It’s become a tradition for Cambridge classical linguists to get together in Easter term and attempt to read inscriptions in languages most of us know nothing about, so this term Philip Boyes has been leading sessions on the ancient Semitic language Ugaritic. Related to modern languages like Hebrew and Arabic, and other ancient Near Eastern languages like Phoenician, Ugaritic was spoken in an area of what’s now northern Syria. The written evidence comes from several archives of clay tablets in the city of Ugarit – these cover a wide range of genres, from administrative texts to letters to poetry. Continue reading “Ugaritic Clay Play Day”
This term in the Faculty we’ve been having a series of seminars looking at Linear A, an undeciphered script from prehistoric Crete (and the script out of which Linear B, which I mostly work on, was developed). We started off with a general introduction to what Linear A is – Sarah Finlayson gave us an overview of the different sites across Crete where Linear A inscriptions have been found, their chronology (roughly between the 19th to 15th centuries B.C.E.), and the general context in which they were written (some are from ‘palaces’, others from smaller administrative centres, and some come from religious sanctuaries). I then did a survey of the kinds of documents Linear A was used to write: these ranged from administrative texts on clay tablets or on small lumps of clay (used for, e.g., labelling objects, or sealing storage jars or store-rooms) to non-administrative inscriptions on clay or stone vases, metal objects, and even a couple of graffiti scratched onto walls (there are some pictures of different kinds of inscriptions here). Continue reading “Practical epigraphy, or, Linear A Clay Play Day”
The latest offering in the linguistics cakes series was created for “Geoff-fest” – a celebration on the occasion of the retirement of Geoff Horrocks, Professor of Comparative Philology here in Cambridge. The Greek alphabet seemed an appropriate choice of cake decoration for Geoff, since he’s an expert on the whole history of the Greek language, ancient and modern – also, handily, it has 24 letters, which correspond exactly to two batches of cupcakes.
As well as the all-important tea and cake, we had an enjoyable series of papers from members of the department, from New Testament textual criticism to Wikipedia debates about Italic languages (more on which here) by way of possible references to writing in Homer and some impressive diagrammatic representations of Greek prepositions. All in all, a very fitting way to wish Geoff a happy retirement!
It’s become something of a tradition over the last few years for me to make linguistics-themed cakes, decorated with copies of inscriptions in various ancient languages and scripts (previous cakes can be found here). This term it was the turn of a language from ancient Italy known as Venetic, because inscriptions in this language have mostly been found in the area around Venice (dating between around 550-100 B.C.E.). As is often the case with ancient languages, many of the inscriptions which survive are on gravestones: this is a woman’s epitaph from the town of Este (near Padua).
I actually made the latest addition to the Linguistics Baking series back in Easter term for the most recent Linguistics Reading Group but didn’t have time to blog about it then. However, better late than never, so here (finally) is the Lycian Cake:
Lycian is a language that was spoken in south-western Asia Minor (now Turkey), and is attested in inscriptions dating from around the 5th-4th centuries B.C.E.; it’s part of the Anatolian branch of the Indo-European language family, so most closely related to other nearby languages like Hittite. The position of Lycia fairly near the Greek-speaking areas of Asia Minor along the Aegean coast meant that it experienced a considerable amount of contact with Greeks (in fact for part of the 5th century it was a member of the Athenian-controlled Delian League). This is most obvious when looking at the script, which (as can be seen from the cake) is an adaptation of the Greek alphabet. Most of the Lycian letters are taken directly from the Greek alphabet, and have the same or similar values: e.g. Ρ = r, Τ = t, Β = v. Others, however, have had their values changed – the letter that looks like Ε, for instance, actually represents i – and there are a few signs that were newly invented to write Lycian. For example, since E was being used for i, e is represented by the sign that looks like an arrow pointing up, while the third one along in the first row (looking a bit like a tree) is a nasalised e, ẽ – a sound that didn’t exist in Greek, but needed to be written in Lycian.
This particular text (like many of the surviving Lycian inscriptions) is an epitaph, and reads as follows:
ebẽñnẽ: xu-pã: this [accusative]: tomb [accusative]
m=ẽne pr-ñnawatẽ: [conjunction]-it [accusative]: built
me-de: epñnẽni: personal name: noun denoting some kind of relation, possibly ‘younger brother’
ehbi: hm̃prã-ma: possessive pronoun, dative singlar: personal name
se(j)=atli [conjunction]-reflexive pronoun, dative singular
‘M. built this tomb for his younger brother (?), H., and for himself’. Very sweet.
(Thanks to Pippa Steele for organising the Lycian Reading Group!)
Following on from my Linear B tablet cake, the mission to raise the profile of obscure Bronze Age scripts through the medium of baked goods continues — this time with Cypro-Minoan, which was used on Cyprus from the 16th century B.C.E. until at least the 11th century. It has also been found at Ras Shamra, Syria (ancient Ugarit), from where this tablet comes: