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Homeric depiction from the 15th century BCE Pylos?

Homeric depiction from the 15th century BCE Pylos?

Postby Timothée » Tue Nov 07, 2017 11:53 pm

This NYT article suggests that an agate seal stone picturing a battle scene derives from the same epic sources that Homer was later to use. Debatable, to say the least, but always so intriguing.

“Some scansion problems ‘can be resolved if you restore older forms of Greek which are consistent with the dialect recorded in Linear B documents’” is a really weird formulation, and really made only to show Mycenaean and Homeric connexion.
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Re: Homeric depiction from the 15th century BCE Pylos?

Postby RandyGibbons » Wed Nov 08, 2017 1:47 pm

“Some scansion problems ‘can be resolved if you restore older forms of Greek which are consistent with the dialect recorded in Linear B documents’”


Professor Bennet (director of the British School at Athens), whose quote this is from the NYT article, was kind enough to respond to me, saying the following would be the best sources for this topic. I'm hoping to read some of these after the holidays.

    Horrocks, Geoffrey. 1997. Homer's Dialect. Morris, Ian and Barry Powell, eds. A New Companion to Homer. Leiden: Brill. Mnemosyne Suppl. 163. 90-04-09989-1. p. 193-217.

    Ruijgh, C. J. 2011. Mycenaean and Homeric language. A Companion to Linear B: Mycenaean Greek Texts and their World, Duhoux, Yves and Anna Morpurgo Davies, eds. Bibliothèque des Cahiers de l'Institut de Linguistique de Louvain 127, Leuven: Peeters. ISBN 978-90-429-2403-1 (Peeters Leuven) and ISBN 978-2-7584-0116-2 (Peeters France). p. 253-289.

    M. L. West. (1988). The Rise of the Greek Epic. The Journal of Hellenic Studies, 108, 151-172. doi:10.2307/632637

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Re: Homeric depiction from the 15th century BCE Pylos?

Postby Paul Derouda » Wed Nov 08, 2017 9:53 pm

I agree with Timothée that it looks like "name dropping" to a degree at least. There are certainly some scansion problems whose solving requires knowledge of what Greek was like before the advent of the alphabet, but how many of these problems were solved with the help of Linear B sources? Most of them, I think, have been solved with other linguistic methods. (see e.g. this viewtopic.php?f=22&t=64573&p=178106&hilit=syllabic#p178106)

But seriously? They find a generic battle scene on a seal, and immediately it "evokes tales from the Iliad and the Odyssey"? There wasn't strictly anything in the article to allow us to recognize which heroes might be depicted, or which battle. I actually spotted one thing that was clearly unHomeric: the fighter on the left has his scabbard hanging from the waist from a belt. Homeric heroes hung their swords from their shoulder with a baldric (e.g. Odyssey book 2 line 3). The fighter on the right seems to have some sort of baldric on his right shoulder, but I don't know whether it's to hang his sword or his shield. (Homeric heroes' shields didn't have elbow straps, but they hung them from the shoulder - one shoulder for the shield, the other for the sword.)
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Re: Homeric depiction from the 15th century BCE Pylos?

Postby RandyGibbons » Thu Nov 09, 2017 12:01 pm

My thesis: Since the two fallen warriors on the seal are wearing kilts, they must have been mercenaries brought over from Scotland. The "hero" is probably the grandfather or great-grandfather of Nestor, and further linguistic study will reveal an ever-so-slight Gaelic influence on the oral poetry of the time.

What I think is cool is just how fresh the Minoan-Myceneaen-Homeric field still is. Who would have thought that in 2015 we (Jack Davis and his wife) would discover "Nestor's" palace!!

In my first year of graduate school at the University of Cincinnati, in 1972, Jack Davis and I took a seminar with Emmett L. Bennett (now I'm name dropping!). At that time, some German scholars were still denying that Linear B was Greek. The purpose of the seminar was for each student to develop his/her own argument for whether or not Linear B had been correctly deciphered. I was not an archaeology major, but I was the only student in the seminar whose German was pretty good. I'm pretty sure I must have said something brilliant that motivated Jack to forge ahead in the field, and that I am indirectly responsible for the discovery of "Nestor's" palace.

So here we are not all that many years later, and if two lines of "Homer" scan successfully based on what we know of the Greek represented by Linear B, I'm excited!

One other tidbit I remember from the seminar. Bennett was quite intrigued by the potential role of computers in decipherment (one of our homework assignments was to read sections of David Kahn's The Codebreakers). My contribution to that topic was: What's a computer? Fast forward, and we have Joel's Homeric scansion program (the link you provided)!
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Re: Homeric depiction from the 15th century BCE Pylos?

Postby Timothée » Thu Nov 09, 2017 12:43 pm

It's ridiculous, isn't it? A carved stone is from Pylos and has a battle scene depicted on it, so it must be Homeric?! Homer has merely become a way of selling these matters to the public.

As to Mycenaean Greek, of course it has improved our knowledge, but how much has it improved our Homeric knowledge? I'm no expert, but I'd think only on very rare occasions. We've got much more from Indo-European studies, many decades before the Linear B decipherment.

On kilts: The now emblematic Scottish garment is relatively new. Wikipedia says it first developed in the 16th century, and started to become commoner in the 18th and early 19th century. The gap of 3000 years is surely too long for the garment to be latent.

Linear A too has been claimed deciphered, and some experts accept the decipherment of Semitic (Aartun). I remain suspicious.
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Re: Homeric depiction from the 15th century BCE Pylos?

Postby Scribo » Thu Nov 09, 2017 9:28 pm

I agree that we've got much more from PIE linguistics than Linear B when it comes to Homer. The issue is with the academy: previous generations of scholars on Lin.B were Classicists first and foremost. Their modern descendants are archaeologists and, in classical terms, illiterate.
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Re: Homeric depiction from the 15th century BCE Pylos?

Postby RandyGibbons » Thu Nov 09, 2017 10:21 pm

I'm not sure where in this thread or elsewhere a claim was made that Linear B has made huge contributions, quantitatively, to Homeric studies. I didn't know 'PIE' and 'B' were in competition. I'll take insight wherever it comes from.

Scribo - Maybe you don't mean "illiterate" as harshly as it sounds (to me, at least). What in your experience leads you to say that? I have to say that I know many archaeologists, including young ones in training, and they're not in the least bit illiterate, especially regarding Homer.

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Re: Homeric depiction from the 15th century BCE Pylos?

Postby RandyGibbons » Tue Nov 14, 2017 11:19 am

Of the three articles recommended by Professor Bennet (above), I just read the only one immediately available to me*, Martin West's The Rise of the Greek Epic. It is an excellent survey of the archaeological, mythological, and linguistic evidence for the development of epic prior to the Iliad and the Odyssey. I'm way out of my depth here, but at least I can follow the arguments.

Here is a good Smithsonian article on the discovery of the Tomb of the Griffin Warrior, a mere two years ago, which contains the seal stone (in my facetious bit above, I was mistakenly referring to Jack Davis's discovery of Nestor's Palace. His predecessor Carl Blegen of course discovered the palace; Jack and his wife discovered the tomb.): https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/golden-warrior-greek-tomb-exposes-roots-western-civilization-180961441/.

A question that arose out of my reading West's article: Can anyone provide recommendations or guidance on (1) keyboards & fonts for writing IPA in Windows 10, and (2) writing IPA on the internet (like in Textkit)?

* Most of you are probably already aware of this, but I only recently discovered that you can get up to three free articles at a time from JSTOR (or quite a few more for $99 a year, which is what I ended up doing).
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