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 15 cm (roughly six inches) in diameter, was blind printed while the clay was wet, it was then fired; possibly sometime in the 20th 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 punches, 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. When it becomes time to print some new matter, the type can be dumped, and new text inserted, or set, into the frame of fixed rows. That’s why movable type is called movable type. 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 of the current era. The technology that preceded it, required the use of a carved wooden block, or a slab of stone with a reverse image of the item to be printed engraved upon it, literally, carved in stone; unmovable, hence, not movable type. The disk’s signs were simply impressed into the clay by hand with punches, one at a time and not by any mechanical process. Therefore, if we are going to call the Phaistos Disk an example of movable type printing, we might as well call every cuneiform text ever unearthed from the amnemonic sands of the ancient Near East, the end product of movable type, since the technologies are the same: a human hand, with a stylus or punch, impressing graphemes into wet clay. If cuneiform — the world’s first writing — can be called movable type printing, then as an example of printing by means of movable type, the Phaistos Disk is of no great moment at all. But that is not the case. The Phaistos Disk is full of superlatives, being an example of movable type printing, however, is not among them.
The disk’s 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 G. Glotz (1925:381) 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, lime scale 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. My 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 better put to syllabaries belonging to cultures literary enough to have authored the disk, which systems would probably have created texts at a faster clip than any logographic systems could. Certainly any logographic system meant to serve the writing needs of an entire language, and which system employed the punch, would require many more punches to hunt and peck for, than the 46 signs found here. The speed alone at which individual punches could be located in a syllabic as opposed to a logographic system, would ease the process considerably. One needs approximately 41 to 99 signs for a syllabary to serve the writing needs of an entire language. These signs could be carried about in a leather bag tied at the waist; a logographic writing system requiring punches, might conceivably need an entire room just to house it. And we do have 46 signs here, but one does not simply toss a syllabary away after authoring one text, one creates a corpus. So where is it? How do we account for the missing texts that a syllabic writing system would have produced, or for that matter, the missing punches — thousands of them for all we know — that a logographic writing system would have necessitated?
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. A glossary has been provided so that the reader might check my work.
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 of this document’s age — roughly 4000 years old — is correct, then the Phaistos Disk is, as of this writing, not only the oldest flood text in existence, but also the oldest complete (that is, not assembled out of random fragments of varying age and quality, etc.) flood text that we have
The Language of the Disk
The Phaistos Disk was written by a people, which people certainly spoke a language. That language was Ugaritic — not to be confused with Ugric, as in Finno-Ugric, a language family entirely unrelated to Ugaritic. Ugaritic is a Semitic language and very closely related to Hebrew, so much so, that like Hebrew, it is spelled without vowels. For those of you who can neither read nor write in Ugaritic, however, this will be of little help, 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 origin 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, Assyrian, Babylonian, Hurrian, Cypriote, Aegean 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. We know this thanks to the work of Charles Virolleaud, et al. In fact Ugarit 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. In Ugaritic, al means “great” and ‘alp means “ox” and this constitutes a form of word play, called a parasonance. I learned about parasonance after the fact of deciphering this text. I had decided to spend a day studying rhetorical expressions of antiquity, when I encountered an on line version of G. Khan’s Encyclopedia of Hebrew Language and Linguistics Vol. 3, P-Z. This was my first knowledge of parasonance and other paronomasia. I then checked the disk for the possible occurrence of these parasonances, etc. Their presence on the disk took me completely by surprise. Classical parasonance of later 15th century BCE Ugaritic and even later Hebrew type, is a form of word play where the noun or verb roots of two or more words differ from each other in one of their three radicals. Some of the words in parasonance here, however, are rather primitive, involving only two and sometimes only one radical apiece. Others here are of a more familiar, classical type. This word play is deliberate. These puns are conceivably the earliest examples of parasonance in the world.
There is an oblique slash at the beginning of certain phrases or sentences, which act as the pronouns he/it/they, or the presentative particle “behold”. I find it rather interesting that this word behold, linked as it is with the words “he”, “it”, and “they” by virtue of sharing the same sign, is used exclusively to introduce persons of the male gender, inanimate objects and in one instance, a group of men. In Ugaritic, “he” is spelled hw, “it” is spelled hw, “they” is spelled hm and “behold” is spelled hn; so we can see that this group of words is also involved in a very simple parasonance with one another. Remarkable. This business of a sign having more than one meaning, however, 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, such as bow, the front end of a ship and bow, a knot tied with two loops and two loose ends. 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/fell/happened/went, which function is clearly the verb. The sideways chevron also serves a function as the words for/from/upon/with, which function is entirely prepositional. As above, these are heteronyms. Interestingly, this sideways chevron houses two pairs of pun in one sign, because the Ugaritic words for “from”, b and “with”, b, are engaged in a parasonance with each other, as are the Ugaritic words for “for”, l and “upon”, al.
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. We call this phenomenon polyvalence. 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”). To the right, 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 (and at the top of said page under the heading, decipherment table), will show that there are 83 distinct words in this narrative, repeated a total of 194 times.
The People of the Disk
Archaeologists consider the Late Bronze Age city state of Ugarit (NW coast of Syria, at Ras Shamra, roughly 1000 kilometers or 600 miles east of Phaistos) to have been an essentially Canaanite city, notwithstanding the polity of Ugarit was typically Amorite, as was the case in many other Levantine city states ca. 2000 — 1600 BCE, aka the Amorite period; and the differences between these two classifications, NW Amorite and Canaanite, whatever those labels may have originally meant, are now recognized as virtually academic. Both these groups spoke Northwest Semitic dialects that are nearly identical and so for our purposes then, a Canaanite will be defined as any Amorite (or other Semite), living in lands normally designated “Canaan” by ancient commentators (and I include Ugarit within this defined area), during said Amorite period. In this vein, I am of the opinion that it was a Middle Bronze Age dynasty of newly arrived Amorites, who resettled the site surrounding an abandoned tell at what would later be known as Ugarit, that commissioned the Phaistos Disk. That this disk was produced at Ugarit will, I hope, be demonstrated by, among other things, the sentence to be found at A25 and A26: “sea beast great caused flood great”. The people of Ugarit 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) inherent in the disk, also lend themselves to this conclusion. There are ten parallelisms on the Phaistos disk, in total. 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-Sumerian Ur III empire. The late 3rd millennium abandonment of Ugarit, was probably the result of a drought plagued Mediterranean and Near East. 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 glossary and the rules of grammar, wherein all the signs must and do function as the glossary 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 cut (parallelisms), plot device (genealogy, flood, flood dragon), and in its use of typical Ugaritic word play, etc.
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, then this word order (along with the parallelisms, Semitic plot devices and Ugaritic puns), 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, or prior to, the 15th 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 hieroglyphics, Eblaite cuneiform, Akkadian cuneiform, Elamite cuneiform, Babylonian cuneiform, Assyrian cuneiform, proto-Canaanite, proto-Sinaitic, Oxus, the (conjectural) Harappan writing of India, Byblian hieroglyphics, Hittite cuneiform, Luvian hieroglyphics, Hurrian cuneiform, Cretan linear A and Cretan hieroglyphics, Mycenaean linear B, Ugaritic alphabetic cuneiform and Chinese characters. 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 (or at most, badly understood) 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 secure word order at all, as is the case with proto-Canaanite and proto-Sinaitic, which were 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, S-O-V word orders except Egyptian hieroglyphics and (stretching our historical parameters a bit) Phoenician. But Phoenician reads right/left and Egyptian hieroglyphs look nothing like the figures on the disk and anciently, never did. Again, when one gives this problem a thorough consideration, one can see that with this word order in hand and coupled with the markedly Ugaritic parallelisms and the typically Semitic plot devices and puns, 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 sign, the flower sign. This sign consists of a flower with eight petals, arrayed around a central disk. This is called a rosette and it became a symbol of Astarte, Ugaritic goddess of love/fertility/sex, the heavens, etc., after her fusion with the Babylonian goddess Ishtar; Ishtar, in her turn, had already become fused with the Sumerian goddess Inanna. Astarte was styled “Lady-Of-The-Steppes” by early nomadic Amorite worshipers. This sign is a determinative. 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”, a verb. The bald man is looking rather intently at the oar, which is a pictogram; with the addition of this oar, the meaning changes to “understand”, a verb. With 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 and it should be noted that since antiquity, the comb has been exclusively associated with women. Whatever the case, it is a logogram and functions as the word “our”.
Much has been made of this comb image by Phaistos Disk researchers, due to its similarity to two other Minoan artifacts. Because of these other curious impressions, it is supposed by some that the Minoan provenance of the Phaistos Disk is all but proved. First, there is the sealing impression, on display at Heraklion, which resembles very much our comb. Then there is also a bowl (cataloged F4718), with what has been called a potters mark impressed upon its underside, and this also resembles the comb sign on the disk. Both these artifacts are from Phaistos. What we need to consider is the fact that, in the first place, these images on the disk, on the bowl and the sealing are not identical. The comb on the bowl has six teeth projecting from either side of it. The sealing’s comb has five teeth projecting from both its sides and the sign on the disk has only four teeth on each side. In the second place, these three images appear to have different functions. The disk sign is clearly a grapheme that functions within a writing system. The images on the bowl and the seal appear to be simple identifiers of a product, a workshop, a potter or perhaps the owner’s name. These images having been discovered solely at Phaistos (and having no relationship to any other site), it might even be the case that they were cribbed from the disk sometime after its arrival there. As above, I have given this sign on the disk the value “our” and what better logo could a 14th century BCE pottery workshop want? Anyway, Glotz said that the disk’s clay does not come from Crete. The clay the disk is made from is the best evidence we have of the disk’s origin — non-Cretan apparently — and until someone proves Glotz wrong, we can safely ignore any evidence the other comb images allegedly provide, regarding the origin of the Phaistos Disk.
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 or clause 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 for “important” and “man” are paired with proper names, epithets and titles, however, the words “important man” are silent. The Ugaritic word for “man”, is bns. The Ugaritic word for “maker” is nsk. These two words then, are involved in a parasonance with each other.
At A7, are logograms consisting of the shield, the bull’s horn and a bird of prey, probably an eagle. Together these signs mean, “important king deified”. The bull’s horn is a logogram and it gives us the words “king” and “royal”. In this instance the word is “king”. The eagle was, in some 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 gives us the word “deified” and 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 (certainly whichever of the deceased king’s wives had royal prerogative in matters of inheritance: the chief queen, or rabitu), was automatically of the royal line by virtue of being the widow of the deceased king, and when she remarried it was probably 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 probably 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 “for”, “from”, “upon”, and “with”. 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 made of copper or bronze. The Ugaritic word for both copper and for bronze, is “talatu”. This is also the Ugaritic word for the number three. As well, the word for woman, `att, is engaged in a pun with the word for three, tlt, linking mother to child by means of parasonance. As above, parasonance is a type of word play where the noun or verb roots of two or more words differ from each other in one of their three radicals.
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”. This word place is engaged in a word play with its sign, the dove. The word for dove in Ugaritic is ynt, a noun. The word for to place in Ugaritic is ytn, a verb. This word play is called anagramic paronomasia. This occurs when the radicals of two or more roots are simply anagramic to each other, and both paronomasia and parasonance can work across parts of speech and violate other aspects of grammar, such as tense, etc. This pun, however, like some of the others in this text, would have been lost on a listening audience, since it is in essence a visual pun; scribes at Ugarit were fond of visual puns. A verbal pun like we saw with the words “three” and “woman”, would have been communicated through pronunciation rather than trough visual cues and certainly not through spelling, since no alphabet existed at this time in history. 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 rhythm), 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 a foreleg 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 or epithet, “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 endocentric compound. And 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, who is in fact one and the same as the Coracler in A12, is the uncle or senior first cousin once removed, but not father and probably not brother (see below) of the next male in the line of succession (A15); 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 possibly 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 Amorite — or whathaveyou — names for a fictional genealogy, why bother repeating them? The answer is simple enough; namely, that there is a thread of validity running through this particular genealogy. The presence here of the anonymous queen mother of Oxhide and the adoption of the second Our-Side-Branch-Great-Great, 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; the final count of antediluvian ancestors was then arranged to better accord with the mythologically freighted number, seven. 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, a Mycenaean culture — probably Achaeans — 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 coning 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. Kld is Ugaritic for “bow”, klh is Ugaritic for “destroy”. And so once again we have an example of a sign engaged in a pun, this one a parasonance, with its near meaning like we saw at A8. And again, this visual pun would have been lost on a listening audience. There is also a pictogram of a barleycorn in this set. Ba’al Hadad, Anat’s 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 Amorite communities buried their dead beneath threshing floors and other necropoli, and such places 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”, “fell”, “happened” and “went”. In this instance, the word is “came”. 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, regardless of what type of ark this flood narrative originally envisioned in its early preliterate stage of development — a reed coracle perhaps (see I. Finkel, The Ark Before Noah: Decoding the Story of the Flood); 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, 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 “boarded” and “loaded”; 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 endocentric 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 Ugaritic word for ram is kr; the Ugaritic word for eat is `kl. And so here again we have an example of a sign engaged in a parasonance with its near meaning. 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 depicts a plant, with long limbs and a rather stout base, resembling watercress. It is a logogram, and it gives us the words “high” and “over”. In this instance, the word is “over”. And this word “high”, ‘il, is engaged in a parasonance with its partner, the word “over”, al. 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. The sentence “went one family went with livestock clothing”, constitutes the sort of poetic structure called a pivot pattern, so essential to the chiasm in Ugaritic poetry. And finally, 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 clause, “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. And once again, with the clause “it happened flood happened” we have an example of the crucial pivot pattern for the chiasm. Now, these parallelisms we keep crossing paths with are a very old form of poetical structure, the sort one finds all throughout the Hebrew Bible; the authors of the disk were not Hebrews, however, and parallelisms can be found in Sumerian, Egyptian, Akkadian, Assyrian and Babylonian 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 house sign is a pictogram, and it gives us the word “house”. 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. These houses are not of Minoan type as Sir Arthur Evans so rightly observed, and to date no such pitched roof has been found represented in Minoan art. Such housing would have naturally decayed over the course of time to dust. This might solve the riddle of what Schaeffer encountered while excavating at Ras Shamra beginning in 1929. The tel at Ras Shamra was used exclusively as a necropolis in the Early Middle Bronze Age (Middle Bronze IIA), and while investigating at that level he uncovered a number of burials of a people he dubbed “Porteures de Torques” for the decorative neck rings they wore, but found no trace of any structures whatsoever within the greater polity of these early second millennium BCE Porteurs de Torques; although they no doubt lived within walking distance of their necropolis, likely practicing some sort of village pastoralism. These people repurposed the tel at Ras Shamra for about a hundred years, finally disappearing completely in the 19th century BCE. Were these people Amorites? Some archaeologists seem to think so. But were the Porteurs De Torques the authors of the Phaistos Disk?
In the 18th century BCE came another group to Ras Shamra, who scholars have identified as Amorite. They built the monumental temples to Ba’al and Dagon upon the tel sometime soon after arriving. They invented the alphabet some three hundred years later and went on to write the epics and religious texts of classical Ugarit. Did they create the Phaistos Disk? It was one or the other of these two groups, of that I am certain. As far as the second option is concerned, however, the window of opportunity seems a little narrow. Certainly the alphabet was centuries away when these Amorites first arrived, but the monumental architecture went up almost at once. The disk does not depict any monumental architecture; where architecture is concerned, only reed houses are represented. Given this paucity of data, undue speculation would be rash; between these two groups, however, logic seems to favor the Porteurs de Torques as the authors of our disk, rather than the later arrivals. Anyway, whatever culture authored the Phaistos Disk, they are indistinguishable from Amorites.
Were the Porteurs de Torques related to the later arrivals? O. Callot (2011:91) has pointed out that the manner in which the foundations of their monumental buildings were sunk directly into some of the graves of their predecessors, would argue for the Porteures de Torques having been lost to the memory of the temple builders; therefore no direct genetic relationship is indicated.
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 rather different parallelism, another pentacolon to be certain, but in this one, the initial statement in the A-line (“ship one loaded greatly”) is followed by a parallelism that seems to straddle the divide between chiasm and 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” and “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 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, the first poet and ambidextrous (one of his titles was Deft-With-Both-Hands); 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. Probably by this is meant Phaistos, since Hephaestus and Phaistos are almost certainly 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 of fish and barleycorn signs, is combined here with the dove logogram (“place”), and all are acting 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”. Please try and remember this particular sign configuration for “wife”, the branch sign with the woman sign, as we will need to recall it later. This woman represents Atharath, Ugaritic cognate of the Hebrew Asherah; she was titled “She-Who-Walks-On-The-Sea” and “Lady-Of-The-Sea” at Ugarit. Atharath/Asherah is often confused with her fellow goddess Astarte, who we discussed earlier. There is some validity for the syncretization of these two in the 1st millennium BCE, but when this disk was composed in the early 2nd millennium BCE, this syncretism hadn’t yet occurred. Even the late 2nd millennium BCE alphabetic cuneiform texts regarded these two goddesses as distinct from each other. 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. And then there is the ivory pyxis lid on display at the Louvre, dubbed Mistress of the Animals. This artifact was unearthed at Minet El-Beida, located within the area of modern day Ras Shamra, and it was probably crafted by an expatriate Mycenaean artist seemingly familiar with Ugaritic tastes. This pyxis illustrates very well not only the sort of dress under discussion, but also the sort of robust standard of Canaanite womanly beauty we see on the disk; a beauty at odds with the wasp-waisted standard of Minoan feminine beauty.
If we pay very close attention here, we can see the Ugaritic word for “sandal”, mdnt, in a parasonance with the Ugaritic word for “place” — represented here by the dove sign in Kitchen-Wife’s name — mknt. Some scholars are of the opinion that Atharath’s name is from the Ugaritic root for stride, ‘atr. If this is the case, then the name Atharath is in a parasonance with the name Kothar, ktr. The name Asherah means “place” according to some authorities. Others, however, insist that the name Asherah means something like “wife”, i.e. “She-Who-Follows-In-The-Footsteps (of her husband)”. In light of Kitchen-Wife’s name containing the word “wife”, and in light of the fact that Asherah’s primary function as a deity was that of wife of El and mother of the gods and in light of the parasonance occurring between the word “sandal” in Sandal-Maker and the word “place” represented by the dove sign in Kitchen-Wife’s name, I have no problem with either etymology. Besides, I can see no earthly reason why the authors of the disk — so besotted with wordplay as they were — would have had a problem supposing both ideas to be true simultaneously, regardless of what the name Atharath/Asherah originally meant. So that in the eyes of the authors of the Phaistos Disk, Atharath and Kithchen-Wife apparently equate to each other, and she was seen as both a place (matrix of the gods ultimately, but kitchen and grove also work as metaphors) and a wife, “She-Who-Follows-In-The Footsteps” of, etc. And given the casual relationship that Canaanite deities had with both incest and monogamy, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that Kothar-wa-Khasis — one of Atharath’s many children — is cast in this adaptation of the Ba’al Cycle as “husband” to Atharath, when in point of fact, we know Atharath to have been the wife of El. Accordingly, the above parasonances link the maker of sandals, Sandal-Maker/Kothar-wa-Khasis, to Kitchen-Wife/Atharath/Asherah, one of whose symbols was the dove.
And then about a millennium or a millennium and a half after the disk was fired, an unknown scribe wrote these words: Then he sent out a dove from him, to see if the water was abated from the land; but the dove found no resting place for the sole of her foot — Genesis 8:8-9. The name Noah, Hebrew spelling “Noach” (nch), is in a parasonance with resting place, which in Hebrew is one word, “manoach” (mnch). Here, essentially, are the same puns occurring in two different texts, separated by at least nine centuries. A parasonance between the name of the flood protagonist at issue — Sandal-Maker — and the word place on the Phaistos Disk; and virtually the same parasonance materializing between a different flood protagonist’s name — Noach — and the word for resting place in Genesis 8. Both these puns occur in exactly the same part of the story: just as flood hero and family are about to disembark from their ship and both puns involve a dove. And a sandal maker might happily provide a resting place for the sole of one’s foot. Then in Genesis 9 we read that Noah has had his own brush with incest. This outrage, however, was actually committed not upon Noah, but upon Noah’s unnamed wife, according to J.S. Bergsma and S.W. Hahn (see their enlightening JSTOR article: Noah’s Nakedness and the Curse of Canaan, which builds upon the theory of F.W. Bassett, for more on this). Rabbinic tradition says Naamah was the name of Noah’s unnamed wife. And just as Kothar is in a parasonance with Atharath, so too is Ham (hm) in a parasonance with Naamah (nmh).
All these elements are clearly and unequivocally cribbed from the Phaistos Disk. The implications of this are staggering. This mdnt/mknt pun is a visual pun, not meant for a listening audience; so some anonymous Hebrew speaking scribe would have to have read a copy of the disk and would need to have seen the wordplay and then understood it and all its ramifications, in order for it and some of these other features of B14 and B15 to have found their way into the text of Genesis 8 and 9. Building upon Bergsma and Hahn, I would put it thusly: Naamah is a stand-in for Asherah and Ham stands in for Kothar-wa-Khasis. And as Genesis makes quite explicit, Canaan symbolizes all Canaanites and Amorites; this would include, of course, the authors of our disk. According to Bassett et al. Canaan was the offspring of the illicit union of Ham and Noah’s wife — Ham’s own mother — and that this was the true reason for Noah’s curse upon Canaan. In fact, in the original story, that of the disk, the incest was consensual. But our Canaanites, if asked, would have been quite unabashed about their strange origins, knowing perfectly well that among gods and kings, incest was a primary method of keeping the bloodline “pure”. So Canaan was cursed to be the servant of his brothers. And who are these brothers that Canaan was to be servant to? The text of Genesis 9:25-27 does not hedge, but tells us plainly enough who these brothers of Canaan were. Noah says: Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be to his brethren. The text continues: And he said, blessed be the LORD God of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant. God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant. At the time this incident allegedly took place, the only brothers on Earth, were Ham, Shem and Japheth. And now we can add Canaan to that list.
Since ca. 1984 BCE, during its pre-empire period, Amorites had usurped the Neo-Sumerian Babylon, ruling it as a city state. Perhaps some time in the 20th century BCE a copy of the disk was sent there by the king of Ugarit announcing the establishment of a new dynasty up north, and it is not inconceivable that an Israelite scribe encountered it there at Nebuchadnezzar’s library during the Babylonian exile. Our disk might also have been sent by the same king of Ugarit, to Egypt; and it might have been encountered there in some distant century by an Israelite scribe. This royal impulse to apprise other kings of the new dynasty at Ugarit, might even have inspired the sending of our disk to Crete. And in case you’ve any doubts that an Israelite scribe could have deciphered the Phaistos Disk, think about this: scholars have known for at least a century that the Israelites descended from Amorites, so our scribe would have been closer in language, culture and time to the text of the disk than I could ever hope to be. If I, an English speaking American of the 21st century CE, with my limited knowledge of Ugaritic and Hebrew have deciphered the Phaistos Disk, then our anonymous Hebrew speaking scribe could have done so as well.
The reason, it seems clear to me, for including the antediluvian royal genealogy on the recto side, is because those kings are ancestral to Kitchen-Wife; and the authors of the disk were, or imagined themselves to be, descended from her. And so she is remembered by the authors of the disk, no doubt, to bolster dynastic intent. For somewhat obvious reasons (in ancient times they knew who one’s mother was, but not always who one’s father was), 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 the genealogy does in this narrative), in Genesis chapters 4 and 5, another being the King Lists found in Sumerian cuneiform texts, which ten antediluvian kings and seven sages 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. Given this use of similar genealogical relationship terms, unique to each of these two ancient Near Eastern texts, one would be remiss not to ask if the disk has had its own influence upon Genesis.
Also of note, if one removes the children of Lamech from the text of Genesis 4 as anachronisms (and one should, because if the events chronicled in Genesis 4 took place at all, they took place sometime during or prior to, the bronze age as might be expected. So 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. The three brothers Jubal, Jabal and Tubal-Cain seem to have been added simply to bring the total count of seven Canaanite patriarchs in Genesis 4 to an even and symbolic ten. And looking at our disk genealogy, we find seven members of antediluvian royalty there, 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. Concerning the tree brothers Ham, Shem and Japheth in Genesis 5, they seem to belong to the same species of myth that Jubal, Jabal and Tubal-Cain belong to, namely, the timeless Three Brothers myth. Sometimes there are four brothers. But whatever the situation, the Brothers are present in many myths of creation, settlement and foundation (Odin, Vili and Ve; Lech, Czech and Rus; Zeus, Hades and Poseidon; the Horatii versus the Curiatii and lest we forget, Cain, Abel and Seth, etc.) and are amply represented in American genealogy.
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, “for 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”. This phrase “ox tooth” is a metaphor of positively Homeric inventiveness, for it is their way of saying “plow”, or better yet, “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.
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, together with the cat’s head sign, are subsumed units within the exocentric compound, “rich”. This very rich branch would have consisted of all humanity, since, in this myth, Sandal-Maker and Kitchen-Wife are the new progenitors of everyone alive today, making this three word phrase a nascent table of nations. And this “table of nations” occurs in exactly the same part of our disk’s narrative as it does in Genesis: after the flood. The Atrahasis, the Gilgamesh and the Ziusudra flood narratives do not contain a re-peopling of the world incident, nor do any other ancient Near Eastern flood narratives but Genesis and the Phaistos Disk. Certain Greek genealogies (the Catalogue of Women, etc.) have been offered as examples of influence upon the genealogies and Table of Nations in Genesis. Because of the antiquity of our disk’s genealogy and table of nations, however, and despite a number of similarities between the Genesis genealogies and Table of Nations on the one hand and these Greek genealogies on the other, it is the opinion of this author that we can safely dispense with any hypothesis regarding any Greek influence upon the genealogies of Genesis or on the Table of Nations, that pre-dates an Amorite Phaistos Disk. There was, presumably, an exchange of ideas over a period of time; but whatever the case, the initial influence, as might be expected, is the reverse: the older Near Eastern culture, was the first to influence in these matters, the younger Greek culture.
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”. In this set we see the bull’s horn logogram for the words “king” and “royal”. Kings and deities in Amorite iconography habitually wore bull’s horns on their crowns, and El, father of the gods, head of the Amorite pantheon, was habitually depicted as a bull. The horn logogram is probably an oblique reference to him. 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. And here again we encounter another chiasmic pivot pattern, “our high king branch our house came”, in this clause.
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 is 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 an exocentric compound, “famine”; which is often the fate of persons in regard to food during times of war, or for that matter, drought. All three of these, war, famine and drought were endemic to the ancient Near East; and Mot, the Ugaritic god of death (whose name literally means “death”), is associated with drought, so this ax sign might in some way symbolize Mot. In the Ba’al Cycle, after Ba’al Hadad and or Anat defeat Lotan/Yamm, Mot apparently slays Ba’al and a drought and famine ravage the land. When Ba’al returns again with the help of Anat, so ends the drought. And just as in Genesis, in the Ba’al Cycle the famine occurs after the flood. And just as in Genesis, on the disk, the famine occurs after the flood and after our disk’s nascent table of nations; in all other ancient Near Eastern accounts of the deluge where there is a famine mentioned, it happens before the flood.
All the following discrete elements on the Phaistos Disk, can be found in Genesis: the genealogy on the recto side has influenced Genesis 4:1-18 and Genesis 5:1-28 — the genealogy of Seth clearly dependent upon the genealogy of Cain. As for the Nephilim in Genesis 6, whatever the more recent influences on this section of Genesis might have been (Atrahasis?), one need look no further than this disk and its dynasty of deified Ugaritic kings, for the ultimate origin of these Nephilim. The Genesis flood itself, can be tied to the Phaistos Disk (see below). The presence of the dove in the middle of Kitchen-Wife’s name has inspired Genesis 8:9. As far as birds and other ancient Near Eastern flood stories go, Atrahasis has no birds, and Ziusudra has no birds. In the rather late Gilgamesh account dated to the Neo-Assyrian period, Utnapishtim sends out a dove, a swallow and a raven, but the operative words “resting place” and “sole” and “foot”, are not present in the text; instead we find the phrase “no perch was visible” for both the dove and the swallow. The incest incident in Genesis 9:21-27 has clearly been introduced by the disk, as has the Table of Nations in Genesis 10. The famine in Genesis 12:10 (but only that snippet of Genesis 12:10 that says “and there was a famine in the land”) may have been inspired by our disk.
And all these respective chapters and verses of Genesis, have been attributed to the “Yahwist” (aka “J”) school by many scholars and source critics. But if the Phaistos Disk contains fragments of Genesis, then they are those of an embryonic Genesis at the earliest level of fragment possible, not J (or E, or P, or pre-P, or D, or whatever combination or permutation of these hypothetical scholars and schools one adheres to, if any), but “A”: Amorite. Concerning the disk’s flood narrative and any influence it might have had on Genesis, Biblical scholars have known since the non-university educated autodidact George Smith deciphered the Gilgamesh epic in 1872, that the flood story in Genesis was not the only ancient Near Eastern story of a world wide deluge. Stylistically, however, the disk’s somewhat primitive but lovely flood narrative segment — covering A19 to B18 — seems at odds with the rather accountant-like rendition of it that we have in Genesis. But it is precisely this accountant-like rendition that gives the game away.
The flood in Genesis is divided into three time periods; a forty day period of preparation, wherein Noah loads the ark and procures all the worlds animal species; a 150 day period, in which the ark finally begins to rise with the flood waters that “prevailed over the Earth”. And another forty day period after Noah’s ark runs aground on Ararat, and he releases birds. The flood on the disk is also divided into three time periods. The first five cells from A19 to B4, involve preparation; A19 “storm”, B1 “it came flood”, B2 “ship one loaded animals”, B3 “went one family”, B4 “went with livestock clothing”. The next nine cells from B5 to B13 vividly depict the flood. From B5 “behold sea came over animal kind”, B6 “house upon one fell”, B7 “it happened flood happened”, B8 “branch upon fell”, B9 “ship one loaded greatly”, B10 “behold sea came over animal kind”, B11 “it happened flood animals”, B12 “struck sea animals”, B13 “behold sea came over animals”. The last five cells of our flood narrative from B14 to B18 involve passenger unloading. From B14 “Sandal-Maker”, B15 “Kitchen-Wife”, B16 “swam like fish”, B17 “for land”, B18, “branch very rich”. In fact Noah in Genesis is a pointed and calculated mirroring of Sandal-Maker. Noah is a man; Sandal-Maker a.k.a. Kothar-wa-Khasis, is a god. Noah is righteous; Sandal-Maker is not, terribly. Sandal-Maker’s ark sinks; Noah’s ark does the manly thing and becomes stranded on Ararat. Even the names of our two flood protagonists are strangely mirrored. To be a sandal maker is to have a trade, that is, to work. Noah, whose name means “rest, is the opposite of work.
In these respects then, Sandal-Maker is the prototype for Noah, par excellence. Noah had at least three other ancient Near Eastern flood heroes that could have acted as models for him: Zisudra, Utnapishtim, Atrahasis. But Sandal-Maker, like many another unfit father, was the forerunner that influenced Noah most of all.
Does all of this make the Phaistos Disk the native, proto-Israelite flood text? There were, no doubt, many similar flood narratives being told around campfires throughout western Syria at the time the disk was fired. And no doubt some similar flood story was being told by a people whose descendants would become Israelites. And if you’re looking for a proto-Israelite flood text, should you find one, it certainly won’t look much different than the flood story we’re studying here. After all, this text must have resonated strongly with our scribe in exile, strongly enough for it to be included into Genesis. Ironically, however, the one that got written into Genesis, was written by a people who probably would never become Israelite.
The first sign in B24 is the fish logogram and there seems to be some confusion in the ancient sources, as to who Ba’al’s father was, i.e. El, or Dagon — originally an Amorite god — who was always depicted as a merman or a man emerging from the mouth of a fish. According to Phoenician author Sanchuniathon, Dagon was the discoverer of grain, inventor of the plow and hence, god of agriculture. One supposes by this last designation, that he was assigned some kind of fertility role. Sanchuniathon was of the opinion that Dagon was actually both half-brother and step father to Ba’al. The jury is still out, and this has yet to be resolved. Ba’al’s cult would eventually eclipse Dagon’s, since these two gods fulfilled many of the same functions; indeed, numerous gods and goddesses crowd the stage in the Late Bronze Age alphabetic cuneiform version of the Ba’al Cycle, but Dagon receives no mention at all. This text is, in part, an earlier version of the Ba’al Cycle, composed at a time when Dagon was more prominent in the Ugaritic pantheon; this fish sign might conceivably be emblematic of him. With this god Dagon added to our list, we now have a full contingent of ten major Ugaritic deities (El, Ba’al, Dagon, Lotan, Mot, Kothar-wa-Khasis, Atharath, Anat, Astarte and Shapash) hinted at on the Phaistos Disk; this contingent of ten deities added to the four deified kings (so titled) in the genealogy, brings our total count of deities to fourteen.
At B25 is a clause and within it, the sort of hyperbole common to Ugaritic scribes, “they escaped with one tooth”. To quote from the Bible: 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”, because water escaped from it during the rinsing process. The word gp in Ugaritic means “basket”, the word ng in Ugaritic, means “escape”. And so once again we have an example of a sign involved in a word play with its near meaning.
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-language specific 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”. At the far right in this set is a depiction of a pair of fused bones, probably of an ungulate and probably the ulna and radius, since the last time we saw a depiction of an ungulate’s leg, it was of a foreleg. This sign is the logogram for the word “two”, a noun. The walking man, however, is acting as a determinative now, and making it into another noun, “generation”. At A22 is the phrase, “branch number two important men”, and here again we see the use of the paired ulna and radius bones sign, this time without the determinative so that in this instance, the sign simply says “two”. 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”. Here we see once again, the bull’s horn logogram for the words “king” and “royal”; in this instance, the word is “royal”. Both the words “king” and “royal” share not only the same sign in this text, but despite the fact of these two words occupying different parts of speech, they share the same word in Ugaritic, that is, mlk. This is not unprecedented in language, as there are words in, for instance, English (round, run, well), each of which occupy many different parts of speech. 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. As we have seen, 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, therefore giving us an example of number parallelism, a type common to Hebrew and Ugaritic poetry; the words “branch number two” 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, the first and second C-lines, and 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 the sign at B20, unlike the sign at 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 and god of the sea, 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 people of the Levantine coast. As above, in the Ba’al Cycle, Lotan is dispatched by Ba’al 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, a.k.a. 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 Middle Bronze Age before the Davidic monarchy, than either during or after the monarchy.
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 “for”, “from”, “upon” and “with” at the beginning of it and a tick mark for “he” drawn beneath that.
The name probably reads, “He-With-War” (or He-For-War, or He-From-War, but probably not He-Upon-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 can be viewed in large measure as a political document, featuring a genealogy and an early variant of the Ba’al Cycle. It is a foundational text in the form of a poetic chronicle. This ancient text was meant to impress upon the minds of all pertinent bodies royal and non-royal, the idea of dynastic continuity between the long dead kings and the current ruling house of Ugarit; the genealogy to all appearances originally independent of the flood narrative, possibly as part of a funerary ritual. Moshe Weinfeld in Promise of the Land: The Inheritance of the Land of Canaan by the Israelites, and Guy Darshan in his JSTOR article, The Origins of the Foundation Stories Genre in the Hebrew Bible and Ancient Eastern Mediterranean, have said that foundational texts — wherein an ethnic group migrates from one area to another and violently displaces the local group — are simply unknown in the ancient Near Eastern literary tradition, with the exception of the Hebrew Bible. Now we may place the Phaistos Disk on that short list. And although there is evidence that such foundation stories from a few other cultures (which evidence has been dated to the 1st millennium BCE) may have existed at one time in the ancient Near East, the Phaistos Disk, an early 2nd millennium BCE artifact, contains the oldest such narrative on record. In his fascinating JSTOR article, Biblical Narrative Between Ugaritic and Akkadian Literature, Mark S. Smith has said that the earliest attestation of the chronicle form that we have from the Levant, will be found in the book of Kings. And now we have an earlier attestation of this genre on our disk. That said, the Phaistos Disk is also a religious document, covered on both sides with the symbols and signs of deity and myth, that apparently hides some kind of numbers mysticism within its structure. 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 131 signs on the recto side of the disk. The sum of the numbers 1 through 131 is 8,646. There are 127 signs on the verso side of the disk. The sum of the numbers 1 through 127 is 8,128. 8,646 + 8,128 = 16,774. 1 + 6 + 7 + 7 + 4 = 25. 2 + 5 = 7. Exhibit D: There are 46 unique signs on the disk, repeated 258 times. 46 + 258 = 304. 3 + 0 + 4 = 7. One might be tempted to ask, why — other than the presence in this text of the 17 oblique strokes — 46 signs repeated 258 times? Why not 45 signs repeated 241 times, as most researchers seem to think? After all, 45 + 241 = 286 and 2 + 8 + 6 = 16 and 1 + 6 still equal 7. I assure you, it wasn’t simply the efficacy of having an extra sign to work with, that decided me in this matter. So why? Because, 46 signs repeated 258 times gives us 83 words, repeated 194 times, but 45 words repeated 241 times, gives us a mere 79 words repeated 177 times. This is because our 46th sign, the oblique stroke, represents four words, to wit: “he”, “it”, “they” and “behold”. So that when we, using the logic of my decipherment, subtract those four words from the 83 distinct words count, we are left with 79 words. Subtracting the 17 instances of these words from the overall word count of 194, we get 79 words, repeated 177 times. 79 + 177 = 256. 2 + 5 + 6 = 13. 1 + 3 = 4. And if you’re wondering whether these particular numbers can be tallied in the same way as the cell numbers and the sign frequency numbers above and the sentence numbers below, they can indeed. And the results are no less revealing: the sum of the numbers 1 through 79, gives us 3,160. The sum of the numbers 1 through 177 gives us 15,753. 15,753 added to 3,160 gives us 18,913. 1 + 8 + 9 +1 +3 = 22. 2 + 2 = 4. Both of these equations give us results that break with the general pattern of sevens that we have rightly come to expect and so casts a shadow of reasonable doubt upon the formula, 45 signs repeated 241 times. Exhibit E: 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 (Martin Buber’s coinage), or symbolic leitwort, if you will, of this nautically themed text. 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: As above, there are 83 distinct words, repeated 194 times in this text. 83 + 194 = 277. 2 + 7 + 7 = 16. 1 + 6 = 7. Exhibit I: A milat achiza (as Yairah Amit has coined it) is a type of structural leitwort. In this text, it 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. Exhibit K: There are seven heads on our flood dragon, Lotan. Exhibit L: The flood memorial section of the disk, wherein our flood dragon can be found, covers seven spaces. Exhibit M: There are ten deities hinted at in the text of the disk, added to that the four deified kings so titled, from the genealogy, brings the total number of deities to 14, a multiple of seven.
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. Our two leitworts, one symbolic, one structural. Seven heads on our flood dragon. Seven spaces containing the flood memorial. Four deified kings added to the ten non-verbalized gods and goddesses in this text, giving us fourteen deities in total. Searching for patterns in an undeciphed text and the correspondences between those 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 Akkadian, Assyrian, Babylonian, Canaanite or Hebrew speaking 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 storytellers, the poet, the artisan, the Minoans, the archaeologist and the inventor of a writing system. The storytellers, who brought this story forward, relating it orally from one generation to the next, deserve our gratitude. The poet, if not in point of fact one and the same as any of the storytellers, earns our praise for the sheer pulchritude of this rendition. The workman like carving of the artisan/scribe is self-evident. The Minoans, those lovers of beauty and repositories of 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 unintended 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 Order
The decipherment / translation with Ugaritic word order.
|Side/Cell||The Words||Word Order|
|A5||behold, branch number one.|
|A7||important king deified.|
|A8||Number three upon woman:||SVO|
|A10||behold, king deified;|
|A13||Behold, king deified||VSO|
|A16||Behold, king deified;||SVO|
|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|
|B16||swam like fish|
|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|
|B25||They escaped with one tooth,||SVO|
|B26||important very house related,|
|B27||leather ship types;|
|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|
|A29||It happened flood animals.||VSO|
|A30||Important our House,||SOV|