Ventris Letters Now Available Online

Back in 2007, the University of Texas Libraries staff digitized and transcribed many of Michael Ventris’ letters held in the archives here at the Program of Aegean Scripts and Prehistory (PASP). They were never fully released and archived onto tape.

This summer (2013) I contacted the UT Libraries staff to see if they still had the files. Colleen Lyon, the Digital Repository Librarian, contacted Wendy Martin in Digitization Services, who managed to restore the six-year-old data from tape. Thanks to UT Libraries, I was able to compile 59 documents from 129 high resolution images and submit them to the UT Digital Repository.

The Michael Ventris Correspondence Collection is available here.

The Collection mainly contains correspondence between Michael Ventris and Alice E. Kober (until her untimely death in 1950) and Emmett L. Bennett from 1948 through 1955. In these letters we see these great minds grappling with Linear B and its decipherment. We see their humor, their acuity, and the way Linear B brought them together in conquering a common challenge.

For example, in this letter in 1954 from Ventris to Bennett, Ventris grapples with putting a grid together based on Kober’s work with inflection.

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Not more than five months later, Ventris excitedly reported to Bennett that he has deciphered Linear B as Greek.

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One wonders whether in his excitement Ventris has handwritten the letter in his clean architect’s handwriting. This was a major surprise for Ventris who had insisted in earlier letters that Linear B might be Pelasgian or Etruscan.

A year later, Ventris sends Bennett a transcription of a tablet from Blegen where they recognize that “tripods” are written out as ti-ri-po-de.

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Other letters detail the work of transcribing and publishing the tablets. These letters truly provide us with a look into the not-so-distant past when Linear B was just being deciphered. Please take your time and read through many of them- you can almost hear the conversations between these great minds.

For more information, you may also be interested in the Alice E. Kober papers. Back in 2012, Zachary Fischer and I worked to digitize Alice E. Kober’s paper correspondence. Her work was essential in the decipherment of Linear B, especially with Ventris’ understanding of inflection. That Digital Repository Collection is available here.

Posted July 26, 2013 by Dygo Tosa, Research Assistant – PASP

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