Echoes of a Minoan-Mycenaean scribal legacy in a story told by Herodotus
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CitationNagy, Gregory. 2020.01.10. "Echoes of a Minoan-Mycenaean scribal legacy in a story told by Herodotus." Classical Inquiries. http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hul.eresource:Classical_Inquiries.
AbstractThis posting for 2020.01.10 picks up from where I left off in the posting for 2020.01.03, where I analyzed some aspects of ongoing research by experts who study the practices of scribes using the Linear A and Linear B scripts in the Minoan and Mycenaean worlds of the second millennium BCE. There I focused on a scribal practice, as reconstructed by these experts, of writing on perishable material, either parchment or papyrus, and then attaching a clay sealing to such a piece of writing, which may now be read only by an intended reader who is authorized to undo the sealing. The mentality of sealing a document meant to be read only by an authorized recipient is of course well attested cross-culturally, over vast stretches of time and space, and I show in the introductory illustration for my essay here a most familiar example. It comes from the bureaucratic traditions of postal service in modern Europe, and I show here just one picture from among the thousands of other such pictures I could have picked. It is a photograph of what is called in German a Päckchen and in French a petit paquet, a ‘little packet’. Here you see it—a Russian example of a packet containing materials all safely sealed and tied with string. And my point is, experts have found Minoan-Mycenaean versions of such a bureaucratic practice. But I also have another point to make: the same kind of practice can be traced forward in time, from the Minoan-Mycenaean world of the second millennium BCE, all the way into the post-Mycenaean world of the first millennium BCE. A case in point comes from a story told in the fifth century BCE by the historian Herodotus about something that happened a century or so earlier, 522 BCE, at Sardis, nerve center of the western reaches of the Persian Empire. The story involves Persians, not Greeks, but the wording used by Herodotus in telling this story involves a special use of a Greek word that we can translate as ‘scribe’, grammatistēs. This special use, as I will argue, resounds as an “echo” of Minoan-Mycenaean scribal practice—where a sender seals a special text, written on perishable material, which is meant to be read only by (or to) the recipient.
Citable link to this pagehttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:42640963
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