Tuesday, March 17, 2009


Yves Duhoux, Anna Morpurgo Davies (edd.), A Companion to Linear B: Mycenaean Greek Texts and Their World, Volume 1. Bibliothèque des Cahiers de l'Institut de linguistique de Louvain. Antiquité 120. Louvain-la-Neuve; Dudley, MA: Peeters, 2008. Pp. x, 448. ISBN 9789042918481. €55.00 (pb). Reviewed by Michael F. Lane, University of Maryland, Baltimore County (mflane@umbc.edu)


A Companion to Linear B (hereafter Companion) is, according to the foreword by the editors Morpurgo Davies and Duhoux (hereafter AMD and YD) "an up-to-date book which would inform both specialists and non-specialists (including graduate and undergraduate students who take their first course in Linear B) about the whole range of Mycenaean studies..." They add, "the information provided must be reliable and have sufficient authority to be trusted" (p. ix). They also mean for it to be a successor to the volume Linear B: A 1984 Survey, which they also edited (Morpurgo-Davies and Duhoux 1985). The present volume is supposed to be the first of two which, judging from the subtitle, put Linear B texts in their linguistic, socioeconomic, and archaeological contexts.

The Companion contains, in serial order, chapters on the decipherment of Linear B (Maurice Pope), conventions and reference works for the study of Linear B (Ruth Palmer), the chronology of Linear B archives so far discovered (Jan Driessen), the "historical" context of the Linear B texts (Pia De Fidio), the social and political structures in which the archives were embedded (Cynthia Shelmerdine), the palatial economy (John Killen), technologies described in the Linear B texts (Alberto Bernabé and Eugenio Luján), vessels inscribed with Linear B (Peter van Alfen), and, lastly, an "anthology" (or chrestomathy) of Linear B texts (YD). YD has let it be known (pers. comm.) that the second volume will contain the following chapters: Writing (J.L. Melena); Scribes, scribal hands and palaeography (T.G. Palaima); Greek and the Linear B script (R. Viredaz); Language (AMD); Onomastics (J.-L. García Ramón); The geography of the Mycenaean kingdoms (D.J. Bennet); Religion (S. Hiller); Mycenaean and Homeric language (C.J. Ruijgh, dec.); Mycenaean and the world of Homer (D.J. Bennet); Interpreting the Linear B records: some guidelines (YD). It is due to be published in late 2009.

The Companion is, in the final analysis, a commendable book, especially as it is more comprehensive than Linear B: A 1984 Survey. However, it suffers from several editorial problems that thwart the editors' express purposes. Some of the contributions flatly contradict each other at several levels, from the transcription of Linear B into Mycenaean Greek, to the linguistic interpretation of these transcriptions and the social relationships expressed or implied in the texts. Some conflicting interpretations arise because the Continental European contributors tend to draw from Continental sources, while Anglophone contributors tend to prefer their own. Adding to problems of consistency is the fact that the first volume of the Companion was almost a decade in the making. Five of its nine chapters were first submitted for publication in 2001, and three in 2002, as the editors remark in footnotes. YD and AMD have added a longer endnote to Driessen's article (p. 77), referring to Linear B texts lately discovered.

Review Chapter by Chapter (N.b.: In the transcriptions that follow, the circumflex above a Latin letter in transcription indicates a Mycenaean long vowel only, not περισπωμένη accent.)

Perhaps because POPE is least tightly bound to Linear B studies, his chapter on the decipherment is one of the soundest in the Companion. It is an excellent summary of Michael Ventris's progress and achievement, one of the best to be found outside of Chadwick's The Decipherment of Linear B (1992 [1967]) and Ventris and Chadwick's Documents in Mycenaean Greek (1973). Indeed, it contains further historical details, some of which have relatively recently come to light, and it pays due respect to Alice Kober and Emmett Bennett for their crucial work. The chapter is copiously illustrated, including three stages of the famous "syllabic grid," reproduced from Ventris's own Work Notes (1988).

PALMER's contribution is a careful and thorough introduction to pertinent literature and handbooks, critically annotated, as well as to the various Linear B symbols, standards of transliterating and transcribing these, and the relevant epigraphical conventions (the last two treatments constituting the "Wingspread Conventions"). It should be noted that her presentation of the epigraphical conventions does not anticipate the notation of palimpsests and direction of rotation from recto to verso sides employed in the forthcoming (but long-awaited) Palace of Nestor at Pylos in Western Messenia IV (PoN IV). This chapter is well illustrated with line drawings of Linear B texts of different kinds, and grids displaying Linear B syllabograms, logograms, weight and measure symbols, and numerals. I find it disconcerting that Palmer's recommended bibliography does not match the "General bibliography" at the end of the Companion. For example, the "Studies Bartonek" festschrift (Bartonek 1991) does not appear in the latter, perhaps because it is too short (165 pages) and non-specific (Palaeograeca et mycenaea), whereas the late Cornelis Ruijgh's Études sur la grammaire et le vocabulaire du mycénien (1967) seems to get short shrift (p. 48), although I think it a helpful guide, particularly to Mycenaean derivational morphology (relevant below).

Palmer asserts her doubts about the traditional interpretation of symbols *120 and *121 (p. 33). She has argued elsewhere that the traditional readings should be switched (see Palmer 1992, 2008), with *120 (also denoted GRA) representing "barley" (not "wheat") and *121 (also denoted HORD) representing "wheat" (not "barley"). It is worth noting her assertion, because she is alone in the Companion in suggesting that the readings should be so reversed, and because her arguments have been challenged on agronomic and contextual grounds (see Halstead 1995; Killen 2004).

DRIESSEN's chapter includes a revision of his own dating of the Room of the Chariot Tablets (RCT) at Knossos (see Driessen 1988, 1990: esp. 107-8; but Driessen 2000). Not only has he adopted Warren and Hankey's (1989) "low chronology" for the Late Bronze Age Aegean, but he also dates the RCT to the Late Minoan IIIA1 period (1390-1370 BCE in his framework), rather than to the LMII (1425-1390 BCE). I will not dispute his revision, because, unlike Driessen, I am no expert in the stratigraphy of Knossos. The chronology chosen is nevertheless noteworthy because some contributors to the Companion adopt the "high chronology," whereby the LMII begins around 1490 BCE (or they have split the difference between the chronologies), while others adhere to Driessen's earlier dates. This discrepancy is perhaps a side effect of the time taken to publish the volume. Nonetheless, Driessen's chapter presents a very handy reference to the different dates of the discovered Linear B archives.

DE FIDIO's "Mycenaean history" is a fairly conventional narrative of the Bronze Age Aegean. It duly mentions the region's semi-periphery ("marginal") status with respect to the empires of the Ancient Near East (pp. 81-2), and discusses especially Hittite-Mycenaean relations evident in the score or so of Hittite letters referring to Ahhiyawa (pp. 96-102). The narrative is often framed in economic and sometimes social evolutionary terms ("recession and stagnation," p. 96; "mentality already concerned with the marks of ownership," p. 90). De Fidio is in her element when discussing the Palatial Period, Late Helladic IIIA-B (pp. 91-6, adopting a "middle chronology" in contrast with Driessen). She plays confidently here, noting, inter alia, fiscal evidence of shortfalls in agricultural and industrial production at the time of the destruction of the palace at Pylos (p. 104; see De Fidio 1987). The narrative ends (pp. 103-5) with the usual suspects: economic collapse, natural disasters (though significant "climate change" is unlikely), and mysterious marauding "Sea Peoples."

De Fidio's penchant for sources from her own continent shows clearly, some references being conspicuously absent, especially to an American scholar's eye. Suffice it to refer the reader to the very useful new Cambridge Companion to the Aegean Bronze Age, edited by Cynthia Shelmerdine (2008).

SHELMERDINE's chapter on "Mycenaean society" is carefully laid out, including select bibliographies for each of its sections, and handsome, up-to-date maps and plans embedded in the main text. Shelmerdine reviews a wide range of archaeological -- including textual -- evidence, and arrives at some sound, if not fresh, conclusions. For example, she, like Killen in the Companion, uses "redistribution" (p. 144) appropriately for the majority of transactions directly recorded in the Linear B archives. It is also possible that the archival system was less centralized than has generally been thought. Hence I agree with Shelmerdine that a Mycenaean site in an area of great agricultural potential, like the stronghold of Gla (p. 115), is likely to have been a place for keeping landholding texts (though they may not be preserved). She also astutely notes, as others have, that the scribes were probably not akin to an anonymous typing pool for the palace but rather were part of the "administrative elite" (p. 144; which, I might add, may explain the absence of a specific word for "scribe" in a considerable vocabulary of titles). Similarly, she notes (p. 117), as she has before (see Shelmerdine 2007), the paucity of references to the wanaks (= ἄναξ) "king," let alone to his activities, in any Mycenaean archives. She nevertheless proceeds to detail evidence of the "palaces" as royal residences, rather than pursuing the archaeological implications of her observations about the roles of the "scribes" and their apparent social distance from the wanaks.

Several of Shelmerdine's interpretations of particular Linear B words and texts are problematic or idiosyncratic: e.g. ki-ti-ta kti(s)tâs "landholder" (rather than "cultivator," so too Killen p. 171; cf. pu2-te-re ki-ti-je-si *phûtêres ktiensi "planters are cultivating," PY Na 520); and ki-ti-me-na ktimenâ "private" versus ke-ke-menâ "common" (of land; not generally accepted; see Aura Jorro 1999: 337-9, 366-7); and her gloss on the famous Pylos Eb 297 / Ep 704.5-6 landholding "dispute." I concentrate here on her treatment of proper names, because I believe it betrays a surprisingly relaxed attitude toward the conventions of word formation in Mycenaean Greek, an understanding of which is critical to accurate translation.

It has long been noticed that some of the names of the e-qe-ta hekwetai "Followers" in the Pylos "coastguard" set (An 519, 654, 656, 657, 661) are qualified with "patronymics" (names in -iyos), and that some of these two-part names recur in the Pylos "Aq diptych" (Aq 64, 218). This is hardly a coincidence. Shelmerdine joins L. Palmer (1963: 152) and Ventris and Chadwick (1973: 429) when she observes that these hekwetai are "cited with patronymics, itself a sign of elite status," although she admits that "another man" recorded in the Aq diptych "called son of Eteoklês is not a Follower" (p. 131). Granted that several persons named (without patronymics) in the Aq texts are assigned titles (i-je-re-u hiereus, ko-re-te ?korestêr, mo-ro-qa morokwans vel sim.), the question remains as to why the scribes employed patronymics where they did -- especially if they were part of the administrative elite writing for its own purposes, not ours. A more systematic effort is required if we are to identify named persons with positions in a network of social relations, as opposed to a selective one which just identifies names with persons.. For example, Nakassis (2008) and I (2004) have observed separately that the collocation of the some of the same names in the coastguard and Aq texts in Pylian bronze allocation texts (Jn 725 and 750) -- without patronymics -- is statistically very unlikely to be a coincidence. The scribes therefore probably used forms like e-te-wo-ke-re-we-i-jo Etewoklewêhios in the former for specific reasons, much as they used titles in them.

KILLEN's chapter on the "Mycenaean economy" is an update of his still important article in Linear B: A 1984 Survey. That so little has changed in over 20 years is, in fact, testament to how sound an example of scholarship the original version was. In the latest version, Killen re-emphasizes the main role of the Mycenaean "palaces" as "redistributive centers," which he compares (perhaps with a little cultural historical presumption) with the "palace/temple" economies of the Ancient Near East. He likewise further underscores the similarities in the evidence of mechanisms of administration at the separate palaces, defending his conclusions against a current trend toward finding and emphasizing differences among them (e.g. Galaty and Parkinson 2007).

Killen admits that De Fidio's (1977) analysis of the Er-Es-Un 718 series proves that landholding records were used to calculate taxes in kind precisely, this probably being true of all the Pylos E- series (p. 163). (To this extent, the landholding texts constitute a "cadastre," his definition notwithstanding.) He furthermore observes that it is reasonable to suppose that all Pylos E- records (and probably similar records at Knossos), including those of pa-ki-ja-na / -ne, concern places close to Pylos, perhaps in the same administrative district (pp. 164-5). In contrast, records of assessments of flax (N- series) and miscellaneous tribute (M- series) clearly include more distant places. Therefore, he suggests the method of taxation of agricultural land near Pylos (or other palace centers) is different from that of places recorded in the M- and N- series. With respect to Pylos, he notes that individual localities' contributions of flax, recorded in the Na texts, are often multiples of 10 units, 30 being particularly common. The round numbers suggest to him that these assessments are roughly calculated, in contradistinction to those made from the E- series (p. 165).

On the contrary, the multiples of 10 recorded may be a measure of the precision of computation. The tribute calculated in the Es tablets, concerning a single locality (or district), adds up to multiples of GRA 10 (as product), and are derived from area GRA 30 (as seed-corn). Likewise, all areas of land under cultivation recorded in Pylos Eq 213 are even amounts of major seed-corn unit GRA (multiples of 10 three of five times), and land is measured in multiples of division DA 10 in Pylos An 830. Hence it seems to me that if the palace knew what precisely measured part of any locality under its political control was subject to taxation (e.g. GRA 30, DA 50), then taxes within each district could be deduced as easily manageable even numbers and collected accordingly, without unreasonable logistical trouble

BERNABÉ and LUJÁN's discussion of "Mycenaean technology" deliberately focuses on direct Linear B evidence of moveable manufactures (except perhaps ships). It is particularly significant because it critically reviews alternatives to readings of texts concerning these, since some readings have become sedimented in the scholarly literature. For example, they revive Ruijgh's reading of we-je-ke-a2 as *wei-enkheha "turning on spear (type axles)" (of wheels; cited as Ruijgh 1967: 330, when the page number is in fact 380; cf. L.R. Palmer 1963: 462), rather than (eh)u-weikeha "in (good) shape" (= ἐπιεικής), which is difficult to reconcile with the spelling.

VAN ALFEN's contribution on the Linear B inscribed stirrup jars (ISJs) is a useful update to Hallager's and Haskell's work in the 1980s (e.g. Hallager 1987; Haskell 1984) on this rather neglected sub-discipline of Linear B studies, as well as an expansion on his own recent research (Van Alfen 1998). He makes an important point about the multivalency of both the vessels (including their inscriptions) and their contents. However, given that ISJs may have been restricted to inter-elite exchanges, I doubt that in Bronze Age contexts, even outside the Aegean, the Linear B inscriptions would often "simply have been seen as decoration" (p. 239). His suggestion, that ISJs emanate exclusively from Crete because of the "large and potentially confusing number of managers and collectors" there, is plausible (p. 239), but it probably does not do justice to the distinctions between types of "collectors" in the region that we are now beginning to discern. It may be a consequence of the eight years taken to publish Van Alfen's article that he does not mention the ISJ fragment from Gla in Boeotia, which appears to bear the abbreviation WA for wanaks or wanakteron; Driessen and Shelmerdine in do refer to this piece in their respective contributions to the Companion.

YD's "Mycenaean anthology" takes up nearly half of the Companion. It consists of a selection of Linear B texts from Knossos, Mycenae, Pylos, and Thebes, presented as line drawings (from various published sources), transliterations into Latin characters, transcriptions into Mycenaean Greek, translations into English, and commentary. The selection overlaps with those of Hooker's Linear B: An Introduction (1980) and the "Chrestomathy" in Bartonek's Handbuch des mykenischen Griechisch (2003: 510-32), but it is substantially different, particularly because of its treatment of tablets lately discovered at Thebes. It contains many astute and inventive new readings, as well as some innovative line numberings (e.g. PY Tn 316, p. 322 -- which, however, does not correspond to that in the forthcoming PoN IV). His introductory section (pp. 243-9) is the most accurate and precise part of the Companion as concerns Linear B writing and its transliteration and transcription. It is equally careful about Mycenaean syntax and reconstructed phonology. The only formal oddity in YD's chapter is his choice of transcribing the palatal glide with j. Although this conforms with the standard transliteration of the Linear B glide series, it looks strange in Anglophone linguistics, which expects y or i with a "sub-breve." Incidentally, YD evidently prefers Driessen's earlier dates for the RCT at Knossos (p. 276; see above).

Probably the most useful discussion in YD's chapter is on the meaning of symbols *120, *121, and *129 (cf. *69), with reference to Pylos tribute text Un 718 (pp. 346-347). He rightly points out that *129, transcribed conventionally as FAR, is frequently misconstrued as farina "flour," particularly because of its juxtaposition with me-re-u-ro *meleuron on Pylos Un 718. Rather, it is meant to stand for just that -- Latin far -- suggesting what has been ground, as distinct from GRAnum and HORDeum. YD suggests that *129, which resembles *69 ju, could be an old abbreviation for the name of a grain beginning in yu- (later zu-) -- alphabetic Greek ζειά being a likely cognate or descendant. Proto-Indo-European *yewo- is the stem of a number of very ancient words of grain, variously identified with barley, einkorn wheat, or emmer wheat (Hittite ewan, Sanskrit / Avestan yáva-, Greek ζειά). He muddles the discussion somewhat by adducing R. Palmer's maverick interpretation of *120 as "barley" and *121 as some kind of "wheat" (see above) and Halstead's (1995) observations of evidence of pulses. I am content to think that *120 represents emmer (Triticum dicoccum), the wheat most often found on Greek Bronze Age sites (Halstead 1995), *121 some variety of barley, and *129 einkorn (T. monococcum). This fits the Theophrastian description of ζειά, without fear of contradicting Homer's usage of ζειαί for "fodder" (pace YD) -- or anything in the Linear B corpus.

YD's lengthiest commentary is reserved for the ticklish subject of the interpretation of the Thebes tablets (Aravantinos, Godart, and Sacconi 2001). He deals with the issues directly but more delicately than he and other have elsewhere (ibid. 2002-03; James 2002-03; Palaima 2000-01, 2003). I will not recite the arguments here. Suffice it to state that YD covers the major problems: the identity of sometimes written enclitic *65 and -u-*65 as "son" (not FAR) in the Theban "dialect" (pp. 353-9); the case for dry unit GRA 1 = fraction T 10 at Thebes, as elsewhere (pp. 360-1); and the case against identifying a holy trinity of Zeus, Demeter, and Kore in the Thebes texts (pp. 361-71). The stem from which Greek words for "son" are derived is probably *suH-yus (not **suyus, p. 355). Hence all of YD's transcriptions of Mycenaean dialectal / idiolectal reflexes should contain long u or i from dissimilation and compensatory lengthening. As YD points out, while ke-re-na-i (TH Fq 126) is certainly not "to the cranes" (as if votive), neither is it likely to be "women making barley groats" (p. 371; cf. Hsch. γέρανος: instrument for making ἄλφιτα) -- not least because the word does not take the shape of a Mycenaean feminine noun of agency. There are miscellaneous, contestable issues of morphology and lexical semantics, but these are scarce.

As for contextual readings, YD revives the interpretation, first suggested by L. Palmer (1963: 340, 354), that te-ke thêke could be translated as "he buried" in funerary context. I will not comment on its applicability to Thebes Fq 126 (pp. 303-4). Suffice it to reiterate that the case for "buried," rather than "installed (in office)," in Pylos Ta 711 was long ago undermined by evidence that the rest of the Ta set does not record funeral accoutrements (see Palaima 2004). Perhaps of greater interest to archaeologists, YD refers to Mycenaean ta-ra-si-ja tala(n)siâ as a term for corvée (p. 268), which, to be fair, is how it is often glossed (Aura Jorro 1999: 319-20). However, he may assume too much in this definition. Killen has more cautiously defined it as dispensation of amounts of material, measured so as to prevent theft or fraud, to dependent or semi-dependent crafts-persons (see pp. 191-5 of the Companion).

Errors of Copy Editing and Proofreading

The editors could have ensured for the sake of non-specialist readers, especially non-linguists, that the Mycenaean Greek transcriptions are consistent with one another. Instead one finds labiovelars transcribed with both superscript u and superscript w. Furthermore, if superscripts are to be used to represent phonemes, then a superscript h should be used for the aspirate series, though this is inconsistently applied in the Companion. Closer attention to editing the contributions of non-Anglophones might have prevented the appearance of some occasionally worrisome misspellings and solecisms: e.g. shipwrek (p. 85); persistance (p. 89 n.10), Galilea (for Galilee, p. 89 n. 13); weaved (for woven, p. 219); amphor (for amphora, pp. 223, 225); dying (for dyeing, pp. 219, 229, 252); cultual (for cultic, Duhoux passim, except p. 304!), heroin (sic) Ἰφιμέδεια (p. 334); Pylian official described as "influent" (p. 341). There is no legitimate excuse among the authors, all classically educated, for "data is" (p. 136) and "data does" (p. 377). Finally, it seems the person who did the desktop layout forgot to toggle the "small caps" button for the running header on several pages of Van Alfen's article. A minor error I noticed in Pope's contribution is his identification of Linear B a-to-po-qo artopokwos "(bread-)baker" with *ἀρτοπόκος. The latter is unattested: only normally dissimilating αρτοπόκος (kw > π before ο) and metathesizing and dissimilating (?) ἀρτοκόπος are attested (the last perhaps representing conflation with words like κρεοκόπος).


Altogether, the Companion is a valuable single resource on the study of Linear B in its various aspects at the beginning of the twenty-first century. In the company of a knowledgeable instructor, the Companion could be more than adequate as a textbook for a course in Linear B and Mycenaean Greek, perhaps in combination with previously published chrestomathies, high-quality photographs, and good examples of contextual analysis of and economic inference into Linear B. As a handbook for specialists and non-specialists, one of its editors' express purposes, the Companion is rather lacking. The inconsistency not just in transcription of Linear B but also in translation of important terms is bound to confuse or mislead non-specialists, whereas even a scholar with a firm foundation in Greek, if not comparative Indo-European linguistics, is likely to find the inconsistencies in the techniques of presentation troublesome. Still, the Companion comprises extensive and up-to-date bibliographies, and it is well indexed in English, Greek, and Linear B. I am eager to see the second volume of this already well-rounded work. I hope that the editors will attend more to the details in that volume than in the present, not least for the sake of the supposed readership.

References Cited

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