(Original posted in 2011. -Ed.)
Vassilis Petrakis visited PASP and UT Classics from March 26th to April 30th and worked on the Mycenaean material for his current projects on Linear B monograms, analysis of references to kingship ideology and preparation of the Linear A ‘archive’ of Kato Zakros for final publication. Dr Petrakis was also actively engaged in the Linear B seminar directed by Professor Tom Palaima.
My visit to the Program in Aegean Scripts and Prehistory has been a most exciting opportunity to visit what is arguably the current ‘cosmological center’ of Linear B studies.
The excellent facilities, the abundance of research resources (including the proximity of the Classics and PCL library collections) and, most importantly, Tom Palaima’s keen interest and natural hospitality made my 5-week stay a most memorable time and one of my most intense periods of research in the field of Aegean writing systems.
My project on the Linear B monograms, which is planned to result in a monograph under the working title Monogrammata Mycenaea, benefited directly from my access (a) to the archives of Emmett Bennett Jr, particularly those few unpublished notes for articles that were never fully developed, and (b) from the examination of the excellent 1:1 photographs of tablets from Pylos, Knossos and Mycenae. The latter particularly reduced my need to have autopsies of the documents down to a few problematic cases. I was also able to test a few ideas from this forthcoming word on the Linear B seminar.
During my stay here, I was able to pursue my interest in Mycenaean kingship through discussions and presentations. It is always a rare opportunity and honor to be able to discuss this specific topic in the UT Classics Department, which hosted my stay.
I participated in the Spring Colloquium of the Classics Department with a talk on ‘Changing Perspectives on Late Bronze Age Aegean kingship: Anthropology, Mycenology and Aegean Archaeology‘ (April 8th, 2011), which served as a basis for testing the impact of some new ideas and a great opportunity to get precious feedback. Extended sessions with Tom Palaima on the ‘Minoan’ components of what we have come to consider as the ‘Mycenaean’ kingship ideology were particularly stimulating for me.
Although this was not planned from the outset, I was also able to use PASP’s facilities to lay down some basic work towards the final publication of the Linear A ‘archive’ from the Minoan palace of Kato Zakros. This project, which will be ascribed within my participation in the Zakros study seasons directed by Lefteris Platon (University of Athens), will be supported by the Institute of Classical Studies (University of London) through the Michael Ventris Memorial Award for Mycenaean Studies (2011-2012).
My participation in the Linear B seminar directed by Tom Palaima lasted over 5 sessions (each for the relevant weeks of my stay here). In these, I was able to present topics on religion, economy/ trade and warfare and discuss extensively with students.
During my first session (March 28th), issues of craft-specialization, socio-economic structure and Late Bronze Age/Early Iron Age were addressed, focusing on the survival (or non-survival) of the Linear B technical and political terminology into the 1st millennium BC alphabetic testimonia.
For the next two sessions (April 4th and 11th), I made a short presentation on the evidence for theonyms in the Linear B records, discussing their use, distribution and later Greek survivals. Specific tablets were discussed in order to present a method of working with Mycenaean texts through photographic corpora, transcriptions and lexica. We also focused on the semantic nuances of some specific terms, such as po-ti-ni-ja.
The fourth session (April 18th) was devoted to a short presentation on ancient trade and some theoretical approaches to it, leading into a discussion of the infamous ‘gap’ in direct references to ‘trade’ in the Linear B records. Various topics, including evidence for loanwords and the use of ‘foreign’ ethnic adjectives were brought up a propos student reports read at the seminar.
My last session (April 25th) with the Linear B seminar included a presentation of Mycenaean warfare. We discussed some iconographic, archaeological (including osteoarchaeological) evidence for war and violence, before focusing on certain patterns in the texts which imply the military concerns of the Linear B administrations. We commented somewhat more extensively the Pylos ‘o-ka tablets’ and the records of chariot parts.
In all the above cases and with the constant help of Tom Palaima, many topics were covered so as to help students towards their final papers. The students themselves had a wide range of interests, including anthropology, field archaeology, Homer, Semitic studies and Indo-European languages. My participation in the Linear B seminar has been an unforgettable experience, which is even more valued since the opportunities to actually teach Linear B become fewer and fewer world-wide.
Over lunch, dinner and between other activities, I was especially pleased to be able to talk with colleagues about their current and future research. I discussed the social significance of drinking in early Greece with Adam Rabinowitz and various topics with Jamie Aprile, Stephen White and Nicolle Hirschfeld.
It was a particular pleasure to be able to talk extensively with Aren Wilson-Wright and Will Bibee on Semitic loanwords and possibilities (or probabilities) of ex Oriente transfer of ideology and practice into the Aegean.
Outside of PASP, I managed to ‘catch’ glimpses of really nice Austin weather (usually comfortably warm and only occasionally humid) and, especially, to attend some truly wonderful musical experiences, like hearing Jimmy LaFave at Threadgill’s south of the river and the LP’s playing at Ten Thousand Villages on SoCo.
These were always accompanied with exquisite Texan flavors. I will be sorry to miss some morning coffee rituals at Quack’s Cafe, which typically heralded the beginning of a productive day. Two visits to Polvos on South First Street helped me understand what a Tex-Mex taverna is like.
None of the above would have been conceivable without Tom Palaima’s amazing hospitality, which in a miraculous way made you only do things you already wanted to do. Tom created an ideal environment for me to work and this is a true luxury, and one that is becoming hard to find.
Although this may sound like one of those typical ‘acknowledgement’ comments, I do, however, feel obliged to note that his role in the promotion of Mycenaean studies is undeniably seminal, as it was evident to this visitor that the success of PASP has been achieved through the personal commitment and skill of its director. This reflects on the University’s academic reputation enormously and is more than anything else responsible for the excellent impression UT Austin made on me.
I also want to thank students and staff who helped make my stay so rewarding: Dygo Tosa and Kelly McClinton in PASP, Beth Chichester, who handled computer and audiovisual matters, Gina Giovanonne and Joe Sosa in the Classics Library, Maree Norfleet Williams in the Classics Department administrative offices, and the chair of the department Stephen White.
I do carry with me back in Greece the memory of a special experience and will always feel privileged to have been invited here.
Finally a special thank to Julie Strong and her husband Stuart who made my living in Austin so pleasant.