From Mycenae to Homer

From Mycenae to Homer

From Mycenae to Homer

From Mycenae to Homer

Excerpt

Michael Ventris' decipherment of Linear B in 1952 proved that Greek was spoken in the Mycenaean world. This fact had long been suspected by archaeologists and, to quote two outstanding examples, Nilsson had maintained that much of Greek mythology was Mycenaean in origin and Miss Lorimer claimed that Homer's knowledge of perishable Mycenaean objects came from a poetic tradition which went back to the time of the shaft-graves of Mycenae. On the linguistic side, Bowra had shown the probability that words common to the Homeric poems and Arcado-Cypriote came to both from Mycenaean Greek.

Ventris' discovery not only confirmed these views but provided a considerable mass of varied material in the tablets recovered from the Mycenaean palaces (even the houses in which the tablets were found at Mycenae were probably outhouses of the palace). In reviewing the great work, Documents in Mycenaean Greek, in which Ventris and Chadwick described the discovery, discussed the picture of the Mycenaean world which the tablets give, and translated and commented on a large selection of tablets, I tried to point out the consequences which follow from reading these documents:

'Because they are written in Greek, they tell us a great deal about the Greek language half a millennium and more before Homer. Because they record Mycenaean civilization in Mycenaean terminology, while Homer was writing in Ionian Greek at the beginning of the polis civilization, they show, when joined with other evidence, how much in Homer is Mycenaean; and where we can say that these Mycenaean elements cannot have survived till Homer's time, they tell us something of the poetry which bridged the gap. Because many of the personal names are known from mythology, which was already supposed to go back to Mycenaean times, they pose the question of what Greek mythology was already existent. Because they give us the names of Greek gods then worshipped, they make a new assessment of the earliest Greek religion and . . .

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