Linear B

Some Cretan jumping over a bull

Linear B is a writing system that they call a syllabary. The symbols stand for syllables. It also has some symbols for words (logograms) and ideas (ideograms). All told there are over 100 characters in Linear B. If you don’t speak Mycenaean, you won’t make head or tail of it. Linear B symbols stand for pieces of one particular language and that’s it.

Do you see how the Phoenician alphabet had an advantage over other writing systems like Linear B? Linear B, Sumerian cuneiform and Egyptian hieroglyphics were the written forms of their own language only. As the Phoenician alphabet was adopted around the Mediterranean, it worked well as the written form of any language.

https://www.greek-language.com/LinearB.html
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hIsbuGK7ZMw&feature=emb_logo
Look at these gorgeous ruins! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HhDrRJacZDE
https://www.kenneymencher.com/2015/02/art-history-minoan-art-knossos.html

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Whatever happened to Linear A?

Did you see what I did there? I seamlessly transitioned back to the story of the alphabet by referencing the Greek letter ‘epsilon’ when we were talking about battle-axes. Pretty slick, right? You know, I amaze even myself sometimes.


Anyhoo, Linear B was used by people in the town of Mycenae (my-SEE-nay). Mycenaeans spoke Mycenaean, an early form of Greek. They may have borrowed and adapted an even older writing system from the Minoans who lived on the island of Crete (KREH-teh). That system is called (by the historians) Linear A. Nobody knows what Linear A says anymore. The Greeks went through a Dark Age and forgot how to write in it. It’s lost—gone.

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I ax a question



Something that’s always bugged me: when we studied the Odyssey in high school and came to the archery contest scene, the ax-heads were presented as looking like this. They were lined up so Odysseus could shoot an arrow through ‘em. That’s what they looked like in the Kirk Douglas movie. Why put a hole in the side of an ax-head? Less wind-resistance? At the time, I didn’t think about it much and my English teacher was so astonishingly lovely that I believed whatever she told me. But those axes look odd.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2mUKauErjfM
http://pages.cabrini.edu/jzurek/homer/odyssey21.htm

No handles

Somebody online suggests that maybe the eyes (the hole where the handle of a modern ax goes in) of 12 axe-heads were lined up for the archery contest. It would be a superhuman feat to get an arrow through even one, if you ask me.
https://ancientpathworkshop.com/anatomy-of-an-axe/


It turns out, war-axes from the time of Odysseus looked like this. It’s called an ‘epsilon’ ax because the shape resembles the Greek letter:

So now it all makes sense.
https://koryvantes.blogspot.com/2013/01/the-exotic-weapons-of-bronze-age.html

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The Odyssey in one sentence

Odysseus had himself tied to the mast so he could listen to the Sirens without jumping overboard (of course there’s a link to the song below).

If you read The Iliad, you may remember Odysseus, one of the Greek commanders in the Trojan War. That was 20 years before this story, The Odyssey, which is about Odysseus trying to get back home to Ithaca where he left his wife and son. Homer, the blind poet who wrote it, starts the story in the middle—or, say it with me, in medias res (you need to know this or they won’t let you graduate from college).  Okay, here we go—

Polyphemus the cyclops

We join our hero Odysseus wasting time on the island Ogygia with the demigoddess Calypso who is a real cutie while his wife and kid patiently wait for Odysseus to come home where a bunch of guys hang around Penelope (his wife) hoping she’ll marry one of them she tells them to get lost but they won’t go away and every night they throw loud parties at Odysseus’ house and eat all the food the goddess Athena says this is not good so she sends the messenger-god Hermes to tell Odysseus to quit stepping out on Mrs Odysseus and go home Athena gives Telemachus (Odysseus’ son) courage to stand up to the creeps pestering Penelope so they start thinking about how to murder him Odysseus finally waves goodbye to Calypso and sails until he lands at Phaeacia and falls asleep on the beach Princess Nausicaa finds Odysseus who looks like a beach bum she introduces him to mom and dad Odysseus tells them about his adventures like how the Cicones punished Odysseus’ men for being greedy and how the Lotus Eaters got everybody high on flowers and how Odysseus blinded the one-eyed Cyclops Polyphemus which wasn’t such a hot idea because Polyphemus’ dad is the sea-god Poseidon Odysseus tells them about that old bag of wind Aeolus and the Laestrygonians who eat people and the witch Circe who turned his men into pigs and the irresistible Sirens who sing to sailors until their ships crash and the monsters Scylla and Charybdis and how finally Odysseus and his crew landed on the Island of the Sun the crew were really hungry so they barbecued the Sun-god’s cows which cheesed off Zeus who killed every man except Odysseus with a bolt of lightning so Odysseus floated on a raft to Calypso’s island and stayed put for seven years Odysseus finally wraps up his story and the king gives him a ship so Odysseus sails home to Ithaca he dresses like a beggar so nobody will recognize him and meets up with Telemachus and a pig-farmer they all go to Odysseus’ house to beat up the creeps Odysseus’ old dog Argos recognizes him so does his old nurse but not Penelope the creeps give Odysseus some flack because they think he’s just some beggar now after 20 years Penelope figures Odysseus ain’t coming back so I’ll marry one of these idiots whoever can win an archery contest but you have to use my husband’s bow and shoot an arrow through a row of axes that have holes in them none of the creeps can even get a string on Odysseus’ bow so then the old beggar comes up strings the bow and shoots an arrow through the axes now everybody knows who he is Odysseus and Telemachus kill all the creeps Odysseus and Penelope are together again and everything in Ithaca is back to good ol’ normal.

Odysseus disguised as a beggar

Thanks to LitCharts https://www.litcharts.com/lit/the-odyssey/summary
https://video.search.yahoo.com/yhs/search?fr=yhs-trp-001&hsimp=yhs-001&hspart=trp&p=ray+harryhausen+cyclops#id=5&vid=71e2e8a5a17758c3b7fce1801e453164&action=click
The irresistible Annette Hanshaw—
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ao1LoDCr_4


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Those really ancient Greeks



Greece is on the Mediterranean Sea and the Greeks started using the Phoenician alphabet, too. So what did the Greeks use for writing before the Phoenician alphabet came along?

I’ll tell you what they used: Linear B. Linear B was a writing system that went as far back as the 1400s bc—when Odysseus and Achilles were just boys. Wait— “Who’s Odysseus?” you say? Do I need to do a western-lit-in-only-one-sentence® of The Odyssey for you guys?

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The alefbet

There’s a silver lining to all this misery. Up until the Babylonian Captivity, the books of the Hebrew Bible had been memorized and recited orally. But when the Jews found themselves far from home and their Temple, in danger of losing everything that made Jews who they are, afraid that future generations would forget G-d and His covenant with His chosen people—they started writing the Bible. They wrote down everything from Adam and Eve up to just before the prophets, then they wrote down the prophets, too.

The Bible was written and copied in beautiful Hebrew letterforms that were adopted and adapted from the Phoenician alphabet. Their alefbet made the Bible far easier to read than other holy writing. Jews learned to read (they posted words on the doorways of their houses!). People who weren’t Jews learned how to read and the Word of G-d spread far beyond Israel. The idea that each of us has a purpose and is loved by G-d is central to the Bible and central to Western culture.

And since you’re here, reading this, now seems a good time to remind you: you have a purpose and you’re loved by G-d. Hold that news in your heart because it’s absolutely true.

https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/news/when-was-the-hebrew-bible-written/
https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/article/origins-written-bible/
https://jewishmuseum.org.uk/schools/asset/hebrew-alphabet/

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The Babylonian Captivity

The one kingdom split into two: Israel and Judah. 

And so, Israel/Judah came under the thumb of one empire after another. First the Assyrians came and wiped out Israel in the north, then the Babylonians marched everybody out of Judah in the south. By the time the Persians took over the Jews (as the Persians called them) were dispersed far from their homeland.

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Remembrance

Today is Holocaust Memorial Day. I’m going to pause retelling the story of Babylonian exile until tomorrow. 

“The international day remembers the six million Jews murdered during the Holocaust, alongside the millions of other people killed under Nazi persecution.

The Holocaust, also known as the Shoah – which means “destruction” in Hebrew – took place between 1941 and 1945.”

https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/13856203/when-is-holocaust-memorial-day-2021/

Things go sideways for Israel

The divided kingdom

If you had me for a Sunday school teacher you’ve heard me drone on about the Babylonian Captivity. You can find my universally-acclaimed Major Prophets of the Old Testament cheat sheets here and here and here and here.

Tiny little Israel was different from all the other countries. Instead of worshiping a bunch of gods, Hebrews worshiped one G-d: the G-d of Abraham. So long as they were true to G-d, Israel enjoyed the independence of being a sovereign state. Unfortunately, the Hebrews were flawed people—just like the rest of us—and began turning from G-d. There was civil war and the one kingdom split into two: Judah and Israel. Oh, the prophets warned them what would happen, but nobody listened.*

* I typed G-d that way as a courtesy for Jewish readers. My audience is tiny enough—I can’t afford to turn anyone away.

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