Sunday, February 28, 2016

Ode on a Minoan Urn

Deeper I fall down the rabbit hole. I've said before, that practically everything is simpler than you think to get into, but harder than you think to do well. The most straight-forward seeming of subjects will inevitably unfold layer upon layer of unexpected complexity upon closer examination.

All I'm trying to do is create a 2,000 word sketch, a little fantasia. I'm not trying to be historically or linguistically accurate -- but I do feel constrained, however, not to blatantly violate historical reality or to perpetuate tired myths.

So it turns out we sort of know what the Minoans called themselves, as well as what they (or, at least, pro-Aegean peoples considered generically) called the various islands and other locations around that corner of the Mediterranean. For the former, Minoan trade with Egypt was well-established enough that Minoan translators were present at court, some Minoan writings (notably at least one medical text) were phonetically transcribed into Amarna-period hieroglyphics, and depictions of Minoans appear in tomb art.

There are strong reasons to believe there are similarities between the Minoan language and writing and later Mycenean (just as there are documented connections from Mycenean through to early Greek). There may also be an Etruscan connection. Some small progress is being made in translating Linear A, although it has not gone much past recognizing a few place names, but there is growing confidence in the basics of word order and conjugation as well as understanding the written alphabet.

But I'm not going to be able to use much of this. I haven't the patience to learn Mycenean or Etruscan conjugation (likely parallels to the Minoan), much less struggle through the papers and books and blogs where the slow decipherment of the language takes place amid much argument. Just filtering out which theories I chose to adhere to for the purpose of the chapter would be too much work!

And practically speaking, my main need is to properly lead the reader. To cleave from the familiar names enough to clue them in that I am not using the stock props of King Minos and Minotaur, Ariadne and her Clew. But not to be so obscure they have no idea who I am referring to. And still yet, avoiding another mined passageway in not picking terms that sound too much like something entirely different (and wrong). And all of this within and maintaining the flow and consonance of a narrative in (modern, even colloquial) English.

On the subject of learning too much (aka, the time you feel confident is the time you are most ignorant. The more you know, the more visible the voids in your understanding become for you) I knew already that the early 20th century conception of the Minoan world was suspect. It is largely the product of one man, who saw Greek myth and particularly the Minotaur everywhere, and who reconstructed some of the architecture according to a marked Victorian sensibility.

What I had not realized is that this colonization by other aesthetics did not by any means end with Arthur Evans. The laughing dolphins of the famous palace "fresco," images of noble Minoan youths; apparently some of these are so retouched and reconstructed they are a kind of Ship of Theseus themselves. They tell us much less about Minoan artistic sensibilities than they do about the 20th century artists who filled in the spaces between small faded fragments.

Well, whatever. I'm stuck with a Stargate universe, which builds on the artistic integrity and scientific accuracy of Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich, re-treading the already shopworn Ancient Astronaut nonsense of Von Daniken and the like; nonsense that borrows liberally from older Theosophist meanderings that in turn drew upon existing conceits of hyper-diffusionism.

(In the baldest of terms, the colonialist reluctance to credit non-white, non-european cultures with accomplishments like the Giza pyramids, requiring theories of (white) outsiders as givers of culture and technology; the romantic idea of these outsiders is then fleshed out with elaborate fantasies, a host of new-created myths, which then go through multiple permutations as they evolve to suit the Weltanschauung of the era of the writer de jour. Salt with cherry-picked appropriations from whatever actual science is being done at the time.)

So whatever I try to get right about history, the core truths will always be that there are real figures behind some of the gods, and they did give some of the culture and technology enjoyed by various ancient peoples as well as lend their names and stories to our mythologies. And in this particular sketch, there was a Minotaur of sorts, and it was fought by an Athenian youth who went on to be King...oh, and in my specific Stargate universe version, the events in the labyrinth also supplied (possibly even though Solon) some of the threads Plato gathered together to create his Swiftian political lesson on what happens when a perfect Republic meets a rapacious empire going by the name Atlantis.

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