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New Leaf June 2019 Discussion • The Riddle of the Labyrinth by Margalit Fox
#21  Bookpossum 06-17-2019, 07:52 PM
Quote Dazrin
For Linear B itself, the dropping of consonants at the end of words feels like a huge leap of translation to me. That is the step that really makes it difficult for me to imagine Kober solving this.

Also, the adaptation of the indigenous (we assume) Linear A script to suit Greek words when Greek is (apparently) so structurally different from the original seems odd. But, given the almost pre-history nature of this, I suppose it makes sense. There weren't a lot of other written languages to draw from. I would be interested in knowing how and why the ancient Greeks moved from Linear B to their own script. I don't think there have been any bridging or intermediary steps between Linear B and ancient Greek found. Certainly they didn't have a hard Linear B to Ancient Greek transition and it was a more smooth transition though. Or, did Linear B not catch on in the mainland and Ancient Greek is an independent construct? We know there was some on the mainland but not the extent or any of that history. I want to know more!
Dazrin, I think there was quite a break of several hundreds of years before the Greeks had a written language. They developed an alphabetical written language based on that of the Phoenecians I seem to remember. So they had a sort of Dark Ages with no written language after the collapse of the Mycenaean civilisation. So The Ilead and The Odyssey were initially oral only.
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#22  Bookpossum 06-17-2019, 08:01 PM
I absolutely agree with you Victoria and with Dazrin about all those “ifs”. I think Fox has gone overboard on the lack of appreciation of Kober’s work, and downplayed that of Ventris.

He was appreciative of her work as described in her articles, and wanted to work in collaboration with her. It seemed to me that she had an academic snootiness about Ventris because he was approaching the problem from a different angle in thinking the language might be Etruscan. In other words, she was the sort of person who thought there was only one way to solve the problem, which was her way.
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#23  Bookpossum 06-17-2019, 08:03 PM
On the matter of Kober’s illness, I seem to remember that early on Fox commented on the lack of information but speculated that it was a form of cancer because she was a chain smoker, and her filing “drawers” were cigarette cartons.
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#24  Dazrin 06-17-2019, 08:16 PM
This is a point in history (there are many) where I am lacking my own knowledge. I am trying to piece it together as I go.

Quote Bookpossum
Dazrin, I think there was quite a break of several hundreds of years before the Greeks had a written language. They developed an alphabetical written language based on that of the Phoenecians I seem to remember. So they had a sort of Dark Ages with no written language after the collapse of the Mycenaean civilisation. So The Ilead and The Odyssey were initially oral only.
I remember the book saying that Homer's works were oral and that the Greeks didn't have a written language for several hundred years after the Linear B tablets were created but I thought that was all based on knowledge and understanding from before Linear B was translated. Did knowing that Linear B is "ancient" Greek to the Ancient Greeks change any of those presumptions?

If Linear B is just a time capsule and doesn't have a waterfall effect on how Greece itself or the surrounding countries developed then it is a little less interesting to me. Still a great story and a great learning opportunity but much less meaningful to the world as we know it now if Linear B completely died out before having an opportunity to transform or be incorporated into another language that did make it and did have more influence in today's world.
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#25  Bookworm_Girl 06-17-2019, 08:37 PM
One of the items that I found curious is what motivated Fox to write this book and focus so much attention on Alice. I was surprised to learn that she is well-known as an obituary writer for the New York Times. In addition to a master’s degree in journalism, she also earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in linguistics from Stony Brook University. With this background, I can understand how she combined her skills and passion in multiple interests and felt compelled to write this book.

I found this article in the New York Times where she has written a modern obit of Kober. Much of it is repetitive to the book. It’s a good refresher if you have already returned the book to the library like me. However I thought the concluding paragraphs were interesting.

https://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/12/sunday-review/alice-e-kober-43-lost-to-history-no-more.html
Quote
After Dr. Kober died, on May 16, 1950, The Times published a short obituary article under the headline, “Prof. Alice Kober of Brooklyn Staff.” The article — the dutiful roster of job titles and professional memberships that typified obituaries of the period — devotes less than a sentence to her work on Linear B.

And so to redeem my profession, to correct a gaping omission in the story of one of the world’s great intellectual puzzles and to narrate a vital piece of American women’s history, I have chosen to reconstitute this singular unsung heroine at length, at last.
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#26  Dazrin 06-17-2019, 08:44 PM
Quote Dazrin
While I'm on a posting spree...

I was really amused by the "highly expressive" names for foreigners and slaves:
Quote
Still other people had names that while “highly expressive,” as J. L. García Ramón writes, were “anything but heroic.” Among them are “Goat-Head,” “Mouse-Head,” “Having the Bottom Bare,” and “Devourer of Excrements.” Such names, perhaps unsurprisingly, appear to have been bestowed upon foreigners and slaves.
Wow! Them's fightin' words! I wonder what reaction the recipients of those names had. Did they not understand they were being insulted like that? Or, if they did and were foreigners, did they not have the ability to do anything about it? Were the Greeks/Minoans that dominant at the time?
I was looking up part of this and ran across this paper from 2011:
Quote
In Mycenaean we also find names which are anything but heroic. Some are highly expressive; cf. e.g. mo-ro-qo-ro /Mologwros/ (: Mólobrov, name of a Laconian) ‘devourer of excrements’ (Odysseus, disguised as a beggar, is insulted as molobróv in Od. 17.219, 18.2640) or ku-mo-no-so, which can be read as /Gumnorsos/ ‘(having) the bottom (ôrsóv) bare’ (gumnóv)’,41 or the names with °ka-ra /-kras/ ‘head’: a3-ka-ra if it conceals /Ai(k)-k(a)ras/ ‘GoatHead’ (cf. aîgo-kéfalov ‘owl’), mu-ka-ra /Mu-k(a)ras/ ‘Mouse-Head’ (cf. mÕv ‘mouse’).42
That is very similar to and uses the exact same examples as Fox's passage. But this isn't the author that Fox says the quotes come from (J. L. García Ramón) although this author does also cite Ramón for some other things on this page, just not this passage. I don't have the book any longer so I can't go double check context, I only have the highlight I made still available.

I am not used to academic papers but it seems like they should try to find at least a couple different examples. Otherwise, how are we supposed to believe the examples are trends and not just a few odd-ball cases of this happening? I understand leaving in "devourer of excrements" and "having the bottom bare", those are too good to pass up, but give us something else for the other examples.

(Note: I added the rest of the passage that I had highlighted to my original quote here instead of the abbreviated passage I have in the original post.)
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#27  Bookworm_Girl 06-17-2019, 08:53 PM
Quote Dazrin
I enjoyed this quite a bit but only gave it 3 stars on GR but would have given it 3.5 if that was supported.
Me too. Somewhere before I read the book I saw it compared to Simon Winchester and Dava Sobel which set my expectations higher, but I don’t think it was quite up to their level.
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#28  Bookworm_Girl 06-17-2019, 09:05 PM
Quote Victoria
I’m glad Fox took the time to go through Kober’s personal papers and has highlighted her accomplishments. They were substantial and she deserves that recognition.
Recently I read an essay about the importance of not skipping over the acknowledgments section in books because there can often be more insightful details besides thank yous to a bunch of people that you don’t know. My point of that statement is that I’m glad I read the acknowledgments of this book. And, since many listen to audiobooks, they might not have noted the website link for the archives of Program in Aegean Scripts and Prehistory at the University of Texas. I was completely entertained hunting around on this website. You can see the archives and read direct correspondence. You can also learn about other researchers who have archives there. Here are the links.
http://sites.utexas.edu/scripts/
http://sites.utexas.edu/scripts/about-pasp/pasp-archives-and-finding-aids/
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#29  Bookpossum 06-17-2019, 09:07 PM
Quote Dazrin
If Linear B is just a time capsule and doesn't have a waterfall effect on how Greece itself or the surrounding countries developed then it is a little less interesting to me. Still a great story and a great learning opportunity but much less meaningful to the world as we know it now if Linear B completely died out before having an opportunity to transform or be incorporated into another language that did make it and did have more influence in today's world.
I think it was a time capsule, as you say Dazrin. It seems it wasn't really a good fit for the Greek language, so while useful for record keeping, it wouldn't really encourage anyone to write a three-volume novel!

However, I think that even though the tablets were only of part of a year's records, they still gave the people studying the period a lot more information than they had previously about how the system worked. So they were important from that angle, apart from the intellectual puzzle of working out what they said.
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#30  Bookpossum 06-17-2019, 09:09 PM
Quote Bookworm_Girl
Recently I read an essay about the importance of not skipping over the acknowledgments section in books because there can often be more insightful details besides thank yous to a bunch of people that you don’t know. My point of that statement is that I’m glad I read the acknowledgments of this book. And, since many listen to audiobooks, they might not have noted the website link for the archives of Program in Aegean Scripts and Prehistory at the University of Texas. I was completely entertained hunting around on this website. You can see the archives and read direct correspondence. You can also learn about other researchers who have archives there. Here are the links.
http://sites.utexas.edu/scripts/
http://sites.utexas.edu/scripts/about-pasp/pasp-archives-and-finding-aids/
Good point, Bookworm_Girl, and thanks for giving us those links.
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