About what kinds of things we may learn about mythology by reading about rituals recorded by bureaucratic scribes
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CitationNagy, Gregory. 2019.11.22. "About what kinds of things we may learn about mythology by reading about rituals recorded by bureaucratic scribes." Classical Inquiries. http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hul.eresource:Classical_Inquiries.
AbstractThis essay centers on a scribe working in the Mycenaean palace at Pylos who wrote a Greek-language text about protocols involving rituals. The scribe’s text, written on a tablet of clay in a form of writing known as Linear B, was accidentally preserved because this tablet, along with hundreds of other such tablets, was baked solid by a great fire that destroyed the palace at Pylos around 1200 BCE. Mycenologists know the approximate date of the scribe’s writing for a simple reason: they know the dating of the fire. The text of this particular tablet, which is classified by Mycenologists as Tn 316, is about rituals honoring divinities whom the scribe actually mentions by name, and these divinities include Zeus, Hērā, Poseidon, Hermes—names familiar to anyone today who studies Classical Greek mythology as it evolved in the course of the first millennium BCE. But what about these same gods as we see them named in the rituals recorded by our scribe, who is writing in the second millennium BCE? In the brief essay I present here, I argue that such rituals have something to tell us about the myths that went with the rituals. The scribe himself may have been an ordinary person—just as the ancient Egyptian scribe whom we see in my first illustration for this essay seems ordinary enough. Still, what the scribe writes might seem extraordinary even for such an ordinary bureaucratic mortal—if he is put in charge of writing up various protocols for various prescribed ways of caring for divinities and for things that are sacred to those divinities. Even a worldly bureaucrat, if he is to care about protocols for taking care of gods, could then be thinking otherworldly thoughts that are worthy of those gods. Beyond the Greek-speaking world, a model for such otherworldly thinking is the ancient Egyptian divinity Thoth, god of all scribes. We get a glimpse of this divinity, pictured with the head of an ibis, in my second illustration. There he is, otherworldly scribe, in the act of writing on his own otherworldly tablet.
Citable link to this pagehttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:42182175
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