Dear Commons Community,
I just finished reading The Riddle of the Labyrinth (HarperCollins, 2013) by Margalit Fox. It is the true story of the quest to solve the code for deciphering Linear B, the language used on ancient (circa 1450 B.C.) clay tablets found in Crete in 1900. It took over fifty years to crack the code and the efforts of the three major contributors to this quest make for a good detective story.
Arthur Evans, the British archaeologist, discovered the tablets. Alice Kober, a classics professor, did a good deal of the hard painstaking grid work. Michael Ventris, an English architect, is credited with solving the “riddle” of Linear B.
Of the three, I found Alice Kober the most interesting and most tragic. A graduate of Hunter College, who spent her entire teaching career at Brooklyn College, she devoted all of her scholarly life to Linear B and never really got the recognition she deserved for paving the way for others. Fox makes the point that while Ventris credited others “he did not mention Kober, whose syllabic grid was the foundation stone of his decipherment.” Fox concludes that:
“What is beyond doubt is this: Without Kober’s work, Linear B would never have been unraveled as soon as it was, if ever.” Kober died at age forty-three without ever knowing the results of her effort.
The book is written for and accessible to general audiences. I found it an enjoyable summer read.