A very short introduction to the undeciphered Aegean writing systems

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The Phaistos Disc – see below

Every so often a news article will make the rounds of the internet – or, for that matter, a paper will be published in an academic journal – presenting a new ‘decipherment’ of an undeciphered ancient writing system. Obviously, such decipherments have taken place in the past – probably most famously that of Egyptian hieroglyphs – and it’s certainly possible that more will take place in the future; but when it comes to the undeciphered writing systems of the Bronze Age Aegean, at least, there’s good reason to be extremely sceptical about any such claims of decipherment. This post is a quick guide to some key facts about the various related writing systems found in Bronze Age Crete and mainland Greece, starting with the one deciphered writing system, Linear B, and then surveying the undeciphered ones roughly in order of how much we know about them, looking very briefly at where and when they’re from, what kinds of documents exist, and how much (if anything) we know about the writing system or the language it represents. Continue reading “A very short introduction to the undeciphered Aegean writing systems”

Conversing the Classics podcast: Linear B

I’m very pleased to be able to share a podcast I recorded for the Classical Youth Society of Ireland‘s “Conversing the Classics” series, in which I talk to Oscar McHale about the Linear B writing system: what it is, what kinds of text were written in it, and what it can tell us about Greece in the Late Bronze Age, as well as how it was first discovered and deciphered. You can listen/watch here:

 

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The Silence of the Girls – review

new doc 2019-01-21 20.32.30_1The Iliad tells the story of the Greek hero Achilles’ anger after Briseis, a woman he’s taken captive as his ‘prize’ after sacking her city, is taken away from him by Agamemnon, and the disasters that strike the Greek army after Achilles withdraws from the fighting over this slight. Briseis herself doesn’t feature much in the poem; she’s only mentioned ten times, and only speaks once, to mourn the death of Patroclus, who, she says, was kind to her after her capture by Achilles (19.282ff). Pat Barker‘s The Silence of the Girls (2018) gives us Briseis’ version of the Iliad: the story of the war told from the point of view of one of the many women who lose their homes, families, and freedom at the hands of the Homeric ‘heroes’. It’s a wonderful novel, beautifully written in mostly very simple language that manages to shift seamlessly in and out of near-translations or Homeric references when recounting key moments from the poem: Barker uses this to particularly strong effect when she recreates a Homeric battle-scene — a long list of men suffering gruesome deaths interspersed with small details about their lives or their final moments — then subverts it by giving the alternative version of their story: the one told by their female relatives after their death to their fellow-slaves. Continue reading “The Silence of the Girls – review”

Ashurbanipal at the British Museum

“I am Ashurbanipal, king of the world, king of Assyria” proclaims the subject of the British Museum’s current major exhibition, whom the stunningly-lit first object in the display shows in the middle of a lion hunt:

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Stone relief showing Ashurbanipal hunting lions

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Another writing systems conference

It’s going to be a busy time for linguists in the Classics Faculty in March – not only is there the conference I’m organising on “Diversity of Writing Systems“, but there’s also going to be another conference about writing, this one on “Exploring the Social and Cultural
Contexts of Historic Writing Systems
“. Organised by my colleagues in the CREWS Project, it looks like a wonderful programme, and I’m looking forward to attending (and chairing a session)! Programme and registration details here:

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