Author Archives: nakassis

About nakassis

Professor of Classics at the University of Colorado Boulder

In defense of the conference

A couple of days ago, Prof. Mary Beard suggested that large-scale conferences in Classics (viz., the joint annual meetings of the AIA and SCS) are not long for this world. I found myself agreeing with a lot of what she wrote, but leaving the piece not entirely convinced. This post is an attempt to think through my resistance.

Obviously, my point of view is going to be radically different from Prof. Beard’s, or anyone else’s for that matter; I’ve only been attending these since 1999, and primarily on the archaeological side. I’ve never been to one of these meetings outside of the US, other than last year’s meeting of the EAA (European Association of Archaeologists) in Barcelona. I also don’t have the high profile or accomplishments of Prof. Beard. I haven’t had to deal with sexism, racism or other forms of discrimination at these events or elsewhere.

First, a point of agreement: big annual meetings aren’t as exciting as smaller workshops, where there’s more time to talk to people working on similar problems, to give longer papers, and to have more intellectual interchange. (This argument isn’t fully developed in the blog post, although it is hinted at; it came out a bit more explicitly on Twitter.) I agree that the best part of any conference (socially and intellectually) is the social interaction and the time spent between and after talks. The best conferences (in the broadest sense) that I’ve been to have been small and focused, and resulted in really interesting and important publications.

Another point of agreement: I don’t think that anyone should feel obligated to go to big annual meetings, and I don’t think that it should be held against people who don’t (or can’t) go. They are expensive to attend, many institutions don’t pay for students or faculty to attend, etc., and if Prof. Beard or anyone else would rather not go, I don’t think that anyone should criticize them for that decision. For many, however, the annual meetings aren’t optional: even setting aside the job market, giving papers can be important for one’s professional development and the annual meetings are for many the best venue, both because of their visibility and because one’s university may be willing to give money for such events (and not for other conferences). So making these events affordable should be a top priority for the field (thanks to Erin Averett Walcek for emphasizing this point to me).

Where I part ways with Prof. Beard is when she suggests that “it is the arguments, disputes, protests and outrages which conferences throw up that… signal its demise.” The controversies about manels and sexism, about the privilege signaled by badges, about the costs of accommodation, about racism — to me these are all signs of strength, not weakness. I feel this way, I suppose, because I can’t imagine how else we can improve the status of the discipline and its annual meetings. I assume that sexism, racism, ableism, and privilege were always present in prior annual meetings, and that organizations like the Women’s Classical Caucus (established in 1972) and most recently the Asian and Asian American Caucus (established in 2019) were created in large part to combat these forces. It seems logical and correct to me that these organizations push for changes, including changes that will make many uncomfortable, and that their membership is outraged by the status quo.

My own view of the recent controversies of the AIA/SCS (and especially of the SAA, the Society for American Archaeology) is not that these institutions are turning in on themselves. Instead, I see a radical disconnect between the leadership of these societies and their membership. To be sure, there can be members who are especially loud and unreasonable, and it is certainly not easy for our professional associations to run these conferences, but generally speaking I think that members are disappointed when they see their societies (for whatever reason) failing to live up to their (the societies’) ideals. The membership wants to see swift and decisive deeds and genuine and resolute words from its professional societies, but more often what it gets are (overly) deliberative and safe actions, and milquetoast (or just weird and confusing) statements. To me, the shape of these controversies suggests the opposite of Prof. Beard’s conclusion that the professional society “has lost confidence in its own function”: on the contrary, the rank-and-file academic membership has an all-too-clear clear sense of its society’s function. If the membership has lost confidence in anything, it’s in its leadership. As Bill Caraher pointed out, our professional organizations seem hampered by their hierarchical leadership, lack of transparency, extensive range of interests being represented, and lack of resources. Running these conferences professionally is a difficult task that most academics are ill-equipped to do.

I’d like to end with a more positive defense of the big annual meeting. It seems to me that there are lots of paths that I could go down: the annual meeting informs you best about the newest North American fieldwork in the rapidly-changing field of Mediterranean archaeology, for instance. But to me the most important advantage is that it allows for social interaction on a scale that can’t be matched by smaller conferences and at a level of intimacy that can’t be replicated on social media. I don’t mean to say that these annual meetings are perfectly inclusive: of course they aren’t, as all of the recent controversies have shown, and I share Prof. Beard’s horror at the racism of the 2019 SCS (even if neither of us is probably very surprised by it). But the annual meeting brings students, professors, and other members (including avocational members) together into the same social space, and this is not something that other gatherings accomplish. The actual makeup of small conferences (maybe especially in the US) tends to be strongly shaped by who is invited, and it thus reflects networks of power and prestige. Early in my career (i.e., the year before my dissertation defense and the year after it), I was invited to two such workshops, in both cases through the agency of senior faculty with whom I had long-standing relationships (my dissertation advisor and someone with whom I had worked in the field since 1999). Graduate students don’t really get a seat at the table at such workshops.

All of this isn’t a criticism of the workshop: surely the advantage of the workshop (or small conference) is that it brought together people who have given a lot of thought to the salient issues of the conference for a very long time. That’s where it gets its power. The annual meeting, on the other hand, doesn’t have the coherency or fellowship of smaller workshops, but it gets its power by bringing together talks by people of varying ranks, from full professors to graduate students, from different kinds of universities, into the same space, even if this space is not magically free of power. It is a place where graduate students and other less privileged members of the discipline can make a positive impression and gain a reputation for good work, and hopefully create opportunities for themselves to get invitations to smaller workshops.

More importantly, though, the annual meeting is a place where the weaknesses of the field are on full display, and where we as a group can try to make things better (i.e., more equitable and more transparent), especially for our colleagues without the comfort of tenure. To me that’s the point of the fervent debates that we see at these meetings. We can’t wait for positive change; we have to make it ourselves.

* Thanks to my friends who read a draft of this post and made some useful suggestions.

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Archaeology between Classics and Anthropology

Kristina Killgrove has a great article over at Eidolon; if you haven’t read it already, you really should. She tells, among other things, her story of moving back between Classics (BA) and Anthropology (MA) and Classics (PhD program) and Anthropology (PhD). It’s not an uncommon story. When I was an undergraduate at the University of Michigan, I wasn’t sure what path to take. I knew that I was interested in prehistory, especially Aegean prehistory (I had taken a class with John Cherry in the Winter term of 1996), but also Near Eastern prehistory (with Kent Flannery in the Fall of 1995); I wrote an undergraduate thesis on archaeological survey and Bronze Age state formation on Crete that was explicitly and excessively inspired by the New Archaeology: central place theory, gravity models, all that stuff. I was inspired by articles like Vincas Steponaitis‘ “Settlement Hierarchies and Political Complexity in Nonmarket Societies: The Formative Period of the Valley of Mexico,” with their quantification and mathematical formulas. I used an article by Robert Dewar in American Antiquity whose appendix had a Pascal program–and I used it.

I’ve always preferred the anthropological approach to archaeology. It was Colin Renfrew’s Emergence of Civilisation (1972) that convinced me that I wanted to be an archaeologist and Aegean prehistorian. In the spring term of 1996, I took Intensive Latin (with Deborah Ross), and after I was done with my Latin homework, I would drink a coffee and read a chapter of Renfrew. That book was one of the first that I could remember reading that was theory-forward (even if it was systems theory) and empirically rich. That summer I dug at the site of Petras Siteias in east Crete with Metaxia Tsipopoulou. If you’ve ever worked in Crete, you know how magical it can be. I was hooked.

When I sat down with my mentors at Michigan, the advice I was given (or at least what I remember) was clear: don’t get a degree in anthropology if you want to do European prehistory. You won’t get a job, because what anthropology departments prefer are archaeologists who work in the Americas, or Asia and Africa, but definitely not Europe. Focus instead, I was told, on getting a degree in a Classics department, and work on your languages and all that a traditional Classical training entails.

I still wasn’t entirely convinced, and I applied to Michigan’s anthropology program (ridiculous, in retrospect, and I was rejected, I assume summarily), Sheffield’s archaeology Ph.D. and Cambridge’s archaeology M.A. Those programs were decidedly not Classics. I also applied to a number of programs in the US, where I was looking for a mix of a Classics department with prehistorians, survey archaeologists, and a close relationship with anthropology. I ended up deciding that I couldn’t afford graduate school in the UK and going to Texas. It was a hard decision, and I had no idea what I was doing (both in retrospect but also in the moment). I figured that if left to my own devices, I would keep reading archaeological theory and method and I’d audit classes in anthropology, but I probably wouldn’t do the hard work to learn the ancient languages on my own. So Texas seemed like a good decision at the time (and in retrospect too). At Texas, a lot of what I did were languages: by my count, I took 6 archaeology classes, 8 Greek classes, 5 Latin classes, and 5 history/epigraphy classes. Of course plenty of people still told me that I’d never get a job doing archaeology, and especially not prehistory (at a certain point I stopped trying to be nice to people who gave me unsolicited advice of this sort).

My Classics-centric strategy worked. I never in a million years would have gotten my first tenure-track job at Toronto had I not been steeped in the ancient languages, willing and able to teach graduate Greek from day one, and my ability to teach Latin and Greek sustained me when I was on the VAP track (I was lucky to get my PhD in 2006, before the job market’s floor fell out).

I don’t think that it’s a good thing that my strategy worked, though. As I’ve written about before (see here and here), this is no way to produce archaeologists. It’s not good that I did a lot of ad hoc training in the field, or that now that I have a tenured job I’m going about learning things that I should have (or would have liked to have) learned in graduate school. In some ways I’ve never left that spring semester of taking intensive Latin and reading archaeological theory in the afternoons, on my own time.

*

I was talking to a couple of colleagues in the natural sciences last week, who were saying that they worried that their students were not interested enough in learning and being inspired by work in other disciplines and that their students were too focused on individual research, whereas science is now entirely team-based. I’m worried about the same things when it comes to Classics. It’s too isolated, too committed to a mode of knowledge production that is focused on its own methods and approaches and individuals laboring in isolation. I think the discipline needs to break out of this tired and (in my view) unproductive way of doing things, for if a Kristina Killgrove cannot fit in Classics, and I can, then we are doing something very, very wrong.

Some thoughts on the future of Classics and archaeology

Joy Connolly has written a thoughtful piece on the SCS blog entitled “Working Toward a Just and Inclusive Future for Classics” about some concrete changes that some departments can make in order to effect positive changes for the discipline. I find a lot of value in what she has written, so I’d like to think through how some of her recommendations would work in practice, thinking a bit about the variation across the discipline. Specifically I want to focus on her recommendation that doctoral curricula be crafted such that “students focused on visual culture, history, or archaeology not [be required] to study Greek and Latin but to learn the fundamental skills required for those fields in the twenty-first century.”

I agree with the recommendation: almost two years ago, Joy and I both spoke at a symposium on the futures of Classics where I worried that

As Classical archaeology becomes more archaeological in approach, it also becomes less Classical. When I was applying to graduate school, I was told by my advisor that if I wanted to do archaeology in Greece, I should go to a graduate program that required significant training in both ancient languages. I took his advice, perhaps too literally, and consequently spent most of my time in graduate school working on languages and literatures. It turned out that I wrote a dissertation on a subject, Linear B, that required precisely those linguistic skills (at least the Greek), but my interests were always broader than Mycenaean epigraphy… I had to pick up most of my archaeological skills in my spare time and over the summer, when I spent as much time as I could in the field. As these skills multiply, even the most diligent and best trained students will find it difficult to keep up.

The on-the-fly, in-the-field instruction that characterized much of my training is often accepted as a necessity in Classical archaeology, but in fact it is a serious problem. Like all scholars, archaeologists need time to learn their materials in such a way that they can work creatively with them to solve problems. There are no short cuts here. To write her dissertation, my partner analyzed 4.5 metric tons of pottery from Corinth, which, she estimates, took her about 10,000 hours to study. That works out to about three years of working ten hours every day. I don’t really believe in the “10,000 hour rule” as popularized by Malcolm Gladwell – that 10,000 hours is some kind of magical threshold after which one is an expert – but I do think it points at something important, which is that good work requires time: time to become expert, time to be creative, time to make mistakes, and time to think. The consequence is that we cannot train well-rounded Classicists and expect them to become expert archaeologists.

My big worry is that there is a growing chasm between what makes good Classical archaeology and how an archaeologist gets a job in Classics. This mismatch between professional incentives and how archaeology will move forward is clearly unsatisfactory. I’m worried about brilliant students who do brilliant work that sheds important light on the ancient Mediterranean, but who can’t get jobs because their research is based on archaeological science.

I stand by what I said, but I also think that there’s a complicated reality that needs to be taken into account before we think about making curricular changes. Some Classical archaeologists don’t teach languages at all. None of the archaeologists in my department at the University of Colorado Boulder normally does (I think the last time was when I taught Homer in the fall of 2016). Even if we would like to teach the languages (I would!), we have more colleagues who would also like to teach the languages than there are classes available. Some Classical archaeologists teach a lot of language classes: if you’re at certain departments, one-third or half of the classes you teach might be in Greek and Latin.

Accordingly, many Classical archaeology programs have requirements for linguistic competence: Michigan’s IPCAA program, for example, requires that its students demonstrate competence in ancient Greek and Latin by passing three-hour translation exams. Although their website claims that “The purpose of the ancient language requirement is to ensure that students have basic literacy in both ancient Greek and Latin, and that they have the ability to read untranslated texts (or to check existing translations) for research purposes,” the reality is that the purpose of these exams is to assure potential employers that their students can teach both languages at introductory and intermediate levels (at the very least), so that they can get jobs at the full variety of institutions that are likely to hire a Classical archaeologist. It’s also the case that many of the VAP (visiting assistant professor) positions out there will require some language teaching. Since the job market in Classics has tanked, almost everyone now needs to do a lot of VAP teaching before they get a permanent position (if they get one at all). Flexibility is the name of the game.

This is all to say that while I agree with Joy’s recommendations to rethink and refashion Classical doctoral curricula, these curricula are not entirely free-standing, but respond to the requirements of a wide variety of Classics departments and institutions. Although my department’s course offerings are mostly in translation (this semester, by my count, only about one quarter of our classes are in Greek or Latin), other departments have radically different needs: this year Smith’s department is teaching 2-3 Greek classes and 3 Latin classes per semester, but only one class in translation this academic year (Classical Mythology); by my count just over half (54%) of Oberlin’s classics courses are in the ancient languages.

I worry about the future of Classical archaeology if it continues to follow a rigid model whereby linguistic competency in both languages is some kind of requirement. The truth is that proficiency in the languages isn’t just a practical requirement for getting certain types of jobs, it’s also a signal about what kind of discipline Classics is. There are departments who are convinced that it is a kind of moral or intellectual failing not to be able to teach Greek and Latin at all levels (including graduate), never mind the fact that it would be idiotic and irresponsible to have a Greek archaeologist teach a graduate seminar in Statius (say), never mind the fact that s/he may never be asked to teach Latin at any level at all (barring some kind of unthinkable catastrophe), and never mind the fact that there’s no way for these departments to really know (prior to hiring someone) how good or bad their Latin or Greek is. To be a Classicist, for some, is to have the ability to teach both languages at all levels. I personally find this vision of Classics profoundly boring and would like to kill it with fire.

On the other hand, we do have to recognize that it will be difficult for some Classics departments to accommodate an archaeologist who cannot (or wouldn’t be happy to) teach some language classes, maybe both Greek and Latin. I know that some departments have come to the realization that they simply can’t (for curricular reasons) accommodate an archaeologist, as much as they would like to have one. It’s too bad, because (among other things) it’s not good for their students.

I don’t know where that leaves us. We could let students decide for themselves whether they need Greek and/or Latin, although I don’t like the idea of training some people for “research” jobs (no ancient languages needed) and others for “teaching” jobs (make sure you know your Greek and Latin), and I would worry about my own responsibility if my curricula left my students without the meaningful possibility of employment. Like so many things, then, we are (or feel) constrained, “like Gulliver, tied down by the Lilliputians by a hundred thin threads. The dilemma is that struggling to be free in one direction binds the threads more tightly in other directions; only a major wrench or rupture…will change many at once” (John Robb, The Early Mediterranean Village, 2007, 21-22). Have we reached the point of a major wrench or rupture? I honestly don’t know.

Kids these days

I’ve read a couple of “kids these days” pieces lately. One was Alan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind (1987), which I read as preparation for a lecture on the Culture Wars  and the reception of Martin Bernal’s Black Athena (1987, 1991, 2006). I wonder if Bloom’s book is the first of the modern “kids these days” genre. Reading it some 30 years later after it was published, I felt much more kinship with Bloom’s students than with Bloom, who complains that his students don’t love books enough, and that they listen to too much Rock music (“even while studying”!). I suppose this much is unsurprising, considering that I was a first-year college student in 1993, so I am of the generation (Gen X) that so disappointed Bloom (although he’s also disappointed in Baby Boomers).

Now Gen X-ers are writing their own “kids these days” pieces; the one I read most recently was written by John McWhorter and published in the Atlantic: “The Virtue Signalers Won’t Change the World.” There’s a lot to like about McWhorter’s piece, and in many ways he’s sympathetic to the values of the people he’s criticizing. But for all of its sensitivity, it becomes surprisingly reductive as it draws to a close. For instance:

The new normal is, “If you don’t like it, cry loudly and then louder, because you’re always right and they’re just bad.”

And, in the final paragraph:

All of the above hinges on feigning claims of injury, on magnifying indignation in a trip-wire fashion, and on fostering a Manichaean, us-versus-the-pigs perspective on humanity out of Lord of the Flies.

Maybe McWhorter knows students like this at Columbia, but I find it totally alien to my own experience (at the University of Colorado since 2014, and before that at the University of Toronto from 2008). I can’t imagine my students “feigning…injury.”* They tend to think that some ideas are good and others are bad, but they’re not actually invested in an “us-versus-the-pigs perspective.” They’re careful and critical interpreters of modern media and of the ancient texts that we read together. As I read McWhorter’s piece, I started to doubt that he teaches many students at all; but I think that he does. And so it made me wonder how our perceptions of our students could be so different. Maybe our students really are different.

In his Classics, the Culture Wars, and Beyond (2016), Eric Adler suggests that “The Closing of the American Mind must be considered one of the most improbable best-selling books in American history” (19), and I suspect that the success of Bloom’s book, and others like it, explains the popularity of “kids these days” pieces. You get attention, and if you’re lucky a position at a well-funded think-tank, by writing such things about your students. (Incidentally, I wonder how McWhorter’s students feel about the fact that he compared their worldview to the spirit of Lord of the Flies; I also am trying to picture myself thinking this of my students – “you know, the way y’all think really reminds me of Lord of the Flies, a book in which one boy murders another kid and tortures some other kids” – and still cheerfully going to class every day). You don’t get on the New York Times best-seller list, however, for writing about the kids these days that sure, they’re different from us, but they’re all right.

Notes:

* Maybe my English is bad but “feigning claims of injury” makes no sense… one feigns an injury or claims an injury that is feigned, but “feigning claims of injury” means something other than what McWhorter must mean. On a second read, I wondered if ‘feigning’ was an participle (rather than a gerund) modifying ‘claims’ but that should be ‘feigned’ (or maybe ‘claims feigning injury’???) but that can’t work because of the structure of the sentence:

All of the above hinges

  1. on feigning claims of injury,
  2. on magnifying indignation in a trip-wire fashion,
  3. and on fostering a Manichaean, us-versus-the-pigs perspective on humanity out of Lord of the Flies’

so all three -ings are obviously gerunds. (Nice ascending tricolon, though).

A word cloud of the 2019 AIA annual meeting

Two years ago I made a word cloud of the titles of the panels and talks at the annual meeting of the AIA. Here is one for the 2019 annual meeting in San Diego (I used Word Art):

AIA 2019

And here are the data for those who are interested (I did manually remove the least common words so that the word cloud wasn’t overwhelming).

My impressions? I’m sort of surprised how traditional many of the titles continue to be. Most talks are about the “core” regions of modern Greece and Italy (“Africa” and “Egypt” are pretty small, for instance). We don’t see much that indicates new methodologies (“digital” and “network” are small) or theoretical approaches. The focus on traditional sites is still very much a thing: there’s a fair amount of Athens, Rome, Corinth, Pompeii, although perhaps their dominance is on the wane… as a landscape guy myself, it’s nice to see “Landscape” displayed so prominently.

Linear B translated: PY Fn 7

Today’s tablet is PY Fn 7, joined from a set of previously unconnected fragments by Jose Melena (Minos 31, 1996-1997):

Fn 7 (Hand 3)

.1                                            ]2 OLIV T 2
.2                                            ] OLIV T 1
.3   to-]ko-do-mo HORD [   ]Z 3   VIR 20[
.4   pi-ri-e-te-re  HORD []Z 3      VIR 5
.5   pa-te-ko-to[  ]HORD[  ]V 2  [ ]
.6           vacat
.7   qa-ra2-te , o[-pi-me-]ne[                ]OLIV 6
.8   pa-ka , o-pi-me-ne , [
.9   pa-te-ko-to , o-pi-me-ne [  ]HORD 1[
.10 pi-ri-e-te-si , o-pi-me-ne[   ]HORD 1 T 4[
.11 to-ko-do-mo , o-pi-me-ne[  ]HORD 7[ ]5

.1                                   ]2, OLIVES: 19.2 liters
.2                                     ] OLIVES: 9.6 liters
.3   wall-builder(s): BARLEY: 1.2 liters, MEN: 20
.4   sawyer(s): BARLEY: 1.2 liters, MEN: 5
.5   all-builder: BARLEY: 3.2 liters
.6
.7   to Kwallans, monthly: [            ]OLIVES: 576 liters
.8   to pa-ka, monthly: [
.9   to the wall-builders, monthly: BARLEY: 96 liters
.10 to the sawyers, monthly: BARLEY 134.4+ liters
.11 to the all-builder: BARLEY: 720 liters

Notes:

  • We should probably imagine that line 1 recorded the daily allocation of olives (and probably barley) to the man named Kwallans (cf. Πάλλας), and line 2 the daily allocation of olives (and probably barley) to the man (or woman) named pa-ka (there are too many possibilities here, so I have left it transliterated). The math works out, since 19.2 * 30 = 576.
  • We should probably imagine equal quantities of barley and olives being allocated to the two named individuals; that is common practice in such texts, and the 2 in the break in line 1 is consistent with that hypothesis.
  • We then have listed the daily allocations to three professions and their number: 20 wall-builders, 5 sawyers (i.e., people who saw, from Greek πρίω), and a single all-builder. These are all listed in the dative singular or nominative plural (it’s impossible to tell which). to-ko-do-mo is a compound noun, /toikhodomos/ (cf. τοῖχος, δέμω), pi-ri-e-te-re (elsewhere spelled pi-ri-je-te-re) is in the nominative singular /pri(h)etēr/ (cf. πριστήρ, from πρίω), and pa-te-ko-to is /pantektōn/ (cf. πᾶν, τέκτων).
  • After a blank line, the scribe has calculated the monthly allocation to each group, using the word o-pi-me-ne, /opimenei/ (cf. ἐπὶ μηνί).
  • The tablet clearly deals with architectural laborers. I’ve suggested that we have five teams, each with a sawyer (carpenter) and four wall-builders (masons), all of which are supervised by the “all-builder,” who must be some kind of architect/foreman. The sawyers cut beams and other wooden elements, the wall-builders were masons who built the walls. Mike Nelson has shown how walls at the Palace of Nestor in LH IIIB were built: a mix of mortar was poured into a heavy timber framework.
  • I’ve further argued that the named individuals, allocated large quantities of barley and olives, are responsible for providing what is obviously missing from these architectural teams: unskilled labor. Masons in Ottoman and early modern Greece typically employed local unskilled laborers and animals, who hauled and prepared materials, supervised by a skilled specialists, and I suggested that something similar is happening here. (You can download my article here: https://hcommons.org/deposits/item/hc:15171)

Linear B translated: PY Cn 608

This is the first post of a series of translations of Linear B tablets. I’m asked every so often where to find good translations of Linear B tablets online, and the answer is, there isn’t such a place. I complain every so often (and on this very blog) about the lack of outreach on the part of the subdiscipline of Linear B studies, so maybe I should do something about it… so I’m going to try to regularly post transcriptions and translations of Linear B tablets here. Because it’s the start of the semester and I don’t have loads of time, I’ll start with one I’ve already translated:

Cn 608 (Hand 1)
.1 jo-a-se-so-si , si-a2-ro
.2 o-pi-da-mi-jo
.3 pi-*82                SUS+SI 3
.4 me-ta-pa           SUS+SI 3
.5 pe-to-no            SUS+SI 6
.6 pa-ki-ja-si          SUS+SI 2
.7 a-pu2-we          SUS+SI 2
.8 a-ke-re-wa        SUS+SI 2
.9 e-ra-te-i             SUS+SI 3
.10 ka-ra-do-ro     SUS+SI 2
.11 ri-jo                  SUS+SI 2

.1 thus will they fatten fatted pigs
.2 the community officials:
.3 Piswā PIGS 3
.4 Metapā PIGS 3
.5 Pethnos PIGS 6
.6 Sphagiānes PIGS 2
.7 Aphus PIGS 2
.8 Agrēwā PIGS 2
.9 Elatos PIGS 3
.10 Kharadroi PIGS 2
.11 Rhion PIGS 2

Notes:

  • The “header” of the text announces the purpose of the document: the community officials will fatten fatted pigs, presumably in order for them to be delivered to a location (or locations) for their sacrifice and consumption in a state-sponsored feast (on the Linear B evidence for these feasts, see this article by Tom Palaima).
  • jo-a-se-so-si = /hō asēsonsi/, “thus will they fatten” (cf. ἆσαι)
  • si-a2-ro = accusative plural of /sihalos/, “fatted pig” cf. σία^λος
  • o-pi-da-mi-jo = nominative plural of /opidāmios/, a compound of opi (cf. Greek επί) and dāmos (cf. Greek δῆμος , Doric δᾶμος)
  • The ideogram SUS+SI is a ligature of the standard ideogram for pig (normally transliterated with the Latin SUS in small caps) and the syllabogram for si, presumably used here as an abbrevation for si-a2-ro, “fatted pig.”
  • Because the verb is in the future, and the palace was destroyed probably not long after this text was written (the tablet was found in Room 7; on the findspots in Rooms 7 and 8 of the Palace, see this article by Kevin Pluta), it’s probable that these pigs were never fattened.
  • The “community officials” are referred to as o-pi-da-mi-jo, presumably /opidāmioi/, so those people “in charge of the dāmos“. This term has been interpreted in different ways, but this seems to me the most probable.
  • Piswā, Metapā, Pethnos, Sphagiānes, Aphus, Agrēwā, Elatos, Kharadroi, and Rhion are all place-names in the “Hither Province” of the Pylian kingdom, located west of the mountain range that separates western Messenia from the Pamisos valley. On the two provinces of Pylos, see these articles online by John Chadwick, John Killen, and the directors of the Pylos Regional Archaeological Project (PRAP)
  • This presumably means that each of these places had, or constituted, a dāmosThis is interesting because the later Greek word δῆμος , Doric δᾶμος means “district, country, land” as well as the “people, inhabitants” of such a district (I’m quoting the lexicon of Liddell and Scott here). The Mycenaean dāmos seems to have been an important, semi-independent institution that appears in the Linear B texts as an organization that deals with agricultural activities, like fattening pigs, or allocating plots of land.