Postcard Palaeography

I received yesterday this curious postcard without any identifying signs of origin outside of the Canadian postmark.

I’m fairly certain, although I don’t have a copy on hand to confirm, the text is lifted from Athenaze Book II where the boy Philip visits Epidauros to be cured of blindness.  And accompanying the text there are illustrations of the τῶν ἱρεῶν ὄφεων ἠρέμα συριττόντων, the softly hissing sacred snakes.  (My favorite is the Attic snake.)

I would like take this opportunity to point out that in the past it has also been a fine Cambridge tradition to send your friends and colleagues postcards in Greek.  I call to witness an example of a postcard written from the late John Chadwick to the Czech Mycenologist Antonín Bartoněk, reproduced here from Bartoněk (2003:67):

Bartoněk interprets this curious document: “John to Antonin, Greetings!  A bit later after the airplane breakdown, I came back home safe and sound.  With many presents and gifts of honour appreciated, I express my best thanks.”

Besides being a very rare example of Linear B epistolary genre, there are a few notable linguistic features in this text in onomastics, nominal usage, and verbal construction:

I-jo-a₂-ne:  Chadwick first of all spells his name as I-jo-a₂-ne, making use of the optional <a₂> sign doublet representing /ha/, and interpretable as /Iohannes/.  Although the use of <a₂> sign here is not entirely unexpected, as intervocalic aspiration in Mycenaean is preserved (e.g. pa-we-a₂ /pʰarweha/ ‘cloths’ nom.pl.n.), it is difficult to ascertain where the aspiration is coming from.  Is it anachronistic, on the model of German Johannes, or is it (presumably) etymological, from original Northwest Semitic יוחנן?  Later Greek Ἰωάννης.

a-e-ro-pa-ra-no-jo no-pe-re-o:  Bartoněk translates the phrase “Flugzeugpanne”.  no-pe-re-o is easily enough interpreted as the s-stem adjective *νωφελεος ‘broken’ (Homeric ἀνωφελής ‘unprofitable, useless’), but the first member, a-e-ro-pa-ra-no-jo.  It has fairly clear o-stem gen. sg. inflection, which is also supported by its position of the object of the adposition e-ne-ka.  From context it appears to be some sort of mode of transport.  Perhaps we might interpret as /āero-planojo/ of the air-roaming (conveyance) *ἠερο-πλανος?  Perhaps it is some sort of broken-down air-chariot?  It’s an interesting interpretation, but there is no because a-e-ro-pa-ra-no-jo is hapax here, we may never know.

e-re-ru-ta:  A rare and unprecedented use of the perfect indicative ἐλήλυθα.

Both pieces of postcard palaeography, of course, are open to further reader commentary in the responses thread.


12 thoughts on “Postcard Palaeography

  1. I can confirm that the text of the first postcard does indeed come from Athenaze II – with one minor textual variation, namely καταλειφθεις in line 6, where the UK edition of the text gives ὤν. Perhaps this is evidence for a separate Canadian textual tradition?

  2. I can’t really comment on the Athenaze, but will just enthuse about the Chadwick postcard. Particularly the attempt (by the Cambridge City Council? the Post Office? the government?) to push tourism to Cambridge in the postmark. Is there a date for it?

    Great post :)

    • Bartoněk explains the example p.67-69:

      “Daß die Linear B-Schrift in den von Ventris formulierten Orthographie-regeln auch heute noch zur verständlichen Kommunikation dienen kann, zeigen vereinzelte Versuche, diese Schift für aktuelle Mitteilungen zu verwenden. Als Beispiel kann eine Ansichtskarte dienen, die J. Chadwick nach seiner Rückkehr vom Brünner Mykenologischen Symposium im Jahr 1966 dem Autor dieses Handbuchs geschickt hat.”

      Basically, the example is being used to show that the script is perfectly serviceable for ordinary communication, so long as you know the language and know how the script works (and he also gives the date to 1966 here).

      • We could demonstrate the same thing by writing an entire blog post in Linear B…
        but I’m not sure anyone else would really appreciate that!

  3. yes, the Chadwick postcard is amazing! I’m afraid in getting distracted by textual criticism of Athenaze I failed to convey my appreciation of its awesomeness :)

    the date of the postmark doesn’t seem to be legible, at least in the reproduction – does Bartonek give a date? otherwise I suppose it’s a matter of looking up whether there was ever a Mycenological colloquium in Brno…

    • Also, the Canadian postcard is (c) the British Museum and the picture shows an item from the BM collection… The plot thickens!

      • Aha, I’ve just read the small print and realised it’s showing a head of Asklepios…Can’t quite work out how the polar bear fits in thematically though. If there’s a bit in Athenaze where Philippos goes to the zoo and sees the polar bears then I must have missed it…

  4. I find it curious that the postcard comes from Canada, yet says Britainland on it. Is there a secret time/space vortex, where postcards from Britain are coming home from Canada?? How did Canadians get their hands on such postcards?

  5. This is an excellent post! I love the idea of someone proving the functionality of Linear B in such a direct way. Although I find the great number of snakes in your postcard quite threatening!

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