on 8 June 2005
The decipherment of this ancient Mycenaean script from about 1400 BC was one of the great mystery stories of the 20th Century. John Chadwick is an expert in archaic Greek, who assisted Michael Ventris in deciphering the thousands of clay tablets discovered in the ruins of Knossos and Pylos. Ventris's demonstration that the language was an archaic form of Greek rocked the world of Ancient Greek history. In this book, Chadwick gives a popular account of the decipherment, somewhat light on the technical details of Ventris's discoveries, but with a good section on what the translated records show of Mycenaean society. The book was written in the 1950s but has a modern postscript which shows that most of the original findings still stand today.
on 31 May 2012
This book was recommended to me, and I read it in the early 1960s. I did not think it would appeal to me in the very least, but in fact I was enthralled by it as a brilliant detective story. I love the quote (from memory, so probably wrong), "How do you tell the Greek curator of a Greek museum that the mysterious language inscribed on this artifact in their care is actually - Greek ?"
on 8 June 2011
This is a very well written book. However,I would only recommend it to those who have at least a good interest in codes; otherwise it will be a waste of money and time. But for those who bear a real enthusiasm for the topic will be able to better appreciate, understand and value the information it provides the reader with.
on 4 April 2008
This slim volume elegantly and concisely describes the process by which Michael Ventris deciphered the Linear B script. The story is worth telling, not least because Ventris was an amateur scholar - working as a professional architect while pursuing this work as a hobby in his spare time. It was written by Ventris' close collaborator, John Chadwick, shortly after the decipherment and this proximity to the events described allows Chadwick to convey to the reader some of the excitement of discovery.
The book was prepared for the general reader so does not require any great specialist knowledge. As such, it is heartily recommended to anyone with an interest in learning more about the topic. The story is made poignant by the tragic death in a road accident of Michael Ventris in 1956, a couple of years after the main events described. Chadwick's own sense of loss can be seen through the text.
My copy dates from 1961 so lacks the later postscript but, such was the quality of the original work by Ventris and Chadwick, the content remains relevant today in all its essentials.
on 26 August 2013
I first read this book many years ago, and have re-read it at intervals since, always with pleasure, and with gradually deepening understanding (despite the accessible style, there is too much subtlety to get it all first time round).
The subject matter is both a fascinating intellectual journey and a tragedy, given that the person mainly responsible for the decipherment, Michael Ventris, died in a motor accident not long after his triumph. One wonders what he might have achieved had he lived: perhaps even a real contribution towards understanding the enigma of the Phaistos Disk, otherwise a happy hunting ground for a swarm of hopeful if mostly unconvincing "translators" ever since?
on 24 April 2011
I have no particular interest in linguistics or ancient history and came across this book by chance. Top notch, very well worth reading for anyone who enjoys a study of imagination, perserverence and excellence. Not at all heavy going, as I as first feared it may be, and demonstrates that non-fiction can be just as enthralling and intriguing as any other literature.
This book engages the instinct of curiousity as if one were a philosophical detective or voyeur,which instinct,in a way,is the one that underpins an interest or practise in or of Linguistics and Philology as it does of other philosophical pursuits...Chadwick's a fine writer but the book also reads as an obscure tragedy of amateur genius when he describes the work and premature end of Ventris' life...For classicists,I would say,a must,given the relativity of Minos to Mukannu and to the majestic Agamemnoni of the golden mask...This is the linguistics of the preclassical world preserved by Homer in His/'Their' two famous books and concerns the mothertongue of those famous and legendary MiddleEarth Minoans of Labyrinthine Minotaur,Bulljumper and bare bosom priestess notoriety...Language is a key aspect of national character and ancient ones make for intriguing study in the same way that significant remnants do for archaologists and forensic Criminologists...Highly recommended...The next thing would be to read up on Troy,The Hittites and The Sea People and other biblical nations whose histories overlap Homers descriptions and whose evolutionary ancient languages have also been discovered,Hidden in our own modern European Lingua,actually-Yes,a good,absorbent read and pardon me for the literal unidiomatic use of adjectives.