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PREHISTORIC   WRITINGS  IN GREECE

LINEAR A , LINEAR B , CRETAN HIEROGLYPHICS

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At first, the Minoans were using a kind of writing which was similar to the hieroglyphics of Egypt. Each letter is symbolised with an animal or object. Later, they were using Linear A and in the end, after 1450 BC when the Achaians dominated, Linear B was instituted. M. Ventris, an Englishman, deciphered Linear B in 1952. Ventris proved that in this period there were speaking Greek in Knossos like the Achaians. This helped us to prove that the same goes for the hieroglyphics and Linear A.

The Greek hieroglyphics had been invented in Crete, by the Greeks of the island. In addition, based on inscriptions, we can assume only Greeks or Greek speaking people created civilisation in the island in the prehistoric period. Greek language was imprinted in the hieroglyphics and their daughter Linear writings. Linear writings came from the hieroglyphics, not as new writing, but as shorthand type of them. The Greek hieroglyphics have nothing to do with that of Egypt. That is because the Greek hieroglyphics are an independent invention of a Greek speaking nation and they represent the widest language in the world. The Egyptian hieroglyphics are an imported product from Southern Mesopotamian civilisation, inferior to the Greek Minoan civilisation of Crete. The Greek hieroglyphics have simultaneously pictorial and phonetic character. Each Greek hieroglyphic represents an object and it has the phonetic value of the first syllable of the name of the object of the image. However, because the hieroglyphics represent such a wide language, each object has different name in some other Greek dialects. Therefore, the same image has different phonetic value in each dialect as syllabic letter. This particularity of the Greek dialects caused the difference between Linear A and Linear B, which seem to represent the main dialects, in the prehistoric Greek area. The same happens in the hieroglyphics; thus, we have hieroglyphics A and B etc. It would not be strange, if we have in Thessaly, hieroglyphics, or their simpler form of Linear writings, with another phonetic value, which comes from the name of the same object in the local idiom. Linear writing was invented, because they wanted to have the linear representation of the object and not its image. They preferred the linear representation, because the image of the object needed calligraphic hand and it is time-consuming. That means that we do not have different system of writing between the hieroglyphics and Linear writings. Stagnancy in the research on Greek prehistoric writings, is result of our ignorance that the phonetic values of the syllabic letters are based on the local idioms and that their translation should be based on the local idioms as well. These idioms are still used in each Greek province even in our age and they have the same meaning that they had in Minoan and Mycenean period.

The hieroglyphics of Egypt have two basic characteristics, which are their disadvantages as well. First, the objects, which can be represented, are shown as pictures. Second, the pictorial spots take the phonetic value of words, which the represented objects denote. In addition, these spots are written in order to denote synonyms, or words of the same phonetic value. This writing has no vowels and earlier it did not have the semivowels i, y and w either. Therefore, due to the non-existence of vowels and semivowels, different words were consisting of the same combination of consonants. This system was unable to impress even a part of the Greek language, because it never drew away from its ideographic formation. Each Egyptian word had its own representation, with which it was linked in an indissoluble way. Hence, we have a complete system of writing, which could define whichever word with all its derivatives and all its grammatical forms. However, this is very limited language in contrast to the Greek. Therefore, the Egyptian language was unable to express the variety of the Greek idioms of the Aegean islands and the Greek mainland.

Since we have studied only seventy-five syllabic letters of the Greek writing, we need too many pages to write them down; thus, we will focus on some of them.

We understood the way of writing the Greek hieroglyphics, Linear A and Linear B, when the Greek newspaper “Kyriakatiki Kathimerini”(28-1-1996) published an article, which included the text and the translation of the hieroglyphic inscription that is on the smaller ring of the two rings from the Aedonia treasure. Reading this inscription, before I cited between the two women at the representation a sling, there was a hieroglyphic, we read sa-re. The word derives from the word sarir, which means according to Hesychius in the Spartan idiom, branch of palm tree.

Indeed, the first hieroglyphic sa is placed and is represented with leaves on the top of a palm tree branch. This palm tree is held by the woman on the left.

Therefore, we have use of the first syllable of the word with which they were calling the palm tree. At the same time with the palm tree image they represent in this case, the syllabic letter sa. Later, as soon as I saw the third hieroglyphic, I read the word sa-ko-re or za-ko-re. Zakoros is the woman who takes care of the temple, and here this word is in the dual number, which is for the two women of the ring.

Apart from this ring, I have read and translated many inscriptions of Linear A and B, which were unread and non-translated until today. Some of these inscriptions are the Phaistos disc, which is Cretan writing of 5-3rd BC century using images skilfully, Pelasgic inscriptions from Lemnos, Samothrace and Praisos, and also hieroglyphics from many seals, signets and objects from Crete, Peloponnese, the Greek mainland and the Aegean. Then I began thinking about the origin of the hieroglyphics from Crete and Peloponnese.

Bearing in mind that all these writings express the ancient Greek language in its local idioms, I began studying the hieroglyphics, one by one, and in consequence the syllabic letters of Linear A and B. I observed that without the existence of the Archaic Greek language, none of these writings would exist, as we know them, which all are used until the Hellenistic period.

Ventris studied only these syllabic letters of Linear B that have root from Greek words, which are common in all Greek dialects. Therefore, we can assume that the hieroglyphics are innumerous, like the objects that the human eye can perceive. In addition, if we bear in mind the dialects, then each syllabic letter has variable phonetic values. In reverse, there is the phenomenon of using different images to express the same syllabic letter, since there are many object names, which begins with the same syllabic letter. Because of the width of the Greek language, it is impossible to find out how many are the hieroglyphics and the syllabic letters of Linear A and B. the greatest problem is in Cypriot syllabic letters, which, apart from those that have Greek roots, have roots from oriental languages that the Greek Cypriot dialect assimilated. This happened because Cyprus had intercourse with nations of the eastern Mediterranean and the island had many different masters in the prehistoric period.

Now we will examine some roots of syllabic letters. First, we write the syllabic letter in Latin alphabet. Then we describe the image in hieroglyphics or in Linear writings. Finally, we have the Greek word where the syllabic letter is the first syllable and then we have the English translation.

  1. Mo = musk head in hieroglyphics. Mo-schos = 1. Infant of any animal. 2. Young bull the form of which God Apes was believed to have. 3. (fem.) musk ox, young cow.
  2. Ko = N70 in Lin.B. The fruit of coriander. Ko-liandros = coriander.
  3. Ja = N57 in Lin. B. image of door or stairs in hieroglyphics. Za-batos = passable, passage, stairs.
  4. Ke = Hammer and axe image in hieroglyphics. Ke-arnon = tool of carpenter or currier. Also, N19 in Linear B.
  5. Sa = N31 in Lin. B. Branch with sesame seeds. Sa-amon = laconic form of sesame.
  6. Ki = N67 in Lin. B. Jar image. Ky-lix = (Hesychius) 1. Jar 2. Ox with on uplifted horn.
  7. Ni = N30 in Lin. B. Fig image. Ni-kylea = kind of fig in Crete.
  8. I = symbol, leg in hieroglyphics. I-thma = legs, footprints, steps, feet.
  9. Ra = bird image like pelican, in hieroglyphics. Ra-mphios = pelican. Also, raphoi = some birds in Hesychius. Also, la-ios = blackbird.
  10. Ra and la = N60 in Lin. B. In Linear A, plow image. Therefore, the syllabic letter –la derives from the word la-ion = plowshare. The same image represents the legume fava bean, which in ancient Greek is la-thyros.
  11. Te = N4 in Lin. B. image of fern spring or dicotyledon plant teucrium. Te-ucrion = plant teucrium. Another possible derivation is from the word te-rebinthos = (Hesychius) plant similar to flax with which the Athenians used to make fishing line. Teucrium is vivacious healing plant which is also called “kreticon” (=Cretan), or “polion”, because of the colour of its flower which is white. We have the same image in Linear A and in the hieroglyphics, where it represents the legume lupine. In Greek, this legume is called the-rmos (termos). The-rmos = legume that was used for inebriety antidote.
  12. Ta = scales image in Lin. A and udders in the hieroglyphics. Ta-lanton = scales.
  13. Ma = in hieroglyphics, head of cat or dog, or eight shaped shield image. Ma-gin = (Hesychius) shield.
  14. Ma = in hieroglyphics, dog image. Probably, ma-ira = nickname of Hekabe who had been transformed into a dog.
  15. Ku = N81 in Lin. B. In Linear A and B, flying bird image. Ky-knias = eagle similar in whiteness to swan. The same image is given to the legume white broad bean. In Greek, the broad bean is called ky-amos.
  16. Ro = N68. In Linear B image of musical instrument which is described by Plutarch as ro-ptron = musical instrument of the Corybantes, lozenge.
  17. Ma = N80. In Linear B, image of sheep wool, this is actually two hair locks. Ma-lion = lock, braid. This image is very common is tables where sheep are cited.
  18. Qi = N21 chi = image that is characterised in Linear and in the hieroglyphics as goat. Chi-maira = 1.goat 2. One year old goat, which was sacrificed to Agrotera Artemis before the battle. 3. Wild goat etc.
  19. Tu = N69 in Linear B. In Linear, image of grape and in the hieroglyphics, wine image. It derives indirectly from Dionysiac words: a) thy-ia = festival on the honour of Dionysos, b) thy-natai = (Hesychius) he feasts. There are many other words with the thyrsos that remind Dionysiac rituals.
  20. Pu = N29. In Linear, image of florescent broad beans plant. Py-amos and the laconic form pou-anos = broad beans.
  21. I = nail image in hieroglyphics. He-larion = little nail.
  22. I = N28 in Lin. B. In Linear, distaff image. He-lakate = distaff = the device that is used in spinning of wool, cotton. One of its different types has three or four crotches on the top. The same image represents the legume chickpea. In Greek, it is I-alion.
  23. Wu = in hieroglyphics, image of man who bends and works with his mattock. Phy-teutes = the one who spuds, especially vegetables and crops.
  24. E = N38 in Lin. B. In hieroglyphics, image of pointed pen or iron which is fitted on the leg and helps in ascension. E-nkentrida = 1.type of pen that had sharp point. 2. Piece of iron with sharp end fitted on the leg that helped in ascension.
  25. Wa = N54 in Linear and in the hieroglyphics it is represented with a textile image. Pha-reos or pha-ros = large piece of textile, or cerecloth.
  26. U = N10. In Linear, it represents rudder of ship and in the hieroglyphics curved stick. Thus, we have in Linear writings: y-ax = (Hesychius) rudder. In the hieroglyphics: y-bos = hunchback.
  27. Nau = in the hieroglyphics, ship image, the half of which exists in Linear A and B with N86. Nau-s = ship.
  28. Ti = N37 in Lin. B. In Linear and hieroglyphs, tripod image. Ti-ben = tripod. Tibenos = (Hes.) tripod.
  29. Nu = in Linear A and B, and especially in B, image representing an alcove on the wall where there is a statue. Ny-phe or ny-mphe = an amoeba shape alcove which has a statue or a tripod or something similar. Also, this alcove had in temple or house walls a small door.
  30. Ai = N43 in Lin. B. image consisting of something that winnows. Ai-no = to winnow, riddle.
  31. Ru = N26 in Linear B, also common in Linear A and the hieroglyphics. Linear image of bull head jar. Rhy-ton = 1. Cup or vessel in animal like shapes e.g. ox, elephant. 2. Minoan or Mycenaean vessel with similar characteristics.
  32. Qa = in Linear A, image of curved champagne glass with two hands and high foot. Ka-ntharos = cup commonly used in Dionysiac festivals.
  33. Me = N13 in Linear B. similar in Linear A. in Cretan hieroglyphics, capricorn head with horn and beard under his chin. Me-thlen = (Hes.) sheep.
  34. Pe = N72 in Linear B. Triangle shape with hole in the middle. Pe-rigonion = tools of bricklayer.
  35. Pa = N3 in Linear A and B and the hieroglyphics. A line with two vertical other lines like double cross. It represents the legume lentil. Pha-kos = lentil. Lentil was eaten after funerals.

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                Extract from the book “The 147 cities of ancient Crete” by Antonis Thomas Vasilakis.

                            Translated from Greek to english by Thomas Antonis Vasilakis

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