the one he had sent was really quite useless.

He sent a snake instead,
Which showed them all
How not useless its teeth were
Using them to snatch the frogs, one by one.

Fruitlessly they fled,
Silently they screamed,
Dreadfully they died.

The survivors in secret
Sent a message to Jove
Seeking surcease of sorrow.

But he responded only:
“Ye who would not accept your blessings
Must suffer now your curse.”

And you too, dear reader:
Endure things as they are
Lest all that you make greater

Are your sufferings.

(Phaedrus, Fabulae 1.2)

Saturday, 24 December 2016

Santa Claus in the Bronze Age: The Minoan Evidence

This yuletide, I bring to you a theory on which I have been working for two years, but only now commit to writing. While in Crete, I noticed something striking about some Minoan larnakes - to wit, certain of the putative agrimi, or wild goats, bore a striking resemblance to reindeer (see figs. 1 and 2). Now, reindeer (as is well known) are native to arctic regions, and almost never found south of the 50th parallel. For comparison, ancient Macedonia lies on the 40th parallel, and Crete is on the 35th. It is therefore impossible to account for the natural appearance of reindeer on the island, even accounting for the climatic shifts of the past 3300 years.
Now, you might be thinking, "Theo, smarter men than you have called these agrimi, and so they must be." To you, I say: "yeah, but." In figs. 1 and 2, it is clear that one animal is not like the others - the leftmost in fig.1. If the Minoan artist had intended this to be a goat, he would have drawn it as he had the other one, and as his compatriot had managed on a roughly contemporary piece (LM IIIB pottery was highly conventionalized, or, as they would have said in the 19th century, degenerate). But of course he did not.
Now, you might be thinking, "Theo, fallow deer are native to Crete; this need not be a reindeer." To you, I say: "look at fig. 3." That is what Wikipedia tells me is a fallow deer. Now, compare fig. 4, a reindeer (which I know is a reindeer because I recently saw some at the zoo; compare fig. 5, where they are uncooperatively distant). The antlers on our larnax are clearly not the scoopy, moose-y types of the fallow deer (which it might be argued is represented in fig. 6, a third contemporary larnax). They are the longer, spikier antlers of a reindeer.
Now, you might be thinking, "Theo, this is all crazy, and you have shockingly few references that aren't Wikipedia or zoo billboards." To you, I say: "you've read this much, so you may as well stick around." Now, as it happens, there is perhaps corroborating evidence for the Bronze Age knowledge of reindeer in Greece; to wit, Herakles is famous for capturing the Keryneian hind, which is always depicted with antlers. Now, the only member of the cervidae family in which the hind is horned is the reindeer. Herakles is located mythotemporically in the generation prior to the Trojan War, which correlates with the LH IIIB period on the mainland - contemporary with LM IIIB on Crete.
It is clear, therefore, that by the very end of the Greek Bronze Age, both Mycenaeans and Minoans had been exposed to reindeer. How did this happen? Reindeer, as we have established, did not live so far south, nor are they known to migrate. As in the famous maxim of Mr. Holmes, as we have now eliminated the probable, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the solution. As it is well known that the only person in history to regularly transport reindeer south of their arctic home is one Mr. Santa Claus, it is therefore clear that he must be the answer to our present enigma.
Now, Santa Claus is best known in these days for his association with the Christian festival of Christmas. While his origins are often found in the 4th century Nikolaos of Myra, our present inquiry perhaps requires that this view be reconsidered. It is possible, I suggest, that Santa Claus ante-, rather than post-, dates Christianity. Prior to his contract to deliver presents, presumably on some mandate from heaven, it is possible he was a seasonal trader, travelling south with his reindeer through the ages. This would also account for the presence of Baltic amber in Mycenaean Greece - while present theories demand long, intricate trade routes linking the Weesex Culture of Great Britain, the Baltic Sea, and the Peloponnese, it is simpler and indeed more probable that it instead traveled south with Santa, where it was traded for room and board.
In such a way, the Minoans became familiar with reindeer, and depicted them in their art. It is also in this way that Herakles was able to capture a reindeer - which we must consider now an even more impressive feat, accounting for the ability of Santa's to fly - and also for the fact that he did not kill it, nor was Eurystheus able to keep it (Artemis in this account may well be an interpretatio graeca of Mrs. Claus). It is well known that at least four of Santa's current reindeer (Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Blitzen) are female, and while it is not known if these are to be considered the original reindeer (the story of Rudolph suggests against this), it is clear that Santa has since at least the mid-19th century had a policy of gender equality; as this antedates all civil rights and suffrage movements, there is no need to account for this as a success of modern feminism (as in the case of Mr. Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada, who defended such a policy in 2015 with a simple reference to the calendar. Santa, it seems, was ahead of the curve).
Thus, through a close study of the archaeological and mythological evidence, it is clear that Santa Claus was a known presence in Bronze Age Greece from at least the LM/LH IIIB period. The implications are significant, both from the evidence that Santa is older than once thought, and that he must have a wealth of archaeological knowledge. If he did indeed witness this period of history, his testimony would prove invaluable to modern archaeologists. Unfortunately, by LM IIIB both lustral basins and Linear A had vanished from Crete, so he cannot speak to those mysteries. However, if his peregrinations are thought to have begun earlier (further investigation is necessary), it might well be found that a clever Minoan youth wished for something utterly beyond archaeological means of interpretation and was duly delivered the Phaistos Disc.

Fig. 1

Fig. 2

Fig. 3

Fig. 4

Fig. 5

Fig. 6