The Riddle of the Labyrinth: The Quest to Crack an Ancient Code
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In the tradition of Simon Winchester and Dava Sobel, The Riddle of the Labyrinth: The Quest to Crack an Ancient Code tells one of the most intriguing stories in the history of language, masterfully blending history, linguistics, and cryptology with an elegantly wrought narrative.
When famed archaeologist Arthur Evans unearthed the ruins of a sophisticated Bronze Age civilization that flowered on Crete 1,000 years before Greece’s Classical Age, he discovered a cache of ancient tablets, Europe’s earliest written records. For half a century, the meaning of the inscriptions, and even the language in which they were written, would remain a mystery.
Award-winning New York Times journalist Margalit Fox's riveting real-life intellectual detective story travels from the Bronze Age Aegean—the era of Odysseus, Agamemnon, and Helen—to the turn of the 20th century and the work of charismatic English archeologist Arthur Evans, to the colorful personal stories of the decipherers. These include Michael Ventris, the brilliant amateur who deciphered the script but met with a sudden, mysterious death that may have been a direct consequence of the deipherment; and Alice Kober, the unsung heroine of the story whose painstaking work allowed Ventris to crack the code.
three thousand years. But the rest of the tablet was intact, and on it, inscribed numbers were plainly visible. Alongside the numbers was a series of bewildering symbols, which looked like none ever seen. In the coming weeks, workmen would lift from the earth dozens more tablets, some fractured beyond repair, others completely undamaged. All were incised with the same curious symbols, including these: The tablets were what Arthur Evans had come to Crete to find. It had taken him only a week
cry,” “to breathe.” The rest of the symbols can be unraveled in similar fashion, until the meaning of all eleven is established. It will help to note that many of the English words refer to parts of the body or bodily functions. It will also help to think about the multipart form that most of the symbols take: This form may well encode a meaning that is the sum of the individual components. CONFRONTING THE LINEAR B inscriptions, Kober and the other analysts faced a similar deductive process,
warmth. As Robinson and others have remarked, the Ventrises displayed a coldness toward their only child that was remarkable even for their time, place, and class. There was a reason: In Switzerland, Edward and Dorothea had undergone psychoanalysis with Freud’s disciple Carl Jung, and their treatment of their son was per Jung’s instructions, intended to prevent Michael from forming an Oedipal attachment. As Jean Overton Fuller, the daughter of a Ventris family friend, recounted in A Very English
Haarmann, Harald. Universalgeschichte der Schrift. Frankfurt: Campus Verlag, 1990. Hahn, E. Adelaide. “Alice E. Kober.” Obituary note, Language 26:3 (1950), 442–43. Hanff, Helene. 84, Charing Cross Road. New York: Grossman, 1970. Harden, D. B. Sir Arthur Evans, 1951–1941: A Memoir. Oxford: Ashmolean Museum, 1983. Hiller, Stefan. “Mycenaean Religion and Cult.” In Duhoux and Morpurgo Davies (2011), 169–211. Homer. The Odyssey. Translated by Robert Fitzgerald. Garden City, NY: Anchor Books,
MacGillivray (2001), 92. The reasoning, which Kalokairinos accepted: Ibid., 93. In the early 1880s, William James Stillman: Ibid., 95ff. 30 Schliemann, too, had his eye on Kephala: Caroline Moorehead, Lost and Found: The 9,000 Treasures of Troy—Heinrich Schliemann and the Gold That Got Away (New York: Viking, 1994), 213ff. “Nor can I pretend to be sorry”: Sir Arthur Evans, introduction to Emil Ludwig, Schliemann of Troy: The Story of a Goldseeker (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1931), 19,