Nick "Minoan Genius"[1] Nicholas

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The labrys, symbol of the Minoan empire. (Thence, via the Amazons, modern symbol of lesbian pride. I won't sue the lesbian community for usurpation of icons if they don't sue me...)

  1. As alluded to in my biography, my mother was born in Crete, and I lived there for four years, in Sitia and Zakros --- both on the easternmost tip of the island.
  2. As attested by good old Strabo (64/63 BC - after 23 AD), the geographer of antiquity,
    Álle: d' állo:n glô:ssa memigméne:, phe:sìn ho poie:té:s,
    'But one tongue with others is mixed,' the poet says,
    en mèn Akhaioí,
    there dwell Achaeans,
    en d' Eteókre:tes megalé:tores, en dè Kúdo:nes,
    there Eteo-Cretans [Cretans of the old stock] proud of heart, there Cydonians
    Do:riées te trikháïkes dîoì te Pelasgoí.
    and Dorians, too, of waving plumes, and goodly Pelasgians. [Odyssey 19.177]
    Toúto:n phe:sì Stáphulos tò mèn pròs héo: Do:rieîs
    Of these peoples, according to Staphylus, the Dorians occupy
    katékhein, tò dè dusmikòn Kúdo:nas,
    the part towards the east, the Cydonians the western part,
    tò dè nótion Eteókre:tas, hô:n eînai
    the Eteo-Cretans the southern; and to these last belongs
    políkhnion Prâson, hòpou tò toû Diktaíou Diòs
    belongs the town Prasus, where is the temple of
    hieròn; tòus d' állous, iskhúontas
    the Dictaean Zeus; whereas the other peoples, since they were
    pléon, oikê:sai tà pedía. Toùs mèn oûn Eteókre:tas
    more powerful, dwelt in the plains. Now it is reasonable
    kaì toùs Kúdo:nas autókhthonas hupárxai
    to suppose that the Eteo-Cretans and the Cydonians were
    eikós, toùs dè loipoùs epé:ludas...
    autochthonous [indigenous], and that the others were foreigners... (Strabo 10.4.6; Tr. H. L. Jones; Loeb Classical Library. London: Heinemann, 1928.)
  3. The town of Prasus (Praisos) is located close to modern Nea Presos --- within twenty km of both Sitia and Zakros. Therefore modern scholars take it as given that the pre-Hellenic Minoan Cretans survived into historical times in far-eastern Crete. (Praisos was destroyed by warriors from the Doric city of Ieraptyna (now Ierapetra) in 155 BC.)
  4. In Dhumbadji! Vol. 2 No.1 (journal of the Association for the History of Language), Larry Trask published a devastating and very droll rebuttal of the bumblers and bunglers who attempt to genetically link Basque with any language on the planet, rather than bear to see it an isolate. This "enthusiastic hoovering-up of languages" included a rather spectacular attempt in 1931 to link it up to the undeciphered Minoan texts. I'll let 'Trask on Basque' tell the tale:
    Ever since their discovery a century ago by Sir Arthur Evans, the Minoan Linear A texts of ancient Crete have exercised a magnetic pull upon linguistic scholars. Though the related Linear B script of Mycenean Greece was successfully deciphered by Michael Ventris in the 1950s, Linear A remains mysterious today. This is not for lack of effort: work on Linear A has been prolonged and intense, and indeed several "decipherments" have been offered, each of them, of course, completely different from all of the others, and none of them having won any support.

    It was doubtless inevitable that someone would try to read the Linear A texts as Basque, and precisely that was attempted by the British scholar F. G. Gordon, in his book Through Basque to Minoan, published in 1931 by the prestigious Oxford University Press. Like so many of those who have "discovered" Basque in unexpected places, Gordon seems to have known little about Basque: his statements about it are frequently very surprising, and the one example of a Basque sentence which he offers in his brief introduction is ungrammatical.

    [Discussion of Gordon's morphological fantasias omitted]

    Vocabulary aside, it cannot be said that syntax plays a large part in Gordon's view of things. All of his readings consist of phrases loosely strung together, with no connecting grammar. With only a couple of exceptions, all the "Basque" verbs appearing in his readings stand in the form of the perfective participle, the form which he finds entered in dictionaries. It seems that the Basques of Crete, in great contrast to our own Basques, did not bother to inflect their verbs, and Gordon simply supplies whatever tenses, auxiliaries or agreement markers appear to him to be required.

    Finally, it has to be said that Gordon's interpretations of the Minoan texts are beyond the merely fanciful. He reads all the texts as instances of poetry, and a rather lofty form of poetry at that. Here, for example, is his reading for the first text he considers, identified only as B.M. First, a literal gloss:

    In/with a coffin/grave a spider mouth thread-holding, a flesh fly
    Head round, flower skin, holdwine tapperling:
    Take, drinker, care, mouth-with embracing a grave/coffin,
    Wine drinking --- twice ohé! Dead he has spun round.
    Wine-cup walking, measure keeping, threaded, the thristy one dead has spun around.
    And now the author's rendering into English:
    A spider in a web, holding thread in its mouth; a flesh-fly, round-headed, flower-skinned, the little wine-jar tapper. Take care, drinker, embracing a tomb with the mouth, drinking wine -- alas! alas! He has spun round, dead!
    This is apparently a poem about a crafty spider which has trapped an unwary fly sipping from a container of wine. As the author genially remarks, "After all, a composition of this kind is only what might be expected from the Minoan genius."

    [More follies omitted, although this one bears the retelling:]

    It is not at all clear why this fellow is smiting dogfish on the flowers, or just what that dog is up to with the water pitchers. The author's annotations, extensive though they are, provide little illumination: for example, he explains that the sign he has chosen to gloss here as 'water-pitcher' is actually the sign which he otherwise reads as 'net', which would seem to suggest that the Minoan genius had not entirely got the hang of the principles of water storage. Baseball fans will, however, be delighted to find our lord, whoever he is, described as a "smiter of the horse-hide": apparently we are dealing here with a kind of prehistoric Babe Ruth.

    I do not think that Gordon's interpretation of Minoan as Basque is one of the monuments upon which the reputation of the Oxford University Press has been built.

  5. What remains to be said after that? I have found my place in the ethno-glotto-historical context, and labrys (or horse-hide) in hand, I go forth now, following the glorious path of my ancestors, looking for new and exciting water-nets to trap flies in...

[1] I have Emma Osman to thank for the rather ingenious adaptation of this appelation, Minoan Jellyfish.
Nick Nicholas, opoudjis [AT] optusnet . com . au
Created: 1996; Last revision: 1999-3-29