Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Riddle of the Labyrinth: The Quest to Crack an Ancient Code

The Riddle of the Labyrinth: The Quest to Crack an Ancient Code by Margalit Fox, provides a three pronged look at the long, fifty year battle to decipher Linear B.  Fox provides us with the contexts of its discovery, and final decipherment by Michael Ventris. 

But it is obvious that Fox has a special affinity for the second part of the story, the work of classics scholar Alice Kober.  Working in a man’s field during the Second World War and the years that followed, she laid the ground work for the Linear B’s translation through dogged methods.  In a field open to wild conjecture and crank theories, she constricted her search to  hard evidence, and published a few seminal papers that were widely respected in the academic circles relating to Linear B.

Despite this, she worked in obscurity.  She was a professor at Brooklyn College, loaded with class work, and with the exception of a year on a Guggenheim grant, she worked at Linear B in her spare time. 

Fox presents a fascinating picture of Kober, who never married, lived with her mother, and died in her early 40s before her work was completed.  The message is clear, like Rosalind Franklin’s ground work in discovering DNA, Kober's work on Linear B was never widely acknowledged because she was a woman.

With this specific message in hand, Fox goes on to provide an excellent survey of how Linear B was discovered, translated, and what it means for the very early history of Europe.

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