Welcome to the PASP website. Tom Palaima’s editorials and commentary pieces are always available at his blog.
Over the course of the next few months, we will be adding new sections to the site to update you on current initiatives, upcoming projects, and new research programs. From the imaging and publication of the Pylos tablets, to our new annual research program focusing on script use throughout the world, to our proposal to expand PASP into a larger research center for the study of scripts and decipherment, we are moving in new directions and will be keeping you informed on all of them.
Please use the contact form if you have any questions, comments, or suggestions. Thank you for visiting, and we hope you find the new site and format useful!
PASP News and Project Updates
PASP Visit Report by Helena Tomas, University of Zagreb
Zagreb, 7 December 2018
Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences
University of Zagreb
Ivana Lučića 3
A report for the Visiting Scholar Fellowship at the University of Texas at Austin
(16 March – 14 April 2018)
In spring of 2018 (16 March – 14 April) I spent a month at the University of Texas at Austin as a visiting scholar. I was invited by Thomas G. Palaima, Robert M. Armstrong Centennial Professor of Classics, chair of the Department of Classics and the Director of the Program in Aegean Scripts and Prehistory (PASP).
The aim of the Fellowship was to conduct a research at PASP related to my previous work on the pinacology and epigraphy of tablets inscribed in Linear A and Linear B. This research falls within the realm of my comparative study of clay documents in the three Aegean Bronze Age administrative systems (Cretan Hieroglyphic, Linear A and Linear B) that I have been conducting over the past 15 years. Although they are clearly related, these three systems show remarkable differences in the types of employed documents, especially in sealings. The issue has been addressed in my doctoral dissertation Understanding the transition from Linear A to Linear B script, supervised by Prof. John Bennet at the University of Oxford (defended in 2003).
Since the completion of my dissertation I have concentrated on one of the rare document-types that matches in the three administrative systems – the clay tablet. I decided to approach clay tablets as objects themselves and pay full attention to their physical features, and not treat them as secondary to the contents of inscriptions they carry. Clay documents are, after all, archaeological objects and not pure carriers of information, so their materiality should be equally acknowledged. For that reason, I decided to explore how physical aspects of documents influence the type of conveyed information, how/if those physical aspects also shaped the way of thinking of the early administrators, and to what extent physical qualities of documents allowed for specific functions and administrative practices (for most sealing types and some tablets the latter is indeed the case).
The first phase of that research was supported by the 2007 Michael Ventris Memorial Award for a study entitled “Pinacological and epigraphical differences between Linear A and Linear B tablets”, the results of which have been published in a series of papers (as listed in my CV submitted to Prof. Palaima prior to my arrival to Austin). In that study I focused on the comparison of the chronologically closest Linear A and B tablets, i.e. Linear A tablets of the LM IB date and Linear B tablets from Knossos, and showed that they display more differences than similarities. In some instances these differences can be explained as an improvement of scribal practice from Linear A to Linear B, but in most cases they clearly show that Linear A page-shaped tablets served an administrative purpose distinct from those in Linear B. Indeed, the differences are so noticeable that page-shaped tablets from the two administrative systems have little more than their name in common. Such profound differences between the chronologically closest Linear A and Linear B tablets indicate that this document type went through extensive transformations. Differences become even more obvious once we move outside the chronological framework of my focus to date. For example, it is generally understood that the main Linear B pinacological innovation was the introduction of the elongated (or palmleaf-shaped) tablet, which was unknown to the LM IB Linear A administrative system. But we must not forget that the MM II Linear A administration had knowledge of elongated tablets, as did the contemporary Cretan Hieroglyphic system. This obviously means that the clay tablet underwent a transformation even within the Minoan administrative system, that is from MM II examples to those in LM IB. The transformation of the clay tablet within the same administrative system is observable even in Linear B. For example, most elongated tablets are extremely small in the Room of the Chariot Tablets deposit and have a minimal amount of text; they are larger and textually more complex in the other Knossian deposits, but the largest tablets and most extensive texts are found in the Pylian archive.
This expanded comparison of pinacological and epigraphical features of Aegean clay tablets was then a subject of my postdoctoral research in Greece (Alexander S. Onassis Fellowship in 2010). The study not only encompassed those changes observable on tablets of chronologically earlier and later administrative systems, but also changes in chronologically distinct tablets within the same system and results of those comparisons have also been published as individual papers. My research on that topic continues and the final result will be a detailed diachronic study of the Aegean clay tablet from its earliest modest examples in the MM II period on Crete to the latest both complex and numerous examples on the LH IIIB Mainland. This study should improve our understanding of what administrative practices in different places and in different times led to the creation of different types of tablets. The overall aim of this research is to emphasise: 1) that tablets should not be considered secondary to sealings in our studies of similarities and differences between Minoan and Mycenaean administrative systems; 2) that the clay tablet is not a uniform type of document and that its numerous transformations have not yet been properly explored and demonstrated; 3) that recognising these transformations can have a far-reaching impact on still unresolved issues in Aegean studies. This last point refers specifically to disagreements over the date of the Knossian Linear B tablets. I have already mentioned above that the Knossian and the Mainland tablets display some differences, and I would consider it a success if the study proposed here showed that these differences reflect the chronological gap between the two.
My time at Austin was devoted to just mentioned study of similarities and differences between Linear B tablets from Crete and those from the Greek Mainland. A month of a fellowship at the Program in Aegean Scripts and Prehistory provided an unparalleled environment for that research thanks to the archive of excellent photographs of almost all Linear B tablets and the accompanying relevant publications. In addition, during my research at PASP I had an opportunity to examine RTI images of Linear B tablets from Pylos and thus familiarise myself with pinacology and epigraphy of that archive. On several occasions that examination was conducted together with prof. Thomas Palaima and his graduate students. Thus I had a chance to also get a taste of what goes on at PASP on a weekly basis, and my only regret is that I could not enjoy that privilege for a longer period of time. Prof. Palaima and his students have been analysing the mentioned RTI images in a very detailed, lively, insightful and motivating manner. Despite my two decades long dealing with the Aegean scripts, I never had a chance to experience such an enthusiastic and productive teamwork of a professor and students. During such readings of tablets I realised that I always mostly worked alone and that I miss fruitful and inspiring discussions of the sort and sharing the joy of little discoveries which would occur frequently at PASP while reading and interpreting the tablets. Before my departure from Austin I was given copies of the RTI images of Linear B tablets from Pylos which allows me to continue examining them from Croatia. This next stage of my diachronic study of Aegean clay tablets (the comparison of Linear B tablets from Knossos and Pylos) will be presented at the forthcoming Mycenological Colloquium at the British School at Athens in 2020.
In addition to just described study of tablets, a significant portion of my time at PASP was spent on reading the archives of unpublished letters sent mostly to professor Emmett Bennett (I thank Garrett Bruner, the PASP archivist, for sorting out these letters in a such a superb way that navigating through them was easy and efficient). They were extremely useful for getting acquainted with the decipherment efforts of the first half of the 20 th century. Before coming to PASP I had not realized that Emmett Bennett was such a central figure of the Linear A and Linear B “decipherment world”. What I discovered at PASP was that absolutely everyone was writing to Prof. Bennett informing him of his or her work, or asking for advice and guidance. The most precious were the letters written before the decipherment of Linear B in 1952. It was so interesting for me to trace back right and wrong decipherment paths, including those of Michael Ventris himself. Because so many of those attempts at deciphering remained fruitless, the work of numerous scholars was never published, so I only found out about it from those archived letters. Even if fruitless, those efforts are extremely useful for following the logic of decipherment strategy. Being myself a scholar who deals with an undeciphered script (Linear A) I could track in those letters some of my own patterns of thinking, and then analyze why they would be right or wrong. By doing that I realized that I would love to write an article on the historiography of the Linear B decipherment. A month in Austin was not enough to gather all the data for that article, especially because my research time was dominated by the study of tablets. But, should another opportunity present itself for a research visit to PASP, it would definitely be devoted to writing up of such an article. It is not only the letters to Emmett Bennett that would contribute to that, but also many other unpublished notes and other relevant materials that are sitting at PASP shelves, especially the precious notes and notebooks of Alice Kober. While at PASP I also realized that just like Emmett Bennett was the center of the Linear B world during his time, Thomas Palaima is the same center of that world today. He has created an unprecedented research place for the Aegean Scripts in which true unpublished treasures are stored, and not just a library with the most relevant publications. And just like everyone was writing to Emmett Bennett before, all Aegean scholars seem to be writing to Thomas Palaima now – notes and letters of names of almost everyone who has done any work on Linear A and Linear B can be spotted all over PASP.
I would actually like to end this report by saying a few more words about Professor Palaima. He has always been my academic idol, but I was never fortunate to be his student. Having shared for a month the premises of the PASP and having observed his ways of teaching and discussing the Aegean Scripts, I learned why he has always been considered such a superb teacher and not only a superb scholar. He has a talent of creating circumstances in which in a very skilful and spontaneous way he can lead his students through a complex labyrinth of prehistoric scrips (whether deciphered or still undeciphered) and bring them to a proper, self-confident and independent research path. I always knew that Prof. Palaima was highly respected and admired by other fellow scholars and former students. While in Austin I was very much pleased to see that his colleagues and current students share the same attitude. In addition to all his knowledge and expertise, he is an inspiring and charismatic person, so sharing a work and research environment with him for a month was a true scholarly joy. For all those reasons Prof. Palaima’s invitation to Austin and an offer of a visiting fellowship was an exceptional privilege for me and a treasured recognition of my so far work.
In addition to Prof. Palaima, I would also like to thank Joann Gulizio, Kevin Pluta, Garrett Bruner, Cassandra Donnelly and Dimitris Nakassis for their generous help with absolutely everything I needed while working at PASP, and for being so welcoming and accommodating. I would also like to thank Vanessa Noya and Khoa Tran for sorting out all the logistics of my visit. Finally, I would like to thank Prof. Palaima for inviting me to give a guest lecture during my stay.
Professor of Aegean Archaeology and Mycenaean Epigraphy
Department of Archaeology
Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences
University of Zagreb, Croatia
Updated on December 8, 2018 by Garrett R. Bruner. firstname.lastname@example.org
“Beauty in clay: Aesthetics and script in Mycenaean Greece” by Dimitri Nakassis
Recently published by Dimitri Nakassis in the book ΟΙ ΑΜΕΤΡΗΤΕΣ ΟΨΕΙΣ ΤΟΥ ΩΡΑΙΟΥ ΣΤΗΝ ΑΡΧΑΙΑ ΤΕΧΝΗ / The Countless aspects of Beauty in Ancient Art is a chapter on the aesthetic of the Linear B script. Check it out here!
Updated on October 27, 2018 by Garrett R. Bruner. email@example.com
CREWS Fellowship Awarded to PASP Researcher and Classics PhD Candidate Cassandra Donnelly
The Contexts of and Relations between Early Writing Systems (CREWS) of Cambridge University has awarded PASP’s own Cassandra Donnelly to develop her research on Aegean scripts.
The announcement can be found below, with information on her research and a brief interview:
Cassandra will be presenting a brief talk on Sunday, October 21, on her research of Bronze age Aegean society in the 11th annual Archaeology Playdate hosted by the Austin society of the Archaeological Institute of America. Talks will be presented in Patton Hall (RLP) in Room 0.102.
3:30 PM Cassie Donnelly, Classics: “Epigraphic Evidence for Regional Administrative Practices in Late Bronze Age Cyprus”
Cassandra Donnelly also coordinates Scripts Institute lectures in Classics every semester. Upcoming is a presentation by Dr. Joann Gulizio of UT-Classics titled “Divine Families in the Mycenaean Pantheon at Pylos? Connections between PY Tn 316 and the Fr series”. It will be held on Wednesday, October 24th, at 12 PM in WAG 116. Hope to see you there!!
More information about CREWS can be found here.
And follow their blog at:
Updated on October 20, 2018 by Garrett R. Bruner. firstname.lastname@example.org
William C. Brice – Scripta Minoa III Correspondence Now Online
Now online at Texas ScholarWorks are over 150 items of correspondence from the William C. Brice collection. This correspondence spans four decades of research and includes the very brightest Classics figures of the period, like decipherers Michael Ventris and John Chadwick, Emmett L. Bennett Jr. archaeologists Sinclair Hood and Leonard Woolley, and classicists like Mortimer Wheeler and Anthony Snodgrass. They cover a great range of subjects like script research in Linear A/B and the latest archaeological discoveries in the 1950s by Sinclair Hood.
A bulk of the letters document Brice’s progress on Scripta Minoa III, a volume which was intending to be the comprehensive catalog for all Linear A inscriptions discovered up to that point. It was an international effort spanning half a century of research which Brice would painstakingly edit following the death of Sir John Myres. It includes contributions from Sir Arthur Evans, Sir John Myres, Michael Ventris, Emmett Bennett, Maurice Pope, Sinclair Hood, John Boardman, among many other leading figures. In 1957, the project was ultimately discontinued by the Society of Antiquaries of London for a variety of reasons, but Brice’s effort was compiled and organized for another publication, Inscriptions in the Minoan Linear Script of Class A, published 1961.
Keep checking back!! Another batch of correspondence from the Brice collection, most of it concerning the Scripta Minoa III project, is being digitized over the summer of 2018.
Updated on May 3, 2018 by Garrett R. Bruner. email@example.com
Bob Dylan in Nuremberg – by Thomas G. Palaima
Between April 15-25 Tom Palaima attended the 2018 Aegaeum conference in Venice and then lectured at the University of Zagreb. He was also present at Bob Dylan’s concert in Nuremberg.
1 Things Have Changed
2 Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right
3 Highway 61 Revisited
4 Simple Twist of Fate
5 Duquesne Whistle
6 Melancholy Mood (Frank Sinatra cover)
7 Honest With Me
8 Tryin’ to Get to Heaven
9 Come Rain or Come Shine (Harold Arlen & Johnny Mercer cover)
10 Pay in Blood
11 Tangled Up in Blue
12 Early Roman Kings
13 Desolation Row
14 Love Sick
15 Autumn Leaves (Yves Montand cover)
16 Thunder on the Mountain
17 Soon After Midnight
18 Long and Wasted Years
19 Blowin’ in the Wind
20 Ballad of a Thin Man
A younger Croatian professor friend of mine, Helena Tomas of University of Zagreb, and I drove up for this show from Venice, where we had spent the week at a scholarly conference. We came up through the Brenner Pass and across lots of history. “Lots of water under the bridge / lots of other stuff, too.”
It was her first show. We felt privileged to be sitting in row 5 audience just to the right of the piano (and the left of his Oscar statuette for “Things Have Changed” and—from the Tempest cover—what looks like a copy of the classical stylized bust of a river goddess from the Pallas Athene statue grouping outside the Parliament Building in Vienna).
From our vantage point, we could see Bob sitting or standing at the keyboard where he stayed the entire night (with the exception of his three standards which Bob sang stage center mostly singing back across the stage toward his piano although for a brief segment on one number facing Stu Kimball audience left) with a preternatural look of intense concentration and absorption—and at times delight—on his face as he coaxed, tickled or attacked the keyboard to produce the haunting melancholic delicacy of “Simple Twist of Fate”and “Tryin’ to Get to Heaven,” the rag-time hints of “Duquesne Whistle,” or the take-no-prisoner building rhythmic tsunami of “Thunder on the Mountain.”
Weather was magnificent. In late afternoon Nuremberg had 82 degrees, light blue skies and 9 mph breezes. Strolling in with Helena we stopped and listened, coming and going, to two musicians performing in separate places Dylan’s music. We thought of the “Homeridae,” literally the sons of Homer, local or itinerant song-poets who must have likewise performed song parts from the Homeric repertory surrounding main festival events when the great oral songsters gathered.
The stage setting and colors of the lighting produced extraordinary, but not obtrusive, atmospheres for the songs.
Helena loved best “Simple Twist of Fate,” “Come Rain or Come Shine” (which Bob did knock out of the park Arlen and Mercer created for him to play in, complete with choreographed arm gestures), “Desolation Row,” and “Thunder on the Mountain,” which she rightly described as building and building and building and building……..
On “Simple Twist of Fate” the hotel had a “flashing neon sign” that allowed the “she” of the song to ask: “What do you have in mind?” And when the ‘he’ reads “the note she left behind,” Bob breaks the narrative and interjects “What did it say?” before giving us the new standard variant, something like: “We should have ended up in 58 / and forgotten about this simple twist of fate.”
Likewise at the end of “Desolation Row,” still the song dearest and most embedded in my heart and soul and which I used to sing, in its entirety, as a lullaby to my now grown son, the new standard variant:
“Yesterday is dead and gone / Tomorrow might as well be now.
Some of them live on the mountain / some of them down on the ground
Some of their names are still the same
Others, well, they just left town.”
Bob and his band left town after re-instantiating Bob’s music and making it new for us, so that we will be leaving town with it in our heads and hearts and souls in a new way for our today’s selves, like the German man I talked to at the adjacent men’s room stall after the show. He noted that Bob’s voice was in stunningly good form. And I agreed. And he agreed with me that the band was producing music as if it were at times the Nelson Riddle Orchestra and at other times sidemen behind Jelly Roll Morton. And he was heading to Baden-Baden, staying briefly ‘on the road’ with Bob and his band.
Thank you, Bob, as you move toward the completion of your seventy-seventh year among us mere mortals.
Tom Palaima, Austin TX
Helena Tomas was a visiting scholar of PASP in the months of March-April 2018.
Updated on April 25, 2018 by Garrett R. Bruner. firstname.lastname@example.org
Aegean Scholarship at UT accessible at Texas ScholarWorks – by Kevin S. Lee
As the PASP research assistant, one of my tasks this semester was to curate and process material for the Aegean Scholarship collection on Texas ScholarWorks. This is part of PASP’s ongoing mission of making accessible as much of our research materials and resources as possible.
The Aegean Scholarship collection at TSW serves as the digital home for Aegean-related dissertations and theses authored by former PASP students, touching on topics like Minoan religion, Mycenaean archives, and figures of authority in Mycenaean society. The students’ dissertations demonstrates the rigor of scholarship PASP attracts. For instance, Dimitri Nakassis’ 2013 book Individuals and Society in Mycenaean Pylos grew out of his 2005/2006 dissertation entitled “The Individual and the Mycenaean State: Agency and Prosopography in the Linear B Texts from Pylos.” Dr. Nakassis’ work is pivotal in new understandings of Mycenaean palace-states as networks of individuals rather than monolithic blocks. Dr. Nakassis now teaches in the Department of Classics at the University of Colorado at Boulder.
TSW’s Aegean Scholarship collection also curates faculty research on the Aegean studies. For now, this consists primarily of the scholarship currently of Thomas Palaima and Cynthia Shelmerdine. The scholarly works of Professor Palaima span his entire UT career and reflect a lifetime of comprehensive and granular research. They consist of a range of articles on a variety of Mycenaean subjects, book reviews, and conference papers. It has been my responsibility to digitally process and make permanently accessible fourteen articles and conference papers Professor Palaima has published in UT publications. They run the gamut from a reappraisal of the last years of the Palace of Nestor at Pylos to humorous pieces delivered at iterations of the Aegean Conference. Also online are Palaima’s research into the history of Linear B decipherment, covering individuals like Michael Ventris, Alice Kober, and Emmett Bennett. Like his contributions to the Times Literary Supplement and Austin American-Statesman, these reflect the whole person of Professor Palaima, both learned scholar and jovial concerned citizen.
We are in the process of having all former PASP Electronic Theses and Dissertations digitized to TSW, so keep checking back!
Updated on April 9, 2018 by Garrett R. Bruner. email@example.com
Paintings and Poetry in Linear B – The Nikos Samartzidis Collection
PASP is very pleased to exhibit the works of Nikos Samartzidis collection. Samartzidis is a painter and poet and has exhibited his works in Germany and Crete. These collection pieces are works of art inscribed with Linear B on canvas, clay tablets, and compact disks. In the works, Linear B is used as a script for poetry. Works on canvas, board, clay and CD are on display at PASP.
In his works, he quotes ancient poets like Hesiod and Homer and many modern Greek poets like Elytis and Cavafy. In the painting below, Dylanology II, he even transcribes the lyrics of American musician Bob Dylan into Linear B.
Dylanology II, 2017
Source: Bob Dylan, Blowin’ in the wind
Free Translation by Nikos Samartzidis
po-sa, ko-ro-ni-a, po-re,
na, u-pa-re-ke, e-na, qo-u-no
pi-ri, na-ka-te, me-sa, te-ta-ra-sa
ka-i, po-sa, ko-ro-ni-a, po-ro-u
ka-po-jo, a-to-ro-po-i, na, u-pa-ro-ko-u,
pi-ri, to-u, a-pe-so-u, na, e-i-na, e-re-u-te-ro(2),
te, a-pa-te-se, pi-re, mo-u
te, pa-i-re-na, o, a-ne-mo,
me, to, a-ka-ta-re-po-to, qo-u-e-to, to-u
ro-we-ro-to, a-re, ti-si-me-ra-ma
«…Πόσα χρόνια μπορεί να υπάρχει ένα βουνό,
πριν να χαθεί μέσα στη θάλασσα;
Και πόσα χρόνια μπορούν κάποιοι άνθρωποι,
να υπάρχουν πριν τους αφήσουν νάναι λεύτεροι;
Την απάντηση φίλε μου την παίρνει ο άνεμος,
φυσώντας μέ το ακατάληπτο βουητό του…»
“…How many years can a mountain exist,
before it is washed to the sea?
Yes, and how many years can some people exist,
before they’re allowed to be free?
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind.
The answer is blowin’ in the wind…”
These paintings are also permanently accessible through Texas ScholarWorks (URL). Transcriptions and translations of the works are included with every entry, too. Also at PASP are clay tablets and etched CDs in Linear B and many papers of Samartzidis, like exhibit handouts, news articles covering his work, and notebook pages.
More of his works can also be accessed at his website.
In the near future, a digital exhibit of his works will be published on Scalar. There, paintings from PASP’s Samartzidis collections will be presented with interactive transcriptions and transliterations from Linear B to Greek and English.
Updated on February 27, 2018 by Garrett R. Bruner. firstname.lastname@example.org
William C. Brice Collection update by Yogita Sharma
From December 2017 to February 2018, I performed the digital processing of the correspondence between Beatrice Gwynn and William C. Brice for online access. This was completed under the supervision of PASP archivist Garrett Bruner. The Gwynn-Brice correspondence is now online and open access at Texas Scholarworks where all digitized PASP collection material can be found.
This correspondence are the first items made online from PASP’s William C. Brice collection. This small series of correspondence consists of twenty-two letters, the bulk of which were written by Gwynn to Brice. All material was processed following PASP’s guidelines for processing digital materials. I scanned letters to NARA guidelines, read each item, and created the metadata for Texas ScholarWorks as per their Dublin Core schema.
Related material to this correspondence can be found in the Emmett Bennett Jr. Collection, also housed and made accessible online through Texas ScholarWorks. Letters from Beatrice Gwynn to Emmett Bennett on the same subjects, in the same time frame as these letters, highlight Gwynn’s collaboration with the very brightest in Linear B studies. In addition, letters from Chadwick and Bennett in the same period (mid 1960s) make mention of Gwynn’s efforts.
In the letters, Gwynn introduces herself to Brice as a student of Mycenaean scripts. From there, the letters shed light on her Linear A and B research and Brice’s feedback.
The following letters and themes will be most intriguing to scholars:
BGtoWB19681020, BGtoWB19700222, BGtoWB19700320, BGtoWB19700426, BGtoWB19700524: Gwynn lays out her ideas on the relationship between Crete and Greek mainland, Linear A and B, Enkomi script, and Phaistos Disk. Also significant in this regard is her comparative table of scripts.
In her letters, Gwynn emerges as a woman who presents her own strong arguments and views on the decipherment of Linear B. She provides detailed explanations of her disagreements with Brice. Gwynn’s letters to Brice are yet another valuable resource to those interested in the history of Linear B studies, especially the contribution of women to its decipherment.
This project helped me understand and practice digital processing of metadata. The fact that the content was obscure and rich only added to my learning and pleasure.
Check back soon. More from William C. Brice’s collection, including his correspondence on the failed publication of Scripta Minoa III, and with scholars like Michael Ventris, Emmett Bennett, and Sinclair Hood will appear online at TSW throughout 2018.
Updated on February 9, 2018 by Garrett R. Bruner. email@example.com
Visit Report by Regina Dürig and Christian Müller
Regina and Christian were visiting scholars at PASP during the month of October 2017. In their research for a literature-and- music project, they focused on the Alice Kober Papers.
Read their report to their work at PASP here. And check out the reports to other visiting scholars on the side bar!
Updated on December 14, 2017 by Garrett R. Bruner. firstname.lastname@example.org
“Dear Bennett, Dear Miss Kober” by Kevin Lee
During September and October I worked under PASP archivist Garrett Bruner preparing the correspondence between Emmett Bennett, Jr. and Alice Kober for online publication. The Bennett-Kober correspondence is now online for open access at Texas Scholarworks.
This correspondence is part of the E.L. Bennett Jr. Papers. I followed the guidelines set by PASP on processing all digital material. With the scanning already completed, my job was to go through each item, letter by letter, to create metadata for Texas ScholarWorks based on their Dublin Core schema. Garrett provided the schema of this sheet and I added the necessary entries.
The Story Told
The tale that emerges is the evolving collaboration between Kober and Bennett on the decipherment of Linear B. Each enters the arena armed with a different dataset. Kober was assisting Sir John Linton Myres on the publication of the Linear B tablets recovered by Sir Arthur Evans at Knossos. Bennett, who played a comparable role for Carl Blegen, tackled the palace archives excavated at Pylos. The collaboration between Kober and Bennett moves from sharing and correcting their transcriptions of various tablets each has access to, to meeting in person to bring together and standardize classification references to Linear B words. The latter picks up towards the end of 1948, after Myres and Blegen agreed to allow mutual access of their materials, and continues through Kober’s declining health and eventual death in May of 1950.
The Bennett-Kober letters are of a largely technical nature, as one would expect with this kind of work. Shop-talk about classification systems, edits, and proposals for edits orbit around a score of Linear B transcriptions. This is an invaluable collection for those interested in history of scholarship and the mechanics of Linear B’s decipherment. There are two crucial letters for understanding this collection:
1. The first letter in the series, AKtoELB19450114, in which Kober explains her punch-card system.
2. AKtoELB19481122, in which Kober briefly explains both her classification system and statistical methodology.
Reading those first will give the reader a greater sense of the rest of their letters. Another note of warning is that we have more letters penned by Kober than Bennett; we can only guess at what Bennett mentioned in missing letters from Kober’s responses.
In all, however, it is easy enough for a non-specialist such as myself to follow along with the unfolding tale of scholarly cooperation and discovery. For instance, in letters before June 1948, Kober wavers on whether or not the Pylos script is in fact Linear B. But following “the rules of evidence” where they lead, she becomes convinced that the Pylos tablets write the same language as those from Knossos.
The Dramatis Personae
In addition, as per usual, the letters act as windows to their writers, and aspects of their characters flash through. Both begin addressing each other with the formal “Dear Mr. Bennett” and “Dear Miss Kober.” In June 1948, however, Kober says she is finally getting tired of using “Mr. Bennett.” We do not have Bennett’s response to her, but thereafter her letters are addressed “Dear Bennett.” Bennett himself maintains the formal “Dear Miss Kober” throughout. In ELBtoAK19480604, Bennett expresses the traditional academic embarrassment with commerce when he shows off a custom-made set of Linear B stamps in order to “sell…or rather, in keeping with academic dignity, and my own inclination, to show you something I got for myself, and which you might like for yourself.”
Academic exasperations we know today were equally present then. In AKtoELB19490212, Kober expresses irritation at how out of date her transcriptions of the Knossos Tablets, which she was proud of two years before, have become, and the problems that has caused. In AKtoELB19490216 she states, in the context of sharing an office with four other teachers, “[a] city college is no place for scholarly research, I’ve found to my cost.”
Furthermore, Kober has a rueful humor to her. In AKtoELB19451230, after a 3-page litany of questions re: her transcriptions of the Pylos tablets, she writes “I could keep this up all night, but I’ll spare you.” In an earlier letter, dated January 14 of the same year, she deadpans “It’s harder to get articles published in Europe during the war than it was to get military secrets…”
The Mystery Letters
This project has been a good review and expansion of skills I picked up at a previous archiving position. It also involved detective skills I’ve enjoyed putting to use. There were for instance two misdated letters at the end of the collection; one from Kober to Bennett dated December 5, 1950, and another from Bennett to Kober, undated save assignation to 1950.
In the case of the former, the date was obviously incorrect, for Kober died in May of that year. The problem sprang from the fact that (1) Kober simply dated the postcard as “Tuesday,” and (2) the post office stamp indicating the date of receipt was incomplete, leaving out the year. The post office worker must have noticed this and assumed he didn’t stamp hard enough, for there is a second stamp over the first with exactly the same problem, leaving a palimpsest. Examining it up close, I found that there is a faint “1” between the “DEC” and the “5.” This indicates Kober’s local post office in Brooklyn received her postcard on December 15th. I checked the calendars for the years of the Kober-Bennett correspondence, and only in one of them – 1948 – did December 15th fall on a Wednesday, the day after which Kober dates her postcard. Furthermore, the text of the card squarely places it in this year, for it was in the winter of 1948 and 1949 that Kober and Bennett travelled back and forth between New York and New Haven to examine each other’s material, and this postcard contains Kober’s instructions to Bennett for using the subway to get from Penn Station to her office at Brooklyn College. I appropriately renamed it AKtoELB19481214, and you can find it in the collection under that title.
Regarding our other mystery letter without a date, internal clues hint at the time of its writing. In this letter (now titled ELBtoAK19490214), Bennett mentions that his three children have come down with illness, and that he plans to come down to New York “Thursday or Saturday of next week, the 24th or 26th.” This gave some context for me to go off from. Kober, in her February 16, 1949 letter, expresses her hope that Bennett’s children recover. Also, in February of 1949 the 24th and 26th of the month fell on a Thursday and a Saturday, respectively. This gives us the terminus ante quem. To further narrow down the date, in her February 12th letter Kober took Bennett to task for a bad numbering method, which he leads off his mystery date letter with a response to. There’s thus a four-day period in which Bennett could have written this letter. He likely wrote it Monday the 14th or Tuesday the 15th, given the usual time between their correspondence.
The Briefest Conclusion
In toto, this project has been an excellent experience. I am proud to have contributed to the open access publication of this correspondence. It provides a crucial glimpse into the scholarly ground-pounding required to advance Linear B to the point it could be deciphered.
Updated on November 22, 2017 by Garrett R. Bruner. email@example.com
Bennett Correspondence now on UT ScholarWorks
A batch of correspondence from PASP’s Emmett Bennett Jr. collection are now online and accessible through the University of Texas ScholarWorks (TSW) digital repository. Like all collection material uploaded to Scholarworks, it is open access, free to the public. You don’t need an account to access collection material through Texas ScholarWorks!
The letters were scanned at a high resolution and converted to PDFs by Classics graduate students. Some PDFs, like typewritten letters, were scanned with OCR to allow users to copy and search within the documents. The correspondence follows a set of Dublin Core based metadata elements, which improves their access, searchability and organization. This metadata ensures the collection materials’ endurance in the digital realm as it can be transferred to any platform or updated to the infrastructural changes within ScholarWorks.
The Bennett Correspondence can be accessed by here:
This correspondence presents a general view of authors Bennett had professional contact with over several decades (1940s-1990s). The bulk of the letters are written between 1950 and 1965. They span a range of Linear B subjects in the years leading up to its decipherment: classification of tablets for publication (Pylos, Mycenae and Knossos), readings of tablets and ideograms, discovery of new tablets, classification and publication of tablets, and controversies surrounding the decipherment. Classicists, linguists, archaeologists, and students make up much of Bennett’s correspondents. Of particular interest are Bennett’s letters with Sir John Myres, John Chadwick, and Carl Blegen.
The bulk of the Myres letters document Bennett’s trip to Crete in 1950 and the publication of Scripta Minoa II. At the Heraklion museum in Crete, Bennett took the place of the late Alice Kober to set a classification system for the Knossos tablets based on Evans’ numeration of them. This work would be critical for the publication of Scripta Minoa Volume II. The results can be seen in Scripta Minoa Volume II in the “Concordance” pages. As Myres handwriting can be difficult in itself to decipher, we offer transcripts of these letters in plain text files. They can be accessed at the item level of each letter between Myres and Bennett. The transcriptions and metadata for Sir John Myres’ letters were completed by Amanda Rodriguez in July 2017.
A very rich source of information on the decipherment comes from John Chadwick’s letters with Bennett. Chadwick letters cover a range of subjects, like readings of tablets and their classification, publication news and reviews, and convention recaps. As Michael Ventris’s collaborator in the decipherment of Linear B, a significant yet tragic letter is Chadwick’s informing Bennett of Ventris’s death two days after Ventris’s fatal car crash. Following Ventris’s death, Chadwick would relate to Bennett his defense of Ventris’s decipherment against critics like A.J. Beattie and Ernst Grumach.
Chadwick’s letters can be accessed here
Letters between Beattie and Bennett also document a coldness between the scholars deciphering Linear B.
Bennett’s letters also bring to light the attention Kober brought to women in the archaeology field. In a letter with A. H. Hahn, Bennett investigates Kober’s biography for an article in Notable American Women, 1607 – 1950. The following response from Hahn provides more information on her efforts to uncover Kober’s life from her family and friends.
We are very excited to make these documents accessible and open access. They supply very unique information on the lives of Linear B scholars, the times they worked in, and their breakthroughs in Linear B decipherment.
Currently, as of October 2017, PASP aims to digitize the remaining Bennett correspondence and provide the same open access availability to them through Texas ScholarWorks. Correspondence between Bennett and Kober is being immediately processed by PASP Assistant Kevin Lee. These will be uploaded by November 2017.
Updated on October 26, 2017 by Garrett R. Bruner. firstname.lastname@example.org