An Explication of the Phaistos Disk
Fortune brings in some boats that are not steer’d.
– William Shakespeare
The Phaistos Disk, housed today in room three of the Heraklion Archaeological Museum at Heraklion, Crete, was discovered by Dr. Luigi Pernier in 1908, at the ruins of the palace of Phaistos on the island of Crete, which structure collapsed CA 1400 BCE. The disk, made of fine clay and measuring about six inches in diameter, was blind printed while the clay was wet, it was then fired; possibly sometime in the 21st century BCE. The technology for creating the Phaistos Disk has been cited as an example of movable type. This is simply false. Movable type is, practically speaking, a “brand name” for the printing process invented by Gutenberg, et al. In the Gutenberg system, reverse image cast metal types, or letterforms, are aligned together within a frame of fixed rows, producing a mirror image of the item to be printed. This arrangement is then inked and paper is placed on top of it. This technology requires a press for imprinting a right way round image upon the paper to be printed. The combined technologies of cast metal type and press, however, were not introduced to the West until the 15th century CE. The disk’s signs were simply impressed into the clay by hand, one at a time. A different procedure entirely. These signs, seemingly inscrutable images from the everyday life and concepts of its culture, cover the disk in a spiral pattern on both sides, divided into 31 cells on one side and 30 cells on the other and number a total of 46 (counting the oblique slash, which, all things being equal, no evidence requires us to discount as a sign) unique signs. These signs repeat 258 times — again, counting the oblique slash, of which there are 17 total — on the disk.
No one need take my word for any of this, since there are actually very good photos of both sides of the disk on the otherwise somewhat contentious Phaistos Disk Wikipedia page, and you can enlarge any area on the disk with a click. All the signs may be counted effortlessly there (I use Sir Arthur Evans’ numbering at all times here) and please, count the oblique slashes in particular and see; there are nine on the recto side (at A5, A10, A11, A13, A16, A17, A20, A29 and A30) and eight on the verso side (B1, B5, B7, B10, B11, B13, B25 and B28). My advice is that you should always have these disk images at the ready in new tabs, while perusing this decipherment.
Many claims of decipherment have been put forward over the years, but thus far, none of them have earned the approval of the larger scientific community. I have attempted a decipherment of the disk. Undoubtedly there will be mistakes (no decipherment springs perfectly formed from the head of Zeus), these have been and will be corrected as I discern them; every conclusion in this undertaking should stem from hard-boiled scientific principles after all, and if I can, I will show you the reader the rationale behind my conclusions, every step of the way.
The Received Wisdom.
There is much said and written about this disk that can be categorized under received wisdom, i.e. perpetuated error. Much of this received wisdom is treated as “established fact” by otherwise smart and talented scientists who, evidently, have never attempted their own decipherments of the Phaistos Disk, and really, too many of those researchers who have attempted their own decipherments, have simply followed blindly along. Unexamined assumptions about directionality, writing system and provenance, are a few examples of this blindness. Directionality seems to me the most egregious of these, since I believe that this inability to see is simply a matter of lax observation. Provenance is the least blameworthy, since the Phaistos Disk was, after all, discovered on Crete. But is the Phaistos Disk from Crete? To assume that the Phaistos Disk is Minoan, simply because it was discovered on Crete, is like assuming that the Gundestrup Cauldron must be Viking, because it was found in a Danish bog; we know better of course. But if the Phaistos Disk is Minoan, then someone should probably explain, why its clay is of non-Cretan type (as Glotz has observed); why the disk’s edge is so finely formed, which finely formed edge is a cut above the usual Minoan technique; and why the disk was deliberately fired, which firing was not the standard Minoan practice. And perhaps do so without resorting to accusations of forgery, since my research (as you will see) indicates that this disk is the genuine article; in this regard, limescale observable all over both sides of the disk, and its interstices, seems relevant. A sufficiently evidenced decipherment that posits a non-Minoan origin for the disk, should answer these particular problems well.
In any case, it occurs to me that over 100 years of “received wisdom” based decipherment attempts, have gotten us nothing that is unarguably convincing. Perhaps it is time to put aside certain of these received wisdoms for a moment and try a different, empirical approach, an approach based as much as possible on raw data, rather than received wisdom. One starts this process with the unrefined evidence presented – the disk itself, before moving on to hypothesis. Any hypothesis is then tested by the possible teasing out of words and sentences, based upon what has been hypothesized from observation. If the words and sentences detected are intelligible and accord anthropologically and or archaeologically and or mythologically and or religiously and or grammatically and or poetically with a fixed historical period and geographical location, then one continues the process. If not, then back to square one and the raw data again before establishing or rejecting any additional hypotheses. Only then can any theory be established. But first we must remove the jumble of scrap and waste. Removing from our storehouse of knowledge, the clutter of a century’s worth of phonetic attempts and syllabic assumptions alone, however, will nearly empty it, and we will need to refill it, piece by piece from the concrete floor up. Let us proceed.
One of the most damaging of these “facts” to serious Phaistos Disk research, is the direction of reading. Truly, I have never read a comprehensive argument for a right/left reading of the Phaistos Disk. The left side crowding that some have used as an argument for this, is as far as I can tell, virtually non-existent. Crowding is almost always on the right, which argues for a left/right reading. A27 demonstrates this quite well, as does A3 and B3. If we look closely at photographs of A27, we see that the back of the mohawked man’s hair, over stamps the shield to its left, thereby proving a left to right stamping of those signs. This is an instance where the received wisdom must take a backseat to the physical evidence, all objections to the contrary notwithstanding. Studying the disk, we can easily guess that the lines were incised first, and the stamps were laid down after.
In A28 is an example of crowding on the left side of its cell. Investigating this area, one detects correction. The area was made too small, and when the artist ran out of room, they simply rubbed out the line, re-stamped the images and re-drew the line around the stamped images, on the right side.
As for center crowding, any crowding detectable there is either deliberate (B1), or the result of trying to fit seven signs into too little space (A3). As such, B1 is no argument for directionality at all, and A3, if anything, argues for left/right reading.
Where to Begin
Starting from the center of the disk would be the most logical place to begin a left/right reading of the disk. Having deciphered the verso (B) side first, demonstrated clearly to me that the recto (A) side, center, is the correct place to begin.
A Word About the Writing System
I have looked for a syllabary here. I have searched for phonemic orthography and an alphabet here as well. Their likelihood here seems remote, to the best of my ability to discern, and frankly, I have found a perfectly serviceable solution in a writing system comprised entirely of logograms, pictograms, compounds and determinatives. The system then, will be called logographic. The signs found here, however, seem atypical, since they encode neither phonetics nor grammar; the grammar present here is context and word order based, rather than spelling based. Very well, we have a hypothesis regarding the writing system, and presumably we have a culture to go along with it. Where then is the corpus which would have served a language or for that matter, any culture?
This question of corpus, by the way, is more properly put to syllabaries (which typically require many more signs then are found here) belonging to cultures literary enough to have authored the disk. One needs about 60 signs for a syllabary to serve an entire language. One does not simply toss the syllabary away after authoring one text, one creates a corpus.
This is not to say the Phaistos Disk was never re-printed, almost certainly it was. But even if we had 25 copies of the disk before us, having still, only 46 unique signs to work with, we would find ourselves not much better off.
What are we to do with the raw data of only 46 unique signs and no corpus? Consider: what if the signs in question were not meant to serve the writing needs of the entire language, only the story on the disk? In which case 46 might do. 46 signs, one of which (the flower) is actually a determinative. Another (the walking man), is both logogram and determinative, as we shall see. The vocabulary that was prepared for this site, is in remission at this time, but will be available soon.
What information can be found on the disk? In the twentieth century there were eight million stories in The Naked City. In the Bronze Age, mostly just four stories, to wit: How the gods came to be, how the world came to be, how the kings came to be and of course, the ubiquitous, mythical, worldwide flood. The Phaistos Disk contains at least two of those stories. On the recto side is a royal genealogy of deified kings, and on the verso side, is a mythical flood narrative. A glance at the recto side reveals easily the genealogical aspects of the disk. A10, A13 and A16 contain the signs for “king” and “deified”. At A11 and A17 are the words “he fathered”. Next to these words at A9, A12 and A15 can be found the names of these kings. If my estimation the text’s age — roughly 4000 years old — is correct, then the Phaistos Disk is the oldest flood narrative of any kind, in existence.
The Language of the Disk
The Phaistos Disk was written by a people, which people certainly spoke a language. That language was Ugaritic. For most of you, however, this information will be of little help, since most of you do not read or write in Ugaritc, and I am certainly no expert. But one needn’t be an expert in Ugaritic, in order to know things about Ugaritic; text books can be quite helpful in this regard and the strongly pictorial (and non-alphabetic, non-syllabic) character of this technically logographic writing system, makes this writing system — for our purposes anyway — largely non language specific (although elements of the language’s grammar do, occasionally, express themselves), therefore giving itself well to translation by the non Ugaritic reader. The vocabulary too is very basic and limited to ideas as common today as they were then. Therefore, if the disk is deciphered word for word, the original word order will be preserved intact. This understanding is vital to a decipherment of the Phaistos Disk.
It shouldn’t come as any surprise that the Phaistos Disk has its origins in the city state of Ugarit. Ugarit was a multicultural society, and although it was not the cradle of writing (that would be Sumer), it was the nursery school of writing par excellence; no less than eight languages were spoken at the height of its culture. At this cultural apex, in the 15th to 13th centuries BCE, scribes in Ugarit wrote and or read the Sumerian, Assyro-Babylonian, Hurrian, Cypriote, Aaegean and Hittite writing systems; they were fluent in Egyptian Hieroglyphics as well. This multicultural impetus may even have traveled west; Cyrus H. Gordon has posited a developmental connection between Ugaritic culture and Minoan culture. As for alphabets, it’s certainly true that the Ugaritic people had an alphabet, in fact they invented the alphabet, but not until about the 15th century BCE, centuries after the disk was made; their Iron Age descendants, the Phoenicians, bequeathed to us the earliest version of the phonetic alphabet you’re reading now. This marks Ugarit, not as the least likely candidate to have authored the disk, but indeed, a rather likely candidate.
There are two different types of sign here, signs of meaning and signs of function. All but one of the signs we will discuss here (the flower sign) have meaning, but a few of those signs of meaning serve specific functions as well, which functions comprise certain parts of speech. As above, there are 46 unique signs on the disk, fully 28 of which mean one thing, respectively and one thing only, whenever one encounters them. Those 28 words comprise the following: attend, barleycorn, beast, branch, child, clothing, death, deified, destroyer, eater, escaped, flood, house, important, number, oar, one, our, place, reed, sea, sired, taken, three, tooth, two, very and woman. 12 additional signs exist within a category of meaning, which categories will include tense, plurals or different parts of speech, depending on the sign. These categories comprise the following 27 words: animal/animals, king/royal, kind/type/types, like/related, loaded/boarded, man/men/maker, our/us, over/high, ox/oxen, ship/ships/boat, side/sided and strike/struck. As with Ugaritic cuneiform, context will sometimes determine the nature of the word in question.
Among the signs of meaning here, there are a few exceptions to the rule of fidelity to meaning, for instance, the oxhide sign: leather/hides/oxhide, which can also mean great/greatly and the oblique slash at the beginning of any phrase or sentence, which may act as the pronouns he/it/they, or the presentative particle “behold”. This is not remarkable, since many of the writing systems (e.g. Hittite hieroglyphs and all the cuneiform scripts including Sumerian) of antiquity contained signs that had multiple values. Even today, with our alphabetic writing systems and spelling based grammars, we have words that are spelled the same, but are pronounced differently and have different meanings. We call those words heteronyms.
Two of the disk’s signs categorize signs that not only have meaning, but also serve an important function; the breast sign: came/went/happened/fell, which function is clearly the verb and the sideways chevron: with/from/toward/upon, which function is entirely prepositional. As above, these are heteronyms.
There are also two determinatives, the flower and the walking man. The flower alters the meaning of signs, as such, it is purely a sign of function, and the flower serves the same function every time one finds it on the disk. The flower’s sole function is to turn verbs into adverbs and nouns into adjectives.
The walking man is primarily a sign of function, but it is also a sign of meaning and serves two specific needs, being a determinative and a logogram. As a determinative it turns verbs into other verbs and nouns into other nouns. As a logogram it means “walking”. This phenomenon of a multi purpose sign, is not unheard of in ancient scripts (e.g. Egyptian hieroglyphs, Hittite hieroglyphs, Sumerian cuneiform), so should not come as any great wonderment. Admittedly, however, these two determinatives are exotic, one might even say unique, since there are no other determinatives of record that I know of, that deal with parts of speech. If I can tease a coherent narrative out of all that, I will have succeeded.
Signs can sometimes pair with other signs to create compounds. For example, the logogram for “like” and “related” is a fish; paired with the walking man, it means “swam” (“walking like” i.e. “swam”); paired with the cat’s head it means “fish” (“like animal” i.e. “fish”); paired with the barleycorn, it means “food” (“like barley corn” i.e. “food”). Above is to be found an example of such word usage. In fact, this text is replete with words made up of multiple signs, either as individual words that have a determinative associated with them, or words made up of exocentric and endocentric compounds; some of which compound words will have determinatives associated with them as well.
The categorical parts of these sign groupings that have determinatives associated with them will not appear in the finalized text of this ancient narrative, nor will the component parts of the exocentric and endocentric compounds, since all of these will have become subsumed within a finalized narrative devoid of loose ends. But a word count of the final form of this text at the bottom of this web page, will show that there are 83 distinct words in this narrative, repeated a total of 194 times.
The People of the Disk
I am of the opinion that an Ugaritic culture of newly arrived Amorites, who resettled the site of an abandoned Ugarit (NW coast of Syria, at Ras Shamra, roughly 600 miles, or 1000 kilometers east of Phaistos), produced The Phaistos Disk. I hope the likelihood of this contention will be demonstrated by, among other things, the sentence to be found at A25 and A26: “sea beast great caused flood great”. The Canaanite people of the second millennium harbored an ancient dread of just such a mythical creature. The people of Ugarit were also virtually alone among Semitic people in reading and writing primarily left to right, once they adopted cuneiform. The word order (Ugaritic: there are ten V-S-O, three S-O-V and twelve S-V-Os here, for a total of 25 sentences) and style of poetry (involving parallelisms of a markedly Ugaritic feather, including chiasms, climactic parallelisms, an envelope parallelism, an external parallelism, a formal parallelism and parallelisms of bicolon, tricolon, tetracolon, pentacolon, hexacolon and heptacolon type. There are ten parallelisms on the Phaistos Disk, in total) inherent in the disk, also lend themselves to this conclusion. This resettlement by Amorites, of the previously abandoned site of Ugarit, took place at about the same time, or just prior to, the Babylonian overthrow of the Neo-Sumarian Ur III empire. As we shall see, there were others lurking nearby, who coveted the location as well.
This Ugaritic word order plays its part in what I consider the three links in the chain of proof for this decipherment. The first being the vocabulary and the rules of grammar, wherein all the signs must and do function as the vocabulary etc. say they will in every instance. Regarding the signs and their respective meanings, it might do well to ask, how I know that they mean what I say they do? The danger, in this respect, is that I might be accused of engaging in “guess work”. Trial and error is, I think, a better term for it and furthermore, a valid unit of science. This process of selection involves, but is certainly not limited to, a careful study of the image value of the sign, the context of the sign within the sentence and the context of the sentence within the narrative, in order to identify the idea behind the sign. Over two centuries of study in these matters validate as well, that genealogies, and the pattern of signs that they demonstrate — very typical of royal inscriptions like the Phaistos Disk — can be most helpful with problems of decipherment indeed. Logic and intuition definitely apply here; these methods are tried and true and cannot be equaled by mere statistics.
The second link is the narrative, which is not only clear, but which also exhibits decidedly Semitic qualities in both cut (parallelisms) and plot device (genealogy, flood, flood dragon).
The third link is the Ugaritic word order, which order cannot happen randomly, but must and will show itself, like a fingerprint, if its author is Ugaritic. The dominant word order for Ugaritic is verb-subject-object, subject-object-verb, noun-adjective and possessed-possessor. Subject-verb-object as an alternative (or marked) word order will occasionally crop up in Ugaritic and sometimes the adjective will precede the noun.
I first investigated the word order of the my decipherment to determine if the Phaistos Disk was a hoax or not. I had already ascertained that the artifact I was evaluating was composed of a narrative, and the very idea that a hoaxer would deliberately encode any hoax with an actual narrative seemed absurd to me. But certain voices had been raised in protest against the authenticity of the disk, so in the name of scientific rigor, I decided to breakdown its word order. I reasoned that a hoaxer was not likely forward thinking enough to have left their native word order out of any hoaxed artifact written in an undeciphered language, such as Minoan. Therefore if the word order of my decipherment had been Italian or something close to it, it would seem fair to have assumed that Dr. Pernier, of Italian extraction, was the perpetrator of said hoax. I was surprised (and relieved for Dr. Pernier’s reputation, although I had always esteemed him an honest man) to discover that the word order of my decipherment is in fact, Ugaritic; indeed, V-S-O word order in Italian is simply ungrammatical. To quote S.T. Grimshaw, “Not even context may force a V-S-O word order in Italian”. As it happens, this Ugaritic word order could not have been known to Dr. Pernier, or anyone else in 1908 when the disk was discovered, a full 21 years before the Ugaritic language itself was re-discovered, in 1929. This unique circumstance lends credence to the idea that the disk is a genuine historical artifact and not a hoax. If we accept the disk’s authenticity based upon this criterion, the word order then becomes the long wished for “outside source” as well; a solution to the problem of proving any decipherment, that a different “Phaistos” text might certainly (but not in all cases) have resolved.
In all the world, there were fewer than two dozen languages whose writing systems had come into existence during and prior to the 14th century BCE, when the palace of Phaistos collapsed on top of the disk. Putting our Bronze Age disk and its curious signs aside for a moment, those writing systems included the following: Sumerian cuneiform, Egyptian hieroglyphs, Elamite cuneiform, Babylonian cuneiform, Assyrian cuneiform, proto-Canaanite, proto-Sinaitic, the (conjectural) Harappan writing of India, Byblian hieroglyphs, Hittite cuneiform, Luvian hieroglyphs, Hurrian cuneiform, Cretan linear A and Cretan hieroglyphs, Mycenaean linear B, Ugaritic alphabetic cuneiform, Phoenician cuneiform and Chinese. Some of these cultures’ writing systems predate the disk, and those cultures, therefore, are not likely to have produced the disk. That aside, however, how many of the above listed writing systems demonstrate a left/right reading orientation and V-S-O, S-O-V word order? We can eliminate the undeciphered writing systems of Crete, India and Byblos as entirely unhelpful to our search. Chinese was restricted to oracle bones at this time and thus would give us no word order at all, as is the case with proto-Sinaitic, which was restricted to meager inscriptions on rock faces. Mycenaean was restricted to lists and inventories and so is also not entirely helpful to our task. Of the remainder, only Ugaritic gives us the V-S-O, S-O-V word order and the left/right reading direction we seek. All the rest that have any corpus we can investigate, have non V-S-O word orders except Egyptian hieroglyphics and Phoenician cuneiform. But Phoenician reads right/left, and Egyptian hieroglyphs look nothing like the figures on the disk and anciently, never did. When one gives this problem a thorough consideration, one can see that with this word order and reading orientation in hand and coupled with the markedly Ugaritic parallelisms and the typically Semitic plot devices, the problem of verification is now resolved and without having to depend for that resolution on another Phaistos text.
Reading the Disk
Side A, Part 1
Let us begin at A1, where we encounter our first determinative, the flower. Next to it, we see the bald man’s head, a logogram. The man is a slave as evidenced by his face brand, so the meaning of it alone without the oar sign or the determinative, is “attend”. The bald man is looking rather intently at the oar, which is a pictogram; with the the addition of this oar, the meaning changes to “understand”, a verb. With the the determinative the word becomes the exocentric compound, “manifestly”, an adverb. At A2 the walking man, is acting as a determinative now and determining the war club sign for “strike” to give us the intransitive verb “warring”.
At A3 is found an epithet: “Our-Side-Branch-Great-Great” and please notice the noun-adjective sequence of “side branch great great” that we want in a proper Ugaritic word order. The sign at the beginning of this name looks like an uppercase “E” with fringes. This is a clan type or emblem for another person we will encounter. Her epithet: ”Kitchen-Wife”. This sign has been identified by some as depicting a comb; this seems correct to me. Whatever the case, it is a logogram and functions as the word “our”. The second sign from the left in this set probably depicts some species of reed. It is also a logogram, and it means “side”. We will see this sign three more times. The next sign in this set is the branch, it is a pictogram and simply means “branch”. Then we see to the right of this branch, two oxhide signs; each of these, in this instance, mean “great”.
At A4, is the exocentric compound “manifestly” again. At A5, the clause “behold branch number one”. Once again, the tick mark at the beginning of any phrase means “he”, “it”, “they” or “behold” in every instance of its use. Again, the branch sign is a pictogram, and it simply means “branch”, while the middle sign, which looks like a lowercase “y” regardless of whatever it actually depicts, means “number”. The logogram at the right in this set is a mace, and it gives us the word, “one”.
What this passage means to say — and in every whit poetically, at any rate, succeeds in so doing — is that this man, Our-Side-Branch-Great-Great, not a king but a progenitor of kings and a warlord, came forth out of the obscurity that most men spend their entire lives in, “manifestly” waging war; thereby “manifestly” founding as a consequence, “branch number one”. The attitude toward war was quite different in the Bronze Age. They were not only not ashamed of it, as many of us purport to be, but very much the opposite, quite overweeningly proud of it. At least they were honest in their sympathies.
At A6 is a man’s name, “Warrior”, made up of the sign pair for “war” — the walking man in its determinative function and the war club logogram for “strike” and “struck” (in this instance the word is “strike”) — alongside the shield sign and the mohawked man’s head sign. The shield sign for the word “important”, stands next to the mohawked man’s head sign for “man”, “men”, “maker”. In this instance, the word is “man”. This sign configuration means to tell us that this is the name of an important man. When the two signs “important” and “man” are paired as they do with proper names, epithets and titles, however, the words “important man” are silent.
At A7, are logograms consisting of the shield, the bull’s horn and a bird of prey. Together, these signs mean, “important king deified”. The bird of prey (probably an eagle) was in many cultures in the ancient world, a psychopomp (a conductor of souls), which being was a standard concept in Ugaritic religious thought. This eagle carries something in its talons, and this sign might bear some relation to the idea of a psychopomp carrying a deceased king to the netherworld. This sign might conceivably represent Shapash, goddess of the sun, judge supreme and psychopomp to kings, in the Ugaritic pantheon. A1, A2, A3, A4, A5, A6, and A7 comprise a heptacolon with an ABC//A//D//E//F structure. This is an external parallelism. In this parallelism, the adverb “manifestly” in the first A-line, exactly parallels the adverb “manifestly” in the second A-line; the B-line “warring”, thematically parallels the E-line “Warrior” and the E-line “Warrior” thematically parallels the F-line ‘important king deified”, because he is the king being referenced; and finally, the first C-line “Our-Side-Branch-Great-Great” thematically parallels the D-line, “behold branch number one”, because he was the founder of said branch.
This man died without male issue, evidently, or perhaps without any issue at all, and A8 explains what happens next: “number three upon (a) woman”, this is to say, through a related female line. Here we see a pictogram for the word “woman”. This woman, whoever she was (possibly whichever of the deceased king’s wives had royal prerogative in matters of inheritance, etc.), was undoubtedly of the royal line, and she was probably married to a man of lesser rank, hence the phrase “upon woman”, rather than through some royal male identified by name. This unnamed man was probably a cousin of the deceased king, rather than a brother. This would explain why Our-Side-Branch-Great-Great is not listed as Warrior’s father, because he was not, he was Warrior’s uncle and after Warrior’s death, the queen mother married the son of Our-Side-Branch-Great-Great. This man is not named on the disk because he was not of the royal line. After all, the royal line – not the genealogy – starts with Warrior, not Our-Side-Branch-Great-Great. A levirate marriage to her deceased husband’s cousin was allowed and this would have enabled her to inherit her late husbands estate, provided he had no brothers who might lay claim to it. At Ugarit, royal descent through the female line was allowed when circumstances required it; matrilineal descent was mandatory for the ancient Elamite dynasties, this is the case with the Egyptian royal lines as well, and a tradition of matrilineal descent has been kept alive to this very day by Jews. The sign near the middle in this set, a logogram, looks like a sideways chevron. It is the sign for the words “with”, “from”, “toward”, or “upon”. In this instance, the word is “upon”.
We know that whatever the sign to the left of this chevron in A8 is a depiction of (a pot lid? a shoemaker’s knife?) , it is not the number “one” because we have already encountered it. We will encounter “two”, but this is not it. This is the logogram for the number “three”. If the item in question is a shoemaker’s knife, its blade was conceivably made of copper. The Ugaritic word for copper is “talatu”. This is also the Ugaritic word for the number three.
This “number three” is found at A9: “Oxhide”, a proper name composed of no less than seven signs, employed for a specificity that such signs can only express by piling sign upon sign upon sign; in this instance, in order to differentiate “oxhide” from any of this sign’s other meanings, since a total of five words share this same sign. It reads “oxhide from place oxen hides”. In this set, the oxhide sign to the far left (in this instance the meaning is “oxhide”), the sideways chevron, the dove sign in the middle and the oxhide sign at the far right (in this instance the meaning is “hides”) are all acting as the component parts of an endocentric compound. As above, the third sign from the left in this set is a dove; it is the logogram for the word “place” and we will see this sign twice more. A8 and A9 comprise a rather elusive parallelism called a formal parallelism. This parallelism is difficult to identify (particularly when divorced from its original language and therefore its original meter), because strictly speaking, formal parallelism although a complete thought, isn’t truly parallel.
Counting from A1 round the disk, one can see that Oxhide is indeed the third important man listed, confirming the choice of “three” in A8. He is also the second king so called by name, for at A10, is the logogram for the words “king” and “royal”, the bull’s horn. In this instance, the word is “king”. There is a mark for “behold” carved beneath that initial sign, and then the logogram for the word “deified”. Then at A11 is the clause, “he fathered”. The second sign in A11, a logogram, is a depiction of the fore leg of an ungulate. The word is “sired”, a verb, and its meaning is altered by the walking man as determinative, so that the word becomes another verb, “fathered”, and with the slash, “he fathered”
At A12 is a proper name, “Coracler”, literally: “with one oar boat (of) leather man”. The sideways chevron logogram, the mace logogram, the oar pictogram, the ship sign and the oxhide sign are all acting as units within an endocentric compound. At A13 is the clause, “behold king deified”. But look at what happens in A14, not “he fathered” but the phrase, “one related”. The mace logogram for “one” and the fish sign, the logogram for the words “like” and “related” (in this instance, the word is “related”), are both acting as units within an exocentric compound. Please note the noun-adjective pairing of the phrase “one related” that we look for in a proper Ugaritic word order. This “one related” at A14 is the uncle or senior first cousin once removed (but not father and probably not brother [see below]) of some male in the line of succession; and so the sense here, is that “one related” means to say “fostered”.
At A15 is to be found this kings epithet: “Our-Side-Branch-Great-Great”, a repeat of A3 and the noun-adjective sequence “side branch great great”. But observe that the ox hides in this name, face the ox hides in A3. These two, A3 and A15 are referencing each other and are great great grandfather and great great grandson to each other, respectively. If this is the case, then it precludes A14 and a15 (who we already know are not father and son) from being brothers. At A16 is the clause, “behold king deified”. At A17 is the clause, “he fathered”. Then at A18, is the endocentric compound “Coracler” again. Note that this Coracler is not titled “king” in the text. We are to suppose that he was killed, along with most of his family, in the sudden onset of the flood as an adult, but while his father was still king. A10, A11, A12, A13, A14, A15, A16, A17 and A18 comprise a hexacolon with an AB//A//C//A//B structure. This parallelism is an envelope parallelism. In this parallelism, the first A line, “behold king deified” parallels exactly the second and third A lines “behold king deified”; the first B line “he fathered Coracler” parallels exactly the second B-line “he fathered Coracler”; and both the first and second B-lines thematically parallel the C-line “fostered Our-Side-Branch-Great-Great”.
That the names in so short a sampling repeat, is not so surprising when we consider that names do repeat, occasionally, in authentic pedigrees. After all, if you have an effectually infinite pool of names to cull from your culture, why bother repeating them? The answer is simple enough; namely, that there is a thread of validity running through this genealogy. The presence here of the anonymous queen mother of Oxhide and the adoption of the first Coracler, also lend weight to this argument, since a fictional genealogy needs no such detail. So it is an authentic genealogy in part, but an ancient one, and that’s why its authors have had to substitute epithets for real names where faulty memory has made it necessary. This genealogy, however, can neither be called antediluvian, nor postdiluvian, since there never was a deluge — in the classical sense of that word — in the first place; this is simply a very ancient, half remembered genealogy, with a mythical flood narrative that has somehow managed to become attached to it.
A Word About Itinerary
The disk should properly be read in the correct order: recto, verso, recto. The disk was made this way in order to keep all the chaos and violence of flood and war on the verso side and the more stately and somber themes of deceased ancestors and flood memorial on the recto side, while still affording the reader a fully comprehensible narrative. The division between the sacred and the profane is a very old concept worldwide; for those cultures with origins in the ancient Near East, this is especially true, even up to the present day.
At A19 is found a logogram depicting an unstrung recurved bow that Sir Arthur Evans defined as Asiatic Composite, that is to say, a Near Eastern composite type that had its origins in western Asia. And he was certainly correct. This military technology eventually found its way into the armies, navies and cavalries of city states and empires throughout the ancient world. There is simply no credible evidence, however, for Minoan use of the composite bow, and any evidence for Mycenaean use of the composite bow before, or during the time of, the Mycenaean invasion of Crete, is absent as well. Regardless, the Mycenaeans sacked Phaistos in the 15th century BCE (at which time the palace collapsed on top of the disk), and appear to have left the area soon thereafter, since there is no evidence for Mycenaean occupation of Phaistos after this. Any inclusion of the composite bow on a Minoan or Mycenaean Phaistos Disk is, therefore, out of the question. The 3rd millennium BCE on the other hand, saw the debut of the composite bow in the ancient Near East, namely in the Akkadian Empire of the 23rd century BCE during the reign of one Naram-Sin. Amorite tribes had the misfortune of coming into violent contact with this very king at Jebel Bishri (Mountain of the Amorites) and were defeated by him there, and no doubt these tribes learned of the composite bow at that time, or some time not long after. A gaping window of opportunity indeed, for inclusion of said bow on an Ugaritic Phaistos Disk.
This bow seems to be a reference to the Ugaritic goddess of war, Anat, who evinced a rather homicidal fondness for the bow. One of Anat’s titles was Destroyer. There is also a pictogram of a barleycorn in this set. Baal Hadad, her brother, was a typical ancient Near Eastern dying/rising god and Ugaritic god of rain for barley and other crops, storms and other aspects, and by virtue of the barleycorn, this passage might conceivably be a reference to him as well. Coupled then with the barleycorn and given this context, I would therefore assign this set the value: “destroyer (of) barleycorn”, i.e., “storm”, since storms of sufficient strength, particularly hailstorms, can be very detrimental to crops. These signs are both acting as components in an endocentric compound.
As for the question of deified kings, many Canaanite communities buried their dead beneath threshing floors, and such floors were considered portals of the dead ancestors, which ancestors for instance, would be those we’ve just been discussing; none other than the Rapi’uma (aka Rephaim), the dynastic guarantors and deified kings of Ugarit. From an Ugaritic alphabetic cuneiform text, ca.1200 BCE, KTU 1.20 II 5-7a: They journeyed a day and a second. After su[nrise on the third] the Saviors arrived at the threshing floors, the di[vinities at] the plantations. Even in that age, it seems, it took only three days to travel from the underworld to the world of the living. At this point we must flip the disk over to its verso side and start again in the center, at B1.
At A19 and B1 we find the clause, “storm it came flood”. The sign at the beginning of B1 is a logogram of a breast, surely an apt symbol of issuing forth; thus giving us the words “came”, “went”, “happened” or “fell”. The second sign in this set, a wave shaped stripe with a line down its middle, is the logogram for the word “flood”.
At B2 is the clause, “ship one loaded animals” or, one ship loaded the animals. The cardinal number one in Ugaritic is a noun, but in certain cases the word “one” acts as an adjective; as in this case, when it is synonymous with the adjective, single. We therefore have yet another example of the noun-adjective pairing logical to Ugaritic word order. The ship as illustrated here means “ship”, but with its acutely upturned bow and stern, it looks nothing like the long boat style ship so typical of Minoan seafaring, rather, it strongly resembles the sort of papyrus reed craft that was de rigueur all across the ancient Near East during the Early and Early Middle Bronze Age. At the time the disk was made, these folk might have constructed their ships of wood, or partly wood and papyrus reeds or leather, but it seems clear to me that this ship’s design is at least modeled on an earlier reed type. I say ships, simply because that’s how this early 2nd millennium Ugaritic culture would have viewed the matter. Based on their size alone, we would call them boats. Anyway, if these ships were made of papyrus reeds then they weren’t made by Minoans, the climate of Crete was not conducive to the support of the large and healthy stands of papyrus needed for that sort of ship building; although one supposes they could have imported Syrian papyrus (cyperus syriacus, native to Syria and Sicily) from Sicily. But Minoan ships were made of wood and always had been, so there was no need to.
Notice the peculiar figure upon the bow (right end) of the ship sign, which resembles nothing so much as a large horizontal wooden spoon-like object attached to the bow, with the business end of our “spoon” facing left and a vertical piece projecting downward from the “handle” of said spoon-like object, which faces to the right. The Phoenician descendants of these Ugaritic/Canaanite people had figureheads, called pataeci, upon their warships and that might be what is depicted here. The Greek historian Herodotus (ca. 484-425 BCE) wrote about these figures, saying that these pataeci were god images that the Phoenicians attached to the bows of their warships. These pataeci were anciently associated with the Greek god Hephaestus and the Egyptian god Ptah, which gods were both a type of Kothar-wa-Khasis; a character in this story we will meet up with again, very soon.
In this set we see an unusual sign (third from left in B2) that some have insisted is a bee or some such flying insect; it is not. This sign is a logogram, and it actually depicts a pack load, the sort of thing one would use to carry clothes, bedding, tools or other assorted items for short distances. This sign gives us the words “loaded” and “boarded”; in this instance, it is the word “loaded”.
At B3 is the clause, “went one family”. We see here the branch pictogram, the woman pictogram and mohawked man’s head sign all in a row. In this set, the branch sign, the woman sign and the mohawked man’s head sign are all acting as units within an exocentric compound, giving us the word “family”. At B4 is the phrase, “went with livestock, clothing”. We see here the barleycorn sign and the ram’s head sign. As above, the barleycorn is a pictogram, and it simply means “barleycorn”. The ram’s head sign is a logogram, and it means “eater”; together, these two signs are uniting within an endocentric compound, giving us the words “barleycorn eater”, i.e. “livestock”. The sign at the far right in this set has been identified as a tiara or an arrow head; it is nothing of the kind. This sign depicts an article of clothing, a cloak to be precise and gives us the word “clothing”.
At B5 is the sentence, “behold sea came over animal kind”. The first sign in this set is a sea shell, it is a logogram, and it gives us the word “sea”. The third sign from the left in this set is a long-limbed plant of some kind, it is a logogram, and it gives us the words “over” and “high”. In this instance, the word is “over”. The last sign in this set looks something like an upside down, bold, uppercase “Y”, and it has been identified by some as a sling. I have no argument with that, although I wish I did since it doesn’t look very much like a sling. It has also been identified by some as a double pipe. I’m not entirely convinced of that either. No matter, it is a logogram, and it stands in for the words “kind” and “type”, in this instance it is the word “kind”.
A19, B1, B2, B3, B4, and B5 comprise a pentacolon with an ABC//C’B’ structure, wherein the initial statement in the A-line (“storm it came flood”) is followed by a chiasm. In this parallelism, the verb “came” in the A-line grammatically parallels the verb “loaded” in the first B-line; the noun “ship” in the first B-line, thematically parallels the noun “sea” in the final B-line; the verb “loaded” in the first B-line grammatically parallels the verb “came” in the final B-line, and the word “animals” in the first B line parallels the noun phrase “animal kind” in the final B-line. Here also we see that the verb “went” in the first C-line, parallels the verb “went” in the second C-line, and the noun “family” in the first C-line thematically parallels the noun “livestock” in the second C-line.
At B6 we find the phrase, “house upon one fell” or, fell upon one (i.e. a single) house. This noun-adjective sequence, “house” and “upon one”, is the Ugaritic word order we have already encountered. The authors do not wish to imply that the flood fell upon one house only. Surely it was their understanding that this flood would have fallen upon all houses, but not upon all houses equally. Are the authors of the disk intimating that the flood protagonist’s house was singularly tasked with surviving the flood, that the responsibility of saving all humanity fell upon one house? In every other ancient Near Eastern flood narrative, this is the case; the protagonist is warned in advance. Perhaps in the oral retellings of this story, this was made more explicit. Is there a subtext here?
One example of this flood warning, comes from the Atrahasis flood narrative. The gods are disturbed at all the noise that humankind is making, so Enlil, king of the gods, decides to destroy them. Enki, god of mischief, intelligence, creation, etc., takes pity of his servant Atrahasis (exceedingly wise), so he decides to warn him. Having promised Enlil, however, that he will not reveal the plan to any mortal, Enki devises another way. He tells a wall of Atrahasis’ reed house instead. Wall, listen constantly to me! Reed hut, make sure you attend to all my words! Dismantle the house, build a boat, reject possessions, and save living things he says, technically keeping his word to Enlil. In this way, Enki reveals all and, as intended, Atrahasis overhears.
At B7 is the clause, “it happened flood happened”. At B8 is the phrase, “branch upon fell” or, fell upon (the) branch. If the passage covering B6, B7, and B8 is somewhat difficult, here is a paraphrase: Fell upon a single house, it happened, flood happened, fell upon the branch.
B6, B7 and B8 comprise another parallelism, a tetracolon this time, in the form of a chiasm. This parallelism has an AB//B’A’ structure. In this parallelism the noun “house” in the first A-line, thematically parallels the noun “branch” in the final A-line, and the words “upon one fell” in the first A-line parallel the words “upon fell” in the final A-line. Here also we see that the pronoun “it” in the first B-line thematically parallels the noun “flood” in the second B-line, and the verb “happened” in the first B-line parallels the verb “happened” in the second B-line. Now, these parallelisms we keep crossing paths with are a very old form of poetry, the sort one finds all throughout Hebrew scripture and the Old Testament; the authors of the disk were not Hebrews, however, and parallelisms can be found in Sumerian, Egyptian and Assyro-Babylonian (Akkadian) poetry as well. We will encounter more of these parallelisms.
The first sign on the left in B6 looks very much like the sort of house the Marsh Arabs, or Ma’dan (who inhabited, until recently, the marshlands in southeastern Iraq), would build from papyrus reed. This type of architecture has a long history in the ancient Near East, and it is not out of the question that the authors of the disk (whatever their ultimate origins), possessed a riverine culture (at the Al Ghab plain along the Orontes?), just prior to their arrival at Ugarit. Such housing would have naturally decayed over the course of time to dust, which is exactly the situation encountered by Schaeffer excavating at Ras Shamra, beginning in 1929; there at the level of the Early Middle Bronze Age (Middle Ugarit I), he uncovered a number of burials, but no trace of any structures whatsoever. This house sign is a pictogram, and it gives us the word “house”.
At B9 is the clause, “ship one loaded greatly”, which is to say, a single ship greatly loaded; once again with “ship one”, we have the noun-adjective pairing we are becoming steadily acquainted with. At B10 is the clause, “behold sea came over animal kind”. At B11 is the sentence, “it happened flood (to the) animals”. At B12 is the sentence, “struck sea (the) animals”. B12 is ancient (i.e., pre-Biblical) syntax, the authors’ way of saying that the sea struck the animals. To quote from another text: And Nob, the city of the priests, smote he with the edge of the sword, both men and women, children and sucklings, and oxen, and asses and sheep, with the edge of the sword. — 1 Samuel 22:19. At B13 is the sentence, “behold sea came over animals”.
B9, B10, B11, B12 and B13 comprise a pentacolon. In this one, the initial statement in the A-line (“ship one loaded greatly”) is followed by a climactic parallelism. This parallelism has an ABC//C’B’ structure. In this parallelism, the verb “loaded” in the A-line grammatically parallels the verb “came” in the first B-line; the words “behold sea came over animal kind” in the first B-line, parallel the words “behold sea came over animals” in the final B-line; the verb “happened” in the first C-line grammatically parallels the verb “struck” in the second C-line, and the words “flood animals” in the first C-line thematically parallel the words “sea animals” in the second C-line.
At B14 is an epithet: “Sandal-Maker”, literally “walking leather clothing maker”. The walking man sign for “walking”, oxhide sign for “leather” and the cloak sign for “clothing”, are all thrown together in the endocentric compound, “sandal”. There is a mohawked man’s head to the right of this compound, the sign for the words “man”, “men”, “maker”; in this instance, the word is “maker”, hence, the name “Sandal-Maker”. We see here in the walking man’s shaved head, shaved face and kilt-like garment, a grooming and manner of dress not unknown to the Amorite male and here and there represented in statuary and wall painting throughout the ancient Near East, from Egypt to Syria. These were not the only fashions available to the Amorite man, but neither were they rare by any means; the kilt-like garment is habitually worn by gods in Ugaritic iconography, and the man’s shaved head in particular, is decidedly un-Minoan. The mohawked man’s head in this set wears a hairstyle that, if worn by any Israelite or Judean man, would have been identified by his fellows as the infamous blorit, or “pagan mohawk”, so inveighed against in various Jewish writings. The Tosefta, a supplement to the Mishnah or oral laws, begins a list of Amorite customs with, among other things, making a blorit. To them it was a hairstyle worn only by heathens, and it too seems anything but Minoan.
As for the name, Sandal-Maker might bear some symbolic relation to Kothar-wa-Khasis (Skillful-and-Wise), Ugaritic god of smithing, crafts, architecture, etc. He was a sailor, magician, soothsayer and the first poet, but most important for our purposes, in the Baal Cycle he was sandal maker to the goddess Asherah, mother of the gods and wife of El. Strangely, this Kothar-wa-Khasis is said, in the original version of his myth, to have come from Crete of all places. Almost certainly by this is meant Phaistos, since Hephaestus and Phaistos are etymologically related words, and the historian Diodorus (1st century BCE) thought that Hephaestus had come from Crete (Diodorus, Vol. 74, 2 Loeb Classical Library). In a later version of the Kothar-wa-Khasis myth, he is said to hail from Egypt, the land of Ptah. Ugarit had ancient trading relations with both Crete and Egypt.
W.F. Albright has suggested a connection between Kothar-wa-Khasis and Atrahasis, as has S. Dalley, FSA, author of Myths of Mesopotamia: Creation the Flood, Gilgamesh and Others, who has said: “The name or epithet Atrahasis is used for the skillful god of craftsmanship Kothar-wa-Khasis in Ugaritic mythology”.
In any case, at B15 is another epithet: “Kitchen-Wife”, literally, “food place wife”. The word for “food” in this set, is illustrated by the fish logogram (“like”) and barleycorn pictogram (“barleycorn”) to give us an endocentric compound, “like barleycorn”, i.e. “food”. This compound, made up of the fish and the barleycorn signs, combine with the dove logogram (“place”) and act as components within another endocentric compound “food place”, i.e. “kitchen”. The word “wife” is illustrated by the branch pictogram for “branch”, and the woman pictogram for “woman”, giving us the endocentric compound “branch woman”, i.e. “wife”. Notice that the woman sign at B15 has her left hand over her heart, or left breast; this is a classic Asherah pose. Asherah, like most ancient Near Eastern goddesses, was always depicted as bare breasted, and — the Minoans having no monopoly in this regard at all — Amorite women were occasionally depicted wearing the sort of flounced skirt we see on the woman in this set. There is, at the National Museum at Aleppo, Syria, a statue of a water goddess holding a vase and wearing a flounced skirt. This artifact was made at the Amorite stronghold of Mari during the 18th century BCE. Also, note again the sign configuration for “wife”, the branch sign with the woman sign; we will need to recall this later.
The reason, it seems clear to me, for including the antediluvian royal genealogy on the recto side, is because those kings are ancestral to her, and remembered by her descendants, no doubt, to bolster dynastic intent. For somewhat obvious reasons (we know who one’s mother is; we don’t always know who one’s father is), privileging the female line for the purposes of inheriting royal title or cultural identity has much precedence in ancient Near Eastern lineages. This memorializing of antediluvian forebears, however, is an otherwise unthinkable remembrance in most other flood myths. One exception to this being those genealogies that come just before the flood (as they do in this narrative), in Genesis chapters 4 and 5, another being the King Lists found in Sumerian cuneiform texts, which antediluvian King Lists themselves have been linked to Genesis.
Interestingly, both the disk genealogy and the genealogies in Genesis 4 and 5 use the genealogical relationship terms for fathering (fathered, begot), in preference to terms equivalent to “son of”, and both of them start with the earlier ancestor and move down to the later descendant. This is unknown in other ancient Near Eastern genealogies, which always either top the list with the later descendant, employing terms equivalent to “my father” or “his father”, (e.g., the genealogy of Darius the Great) and move downward to terminate at the bottom with the earlier ancestor, or else use genealogical relationship terms equivalent to son of (when genealogical relationship terms are used at all), regardless of which chronological direction the genealogy moves in, and never begot or fathered. Also of note, if one removes the children of Lamech from the text of Genesis 4 as anachronisms (and one should, since how could Jabal have been the father of such as dwell in tents, and of such as have cattle and Jubal have been the father of all such as handle the harp and organ if they — and any children they might have had — were all killed in the flood? And since the events chronicled in Genesis 4 were supposed to have taken place before the bronze age, how could Tubal-Cain have been an instructer of every artificer in brass and iron?), then Genesis 4 records only seven antediluvian men from Adam to Lamech: Adam, Cain, Enoch, Irad, Mehujael, Methushael and Lamech. In our disk genealogy, we have seven antediluvian personages as well, to wit: Our-Side-Branch-Great-Great the first, Warrior, the anonymous queen mother, Oxhide, Coracler the first, Our-Side-Branch-Great-Great the second, and Coracler the second. Given the correlation of genealogical relationship terms in both Genesis 4 and the disk, and given the seven above noted persons in both Genesis 4 and the disk, one would be remiss not to speculate whether the disk had its own influence on the Genesis account.
At any rate, at B16 is found the phrase, “swam like fish”. Here the walking man (“walking”), is pairing with the fish logogram to its right (“like”), and giving us the endocentric compound “walking like”, i.e. “swam”. To the far right in this set the fish sign pairs with the cat’s head sign (“animal”, “animals”), to give us the endocentric compound “like animal”, i.e., “fish”. There is an economy of space here on the disk, so the fish sign does triple duty in the words “swam”, “like” and “fish”.
At B17 is the phrase, “toward ox tooth”. The signs at the right in B17 are a depiction of an oxbow yoke, a logogram, giving us the word “ox”, and the tooth pictogram for “tooth”. These two signs are acting together to form an exocentric compound “ox tooth”, i.e. “land”. I propose that what the authors of the disk are trying to tell us here, is that the ship sank just as land was sighted, and that Sandal-Maker and Kitchen-Wife (along with, presumably, their livestock) swam for their lives. This phrase, “toward ox tooth”, is a metaphor of positively Homeric inventiveness, for it is their way of saying toward plow, or better yet, “toward land”. At B18 we find the phrase, “branch very rich”, this is to say, founding at length a branch very rich. Here “branch” and “very rich”, give us yet another noun-adjective sequence. The second sign from the left in B18 depicts a large storage jar. It is a logogram and gives us the word “very”. There are no less than two houses and a cat’s head in this set; these houses (for the word “houses”), together with the cat’s head sign (for the word “animals”), are subsumed units within the exocentric compound, “rich”.
The drama builds as we leave Sandal-Maker and Kitchen-Wife, for at B19 is the phrase, “suddenly ships great”. And here again we see the noun-adjective pairing of “ships great” so characteristic of an Ugaritic word order. Here the walking man, in its rare logographic function, is being determined by the flower and, turning “walking”, a verb, into “suddenly”, an adverb. And whose ships are these? B20 tells us, for here is the phrase, “our high king”. At B21 is the clause, “branch our house came”. At B20 and B21 we see a new sign (at the far left in B20, and near the middle in B21), this sign, whatever it represents, is a logogram, and it is categorically related to the type in A3; for it is the insignia of Sandal-Maker’s House, and it stands in quite well for the words “our” and “us”. At B22 is the phrase, “ships reed sided type” that is to say, in reed sided ships. And once again we see, with this noun-adjective pairing of “reed sided”, the proper Ugaritic word order we have come to expect. The second sign from the left in B22 depicts what I take to be some kind of woven reed structure which was evidently a feature of their ships, this is the logogram for the word “reed”. B19, B20, B21 and B22 comprise another tetracolon and as before, this one is also a chiasm. This parallelism has an AB//B’A’ structure. In this parallelism, the words “ships great” in the first A-line, thematically parallel the words “ships reed sided” in the final A-line, and the words “our high king” in the first B-line thematically parallel the words “our house” in the second B-line.
At B23 is the clause, “from war came death”; the ax sign at the end of this set is a logogram, and it means “death”. At B24 the word, “famine”. Here the sign pair for “food” (fish and barleycorn), is combined with the sign pair for “war”, and together they are acting as components within exocentric compound, “famine”; which is often the fate of persons in regard to food, during times of war. At B25 is the clause, “they escaped with one tooth”. To quote from a different text: My bone cleaveth to my skin as to my flesh, and I am escaped with the skin of my teeth — Job 19:20. Regardless of what the authors of Job meant by this, or whether this passage was even original to them, this missing tooth business might conceivably have had its literary beginnings in the ancient Near East as a metaphor for starvation. The initial sign at B25, looks like a triangle with dots on it. This is a depiction of a basket sieve, the sort of Bronze Age (Neolithic actually) technology one might have taken to the river to wash beans with. It is a logogram, and it gives us the word “escaped”.
At B26 is the phrase, “important very house related” or a very important related house, making allowances for a syntax unrelated to English. It might as well have read “house of” or some such thing, but something else is at work here in B26. Apparently a subtext is lurking here because, why “related”? It’s redundant. We already assume that all persons in a house are related by the word “house”. Are the authors trying to tell us that their enemy, is in fact a relation of theirs? In the next set, we must once again make allowances for a sentence structure that betrays the fact that this “non-writing system” was written by a non-English speaking people. The structure is this: at B27 is the phrase, “leather ship types” this is to say, in their leather ships. At B28 is the clause, “behold Child-One-Side” (another epithet; namely, the captain of the opposition force), so that the whole passage from B23 to B28, slightly paraphrased, is, From war came death, famine. They escaped with one tooth, a very important related house in their leather ships; behold, Child-One-Side. And here again we see the noun-adjective pairing in “house related” one wants to see in a proper Ugaritic word order.
At B29 and B30 we get the first installment of a few parallelisms, the second installment of these being on the recto side at A20, A21 and A22, A23 and A24. At B29 is the sentence, “branch fell flood great” or, the branch fell to a great flood. And once again we see a noun-adjective pairing in “flood great” typical of an Ugaritic word order. At B30 is the clause, “came our kind important men”.
Side A, Part 2
At A20 we find the clause, “behold first place important men”. The flower is acting as determinative, and making “one”, a noun, into “first”, an adjective. In Ugaritic, cardinal numbers are nouns and ordinals are adjectives. That this is not a name of an individual, but a reference to a group is indicated by the context of the words within the sentence and the context of the sentence within the narrative. In such cases, the words “important” and “men” are never silent, but always pronounced.
At A21 is found the clause, “came our generation”. The walking man is acting as a determinative now, and acting upon the logogram for the word “two”, a noun, and making it into another noun, “generation”. At A22 is the phrase, “branch number two important men”. At A 23, are signs commemorating a branch death, the cataclysmic passing away of all the members save Kitchen-Wife, in the last generations of branch number one to be exact. This clause says, “branch royal deified”. Note again that with “branch royal”, we have the noun-adjective pairing. And here begins a flood memorial covering the seven spaces occupying A23 to A29. At A24, is a reference to a group of important men. There is a lacuna here, however, before the reference to the important men, and the exact identity of these men seems lost to damage. I feel compelled to point out, however, that the pictogram of the branch would fit quite easily within the lacuna, as well as lend the phrase explicitness, given how urgently these folk wanted us to know from whom they sprang. For literary reasons I would opt for “branch” as well. After all, “branch with woman” as a possible partial reconstruction of A24, is the virtual sign for sign configuration of the word “wife” (“branch” with “woman” equals “wife”), which would make the phrase “branch with woman important men” a visual pun on Kitchen-Wife, as if to say Kitchen-Wife’s important men. Wordplay is an important part of Ugaritic poetry. And so what we have at A24 then, as best as I can reconstruct it, is a hearkening back to Kitchen-Wife and her antediluvian ancestors.
B29, B30, A20, A21, A22, A23 and A24 comprise a very interesting and complex parallelism, a heptacolon, where the initial A-line (“branch fell flood great”) is followed by a climactic parallelism. This parallelism has the structure A//B//C//B’//C’//D//E In this parallelism, the word “branch” in the A-line parallels the word branch in the second C-line, the D-line and E-line. The verb “fell” in the A-line grammatically parallels the verb “came” in the first and second B-lines; the words “our kind” in the first B-line, thematically parallel the words “our generation” in the second B-line; the words “first place” in the first C-line thematically parallel the words “number two” in the second C-line; the words “branch number one” in the second C-line thematically parallel the words “branch royal deified” in the D-line, because these references are to branch number two and branch number one respectively; and the words “important men” in the first B-line and in the first and second C-lines, as well as the E-line, all parallel each other. The word “royal” in the D-line thematically parallels the the word “woman” in the E-line, because Kitchen-Wife was of royal ancestry and the word “deified” in the D-line thematically parallels the words “important men” in the E-line because they are, de facto, the very kings who have been deified. This enormous parallelism is evidence that we have chosen the right order of march.
Moving on with what I have proposed is a flood memorial, we come to A25 where is found the first half of a sentence, the phrase, “sea beast great”. At 26 is the second half of that sentence, “caused flood great”. And so again we see the typical Ugaritic noun-adjective pairing with “beast great” and “flood great” that we have encountered before. Observe closely the center sign at A25. It is not strictly identifiable. One has the impression of some sort of animal’s head, by the dot at the lower end of it, thinking it perhaps an eye. These people knew how to draw, and clearly. If they had wanted to draw a wolf, they would have. If they had wanted to draw a shark, they would have. They could carve a fish, a ram’s head, an ax, a man walking, a bird of prey, etc. This sign, like the clan totem at the far left in B20, has no counterpart in the world of things that is readily identifiable. But that one, unlike the sign in A25, undoubtedly represented something concrete in the world and in the minds of the authors of the disk, however obscure it might seem to us.
The sign at A25 has no physical counterpart in the world because it never did. It is the head of a mythical beast, and clearly a reference to the Ugaritic sea dragon Yamm, a.k.a Lotan (lit. “coiled”, and please note the coiled form of the disk), a.k.a. Leviathan. Lotan’s presence here is a reminder of his presence in Northwest Semitic mythology, where the seven headed horror is known to have been the personification of floods among the Canaanites. In the Baal Cycle, Lotan is dispatched by Baal Hadad, god of storms, etc. and/or his sister, the archer Anat.
At A26 are initial signs representing a shield, “important” and a breast, “came”, “went”, “happened” or “fell”. These two mean something along the lines of “important happened”; together these two are united within an exocentric compound, giving us the word “caused.” A25 and A26 comprise simple bicolon with an A//A’ structure. In this parallelism the words “sea beast” in the first A-line, thematically parallel the word “caused” in the second A-line, since he was the cause of all the trouble, and the adjective “great” in the first A-line, parallels the adjective “great” in the second A-line.
At A27 is the clause, “related us taken”. One can see, without too much difficulty, that this clause with its place in the midst of a flood memorial, is a hearkening back to Sandal-Maker having been “taken” by the flood. The third sign from the left in this set depicts a fellow with his hands bound behind his back. This is a captive, and this sign is a logogram, giving us the word “taken”. At A28 is the phrase, “boarded animals”. The animals in this case being livestock. At A29 is a sentence, this sentence is a repeat of the sentence at B11, “it happened flood (to the) animals”. The animals in this case being wild. A27, A28 and A29 comprise another type of parallelism, this time a forked parallelism, aka a tricolon. This tricolon has the AB//B’ structure so typical of the closing lines in Ugaritic poetry. The tricolon is a very ancient form of parallelism. Indeed, predating the Bible and used more commonly in Ugaritic literature than in Hebrew scripture and in the Early and Middle Bronze Age before the Davidic monarchy, than either during or after it.
In this parallelism the verb “taken” in the A-line grammatically parallels the verb “boarded” in the first B-line; the verb “boarded” in the first B-line, grammatically parallels the verb “happened” in the second B-line, and the word “animals” in the first B-line parallels the word “animals” in the second B-line. At A30 is the phrase, “important our house”. At A31 are the last words on the disk. It is a colophon comprising the proper name of the king who commissioned the disk. This name is almost identical with A6, but with the sign for “with” at the beginning of it and a tick mark for “he” drawn beneath that.
The name reads, “He-With-War” that is to say, he who is preoccupied with war. Which, when one considers the word “warring” at A2, the name “warrior” at A6, the word “war” throughout this text and hence, the warlike predilections of these people, one has the impression that this disk is not just literature, but a tragedy. This culture is dust. So much for the wages of war; Euripides would be proud.
A Few Thoughts on Numbers Mysticism
The Phaistos Disk is in many respects a religious document (possibly a foundational text meant to impress upon the minds of the laity, the idea of dynastic continuity between the long dead kings and the current ruling house), and numbers mysticism seems present throughout it. Exhibit A: There are 61 cells on the disk. 6 + 1 = 7. Exhibit B: There are 31 cells on the recto side of the disk. The sum of the numbers 1 through 31 is 496. There are 30 cells on the verso side of the disk. The sum of the numbers 1 through 30 is 465. 496 + 465 = 961. 9 + 6 + 1 = 16. 1 + 6 = 7. Exhibit C: There are 46 unique signs on the disk, repeated 258 times. 46 + 258 = 304. 3 + 0 + 4 = 7. Exhibit D: The ship sign (the sign for the words “ship”, “ships”, “boat”), occurs seven times on the disk. It is in fact, the only sign that appears seven times, making it the mila mancha, or symbolic leitwort, if you will, of this nautically themed text. Exhibit E: There are 131 signs on the recto side of the disk. The sum of the numbers 1 through 131 is 8646. There are 127 signs on the verso side of the disk. The sum of the numbers 1 through 127 is 8128. 8646 + 8128 = 16774. 1+ 6 + 7 + 7 + 4 = 25. 2 + 5 = 7. Exhibit F: By my lights, there are 25 sentences on the disk. 2 + 5 = 7. Exhibit G: There are 11 sentences on the recto side of the disk, and a 12th sentence that begins on the recto side; there are 12 sentences on the verso side of the disk, with a 13th sentence that starts on the verso side. The sum of the numbers one through 12 is 78. The sum of the numbers one through 13 is 91. 78 + 91 = 169. 1 + 6 + 9 = 16. 1 + 6 = 7. Exhibit H: There are 83 distinct words, repeated 194 times in this text. 83 + 194 = 277. 2 + 7 + 7 = 16. 1 + 6 = 7. Exhibit I: The milat achiza (a type of structural leitwort) of this text, is the word “behold”. It is the seventh distinct word to appear in the text and repeats, like a refrain, a total of nine times throughout the text. 7 + 9 = 16. 1 + 6 = 7. Exhibit J: There are seven antediluvians referenced in the disk’s genealogy. These ten exhibits of the number seven, give us the number seventy in total. A rather splendid number for an Ugaritic text
There is a pattern here, can you see it? 61 cells, 25 sentences. The sum of the cell numbers one through 30, added to the sum of the cell numbers one through 31. The sum of the sign numbers 1 through 131, added to the sum of the sign numbers 1 through 127. The sum of the sentences one through 12, added to the sum of the sentences one through 13. 46 signs repeated 258 times, 83 words repeated 194 times. Seven antediluvians in the disk’s genealogy. And then our two leitworts, one symbolic, one structural. Searching for patterns and the correspondences between patterns, is a good deal of what decipherment is all about; and the number seven appears to be quite useful indeed, as a key to identifying and testing patterns and their correspondences, in the particular case of this text.
I do not subscribe to numbers mysticism. It’s not science. I do know, however, that ancient peoples did, particularly in the ancient Near East; this is especially true throughout the ancient Semitic cultural complex, where the number seven in particular carried profound sacredness, whether one is discussing Canaanite, Hebrew, Assyrian or Babylonian peoples. It is known, however, that the Ugaritic people practiced what is called gematria, after their invention of the alphabet in the 15th century BCE, and centuries before this practice is first documented in Greece. Gematria is a numbers mysticism predicated on alphabets (as in Hebrew), or syllabaries (as in Sumerian/Akkadian from the third millennium and certainly before ca. 1000 BCE [S. Dalley, The Legacy Of Mesopotamia] and with Neo-Assyrian, certainly as early as the eighth century BCE ), where the letters (or signs), are numbers and vice versa. Is the Phaistos Disk a gematria? The answer to this is unknown, since we have no way of ascertaining what numbers, if any, were ascribed to the respective pictorial signs here and the likelihood of finding this out any time soon, is dubious at best. But the disk’s numbers mysticism, to the degree it is there, is there within the context of a narrative (far too much effort was invested in this disk for a mere accounting of goods and services), so it seems to imply a gematria; this, I believe, was the reason for dividing the text into cells in the first place. Is the disk’s fascination with the number seven, proof that the disk is a Semitic document? The Greeks (Pythagoras, 570–495 BCE and Euclid, ca. 300 BCE) after all, were also very interested in this number, albeit at a somewhat later date. The Phaistos Disk’s very early use of this “gematria”, however, argues for it being a Semitic document, rather than a Greek one.
At any event, the numbers are unquestionably there, and I think that this opens up new avenues of inquiry for disk researchers. Also, it lends credence to the not unreasonable proposition that the Phaistos Disk is authentic.
There was a crew at work behind the scenes in all of this. The storyteller, the poet, the artisan, the Minoans, the archaeologist and the inventor of a writing system. The storyteller, who brought this story forward, relating it orally from one generation to the next, deserves our gratitude. The poet, if not in point of fact one and the same as the storyteller, earns our praise for the sheer pulchritude of this rendition. The workman like carving of the artisan is self-evident. The Minoans, those lovers of beauty and mystery, earn our thanks for preserving the disk at Crete through all these centuries. And no such list would be complete without noting the discovery of this disk on the part of Dr. Pernier, who deserves not only praise from all quarters, but possibly a few apologies as well.
Truly, however, I cannot help but stand in awe at the graphephevrist who devised this tightly integrated writing system. A work of genius in the form of a puzzle so startling in its simplicity (as might be expected, after all, they were trying to communicate), yet so enigmatic on its face, that it sat for over one hundred years confounding every eye that regarded it. A story so old (one might even say sacred) to its people, that this neat-handed system was invented just to record it, one singular and unintentional parable of war from the Bronze Age to ours. Do artifacts from the ruins of history get any more timely than that?
Ugaritic Word Order
Ugaritic is an inflected language, and as a Semitic language its grammatical features are highly similar to those found in Classical Arabic, Hebrew and Akkadian. It possesses two genders (masculine and feminine), three cases for nouns and adjectives (nominative, accusative, and genitive), three numbers (singular, dual, and plural), and verb aspects similar to those found in other Northwest Semitic languages. The word order for Ugaritic is verb–subject–object (VSO) and subject-object-verb (SOV),possessed–possessor (NG), and noun–adjective (NA). Ugaritic is considered a conservative Semitic language, since it retains most of the Proto-Semitic phonemes, the case system, and the word order of the Proto-Semitic ancestor.
Decipherment / Translation with Ugaritic Word OrderThe decipherment / translation with Ugaritic word order.
Side/Cell The Words Word Order A1 Manifestly VSO A2 warring, A3 Our-Side-Branch-Great- Great, A4 manifestly; A5 behold, branch number one. A6 Warrior, SOV A7 important king deified. A8 Number three upon woman: SVO A9 Oxhide, A10 behold, king deified; A11 he fathered A12 Coracler. A13 Behold, king deified VSO A14 fostered A15 Our-Side-Branch-Great-Great. A16 Behold, king deified; SVO A17 he fathered A18 Coracler. A19 Storm, SOV B1 it came flood; B2 ship one loaded animals. B3 Went one family, VSO B4 went with livestock, clothing. B5 Behold, sea came over animal kind. VSO B6 House upon one fell, SVO B7 it happened, flood happened, B8 branch upon fell. B9 Ship one loaded greatly; SVO B10 behold, sea came over animal kind. B11 It happened flood animals. VSO B12 Struck sea animals. VSO B13 Behold, sea came over animals. VSO B14 Sandal-Maker, SVO B15 Kitchen-Wife, B16 swam like fish B17 toward land, B18 branch very rich. B19 Suddenly ships great, SVO B20 our High King, B21 branch our House came, B22 ships reed sided type. B23 From war came death, SVO B24 famine. B25 They escaped with one tooth, SVO B26 important very House related, B27 leather ship types; B28 behold, Child-One-Side. B29 Branch fell flood great. SVO B30 Came our kind important men; VSO
A20 behold, first place important men. A21 Came our generation, VSO A22 branch number two important men. A23 Branch royal deified, SVO A24 [branch] with woman important men. A25 Sea beast great, SVO A26 caused flood great. A27 Related us taken, SVO A28 boarded animals. A29 It happened flood animals. VSO A30 Important our House, SOV A31 He-With-War.