The world is in a state of upheaval at the moment, and we’re all looking for things to make us feel less anxious. Maybe Classics can help.
Today’s interview is with Anna P. Judson
Is there a source from the ancient world that you find yourself coming back to when you want to feel better?
This Linear B clay tablet from the Mycenaean palace of Pylos, with a drawing of a labyrinth on the back.
When did you first come across this tablet?
I must have first seen a picture of it sometime during my MPhil degree in 2011-12, when I started learning to read Linear B and spent a lot of time practicing on drawings and photographs of tablets. Later on I was able to see the real thing on a study visit to Greece – it’s on display in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens.
Can you tell me a bit about the tablet and its context?
The Linear B writing system was used to write administrative documents relating to the operations of palatial centres in Late Bronze Age Greece (c.1400-1200 BCE); this tablet, like the rest from Pylos, dates to the very end of this period, when the palace was (for unknown reasons) destroyed and not rebuilt. The text on the front of the tablet is a fairly standard administrative record – a list of goats being sent by various people to the palace, where presumably they would be slaughtered and eaten. The drawing on the back is more unusual – we only have a handful of instances where writers have drawn on their Linear B tablets, and this is the only labyrinth.
What is it about this source that appeals to you most?
Partly it’s the tantalising link to the famous mythical labyrinth at Knossos – alongside texts from Knossos listing offerings being given to the ‘Lady of the Labyrinth’ and to a shrine dedicated to Daidalos, this drawing hints at possible Mycenaean precursors to the myths we’re familiar with from later periods, though of course we don’t know what form such stories may have taken, or the relationship between the religious practices referred to in the Knossos tablets and the classical myths. Mostly, though, it’s the image of a bored scribe getting tired of writing lists of goats and turning their tablet over to doodle on the back – something they must have done before, because drawing a labyrinth like this actually takes a bit of practice, as I found when I learned how to do it! I can also confirm that it’s a very satisfying doodle to draw – why not have a go?
And finally… what do you do, outside of Classics, to cheer yourself up?
I read a lot of novels, especially fantasy and SF, and I enjoy baking. Sometimes I combine baking with Classics by decorating cakes with inscriptions: a few years ago I made a version of this tablet in cake form! I’ve just moved to Athens, so am also enjoying getting to know the city and spending time sitting outside in the sun (November in Athens = summer for an English person!).
Anna P. Judson is a postdoctoral researcher working on the Linear B documents from Mycenaean Greece. Her first monograph, The Undeciphered Signs of Linear B: Interpretation and Scribal Practices, has just been published by CUP. She has just started a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellowship at the British School at Athens, working on a project entitled “WRiting At Pylos (WRAP): palaeography, tablet production and the work of the Mycenaean scribes” (funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement no. 885977). She can be found blogging at www.itsallgreektoanna.wordpress.com and on Twitter @annapjudson.
Catch up with all the Comfort Classics interviews here.