Roulette Checkmate

Minoan Language and Writing, a Discussion by Frederick John Kluth of Kent, Ohio

The Minoan culture was an ancient culture that survived on the island of Crete of what is now Greece for almost 2000 years until about 1450 BCE. Arthur Evans began a systematic archeological excavation of Crete in 1900 and he was surprised by what he found. But it was obvious to him that what he found had tremendous impact on the later culture of Greece. He found writing on Crete that seemed to relate to the ancient Minoan culture. The most important aspects of this writing he sorted into two groups and labeled them Linear A and Linear B. Later Michael Ventris was able to determine that the Linear B was actually an Ancient Form of Greek. The tablets containing this writing must have been written by a Greek speaking peoples. A safe conclusion is that the tablets were written after the Mycenaean Culture arrived on Crete and became the majority culture. The suggestion is that the Linear A tablets represents writing of the Minoan culture. The nature of this writing is still a mystery because the language of the ancient Minoans is unknown. The current relation between these two writngs is that the Minaoans developed Linear A for their language and then the Mycenaeans adapted it to their language. So both tablets may preserve the sounds of the languages but not the meanings. The question becomes whether the Linear A tables could be used to develop some understanding of the ancient Minoan language.

One possibility of the language involves loan words. These are words that the Mycenaeans may have adopted from the Minoans. If these loan words can be identified in the ancient Greek Language then the ancient definition may indicate the definition in the Minoan Language. What I have done on this page is to collect as many of these loan words as possible in hops of ultimately comparing them to words written in linear A. One has to realize that loan words can come from many languages so one cannot assume that all the words collected here are necessariy Minoan. But this is a start.

Words that may have a Minoan connection

  • Words with ‘inth’
    • Corinth
    • Hyacinth
    • Plinth – a rectangular base, a brick, or a kind of writing in a rectangular form.
    • Labyrinth
    • Cynthia – This is the title of Artemis who was born on Mt. Cynthus on Delos
  • Some words bginning with ‘enth’
    • ενθαλπία — enthalpy
    • ενθουσιασμός — enthusiasm
    • ἐνθῡμημα — enthymeme
  • Some words with ‘anth’
    • acanthus
    • coelacanth
    • pyracantha
    • tragacanth
  • Place Names
    • Krete
    • Knossos
    • Corinth
  • Other words which are loan words in ancient Greek and may have a Minoan connection.
    • Acon — ‘ἄκων’ — javelin, dart Hom. Il. 10.335, Hom. Il. 12.306, Hom. Il. 15.282.
    • Alcyone — Ἄλκυόνηυ — This name is related to the word for kingfisher. The name is not likely Indo-European since kingfisher was a local bird.
    • anthrae — ἄνθραξ — charcoal, coal line 34 Aristophanes, Acharnians
    • building technology (e.g. πύργος pyrgos “tower”)
    • chiton, peplos — Neither peplos nor chiton seem to have Indo-European roots. Chiton may be from Semetic akin to Hebrew kathonet. ‘τανύπεπλος’ with trailing robes, long-robed. (Homer Odyssey 4.305) is related
    • choiridion — χοιρίδιον — pig’s flesh, Aristophanes, Acharnians line 521 (suckling pig) from Mycenaean Linear b ‘ka-ro’
    • copper – χαλκός
    • cothornus – κόθορνος – buskin, high boot with high heels. Associated with Dionysus. Believed to be a Lydian word.
    • crocos — κρόκός — saffron, Crocus sativus
    • crocodeilos — κροκόδειλος — crocodile, supposedly from two words ‘κρόκη’, ‘pebble’ and ‘δειλός’, ‘worm’. An Indo-European derivation of the first word favors ‘woof’ as opposed to warp rather than pebble. The derivation of the second word does not favor worm. Rather the notion of worm is better related to dragon than deilos. The notion of dragon is thought to have come from Chinese as a merger of snake worship of India and early worship of a salt-water crocodile in China. A snake is sometimes referred to as a worm. So the notion of pebble-worm may be one of confusing a Minoan word with words of other cultures.
    • Cyclops — Κύκλωπες — A fabulous race, of gigantic size, having but one eye, large and round, placed in the centre of their forehead, whence, according to the common account, their name was derived–from κύκλος, “a circular opening,” and ὤψ, “an eye.” This information is from Harry Thurston Peck, Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities (1898) But the name ‘Cyclops’ is a word unlikely to have Indo-European roots. The references to Cyclopian architecture in ancient times is interesting in this respect. One difficulty is that all the buildings identified as Cyclopian are Mycenaean and not Cretan. But but they are identified as Pelasgi and this name is sometimes associated with the Minoan Cretans.
    • pharmakon — φάρμακον, φάρμακος — drug, enchanter. These words are Proto-Greek but their relation to Indo-European is in doubt.
    • eima — εἷμα — garment line 1268 Sophocles, Oedipus Tyrannus also Odyssey 6.211
    • elaion — ἔλαιον — olive – oil, Aristophanes, Acharnians line 36, from Mycenaean Greek e-ra-wa (“elaiva”), attested in Linear B syllabic script.
    • gold — χρυσός from Semitic? (Akkadian khurâsu)
    • iodnephes — ἰοδνεφής — violetdark, dark-hued, Homer Odyssey 4.135 (related to ‘iodine’)
    • ketos — ‘κῆτoς’ — sea monster or large fish.
    • kissos — ‘κισσός’ is the ivy of Dionysus, a probably Minoan diety
    • krocoo — ‘κροκόω’ — to crown with yellow ivy
    • narcissus — ναρκ ι σσος — a flower by that name related to ‘ναρκη’, ‘numbness’ because of its narcotic properties.
    • limnoreia –Λιμνώρεια — and other words related to Greek for lake. But note that from Linear b o-pi-ri-mi-ni-jo ‘Ὀπιλίμνιοiς (male human name) Etym. ὀπι = on + λίμνη= lake
    • mandragoras — μανδραγόρας — mandrake
    • Maritime terms, words for the sea, shipping (e.g. θάλασσα thálassa “sea”)
    • Mediterranean agriculture words, (e.g. ϝἐλαία (w)elaia “olive”, άμπελος ampelos “vine”)
    • narthez –‘νάρθηξ’ — fennel, The herb related to the Promethean myth of fire.
    • perone — περόνη — brooch-pin, buckle, clasp, 1269 Sophocles, Oedipus Tyrannus also Odyssey 19.226, 256
    • plum(prune) — προύμνη (proumnē) — Most dictionaries follow Hoffman, Etymologisches Wörterbuch des Griechischen, in making some form of the word a loan from a pre-Greek language of Asia Minor, related to Phrygian. (1400–50; late ME prouynen)
    • ris — ῥίς — nose, The Indo-European word is ‘nas-‘, ‘nose’
    • vinegar — ὄξος — poor wine, vin-de-pays (vinegar), line 36 Aristophanes, Acharnians
    • rulers words, given by the populace (e.g. Τύραννος Tyrannos “tyrant”)
    • salamandra — σαλαμάνδρα — salamander
    • sandalon — σάνδᾰλον — sandal, but not likely Minoan as Homer uses another word. The word does appear in the Homeric hymn to Hermes, line 79.
    • sesame — σουσάμι — Is believed to Assyrian in origin yet the seeds have been found in the remnants of the Minoan Culture and the Minoan word may be similar. The Mycenean Liner B version is ‘sa-sa-ma’.
    • skorodon — ‘σκόροδον’ — garlic, Aristophanes, Acharnians line 165, 521, 550
    • Titan — Τιτάν — The Titans, believed to be from ‘titō’, ‘day sun’ perhaps from Asia Minor
    • wine — οἰνος — The possible Indo-European word is ‘g̑hēlā’

Minoan personages:

  • Goddesses
    • Crocus as Cretan All-mother Kar
    • Potnia Theron — Mistress of the Animals. This suggests Artemis.
    • Snake Goddess — Snakes are very important to Athena but the snake goddess
      seems more related to Aphrodite because of the fertility role of snakes. Ariadne may be the Mycenaean name for this goddess.
    • A-ta-no-dju-wa-ja. This name means Sun Goddess – the prefix atano is related to Luwian astanus = sun. The Mycenaeans may have translated this as A-ta-na-po-ti-ni-ja (Mistress Athena)
    • Earth Mother, later known as Demeter (Ida Mater may mean earth mother. There are two mountains named Ida, one near Troy and the other on Crete, so the name may also mean mountain mother.
    • A-sa-sa-ra-me (or Ja-sa-sa-ra-me), my Lady
    • Inanna Queen of Heaven and Earth (Athena may mean Athe-anna)
    • Bee goddess
    • Britomartis (goddess of the mountains and hunting) Artemis?
    • Diktynne – Persephone?
    • Aphaea – Athena?
    • Πετραίη — Petraea
    • Τελεστώ — Telesto
    • Ἀσίη — Asia
    • Ἄλκυόνηυ — Alcyone — This name is related to the word for kingfisher.
    • Nereids: The word Nereid — Νηρηίδες — ‘sea nymph’ seems not to be Indo-European.
      • Κῡμᾰτολήγη — Kymatolege — ‘Wave-stiller’
      • Μαῖρα — Maera — ‘the dog star, the sparkler’
      • Ὠρείθυια — Oreithuia — ‘mountain juniper’
  • Relatives of Europa
    • Εὐρώπη — europa – land of setting sun
    • Ἀγήνωρ — agenor — very manly, valorous
    • Τηλέφασσα — telephassa — far off ring-dove
    • Φοίνικα — phoenix — from egyptian bynw
    • Λιβύη — libya — western?
    • Βῆλος — belus — ?
    • Κάδμος — cadmus –
    • Κίλικα — cilix – ?
    • Θάσος — thasus — ?
    • Φινέως — phineus — ?
  • Mortal mythical women
    • Europa
    • Pasiphae
    • Ἄλκυόνηυ — Alcyone
    • Κανάκην — Canace
    • Itone — willow (or a kind of mushroom)
    • Phaedra
    • Ctesylla – associated with Ceos and Aphrodite
  • Mortal mythical men
    • Minos
    • Rhadamanthys
    • Sarpedon

Terms of Minoan Religion

  • altar – An elevated platform upon which offerings are placed and before
    which religious ceremonies are performed.
  • baetyl – A sacred rock that locates a sacred place or deity.
  • bucranium – An icon resembling the head of a bull.
  • cupule stone – A flat stone with depressions around the perimeter probably for holding libations.
  • epiphany – Appearance of a god or goddess. A number of artifacts in Minoan
    art seem to record this. One goal of Minoan dancing and other cult activity
    seems to be an epiphany.
  • horns of consecration – A sculptural piece in the form of a “U” that seems
    to represent the horns of a bull. It serves as a marker for religious places.
  • labyrinth – Literally the place of the labrys. A court where dances and
    other ceremonies are held. The maze patterns symbolizing the labyrinth
    probably represent dance patterns. Like incantations the dances had to be
    performed in a certain way to bring about a desired result.
  • labrys – An icon representing a butterfly in the shape of a double bit ax.
    The ax could also serve as a sacrificial impliment.
  • libation – A liguid gift or offering to a deity.
  • lustral basin – A low place near a temple entrance that facilites washing and purification.
  • peak sanctuary – A site on a mountain chosen for its view at which a ceremony is performed.
  • pilar crypt – A room with a central pilar that does not necessarily hold up
    the roof. The floor is often supplied with grooves to carry away liquids that have been applied to the pilar.
  • propylon – A gate marked by two columns, one one either side of the opening. It typically includes a small chamber behind it. This can form a ritual entryway to a room in which a ceremony of entry is performed.
  • tree shaking – A potted tree is handled as part of an initiation ceremony.
    Initiates may have been required to gnaw on the tree with their hands behind their backs.
  • votive object – A ceremonial object placed on an altar to represent a
    request to a deity by a worshipper.

Some names that could be Minoan because they do not seem translatable to Indo-European and they seem connected to the Minoan Culture and the Sea.

  • Φόρκυϊ — Phorkys –Of the Sea? Phorkys’ was probably associated with seals (phokes in Greek). But seals are local to Mediterranean and not found in Caucasus. ‘ph’ generally comes from ‘bh’ and there iare no Indo-European ‘bho’ sounds.
  • Κητὼ — Ceto — Keto’s name means the “whale” or “sea-monster” ‘κτoς’ means sea monster but it has not Indo-European root.
  • Πεμφρηδώ — Pemphredo — “she who guides the way,”. ‘πεμφρηδών’ is a kind of wasp that builds in hollow oaks. This could easily be a name for a goddess pictured on one of the Minoan seals.
  • Ἐνυώ — Enyo –“the warlike”. ‘Goddess of War’. No Indo-European roots match this word.
  • Γοργούς — Gorgons –Grim, Fierce, Terrible (gorgos) A Greek root but No I-E roots
  • Ὠκεανοῖο — Ocean — River Ocean A Greek root but no I-E roots.
  • Χρυσαωρ — Chrysaor –Golden blade (khrysos , aor). ‘chryso-‘, ‘gold or the color of gold’ from Greek ‘χρυσός’ which is from Semetic and related to the Hebrew word ‘haruz’, ‘gold’
  • Πήγασος — Pegasus — Of the Spring (pêgê) Spring Forth (pêgazô) Does not appear to be Indo-European as meanings do not match any of the similar sounds.
  • Φι̂κ’ — Sphinx — Phix and Bix perhaps originally a deity from Mount Phikion in Boetia (American Heritage, 1970
  • χαλκός — copper — supposedly comes from the Greek word for Cyprus.
  • Κύπρος — Cyprus — The island near Crete.

Carl Kerenyi in his book Dionysus identifies The place name ‘Oinoa’ with the meaning ‘the place of wine’ probably from the Minoan language. This word is used to define the name ‘Dionysus’ as related to wine. He also relates the name ‘Pentheus’ and ‘Megapenthes’ to Dionysus. Neither of these names appear to be Indo-European.

Neither the names ‘Iacchus’ nor ‘Bacchus’ appear to be Indo-European. Similarly the term ‘Bacchant’ is not Indo-European. While ‘Dionysus’ may well be from Crete the term ‘Maenad’ is not. It is interesting that while ‘Bacchus’ and ‘Bacchant’ were more used by the Romans, they were also used by the Greeks who also used ‘Dionysus’ and ‘Maenad’. Most of the Roman names for Greek deities were not used by the Greeks and have purely Roman origins.

Σελήνη — Selene — goddess of the Moon. Selene is not likely an Indo-European goddess as the Indo-European word for moon is ‘mēnōt’, ‘month; moon’. The Indo-European culture had a god of the Moon Menot who was male.

The word ‘ ‘ἄνασσα’, ‘queen’ appears in the Eumenides by Aeschylus line 286. This term does not seem to be Indo-European as the related terms in IE are ‘poti-s’, ‘host, husband, lord, master, owner’ and ‘ario-? ‘host, lord, master’. It seems more related to the term ‘wanax’, ‘ruler’ which is found in the Linear B texts from the Mycenaean period.