Scribal spelling: seminar at the University of Sussex

I’m pleased to say that next week I’ll be giving a paper in the ‘Research on Language and Linguistics at Sussex’ (ROLLS) seminar series, 1pm on Wednesday April 18th. The title is ‘Scribal spelling: studying the orthography of the Linear B writing system’, and here’s my abstract:

This talk will explore different approaches to studying the orthography of the Linear B writing system, used within the Mycenaean palatial administrations of Late Bronze Age Greece (c.1400-1200 BCE), which employs a relatively complex set of orthographic conventions in order to represent the Greek language. I will first discuss attempts to establish a theoretical linguistic basis for these conventions based on syllable structure or the sonority hierarchy, and show that neither of these principles can fully explain Linear B orthography; instead, any explanation of this system’s development must take into account the process by which Linear B was adapted from its parent script, Linear A (used to write an unknown, non-Greek language). I will then discuss the orthographic practices of the scribes working at the palace of Pylos in south-western Greece, focusing on the issue of orthographic variation, and on the evidence this offers for the way in which the scribes may have been trained to write. This talk will therefore demonstrate the variety of ways in which the study of Linear B orthography can contribute to an understanding of the wider context of the writing system’s development and use.

More details about the seminar series in the poster below, or here on the Sussex linguistics blog. If I have any readers at Sussex, then I hope you’ll come along and I look forward to meeting you next week!

ROLLS 2017-2018 Spring copy


Visiting the Palace of Nestor at Pylos

P1100491 (2)
Road sign outside the palace

For the last year and a half or so, I’ve been working on a research project about the scribes who wrote the Linear B tablets from one particular Mycenaean site, the ‘Palace of Nestor’ at Pylos in Messenia, south-western Greece (so-called because in the Iliad Nestor was the king of Pylos). I’m interested in how these scribes actually went about writing tablets, or learning to write tablets — lately I’ve been looking mostly at the way they spell particular words or sequences, and why even an individual scribe’s spelling can vary, as well as at issues to do with how and why scribes erase parts of their documents and make changes. Pylos is a particularly good site to start studying this because almost all of its Linear B tablets are contemporaneous — made of unfired clay, they were all baked and so preserved by the fire that destroyed the palace around 1200 BCE — so it’s possible to study the 25 scribes who have been identified by handwriting analysis as an inter-related community of writers who must have been trained and worked together. But although I’ve been studying the tablets from this site for some time, I’d never been able to actually visit it before now – so it was incredibly exciting to finally get the chance to see it in person. Continue reading “Visiting the Palace of Nestor at Pylos”

Anafiotika: a Cycladic island in Athens

Last weekend I encountered a fascinating piece of (relatively recent) Athenian history – the tiny area of Anafiotika. Perched above the tourist shops and restaurants of Plaka, just beneath the Acropolis, this cluster of houses dates back to the mid-19th century, when King Otto I of Greece brought builders from the Cycladic island of Anafi to build his palace (now the Greek parliament building on Syntagma Square). These people built themselves a village on the slopes of the Acropolis in the style of the architecture from their own island, after which they named it Anafiotika. Only a small cluster of houses now remains, but wandering through the area is still like walking around a Cycladic island, past houses with whitewashed walls and brightly coloured doors and shutters – if it weren’t for the occasional view of the city or the Acropolis above, it would be easy to forget you were in Athens at all.

Continue reading “Anafiotika: a Cycladic island in Athens”

Archaic statues and Eleusinian mysteries at the Acropolis Museum

The Acropolis from the top floor of the museum

Athens’ Acropolis Museum is, naturally, best known for its display of sculptures from the Parthenon (in a mixture of originals and casts, many of the originals being, controversially, in the British Museum). Stunning though this top-floor display is, with views straight across to the Parthenon from the galley (see photo, unfortunately taken on a rather cloudy day), it’s not actually my favourite part of the museum – that prize goes to the first-floor display of the older archaic sculptures, dating from the 7th century to the early 5th century BCE (the Parthenon was built in the mid-5th century). Some of these sculptures are from the pediments of earlier temples on the Acropolis, destroyed during the Persian invasion of 480/479 BCE; others are freestanding statues set up on the Acropolis as dedications to the goddess Athena. (I can’t post photos here as you’re not allowed to take photos of the collections, but there is a nice selection of pictures available on the museum’s website). Continue reading “Archaic statues and Eleusinian mysteries at the Acropolis Museum”

Visiting Schliemann’s tomb

I’ve written before about starting to learn to speak (modern) Greek, and how that’s not as easy to do when you know ancient Greek as people think. I’m pleased to say my Greek has improved quite a lot since that post – in fact a lot of that improvement has happened in the last week or so, since I’m currently in Athens taking an intensive language course at the Athens Centre.

Entrance to the First Cemetery of Athens (Πρώτο Νεκροταφείο Αθηνών)

Since ‘intensive’ means 3.5 hours of classes per day, plus 1-2 hours’ homework, plus I’m trying to do some research while I’m here, things have been pretty busy, but I’ve also found a bit of time to do a little sightseeing! Today I had a quick trip after class to the First Cemetery of Athens, which is just round the corner, because I wanted to see the tomb of Heinrich Schliemann. Continue reading “Visiting Schliemann’s tomb”

International Women’s Day: celebrating Alice Kober

Fig. 2 Alice E. Kober
Alice E. Kober in 1946 (Image: Brooklyn Public Library)

As today is International Women’s Day, I want to celebrate the woman without whose work it’s not an exaggeration to say my field of research might well not even exist today: Alice E. Kober, the American classicist who was instrumental in laying the groundwork for the eventual decipherment of the prehistoric Greek Linear B script (first discovered at Knossos on Crete in 1900, and representing a then-unknown language).

Kober (1906-1950) had a full-time job teaching Classics at Brooklyn College, New York; apart from a year spent as a Guggenheim Fellow, which allowed her to work full-time on research, all of her work on Linear B was therefore done in what little spare time she must have had left after teaching. And yet Kober’s research established the methodology which would later enable the decipherment of the script, which means that researchers like me can now read and analyse the Linear B texts in order to reconstruct the society of Late Bronze Age Greece. Continue reading “International Women’s Day: celebrating Alice Kober”