Man Who Deciphered Linear B: The Story of Michael Ventrisby Andrew Robinson, Stephen Eisenman
"More than a century ago, in 1900, one of the great archaeological finds of all time was made in Crete. Arthur Evans discovered what he believed was the palace of King Minos, with its notorious labyrinth, home of the Minotaur. As a result, Evans was to become obsessed with one of the epic intellectual stories of the modern era: the search for the meaning of Linear B,… See more details below
"More than a century ago, in 1900, one of the great archaeological finds of all time was made in Crete. Arthur Evans discovered what he believed was the palace of King Minos, with its notorious labyrinth, home of the Minotaur. As a result, Evans was to become obsessed with one of the epic intellectual stories of the modern era: the search for the meaning of Linear B, the mysterious script found on clay tablets amid the ruined palace." "Evans died without achieving his objective and it was left to the enigmatic young man Michael Ventris to 'crack' the code in 1952. This is the first book to tell not just the story of Linear B but also that of the 'modest genius' who deciphered it. Based on hundreds of unpublished letters, interviews with survivors and other primary sources, Andrew Robinson's riveting account takes the reader through the life of this intriguing and contradictory man - a dazzling linguist but a divided soul. Stage by stage, we see how he finally achieved the breakthrough that revealed Linear B as the earliest comprehensible European writing system, more than half a millennium older than the Greek of Homer." The man who solved what has been dubbed 'the Everest of Greek archaeology' was a complex and private figure, an amateur in classical scholarship (he trained as an architect). His tragic death in a car crash at the age of 34 only heightens the fascination of how his brilliant intuitions succeeded in resolving an ancient mystery where all the experts had failed.
The reasons a language gets written down in the first place seem to vary. In the Mediterranean, says Andrew Dalby in his Dictionary of Languages the impetus was a need for reliable accounting. Bookkeeping, in other words, preceded books. However, David Crystal warns in Language Death that "when a language dies which has never been recorded in some way, it is as if it has never been." Many scholars believe that the coming century will see the death of half of the six thousand or so languages currently spoken -- about one language every two weeks. Crystal's most piquant insight into the problem comes in a South African taxi whose driver speaks all eleven of his country's official languages but whose chief ambition is "to earn enough to enable all his children to learn English." (Leo Carey)
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