New article: The mystery of the Mycenaean ‘Labyrinth’

Pylos labyrinth tabletI’m very pleased to say that an article of mine has just appeared in the journal Studi Micenei ed Egeo-Anatolici (‘Mycenaean and Aegean-Anatolian Studies’). Although the article is called ‘The mystery of the Mycenaean “Labyrinth”‘, it’s not about the mythical Labyrinth in which the Athenian hero Theseus killed the Minotaur with the help of the Cretan princess Ariadne, or even the possible links this myth could have to the real Bronze Age Cretan palace of Knossos (which I’ve written a bit about before when I made a Labyrinth cake, pictured on the right). Rather, it’s about the Mycenaean Greek word for ‘labyrinth’ and what this can potentially tell us about the value of particular signs of the Linear B script (hence the subtitle: ‘the value of Linear B pu2 and related signs’).

A Linear B tablet from Knossos listing religious offerings of jars of honey reads as follows:

KN Gg(1) 702

.1 pa-si-te-o-i / me-ri *209VAS 1

.2 da-pu2-ri-to-jo , / po-ti-ni-ja ‘me-ri’ *209VAS 1

The first line can be read as pansi theoihi meli JAR 1 ‘to all the gods: honey: 1 jar’: hence this is clearly a record of religious offerings. On the second line, po-ti-ni-ja is a title applied to goddesses, Potnia, meaning ‘Lady’ or ‘Mistress’, and da-pu2-ri-to-jo is the word interpreted as ‘labyrinth’: so this entry records an offering of 1 jar of honey to the ‘Lady/Mistress of the Labyrinth’. The problem, clearly, is the difference between the Mycenaean da-pu2-ri-to-jo and the classical Greek laburinthos, from which our word ‘labyrinth’ comes: why does the Mycenaean form start with d- not l-, and how does the sign transcribed as pu2 correspond to b?

The first of these is a problem that hasn’t been completely solved yet, but it seems similar to some other odd alternations between d and l that are seen in words of non-Greek/non-Indo-European origin, like the name Odysseus (Greek) vs. Ulysses (Latin). The usual solution to the second problem, which is the one I’m most interested in, is to say that the sign pu2, which is certainly to be interpreted as phu most of the time (e.g. the word pu2-te-rephuteres ‘planters’), also stands for bu, and so is equivalent to later b here. (NB: the sound ph is not like an ‘f’ but like a p with a puff of air after it. If you’re a British English speaker, this is the sound you’ll make at the beginning of the word “pot”: say it with a hand in front of your mouth to feel the puff of air!)

This solution, that pu2 stands for both phu and bu, is an odd one from the point of view of how the Linear B script usually works – although individual signs often do have more than one possible value, this particular sign is part of a group whose function is specifically to represent more precise sound-values than is usually possible: i.e. pu2 should represent specifically phu in opposition to pu, which could be any of pu, phu, or bu. The aim of my article is to investigate how the ‘labyrinth’ word and the sign pu2 should both be interpreted; it also ties in to some of the work I did on my PhD on the still-undeciphered Linear B signs, since it seems likely that there are further signs of a similar type to pu2 (i.e. standing for values like pha or phi) which haven’t yet been fully deciphered, and what value(s) we think these signs originally had can affect how we try to reconstruct features of the undeciphered ‘Minoan’ language of Linear B’s parent script, Linear A. So even a question that starts out being about exactly what one particular sign represents can end up being important for all sorts of wider issues – or at least, that’s what I’ve tried to show in the article!

The article is not currently available online, but the abstract can be found here, and I’m happy to send a PDF to anyone who’d like to read it for research purposes: just email me at apj31 [at]!

Author: Anna P. Judson

Classics researcher at Cambridge

5 thoughts on “New article: The mystery of the Mycenaean ‘Labyrinth’”

  1. Love this article Anne Congratulations for this being published. You most likely know I am also studying Linear B and have translated this particular tablet, so your article is of particular interest to me Thank you for sharing.


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