Saturday, May 12, 2012


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Friday, May 11, 2012

J Is For Jasasara

Never heard of the Goddess Jasasara, you say? Oh, you have, trust me. You just didn't know that was Her name.

All right. I suppose I should state right up front that I am not any sort of academic; I am, as ever, an interested amateur. Nor, especially, am I a linguist, so I have to take other people's words for it.

So this is going to take a little bit of explaining. The scholarship is based on that most enigmatic of languages, whatever the language was: the one written down in so-called Linear A.

Yep. We're talking Minoan, here.

There were several scripts, properly syllabaries, in Minoan (and Mycenaean) Crete; a syllabary meaning a script in which the symbols stood for combinations of letters, usually two, though vowels on their own are included. Linear B, the later of the two, was famously translated by Michael Ventris in 1952; he realized it was an archaic form of Greek. Linear B is of course called B because it derives from Linear A; the language, however, of Linear A is not Greek, and has proved difficult to translate, in large part because there just aren't a lot of examples of it, but also because it doesn't seem to be related to much else, meaning, there are a lot of pet theories out there.

However, Linear B did come out of Linear A; and the symbols in Linear B have reliably assigned sounds. What that means is that more than a few Linear A symbols have been presumed to have sounds similar to their Linear B counterparts.

Now. A lot of what we do have for examples of Linear A is the so-called Libation Formula, a set series of words inscribed on various offerings, generally found dedicated at peak sanctuaries in Crete. They seem to say 'so-and-so of such-and-such a place dedicates this to Jasasara' and then three more (untranslated) words; the word 'Jasasara' is consistent, and is taken to be the name of a Goddess.

The name may simply be a title meaning 'Lady', much like the later Potnia of the Greeks. It has parallels to the Hittite Goddess name Esha-sara or Ishassara, which also simply means 'Lady', as well as to Asherah of the Canaanites.

Now, fair enough, as a title, Jasasara may refer to more than just one Goddess, as the later Greek term Potnia certainly did; I'm inclined to think, though, given that the offerings dedicated to Her are found primarily at peak sanctuaries, that we are talking about one Goddess. Of course, whether or not the Minoans worshipped one Goddess with several aspects, or quite different and separate Goddesses is still being debated, and I imagine we won't ever really know barring a time machine. But this is a name for Her, or one of Her, that is not Greek. And it is an important name, too, and so I imagine, an important Goddess, given the number of times Her name appears.

Again, I am not an academic, but I thought this was interesting. It's a name I hadn't heard until recently, though it seems to be pretty solidly accepted; and I thought it deserved to be more well known that the name of an important (perhaps the?) Minoan Goddess is Jasasara.


Aegean Art and Architecture, by Donald Preziosi and Louise A. Hitchcock.

The Cambridge Companion to the Bronze Age, edited by Cynthia W. Shelmerdine, chapter seven, "Minoan Culture: Religion, Burial Customs, and Administration," by John G. Younger and Paul Rehak.

The Language of the Minoans, by Virginia Hicks in the Anistoriton Journal of History, Archaeology, Art History: Viewpoints

Also by Virginia Hicks at the same site is a very interesting article in which she connects Jasasara to a very old form of Athena. I'm not sure I'm sold on the Sun Goddess idea, but it is quite a fascinating read.