Wednesday, October 19, 2011

You Just Got Schooled

As I have mentioned in previous posts, the Minoans of ancient Crete did have a written language entitled Linear A by the archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans, who is attributed for much of his work with the Linear A script. Now, the artifacts that contain this writing are few and have yet to be fully translated. However, the script of Linear B, which existed later with the Mycenaeans on Crete, has been translated through the use of ancient Greek and can be used to decipher some Linear A characters. 

LINEAR A (1800 BCE to 1400 BCE)
The Linear A script is a graphic script with about 90 symbols, 80% of which are shared with Linear B. In my interview with Professor Brockliss a few weeks ago, he said that Linear A was mostly used for economic purposes, with literacy only in the hands of the very wealthy or the servants of the very wealthy. It was not used for storytelling, in contrast to our oral unit, which relates back to our discussion in class on Thursday, where we discussed that writing’s first uses were related to numbers and accounting. The new convention of writing brought about a change in their preservation of knowledge. Instead of preserving stories and history, they were inscribing the necessities of economy. Evidence can be found in this inscription: 

         The introductory sign sequence (ka-u-de-ta) is thought to be representative of a geographical name or the name of a person, followed by the logogram for wine.  The names are associated with a quantity of wine, either given to or received from that person, hence the numbers. From this inscription and many others, “ku-ro” has been found to mean “total”, so this inscription was the equivalent of a modern-day Excel spreadsheet. (Here’s a question for all you math geeks—did they add the numbers up correctly?) This document, as with many like it, were used for accounting and economical purposes, out of sheer necessity. It was most pertinent to write down things pertaining to trade, which had to be documented in a standardized manner, as opposed to stories and tales which could still be passed down through an orator with no need for continuity or standardization.
        During the time of the Myceaneans after the Minoans, Linear B became more widely used and there have been more records found in this similar hieroglyphic script. Through the language of ancient Greek, Linear B has been able to be translated, but the purpose of Linear B did not change from Linear A. It was only later on when the Greeks had more of an influence on Crete that ancient Greek started to form out of Linear B script. (If you want to read more about this transition into the standardized ancient Greek, look at Misa’s blog post from group 6) As Professor Burton was saying in class, having things written down enabled them to be referenced, catalogued, and standardized. This encouraged institutionalized knowledge and the proliferation of education. 

        Ancient Greece is rich and vast in its history of education, so I will focus on an aspect I found intriguing. In the book Nobility, Tragedy, and Naturalism, J.J. Chambliss discusses the argument of Plato that Homer was the educator of Greece. The “poetic wisdom” of Homer leads to a growth in “philosophical wisdom” in which “poetic wisdom” as expressed by Homer predates philosophy but is not less associated with wisdom. In fact, Chambliss points out that these are different types of wisdom, but that the former led to the latter. And why is this important? Because this “poetic wisdom” was so deeply engrained in the Greek people from such a rich history of communal and oral traditions, “[Homer’s] influence was such that no serious writers on education in Greek antiquity could entirely escape his influence” (Chambliss 17). This proves that even though the Greeks had the new convention of writing, the ideas from an oral culture persisted.
        To end, I wanted to include this video I found which relates back to our own education in this class this semester. Plato, one of the great philosophers and teachers of ancient Greece, also had many other views on education as expressed in his work The Republic. I found this great video on YouTube where Professor Stephen Hicks goes through Plato’s Cave Analogy to explain the process of education.

(start at 1:23, end at 7:25
I found this interesting because it relates to Professor Burton’s admonition to seek self-directed learning. Is it unnatural in human nature like Plato said to not have a teacher force us to see the light, or is it unnatural because society has taught us we need a teacher with a strict syllabus and curriculum to learn and be edified?


  1. That's a really interesting question about having a teacher v. not having a teacher. I think, oftentimes, it is good to have a teacher to get someone started, to give someone the basics, like HOW to read or write or do math or explain the basic physical world as they can, and then be able to let the students take initiative. I think there are some things we expect everyone to know about, to have learned, but if you're devising your own curriculum, it's possible you haven't focused on those things in your education, like the history of the Protestants for example, which we would, as Americans, expect more people to know. It reminds me of that documentary we watched on Hugh Nibley, when he said that the only things we're tested on here on earth are forgiving and repenting. But we are also trying to learn as much as we can about the topics we choose.

  2. I started homeschooling in the seventh grade because my family moved into a bad school district. Because I preferred to be independent, my mom bought curricula for me and let me teach myself. It took awhile to really get my feet on the ground, but I eventually was able to find the self-discipline to teach myself. For subjects like English, I just read the classics and didn't have much of a set structure. I believe that people can ingest knowledge just as readily by themselves as in a classroom setting. Though I hadn't taken a legit class in English in years, I made a 35 in the English section of the ACT. I think that there really is something to learning what you want to learn and how you personally need to learn it.

  3. Yea, I meant that it's maybe not necessarily necessary that we have a set canon, like there are certain books in high school you have to read or something, but there is a teacher, or a curriculum to get us started.

  4. It's interesting to see the contrast between the orgins of Minoan writing with Islamic writing. Islamic was more centered on religion while Minoans centered on the economy.

    I did have a quick question for Summer though: what was the difference between poetic and philosophical wisdom? I didn't quite catch that from the post but it sounds interesting:)

  5. Similar to this written language being used mainly for economics, in reading about the ancient Welsh Bards, I found that they thought it was inappropriate and somewhat disgraceful to use written language for their poetry and songs and rather only used it for necessary business and communication practices.

  6. Oh and Rachel, I like what you said about the Hugh Nibley documentary and also the way you worded your comment. What may be considered important to learn to us as Americans or Mormons or iviliaztion students would be in many ways completely useless to a Bushman tribe in Africa and the things they need to know about hunting and which roots are edible and where they grow, etc. would be totally unnecessary for us to learn. I think cultural and societal values determine what we consider important to learn more than anything else.

  7. Like how to play dodgeball, for instance.

  8. No, I'm pretty sure dodgeball is one of those things that is universally important to learn...